ESL Students and Challenges with Pronunciation

Pronunciation is often a forgotten skill in the ESL classroom. As English has become more and more internationalized many have stepped away from pronunciation with an attitude of taking whatever the student says and trying to decipher it. There are many aspects of pronunciation that an ESL teacher needs to consider. Among them includes

  • The benefits of improving pronunciation
  • The challenges of pronunciation
  • Ways to teach pronunciation

The Benefits

Helping students to improve their pronunciation helps students to overcome intelligibility issues. All ESL students have different speaking issues depending on where they are from. Despite, the difference in geographical origin, what all students have in common is that if their pronunciation improves the ability for people to understand them improves as well.

Another benefit is that practice with pronunciation helps the student to better understand spoken English. As the student learns the nuances of saying words clearly it also helps them to notices the nuances when they are listening.

The Challenges

One major problem that is faced when teaching pronunciation is the students’ inability to hear the sound that the teachers want them to reproduce. For example, Thai ESL learners always make a ‘w’ sound in place of ‘v’. Demonstration is one way to deal with this problem until mastery is achieved.

A second more obvious problem is the sound that students make. During early infancy, we lose the ability to reproduce any sound as we focus on our mother language. As such, non-native tongues are difficult to say correctly and require extensive practice.

Teaching Pronunciation

There are several ways to teach pronunciation. The examples below flow form most intensive to less intensive in terms of their focus in the classroom. The ways to teach include

  1. Whole lesson
  2. Discrete slots
  3. Integrated phases
  4. Opportunistic teaching

Whole Lesson

Whole lesson is just what it says. It is an entire lesson devoted to pronunciation. A teacher may have students use various sounds, focus on intonation, or practice key phrases. Intonation is a personal matter and it is hard to focus on all the students in such a format. In addition, it can sometimes be challenging to keep the lesson engaging since it is hard to provide feedback with everyone speaking at once.

Discrete Slots

This approach involves sneaking in little pronunciation lessons during the class. A teacher might focus on vowel sounds for ten minutes at a time or some other lesson. The point is to teach pronunciation in snippets and not all at once.

Integrated Phases

Integrated phases is blending pronunciation into a larger lesson. For example, if students are focusing on a listening assignment, the teacher may have them pay attention to the pronunciation of the speaker. Or during a reading aloud activity, students may be asked to assess their pronunciation while reading. The goal is to perform the main task with the additional feature of thinking about pronunciation.

Opportunistic Teaching

This form of pronunciation teaching happens in an extemporaneous. In other words, during the course of teaching, it becomes apparent that the students need help with pronunciation and the teacher provides assistance.


Teaching pronunciation should still be a part of a teacher’s approach. The benefits of learning pronunciation are often achieved through various styles of teaching. As such, teachers need to develop strategies to support students acquisition of the subjective nature of pronunciation

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