Teaching Pronunciation to Adult English Language Learners

K. Schaetzel
E. L. Low
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Georgetown Law Center
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This resource combines research on, rationale for teaching, and teaching activities for pronunciation in a clear and straightforward manner. The authors cover how recent research has changed ideas about pronunciation and its importance in the role of non-native speakers of English, primarily that teachers need to learn guiding principles of pronunciation and teach them in the classroom. Furthermore, they explain pertinent terms and features of pronunciation and relate these back to ESL practitioners’ needs to teach them in the classroom in order to achieve mutual intelligibility among non-native speakers of English and between non-native speakers of English and native speakers of English.

The brief is divided into four sections:

  • Introduction – covers the ESL population and a rationale for teaching pronunciation
  • Features of Languages – explains key features that one needs to know to be able to teach pronunciation such as stress, accent, intonation, and motivation and why they need to be taught
  • Instructional Strategies – features four instructional strategies, a rationale for their use in teaching pronunciation, and examples of classroom activities that can be used to teach particular features of pronunciation. This section also includes charts and checklists to guide teachers or students through pronunciation awareness activities.
  • Conclusion
Required Training

None, some knowledge of linguistic features would be helpful but not necessary

What the experts say

Practitioners of adult ESL at all levels will find thought-provoking information in this resource as to why and how to teach certain pronunciation features – and why others are not essential. In lieu of espousing one method or technique for teaching pronunciation, this valuable resource reviews what the research says about the reasons for pronunciation difficulties among English language learners (ELLs) and suggests a variety of practical strategies to address their differing needs.

The brief provides an excellent, concise, comprehensive discussion of research related to pronunciation learning and its implication for practice. The authors have provided an extensive review of pronunciation research from Contrastive Analysis (Fries, 1952) and the Critical Period Hypothesis (Lennenberg, 1967) to more recent research on the role of prosodic features (stress, intonation and rhythm), motivation, and exposure to English in intelligibility, including research on pronunciation features that contribute to communication breakdowns among pairs of non-native speakers of English (Jenkins, 2000).  Two of the most valuable components of this research review are (1) the authors’ discussion of heretofore accepted beliefs about the acquisition of native-like pronunciation; and (2) their synthesis of research that refutes these beliefs and suggestions for alternative practices.

The discussion of research leads to research-based strategies for helping learners to perceive pronunciation differences, become more aware of their own pronunciation goals, and monitor their own progress in pronunciation learning, within a framework of establishing respect for learners’ native languages. Specific strategies are provided to help learners to focus on word stress, unstressed syllables, and other pronunciation features. Indeed, perhaps the most useful component of the resource is the authors’ discussion of techniques to help learners achieve the following: “cultivate positive attitudes toward accuracy; notice the effects of pronunciation on interactions; notice prosodic features of language (stress, intonation, rhythm); develop communicative competence.”

The authors provide two very helpful checklists that are not widely available. The first is a table of pronunciation features that can lead to communication breakdowns among second language speakers of English. ESL teachers can use this chart to note pronunciation-based communication breakdowns when students are engaged in pair-work or oral presentations and to determine what pronunciation features to focus on in subsequent instruction. The second checklist highlights pronunciation features that can be used to give students individual feedback on their pronunciation during classroom activities such as oral presentations.


In sum, this resource offers practitioners the following useful features:

  • A review of theories pertaining to the acquisition of native-like pronunciation
  • Presentation of research that suggests alternative approaches
  • Discussion of research-based instructional strategies that help learners meet their personal and professional needs vis-à-vis pronunciation.  

Further Suggested Resources: (Note: These resources have not been reviewed by LINCS experts)

Derwing, T. M., Munro, J., & Thomson, R. I. (2008, September). A longitudinal study of ESL learners' fluency and comprehensibility development. Applied Linguistics, 29, 359-380.