Friday, February 16, 2018

What Language Teachers Must Know to Teach Pronunciation

Marsha J. Chan, Donna M. Brinton, and Judy B. Gilbert

How can language teachers prepare themselves to teach English pronunciation? Three pronunciation experts describe what teachers must know to teach students to pronounce English more clearly. We believe that any well-trained teacher can teach pronunciation. In a live presentation, which you may view here, we provide a training framework drawn on current theory and practice, engage participants in interacting with numerous points, and offer resources for further information. We describe and give examples of essential conceptual issues, basic oral language features, and fundamental instructional concerns. We offer practical suggestions for classroom teachers of English learners.

A. Conceptual knowledge: A basic philosophy of pronunciation

1.     Spoken language differs from written language.
2.     Pronunciation is a physical act.
3.     Awareness of vowel duration is essential.
4.     Listeners of English perceive the relative importance of information based on stress, intonation, and pausing.
5.     Learning how to “listen mindfully” is essential to any kind of pronunciation improvement.
6.     Pronunciation can be integrated in classes for all language skills.
7.     Some aspects of pronunciation are more important than others.
8.     Pronunciation work does not disrespect a learner’s L1, home culture, or identity.

B. Descriptive knowledge: The basic facts of pronunciation

1.     The smallest building block of pronunciation is the phoneme (unit of sound) and its allophones (variations).
2.     Pronunciation consists of segmentals (the individual phonemes) and suprasegmentals (stress, intonation, rhythm, and connected speech features)
3.     Syllables and stress are the building blocks of rhythm and intonation.
4.     Thought groups/tone units are the basis of all prosody/suprasegmental work.
5.     Pitch change occurs on the most important word (the stressed syllable of the key word/focus word).

C. Procedural knowledge: The basic skills needed to teach pronunciation

It is important for teachers to:
1.     have a working familiarity with both segmental and suprasegmental features of speech
2.     perceive intonation patterns/pitch changes
3.     perceive variable vowel duration that produces rhythm in English
4.     teach pronunciation in connection with listening discrimination skills
5.     use movement in teaching pronunciation
6.     prioritize pronunciation issues for communicative purposes
7.     provide useful feedback through demonstration and explanation
8.     integrate pronunciation into language teaching
9.     help learners develop automaticity
10. teach compensatory strategies

Click here to watch the video based on the live presentation given at the CATESOL 2013 Annual Conference in San Diego, California as the inaugural Teaching of Pronunciation Interest Group colloquium. Note: The sound during the introduction is difficult to understand. It becomes clear at the 4-minute mark, when the presenters begin speaking.

Click here to download the 6-page handout, which includes the pronunciation teaching framework, a selection of professional reference texts and resources, classroom textbooks (with suggested levels), and suggested websites for pronunciation and listening.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Anytune Slows Down Sound Tracks for Language Practice–complete "How to" article

I introduced the app Anytune in a 2016 post, and provided a link to my video demo. Subsequently, I wrote a complete "How to" article, accessible from the following links.

A version of this article was first published as Chan, M. J. (2017). Anytune slows down sound tracks for language practice. In M. O’Brien & J. Levis (Eds), Proceedings of the 8th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 191-194). Ames: Iowa State University. 

A version for CATESOL News Fall 2017 Vol. 49, No. 2 was slightly modified to fit that publication. 


Anytune, a slow-downer app designed for musicians and singers, allows you to adjust the tempo of a music track without changing the pitch. Learning to speak a new language fluently is like learning music. When a phrase, dialog, story, or speech is played through Anytune, a learner can slow it down and practice it easily. Anytune loads all songs in your iTunes library; then you pick a track to practice. Within the track, you can set A and B points around difficult phrases to create a loop that plays at a percentage of the original tempo. The loop automatically restarts and plays from A to B so that you can practice the phrase again and again. The Step-it-up Trainer function repeats a section, incrementally increasing the speed from 50% to 100% in 10 repetitions. The tempo and number of repetitions can be adjusted to your liking. These features allow you, as a teacher, to tailor the way you present a recorded model to your students. Students using Anytune can use these controls independently to build pronunciation accuracy, speed, rhythm, expression, and fluency. I have no connection with Anytune developers, but I do find this 5-star music practice app useful for personal use as well as for my language-learning students. This article will explain how to use a selection of its features that are especially useful for language learners.

To read the following sections, access the complete article.

Download and Install the App

Import Sound Files
Play a Sound File
Control the Tempo
Create a Loop and Practice a Segment Repeatedly
Step It Up From Slower to Normal Tempo

Monday, November 27, 2017

Teaching the Pronunciation of English: Focus on Whole Courses


Teaching the Pronunciation of English

Focus on Whole Courses
Michigan Teacher Training
John Murphy, Editor

Description from the above webpage

This volume fills a gap by introducing readers to whole courses focused on teaching the pronunciation of English as a second, foreign, or international language. This collection is designed to support more effective pronunciation teaching in as many language classrooms in as many different parts of the world as possible and to serve as a core text in an ESOL teacher development course dedicated to preparing pronunciation teachers.

