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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers (2011)
Article · December 2011
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Heyad Al Tuhafi
Deakin University Melbourne, Austraia
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
Pronunciation is one of the most important challenges for English second
language (ESL) learners in their learning. How to say the letters? How to
combine letters to say words? And how to combine words to say useful and
understood sentences to the first language (L1) listeners? All these aspects must
be studied and understood to make learning pronunciation easier and smoother.
Although learning a second language is a very complex matter, still making
mistakes is a normal thing to any one. Learners can ask for help if they do any
mistakes in their speech and without any embarrassment. They must be risktakers. Indeed it is not necessary to speak fluently like (L1) speakers, but in an
understood language for listeners. Pronunciation is the main aspect which makes
languages different all over the world. Therefore, studying a new language is still
not easy but interesting to some extent (Boyer 2001, p. 14).
Without doubt there are plenty of ways to teach pronunciation. In my experience in
teaching English to non-native speakers (NNSs), became very clear to me that teaching
pronunciation through words, contracted words, minimal pairs, phrases and sentences,
and focusing on stress and intonation, are more effective than teaching each sound
alone. Pennington and Richards, (as cited in Richards and Renandya 2002, p. 178)
confirm that teaching pronunciation through a context is more influential than teaching
sounds individually.
Can pronunciation be taught? This question is still under the microscope to be studied
by most of researches and authors. Actually there is a Critical Period Hypothesis in
every human life which is the dividing boundary for the ability of a person
to acquire a new language. Burrill, (1985, as cited in Richards and Renandya 2002, p.
179) claims that it is very difficult to acquire native-speakers’ pronunciation for people
who have passed their critical period hypothesis. Krashen (1982, as cited in Richards
and Renandya 2002, p.179) emphasizes that pronunciation is not a learning skill, which
means it can not be learned and acquired by (L2) adult learners. Lenneberg (1967, as
cited in Gilakjani 2011, p.78) thinks that the critical period hypothesis stops around the
age of 12. On the other side, there are many researchers have proved that plenty of
(L2) adult learners could acquire a second language like native speakers (L1).
Pennington (1995, as cited in Richards and Renandya 2002, p. 179) points to the
adults’ capacity to match, parallel and understand the rules of speech communications
which is not found in kids. Tarone (1978, as cited in Richards and Renandya 2002,
p.179) supports that because of the adults’ daily life like studies or jobs and mixing with
Native Speakers (NSs), they can acquire their (L2) more easier than children.
Heyad Al Tuhafi
Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
What is Pronunciation?
Pronunciation is a significant section in English language for communicating and
contacting with people by using words. Each word has letters and each letter has a
specific sound. Some letters are stressed, some are not. Each speaker has his/her own
way in saying words in his/her normal speech (Boyer 2002, p. 1). Pronunciation is like
the musical tones when the speech flows out smoothly. So, if there is any weakness in
the rhythm, misunderstanding will occur. “Pronunciation skills are related to musical
skills” (Gilakjani, 2011, p.74).
The Importance of the Pronunciation
Teaching pronunciation at all levels is very important because any language is not a
language without pronouncing its letters correctly to be understood by the listeners.
Kenworthy (1987, p.3) thinks that (L2) adult learners can acquire (NSs) tone for their
needs and purposes. Many jobs need an excellent English speech such as teachers of
English, businessmen, pilots,…etc. Although there are many native language teachers
and non-native language teachers afraid of teaching pronunciation or don’t interest in
teaching it because of many reasons, it is a great challenge for them in their teaching
The Aim of Teaching Pronunciation
Speaking good English is a universal goal for (L2) learners. When English speech is
obvious and understood by the (NSs), it is considered as a correct and reasonable
pronunciation. Teachers should focus in their teaching pronunciation on correct English
sounds in a context. They do not care about the accent whether it is British or American
(James 2010, as cited in Gilakjani 2012, p. 98). Learners should be aware not only of
pronunciation, but also the grammar and vocabulary (Bailey 1980, as cited in Gilakjani
2012, p. 98).
Factors that affect Pronunciation Learning:
-Accent - It is naturally each group of people who lives in a region has a particular
language which has particular sounds used for their daily routines. Therefore, each
region all over the world has a special accent (Crystal 2003, as cited in Gilakjani 2011,
p. 75). Derwing and Munro (1997, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 76) insist on the role of
the teacher to coincide and realize the lineaments of each learner’s accent and its effect
on the clearness of the pronunciation .
-Age - What is the relationship between age and acquiring the (NSs’) pronunciation?
This question is still discussed and studied until today without obvious effects
(Kenworthy 1987, p. 4). It is a fact that as people age, the less the ability to learn.
