The role of pronunciation, rhythm and intonation

The basic question teachers have to ask themselves is how important it is to teach pronunciation. The answer will determine the reasons of our teaching pronunciation and the time and effort we are ready to devote to it.

The opinion shared by many teachers is that we should strive to teach and try to achieve an ideal pronunciation. However, not many students have a perfect ear for music and are capable of imitating a perfect model. Moreover, it is not really clear what the ideal is. A living language has many accents, dialects, ways of articulation, etc. As native speakers of

Polish we often forget about it, since Polish is quite a homogenous entity. In English there are British, American, Australian, Irish, Canadian, Scottish or Hindi pronunciations.

Students and teachers have to answer the question which variation to learn or teach and why. Learning one type of pronunciation will, understandably, limit our exposure to other versions, which will not be a smart move from the linguistic point of view.

Nevertheless, perfect pronunciation is important in teacher training, as a teacher, being a model and a paragon for students, cannot speak somehow, or make phonetic mistakes.

The most practical approach will advocate teaching pronunciation to such an extent that people using it will be capable of getting their message across. Additionally, teachers have to remember that their students ought to be understood by people at large, not only by their classmates or teachers, who know their pronunciation and accent and usually know what students are trying to say.


Reasons for misunderstandings due to problems with phonetics:

Replacing sound that students are not able to produce (s-th; sick-thick)

Skipping sounds that should be articulated and changing the meaning of the word (mine-mind)

Adding sounds where they should not appear (Polish pronunciation of ‘table’)

Changing the stressed syllable ( export, to export)

Changing the word that should be stressed in the sentence (emphasising ‘you’ in

‘thank you’)

Changing intonation (using rising intonation typical for questions)

Teachers should try to teach their students NOT to make such mistakes providing learners with good examples, and simultaneously trying to eradicate the already existing ones.


Teaching pronunciation

The most important thing in teaching pronunciation is to make students differentiate

between sounds and help them understand that if they do not hear such differences, they will not be able to produce them.

While teaching pronunciation many methods can be employed:


Minimal pairs (ill-eel, sick-seek)-students are told that they will hear words and have to decide if they are the same or different; then combination of words are provided; older students may be asked to write or repeat, younger ones to use colours, pick some object, etc.


Give the number (students are given a minimal pair in which each part is allocated a number; then the teacher says the words and students have to write/say the number)


A repeated word (students are given a minimal pair and then the teacher gives the groups of three words- only those from a minimal pair; students have to write/say the answers)


Counting repeated words (A teacher reads 3-4 words consisting of the elements of the minimal pair, students have to write how many times the same word was repeated)


The odd one out


Showing the words (teachers will have to prepare slips/sheets with words they will practise written on them)


Showing the pictures (a variation of the above but with pictures)


Imitation (from the whole class to individual students)

 never practise isolated sounds, always use them in words/sentences

 try to choose words in which a practised sound is in the initial position (e.g. thick for ‘th’)

 use backchaining (repeating from the end of the sentence, e.g.

Thank you very much, John.

................................., John.

........................much, John.

................very much, John.

.........you very much, John.

Thank you very much, John.

It helps to maintain appropriate rhythm and intonation.

When asking somebody to repeat, use gestures or eye contact- some students may feel stressed if asked for repetition/ correction all the time

Try to help students showing them what they should do with their face when they pronounce something (yawn, smile, etc.)


What is happening in the picture? (teachers show a picture and ask students to finish a sentence they will begin, e.g. Right now she is........)

Reading out

Questions and answers (teachers ask questions whose answers will require saying the words we want to practise)

Translating sentences


Teaching word and sentence stress

To teach this type of stress successfully, teachers should first of all help their students establish which syllable/word is stressed. It can be done by:

Using capital letters for stressed syllables WARsaw

Writing the word with the apostrophe before a stressed syllable ‘Warsaw

Writing a word with the apostrophe after the stressed syllable W’arsaw

Underlining the stressed syllable Warsaw

Using symbols

Making students aware of the weak/strong forms- e.g. by aking them to underline the weak forms of a particular word in the text


Teaching intonation

To teach proper intonation, teachers should use symbols that will help their students hear the intonation:

Using arrows

Using lines



Important facts:


The need for a good model


The importance of contact with live language


Teaching phonetics must be preceded by making sure that students differentiate between sounds and hear the differences


The more we repeat, the better our pronunciation is


A lot of people do not like individual repetition- they should repeat in groups


Individual repetition must follow group repetition


Use associations (similar sounds in the mother tongue, facial expressions, etc.)


An important question- To use or not to use the phonemic alphabet:

The problems of sound and spelling correspondence

Dictionary entries

It’s easier to explain the mistakes and correct them

It’s more important to recognise rather than produce the different symbols

/ðə/ /ˈresɪpi / /fɔ:r/ /ðə/ /ˈtʃɪkɪn/ /ɪz/ /ɪn/ /ðə/ /ˈkɪtʃɪn/

I take it you already know

Of tough and bough and cough and dough?

Others may stumble, but not you,

On hiccough, thorough, lough and through?

Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,

To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word

That looks like beard and sounds like bird,

And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -

For goodness sake don't call it deed!

Watch out for meat and great and threat

(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).

A moth is not a moth in mother,

Nor both in bother, broth in brother,

And here is not a match for there

Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,

And then there's dose and rose and lose -

Just look them up - and goose and choose,

And cork and work and card and ward,

And font and front and word and sword,

And do and go and thwart and cart -

Come, come, I've hardly made a start!

A dreadful language? Man alive!

I'd mastered it when I was five! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRe-j2EC1j8