Teaching the Pronunciation of English illustrates that pronunciation teaching is compatible with communicative, task-based, post-method, and technology-mediated approaches to language teaching.  This theme permeates the volume as a whole and is well represented in Chapters 3-12, which are dedicated to specialist-teachers’ firsthand depictions of pronunciation-centered courses.  Each of these ten chapters features a set of innovative teaching strategies and contemporary course design structures developed by the chapter contributor(s).

To prepare readers to more fully appreciate the substance and quality of Chapters 3-12, the volume’s two initial chapters are more foundational.  Chapters 1 and 2 provide an overview of core topics language teachers need to know about to become pronunciation teachers:  the suprasegmentals (thought groups, prominence, word stress, intonation, and pitch jumps) and the English consonants and vowel sounds.

Introduction and Background to Pronunciation Teaching 1
Part 1: What Teachers Need to Know about Phonology 30
Chapter 1
Suprasegmentals: Thought Groups, Prominence, Word Stress, Intonation, 31
and Pitch Jumps
John Murphy
Chapter 2
Segmentals: Phonemes, Allophones, Vowel Sounds, Consonants, and 70
Squeeze Zones
John Murphy
Part 2: Descriptions of Whole Courses 107
Chapter 3
Pronunciation and Communication for Graduate Student Researchers 108
and Conference Presenters
Carolyn Samuel
Chapter 4
Oral Communication for International Graduate Students and 130
Teaching Assistants
Veronica G. Sardegna & Alison McGregor
Chapter 5
A University-Based Online “Pronunciation Tutor” 155
Edna F. Lima & John M. Levis
Chapter 6
Phonology Applied: Developing the Oral Communication Skills of 176
L1 and L2 Speakers
Graeme Couper
Chapter 7
Advanced English Pronunciation for Undergraduate and Graduate 197
Lynn Henrichsen
Chapter 8
Small Group Tutoring in ESL Pronunciation for Pre-Professional 218
Christina Michaud & Marnie Reed
Chapter 9
Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca 239
in England and in Spain
Laura Patsko & Robin Walker
Chapter 10
A Haptic Pronunciation Course for First-Year ESL College Students 262
Nathan Kielstra (with William Acton)
Chapter 11
The Color Vowel Chart: Teaching Pronunciation to Beginning-Level 285
Karen Taylor de Caballero & Claire Schneider
Chapter 12
Teaching Prosody to ESL Middle Schoolers: Pre-Teens and Teens 307
Tamara Jones
Epilogue: Where Do We Go from Here?

Monday, October 23, 2017

Teaching Pronunciation to Adult Beginners

This presentation is based on an article that I wrote for the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching. Naturally, it's more complete when delivered live with explanations and examples, as well as with sound and motion, so I hope you have a chance to attend one of my live workshops. Here I offer the slides.

 Teaching English Pronunciation to Adult Beginners

Being able to pronounce clearly is a vital part of oral communication, and teachers play a pivotal role in helping learners establish good habits in both pronunciation and listening discrimination from the beginning. Investing in pronunciation instruction early can give beginners the ability and confidence to speak English clearly and launch them on their language learning journey.

Teachers may wonder how to teach pronunciation to beginners, particularly when faced with so many other objectives in the language curriculum, such as grammar, vocabulary, reading, and composition. Teachers may also lack knowledge and confidence because their training programs did not prepare them to teach pronunciation. Even if they took a course in English phonetics or phonology, what they learned may not have a direct application to what should be taught to enable students to pronounce the language well.

In this talk, I discuss focusing on English learners' spoken intelligibility over accent, the need for good pronunciation in helping a speaker become more intelligible to listeners, the devotion to perception as a means of realizing better pronunciation, the importance of balancing segmental and suprasegmental instruction, and the concept that pronunciation is a physical act such that body work deserves attention. I present some sample tasks for teaching pronunciation to beginners with regard to syllables and stress, rhythm and sentence stress, total physical response, and singing.

For the full article, please see the following:
Chan M. (2018) “Tasks for teaching pronunciation to beginners” in The TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching, First Edition. Edited by John I. Liontas (Project Editor: Margo DelliCarpini; Volume Editor: MaryAnn Christison and Christel Broady), Hoboken, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Marsha’s Mixers for Pronunciation and Listening

Teachers at PSLLT 2017 (Pronunciation in
Second Language Learning and Teaching)
conference at the University of Utah

This classroom mixer activity gives students a great number of opportunities to practice listening, speaking, and pronunciation with many interlocutors. 