Whenever age is less, education is better. As teachers, we can observe the difference
between children’s and adults’ ability to learn a second language in our teaching. I
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
agree with Kenworthy (1987, p. 4) in so far as (L2) young learners have the ability to
acquire a second language faster and easier than (L2) adult learners. And also Brown
(2007a, p. 2) concludes that “Children are better language learners than adults”. On the
contrary, as we know to each rule there are some exceptions. Many (L2) learners have
the ability to acquire the second language and speak English in a good pronunciation.
Bialystock and others (1997, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 78) confirm that plenty of (L2)
learners can speak with correct pronunciation exactly like native speakers in their (L2).
-Motivation and Exposure - It seems as though many (L2) learners are very motivated
to acquire a good pronunciation and bravely without any embarrassment ask for
correcting mistakes in their speech. Conversely, others are shy and feel great
embarrassment in their (L2) (Kenworthy 1987, p. 8). Bernaus and other researchers
(2004, as cited in Gilakjani 2011. p. 76) find out that who has a target to learn (L2) for
his/her needs and purposes: study or job, will get it like native speakers’ pronunciation.
-Mother Tongue Effect - The mother tongue influence is the most important factor in
my point of view in English pronunciation. In my experience with people from different
countries, everyone speaks English: Chinese, Arab, Indian, Pakistani, Persian, Turkish,
French, Russian and others but in his/her own way and accent. However all of them
speak English but it should be correct and understood!! Avery and Ehrlich (1992, as
cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 78) claim that the learners’ mother tongue has a great
influence on their acquiring English as a second language and they make new accents
for the spoken English. The influence of the mother tongue happens when the learners’
native language has different sounds from those in English language. For instance
many Arabs like Palestinians, Libyans, Egyptians and Syrians do not have the sound /p/
in their accent.
Whenever sound /p/ comes in words, they pronounce it /b/, eg the word (pencil)
pronounced /bensil/. Not only sound /p/, but also the sounds of the two letters (th) which
are /
/ or /
/ , Egyptians pronounce it /z/ or /s/, eg the word (thanks) pronounced
/sanks/ and the word (these) pronounced /zi:z/. Therefore, I completely agree with
Kenworthy (1987, p. 4) who thinks that (L2) learners face a great problem in English
pronunciation because of the integrations of sounds, rhythm and intonation.
-Conversation, Mixing with Native Speakers
Native speakers (NSs) give the hand of assistance to (L2) learners in making
conversations and correct the learners’ mistakes to help the learners acquiring their
accent. The teacher’s role here is important to encourage the learners to start dialogues
with (NSs) outside the classroom. But still the learners’ bravery to speak English is very
essential (Burns & Joyce 1977, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 79). Ward 1945 & Jones
(1918, as cited in Brown 1977, p. 1) suppose that (L2) learners have the capacity to
acquire the (NSs’) pronunciation messages normally in their English conversations, and
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
it is an excellent method to listen to English conversations tape records. I object to the
idea of some learners who live in a country which English is its native language and
they mix with people from their native language and all of them live in their own nonEnglish climate (Kenworthy 1987, p. 6).
-Intelligibility - What is intelligibility? It is the obviousness and understanding of spoken
English at the moment of the speaking. Therefore, it should be understood. The
intelligibility is the target more than being perfect English pronunciation. So, how clear
spoken English is, the listeners get and understand. And speaking English very fast
sometimes is not clear to the listeners. So, speak slowly and clearly to be understood.
To make an active talk with intelligibility with (NSs), L2 learners must be aware of these
matters: First, make your voice heard by the listeners. Secondly, speak slowly to be
understood. Thirdly, use signs like nodding your head and using your hands to express
a thought. Fourthly, try to avoid difficult words and expressions and avoid repetition, too.
Fifthly, and it is the most difficult matter to some learners is to ask the listeners to
correct their mistakes in pronunciation or vocabulary. For a lot of reasons, speaking
English 100% like (NSs) is almost impossible in (L2) adult learners’ situation, but by
time plus more conversations with (NSs), L2 learners can acquire the clear English
pronunciation (Kenworthy 1987, p. 13-18). It is not necessarily to speak exactly like
native speakers. Actually, there is plenty of non-native speakers (NNSs) speak fluently
in their personal sounds with no troubles of intelligibility (Beebe 1987, as cited in
Gilakjani 2011. p. 75).
