Teaching pronunciation to teens and adults

english teacher showing phoneme position for 'th' sound
04 Oct Shelley Vernon 2 Comments

Phonetics and phonology can be extremely useful when teaching pronunciation. If you feel overwhelmed at the sight of the phonetic chart, just imagine how your students feel. But don't panic, just take it one sound at a time. In fact you might not even need to teach all the sounds, only those which present the greatest challenge for your students.


As ESL teacher Elena Baito told me: "I'm experimenting with recognizing sounds using songs. I present the new sound, such as the unvoiced interdental sound. Students have a look at the phonetic transcription of this sound in the sound chart and then try to practice the sound. Then they write the phonetic symbol in their copybook.

phonetic chart showing English script including 'th'

Next we listen to a song with the lyrics shown on the board (I chose "Thunder" by Imagine Dragons). I explain to them that they have to find in the song all the words containing the interdental unvoiced sound. After that we write all the words in the copybook and repeat them. We also sing together. I love singing." If you want to use the song Thunder, you'll find it on YouTube...weird video...It's a great choice of song given the number of times the word thunder is repeated!


TIP! Ask your students to find a song for you so you don't spend the evening watching inane videos online!


After doing Elena's work above I suggest continuing with a dialogue. Students write a dialogue in pairs. This can be on any topic as long as the target sound is used in every sentence. Tell the class they will listen to everyone's dialogues and vote on them. This gives everyone a reason to listen to the dialogues. Students can vote on the funniest, the most innovative, the saddest, the most outrageous and even the most boring! Listen to the best ones again and have students raise an arm whenever the target sound is said.


Use all the vocabulary drill games in my book ESL Activities and Games for Teens and Adults to drill phonemes and pronunciation. Use the listening games with words that contain the target sound. Then use those same words in the speaking drill games. Work with one new sound at a time. That's enough for students to think about. However when you revise sounds, work with several at once.


Put students in groups of four to play Happy Families with four phonemes. Student A copies a phoneme onto four cards and draws a father, mother, son and daughter. For the "th" phoneme, this could be the Thunder family. Students B, C and D do the same, each with a different phoneme. Students shuffle and deal out their pack of cards. Each student takes a turn asking any other student for a family member. E.g. Do you have Mr. Thunder? The first to have a complete family is the winner. BUT the aim of the game is to work on excellent pronunciation, not just win the cards!


Tip: For cards use post it notes, cut up cereal packets, or cut scrap paper into rectangles.

All the best

Shelley Ann Vernon

Teaching English Games


I am deeply impressed about the big variety of thoughts making learning and teaching more fun.
Dear Heidi, thanks for your kind words. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I'm here to help. All the best, Shelley Teaching English Games

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