  • Speak clearly, listen carefully, ask and answer questions in complete sentences.
  • Practice pronunciation, phrasing, stress, intonation, and linking. Oh, and grammar and vocabulary, too!
  • Develop fluency and confidence listening and speaking.
  • Mix and mingle; travel and talk to as many players as possible.
Focus: Stress and intonation on phrasal verbs and linking to pronouns

Prepare the cards

  • Consider the age, language proficiency, interests, majors of your students, and/or current theme of study. 
  • For each mixer set, choose a point of pronunciation and listening for them to practice, ideally something they have been learning, e.g., Yes-no questions, Wh- questions, Questions with two choices/three choices, tag questions; words with /æ/, /ʧ/, plural endings, multiple syllables; separable and/or inseparable phrasal verbs with pronouns; phrases needing linking; short or long sentences, etc. 
  • Determine the pronunciation point(s), be prepared to inform the students what aspects of language they should concentrate on, and provide examples.
  • Write one question on each card (using a pen, typewriter or computer and printer). Use 3” x 5” index cards or paper cut into quarters or smaller strips. Make at least as many cards as students.  
If you have a class of 10, and you are copying questions from a book, it might take 10 minutes to write questions on the cards. If you have 50 students, and you are creating your own questions with more complex requirements, it will take longer to prepare a set. You could create more than one copy of the same question (see the suggestion below about making more than one group of students).

Adult learners engaged in a mixer activity


  • Have students stand.
  • Distribute one card to each student.
  • Explain the language objectives and procedure
  • Demonstrate asking, answering, and exchanging cards with at least one student.
  • Ensure that each student holds a card with a question, turns and faces one other student, and takes turns asking and answering the questions on their partners’ cards. After doing so successfully, these two exchange cards, take their leave, and find another partner, continuing to mix, speak, and listen until the teacher says to stop.
  • Circulate, monitor, clarify students’ understanding of the activity, encourage students to speak with other classmates, give assistance, determine when to end the activity, collect the cards, and sum up the learning points.

"Thank you! Let's exchange cards. See you later!"


  • Everybody participates; nobody sits out.
  • Everybody speaks and listens.
  • Everybody has a chance to ask and answer any given question.
  • Shy students are not silenced by talkative students.
  • Students can learn from each others' responses.
  • Students can help and encourage each other.
  • Students get acquainted with more classmates, not just the ones they typically sit with.
  • Students can get mini-lessons from the teacher or classmates without their misunderstandings, mispronunciations, or other mistakes being broadcast to the whole class.
  • If the teacher participates, students can get live interaction with the expert.

Sample question types for pronunciation and listening           

Yes-no question intonation

Q: Is there a clock on the wall? (Tell students whether to use a short or long answer.)
A: Yes, there is. / Yes, there’s a clock on the wall.

Wh-question intonation

Q: What’s that round thing on the front wall↘?
A: It’s a clock. / That round thing on the front wall is a clock.

Regular past tense endings /t/, /d/, /id/ and linking to “it”.

Q: Did Jack bake the cake? (Answer Yes; use the past tense and a pronoun.)
A: Yes, he baked it. /beykt ɪ t/

Minimal pairs / Target sounds

Q: Which can you eat, a bear or a pear?
A: I can eat a pear, but I can’t eat a bear.

Q: Does Shirley want a shirt? (Answer No; add another statement with /ʃ/.)
A: No, Shirley doesn’t want a shirt. She wants a shawl.

Tag question and listing intonation

Q: Scott has a Volt and a Prius↘, doesn’t he↘? (Answer Yes; add one more.)

A: Yes, he has a Volt, a Prius, and a Tesla↘.

Observations and suggestions

  • If possible, move furniture aside to create space to mix and interact. If the furniture can't be moved, find an area where there’s more space, perhaps at the front of a classroom, or in the hall. For large classes, create more than one group. It’s best not to let students sit, unless their health requires it, so that they can readily turn and move around to find new partners.
  • A mixer can be done for any length of time, say, 15-30 minutes. Plan 20-30 minutes for your first mixer activity, depending on the age. language proficiency, and/or physical ability of your students. Shorter sessions are needed after the students have learned the procedure.
  • Listening-speaking mixers can be conducted at the beginning, middle, or end of a class. At the beginning can help children transition from reading, writing, or recess to oral/aural language learning. It can help older learners transition from work, child care responsibilities, or other classes to target language learning. In the middle of a long class, a mixer can change the pace and awaken the physical and interactive aspects of language learning. At the end, a mixer can solidify points learned during the day's lesson and leave learners upbeat.
  • A relaxed, non-evaluative environment in which students get to interact with many others in the class–not just those who typically sit next to them–can be an incentive to get to class on time (if you do them at the beginning) or stay for the whole class period (if you do them at the end).
  • You may be able to use written activities in your textbook, turning them into listening-speaking activities by copying the sentences or editing them into questions on your cards.
  • Edit and adapt the objectives for each mixer to your class.
  • Decide in advance how much to focus your students’ attention on the language aspects of the questions (for example, stress and intonation) and the interpersonal communication (for example, polite greetings and leave-takings). Vary the focus from one mixer to the next!