-Personality - It is a fact that, who has a high confidence of his ability of speaking
English with (NSs), he/she will acquire the pronunciation of English and correct his/her
mistakes easily without asking and without embarrassment. According to Avery and
Ehrlich, (1992, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 78) (L2) learners who have a strong
personality and courage and they are confident to start a long talk with (NSs), can gain
the pronunciation of their second language more easily than the shy and worried
As I reviewed above, teaching pronunciation is neither simple nor difficult but needs
concentrating by the teacher and the learners. The teacher role is essential in
presenting his mission of the English sounds through words, contracted words and
minimal pairs not as individual sound. The learners must be introduced to the
Components of English Pronunciation and their importance in their learning:
1/ Word Stress
English speech has divided into words. Every word has stressed and unstressed
syllables when it occurs alone. Native speakers’ speech depends on the stressed
syllables to recognize and explain the words. For instance the words ‘what, she, have,
Heyad Al 4Tuhafi
Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
many’ must be stressed as they come alone, but when they occur within a sentence are
not stressed (Boomer & Laver 1968, as cited in Brown 1977, p. 48). Giba & Ribes
(2011, p. 131-133) conclude that all English words which have two or more syllables, at
least one is stressed and the others are not. For example: ‘FAther, sTAble, Mine,
TEAcher, etc’. And they point to the Homophones which are words have the same
letters in writing but not alike in their pronunciation and meaning, such as the word
‘present’ pronounced as PREsent and preSENT.
2/ Rhythm
Brown (2007b, p. 327) emphasizes on the speech rhythm with stress and intonation to
transfer significant letters. I completely agree with him without rhythm, stress and
intonation components, there is no language. Kenworthy (1987, p.30-31) concludes that
“Rhythm is a product of word stress” because the stressed syllable in the word is
powerful as it is focused, and the low syllable is not. And also she proves that English
has no flat and fixed rhythm. Teachers of English should be aware of their learners’ age
and regards in teaching pronunciation. Old learners actually interest in examples from
their cultures, historical stories, poets’ poems and leaders’ speeches because of their
experiences in life. Children interest in songs, folk songs and young school rhythms.
Brown (1977, p. 42-43) considers talking is similar to human body activities: leaping,
waving, swinging, playing and others have a rhythm. He also finds that the stressed
syllables in English speech make the rhythm strokes.
3/ Intonation
The three components: stress, rhythm and intonation work together side by side to
create a language. Giba and Ribes (2011, p. 134-135) find that “Intonation is the music
of the language from vibrations in rhythm.” With stressed and unstressed syllables,
language occurs. In fact speaking is similar with singing a song with different
intonations. And English is one of many languages of compressed high syllables
because the uncompressed low ones are usually reduced their pronunciation in
speaking. Kenworthy (1987, p. 41) finds that interpreting English to learners’ native
languages in the pronunciation lesson will be waste of time and sometimes it is
4/ Listen and Repeat (Phonology and Behavior)
Apparently hearing and duplicating to learners is a useful way with good results to get
the correct pronunciation. By training saying loudly with attentive concentrating,
learners’ pronunciation will be improved (Pennington 1996, as cited in Richards &
Renandya 2002, p. 180). Learners must have mindful and careful ears with copying
ability to listen and duplicate their teacher’s pronunciation to accomplish the aim
correctly (Kenworthy 1987, as cited in Richards & Renandya 2002, p. 180). Gilbert (A
short video by Gilbert, 2011) thinks that goodness of duplicating is a good idea to make
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
it as a song to be kept in mind for a long time. Brown (1977, p. 113-114) finds that
repetition is helpful for learners not only to profit a correct speech from their teacher and
to make a dialogue, but also it makes the learners direct themselves exactly to the
direct speech.
5/ The Sounds
English, as other languages, has sounds some are strange others are similar to the
learners’ native speakers’. Sounds in English are divided into two main groups:
consonants and vowels. Learners must have an idea about them as they are the most
important part in pronunciation. (L2) learners feel worried about their pronunciation
which is naturally different from (NSs’). Every learner, even in his/her first language,
learns native language sounds at the beginning of his/her learning life. For instance,
young children’s beginning speech, they try to blow air from their mouths to make
sounds, talk and imitate their parents. And the climate of their learning is essential. So
learning a second language is exactly similar to learning a first language in recognizing
new sounds, repeating them and then acquiring the language. The normal method to
assist learners to acquire the sounds is through a context. By words, phrases,
contracted words and minimal words. Some sounds in English have different sounds in
different places in a sentence. (L2) learners must hear and repeat sounds for many
times until they acquire their pronunciation (Kenworthy 1987, p. 45-47).
6/ Linkage and Simplification
Kenworthy (1987, p. 51-53) discusses the opinion of some L2 learners, who believe that
the spaces and moments of quietness between written letters and words are the same
in the speaking condition. In fact this thought is untrue because some sounds at the end
of a word join with a sound at the beginning of the following word. Therefore, they are
heard as one sound, eg. have fever pronounced /hafev / . Overlapping occurs in most
of English speech. For instance: going to pronounced
/gona/. So, learners need to listen and listen to English speech records and repeat.
Some learners can acquire the pronunciation much easier than others from their study,
job or making relationships with native speakers.
