How to Teach Pronunciation to ESL Students

How to Teach Pronunciation to ESL Students

Hey there! I am David, an American living in Bangkok. Even though English is my first language, I felt quite challenged teaching English pronunciation to young Thais when I was starting as an ESL teacher. Here are some tips on how to teach it effectively.

Many ESL teachers find it challenging to teach English pronunciation. It was even true for me when I started online English teaching in Thailand. Although there are many materials for teaching this skill, improvement takes time and a lot of patience to be really effective. However, it is important for ESL students to learn it since they need to know basic communication in English.  How can others understand them if they cannot pronounce words correctly, right? In Asia and especially in Thailand, the “R” and “L” sounds are quite difficult for most students. “Teacher” turns into “teachUHH,” and don’t get me started on trying to teach students how to say the word “really!” Even my own name turns into something like “Day-wit.”

Start with sounds.

Teaching L and R to Thai students

Most teachers commit the mistake of teaching vocabulary first instead of phonemes, otherwise known as phonics. Phonemes, by the way, means various units of sound in a language. Teaching words before phonemes can work for some students, but it can be difficult for students whose first language is quite different from English. Therefore, you should expose your Thai students first to sounds instead of forcing them to read words.

For instance, if our target words for phonics are pen, pig, bag, and boy, I make the /p/ and /b/ sound 3 times. I show the position of my lips and tongue in order for them to see the difference between the two sounds. You can move forward a bit to your web camera when you do this for emphasis. You can also do engaging matching phonics games to make the lesson more fun.

Let them make the sounds.

After recognizing the sounds, it is time for your students to make the sound. It’s important to be very patient during these times as it is really quite difficult.

ESL teachers must relax

On the flip side, there are many sounds in the Thai language that are really difficult for me to pronounce properly. However, you need to remember that mastering a certain sound may take time. Children cannot learn it perfectly in a 20-minute class. Therefore, reinforcement and repetition is needed in your online ESL class.

Practice them with words.

This might be a bit challenging for your student since there will be a transition from making sounds to words. When I teach this, I practice the sounds and words together. For example, I let the student repeat what I say like, “/p/,/p/, pen.” Patience is needed, and remember not to show frustration if your student cannot follow you.  Then, I let my student read some short sentences with the target words used. In doing this, you can slowly expose them to using the words in simple conversations. Do not forget to praise your student for a job well done in your pronunciation lesson. The English Gang Kittens and Cheetahs units cover this in a very clear and fun way.


Finally, teaching English pronunciation can be less stressful with the tips given. Your goal in teaching it is for your students to enunciate words properly, not to have the same accent as yours. Make it light and fun so that they can absorb the lesson better. Good luck!

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