07 March 2014 / by Radmila Gurkova

How to teach pronunciation through ESL activities. Say it clearer, not louder

The OxbridgeTEFL community launched the project of how to teach pronunciation through ESL activities as a result of the necessity of creating specific tools -apart from the usual work on pronunciation through vocabulary activities- that would target Spanish learners' pronunciation.

What moved us was the conviction that nobody is tone-deaf and every one can have a good pronunciation! Oh, maybe not anyone...

All the conclusions were put in practice through a series of ESL activities where improving learners' pronunciation is the main aim and objective. Some of the main points about how to teach pronunciation were the basis of creating the pronunciation syllabus and specific ESL activities.

1. Acquiring good pronunciation has to do with learning to hear the different sounds and imitate them. Spanish learners often struggle with some individual sounds and sounds in connected speech and we want to help them improve so that they sound less "typical Espanis".

2. We analyzed the most recurrent errors and problems in our learner's pronunciation and we came up with a list of issues that we ordered according to whether they had to do with vowel sounds, consonants, connected sounds and connected speech patterns.

3. We decided not to focus on individual accent variations and to accept as valid all accents as long as they don't fall apart from what is accepted as standard English.

4. We prepared a syllabus that would allow us to create ESL activities aiming to practice and solve the problematic speech models in students.

5. Our next step is to analyze the first activities that we've produced, test them with students and if we like the outcome, put them in practice on a regular basis.

Premises for developing the project on how to teach pronunciation through ESL activities:

1. We wanted this project to involve teachers with different accents, even though we witnessed a real  "fight" between American and British speakers with all their variety of accents. And this was only the beginning! How do we teach pronunciation if we don't agree about what is right and what is wrong when pronouncing this or that?

2. We decided that the best way of approaching the project is to brainstorm, then prepare a syllabus, create some activities, analyze them, test them and then analyze the outcome again or order to tweak whatever we need to tweak and incorporate the activities on a regular basis.

We've chosen to show here the very first activity that opens our pronunciation course called Please Squeeze Me! created by the project leader Beatrice Tansley. We wanted to prove that nobody is tone-deaf and students can learn to hear the different sounds and imitate them.

Please Squeeze Me!


-What sound do sausages make when they are cooking in a pan?

SSSSSSSS (Encourage Ss to imitate)

-What sound do bees make?
-Now we have the two important sounds of the letter S in English.






-Sometimes the letter S has SSSS sound, but sometimes it has a ZZZZ sound.
-For example, what is the difference between CLOSE (T pronounce with S sound as adjective)
and CLOSE? (T pronounce with Z sound as verb.)
-The pronunciation of the S can completely change the meaning.
-We can see that words spelt with Z, like SQUEEZE and SNEEZE
RHYME with words spelt with an S, such as PLEASE, BEES and TREES.

Show list of - S sounds.
-Try to say these words and decide if the S is a sausage S or a bee S.
(T and/or S can use Att.1 as a reference, S could say the word and then point to the corresponding image)
T should also correct other pronunciation points in words.

T's key:
Sausage S (S): Books, Likes, Sensitive, Loose, Looks, Seasonal (first S!)
Bee S (Z): Goes, Knees, Noise, Bees, Please, Leaves, Is, Trees, Result, Lose, She's, As, Was, Desert, Seasonal (2nd S!)

Ss can then try to create phrases using some of the S words, focusing always on Pronunciation.
eg. 'Please, the Bees said to the Trees, give us some Leaves.'


What is the difference between CLOSE (S) and CLOSE (Z)?
What is the difference between LOOSE (S) and LOSE (Z)?
Tell me a word that has a Sausage S sound? (eg. sensitive, sad, silly)
Tell me a word that has a Bee S sound? (eg. leaves, noise.)







































- We would dedicate around 5-7 minutes of the class for these activities

- We would include in the activities tips for remembering and associating sounds with words

- We would do one pronunciation activity in every class and every level, from beginner to advanced, probably at the beginning of each class

- We would repeat in a cyclic way the syllabus but the issues will be presented through different activities


As it was expected, there were more questions that arouse from the discussion:

- Should we teach meaning at the same time or we can isolate words from their meaning and context?

- Are rules behind pronunciation to be explained to students or we are to assume that they will learn them by drilling?

I believe the last question was pretty answered. We decided no rules :)


June 2014
What makes a good ESL teacher. Preparation
by Radmila Gurkova
What are the qualities that make a good ESL teacher? When asked at a job interview what makes a good ESL teachers, candidates often praise personal traits such as patience, creativity, knowledge, skills, empathy, experience… But what if you have just finished your TEFL course and are not that experienced yet. Does that mean y...


May 2014
FM - Unifying format criteria for TEFL activities. The cherry on the cake!
by Radmila Gurkova
On debate: We need to unify format criteria when creating TEFL activities in order to create the perfect activity. The teachers creating activities and the ones correcting them have to use the same criteria. We agreed to: Creating st...


May 2014
TEFL classes by videoconference for elementary level students.
by Radmila Gurkova
TEFL classes by videoconference are often related to high level students. How should our teaching change in order to grant successful and exciting learning experience to our students? On debate: Elementary level stu...


May 2014
ESL activity lab. Creating functional beginners material - I play!
by Radmila Gurkova
The purpose of this piece of ESL activity belonging to our activities section for beginners is to introduce the verb 'play'. The previous ESL activity included the verb 'like' as well as 'play' so we removed the verb to like in order to simplify the activity. We introduced 4 Sports which all add something different to the ESL...


May 2014
ESL activities for beginners - a new ESL activity is born
by Radmila Gurkova
If you think these faces are too serious and concentrated, you are about right. The guys you are seeing in the picture, part of our Oxbridge TEFL teacher team in Madrid, are deeply engaged in creating ESL activities for beginners. Four teachers. One activity. An ESL activity for beginner learners of English t...


May 2014
How to teach beginners English as a foreign language- I want, I don't want
by Radmila Gurkova
How to teach beginners English as a foreign language in the target language only is sometimes a headache for ESL teachers. As it turned out, teaching the function I WANT in English without translating is not that easy. Students tend to confuse its meaning with I LIKE because this structure appears in similar contexts. How to teach beginners I...


March 2014
My favorite ESL class
by Radmila Gurkova
We asked different teachers about their favorite ESL class. We wanted them to explain what makes a great ESL class really memorable. We often hear teachers complaining about certain students and classes that were difficult. It's much more productive and rewarding to hear about TEFL teacher's favorite class...


March 2014
Positive learning environment: Learn from sports and apply to ESL classes to create the best environment for your students
by Radmila Gurkova
What is the best learning environment and how can we create a positive learning environment in our ESL classes? What can we learn from sports about positive learning environments? ...


March 2014
How to teach pronunciation through ESL activities. Say it clearer, not louder
by Radmila Gurkova
The OxbridgeTEFL community launched the project of how to teach pronunciation through ESL activities as a result of the necessity of creating specific tools -apart from the usual work on pronunciation through vocabulary activities- that would target Spanish learners' pronunciation. What moved us ...


February 2014
My Top 5 Reasons to do a TEFL course: featuring India Boddy
by Radmila Gurkova