7/ Weak Forms
Weak forms are normally unstressed syllables in English speech. Any word has a
particular uncompressed place in an English speech, means it is in a weak form. Some
words are contracted with other words. So, they will be in a low pitch. For example, the
word ‘have’ which is stressed when we say it individually, but when it contracted with ‘I’,
it will be ‘I’ve’. It is not easy for (L2) learners to distinguish these contraction in English
speech (Kenworthy 1987, p. 10).
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
8/ Suffixes
Suffixes are additions added to the end of the words. They are added to words to
change the latter to another part of speech or for other purposes. Giba and Ribes (2011,
p. 134) point out there are many suffixes added to the main words but they are not
pronounced. But the syllable before the last will be stressed. For example: history + -ic
= hisTOric; courage + -ous = couRAGeous. Other suffixes like –ize, when it is added to
a word, the first syllable of the word stressed. For example: national + -ize = NATInalize.
Other suffixes like: ‘ –ment, -ing, -ed, …etc.’ do not change the original stressed
syllables in the origin word.
- Talk English as slow as possible to be understood. Because talking slowly without
errors better than talking fast with a lot of errors.
- Read English loudly. It is proved that reading aloud is a very helpful way to recognize
the errors of pronunciation. Vocabulary and grammatical errors recognized in loud
reading, as well.
- Let your voice be heard and clear in a conversation with others.
- Remember always to exercise your English daily routines speech. Talk, listen to, sing,
read and write as much as you can.
- Repeat whatever you say by recording your speech to distinguish your mistakes and
correct them. If you can listen to native speakers’ records, you will be able to acquire
their accent with time (Giba & Ribes 2011, p. 137- 139).
1- Styling Teaching Pronunciation – Morley (1998, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 80)
presents teaching pronunciation should be through a context. And it must fulfill learners’
targets in their needs and purposes to make understood conversations with native
2- Concentrate on suprasegmental – Bray (1995, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 80) adds
that the style of teaching pronunciation must be centered on the suprasegmental
countenances to progress the capacity of the learners’ clearness. Clearness speaking
dialogues is worth more than native-like efficiency.
3- Improve teaching pronunciation aids – Fraser (2000b, as cited in Gilakjani 2011,
p.80) recognizes that a big responsibility hung on the teachers’ role in teaching ESL
pronunciation. They should utilize modern aids to progress their teaching mechanisms.
Chen et al. (1996, as cited in Gilakjani 2011. p.80) submits many mechanisms and aids
in teaching rhythm and stress. Makarova (1996, as cited in Gilakjani 2011, p. 80) finds
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Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
that peer returns has a great influence on ESL learning by using many ways in teaching
pronunciation like oral exercises and repetition.
4- Training courses for teachers – Making courses and conferences to teachers of
English from time to time is very important. Each teacher speaks about his/her
experience in teaching ESL learners and his/her advantages and disadvantages of
his/her way in teaching. All teachers can get the benefit from hearing different stories
and results. New teachers can also get some advice from experienced teachers in
these meetings (Forman 1993, as cited in Gilakjani 2011. p. 80).
5- Accessories supply for educators and students – Both educators and students need
some accessories in the classroom to support teaching pronunciation. Technology has
played a vital role in improving learners’ skills such as using a computer which became
an emergency demand in our life. (ESL) learners can look for a lot of things online that
are related to their needs in their pronunciation learning. Updated books, journals and
researches are used as references for both of them (Lambacher 1991, as cited in
Gilakjani 2011, p. 81).
Every learner has a purpose to learn English such as studying or getting a job. These
purposes do not need a proficiency in pronunciation and the learner can reach it with
time, but needs enough knowledge in English speaking. But one job needs a high
proficiency which is a teacher of English. He/She should pay a great attention to the
components of pronunciation: stress, intonation and rhythm. The function of the teacher
is to make the students capable to pronounce and say words properly and to assist
them to improve their second language (Kenworthy 1987, p. 1- 3). Learning a second
language and using its sounds and rules is not easy studied and acquired particularly
for old learners. Pronunciation should not be taught separately, but through other skills
like reading, listening and speaking (Richards and Renandya 2002, p. 185). Gilakjani
(2002, p. 81) adds that teaching a second language pronunciation is the hard part of
English. So, (ESL) teachers must concentrate on their students’ purposes and
requirements. They should center their interest on the learners’ standard in teaching
English pronunciation. Pronunciation should be introduced to learners as a result of a lot
of combinations of letters and sounds. Teachers’ encouragement is significant for
learners to listen, speak and read English as much as they can inside or outside the
classroom. Finally, it is understood that an acceptable and clear English speaking
derives to clear and understood pronunciation, which plays an essential part in
consolidating the (ESL) learners’ second language (Gilankjani 2011, p. 81).
Heyad Al 8Tuhafi
Teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers
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Heyad Al 9Tuhafi
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