TEACHING ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION TO DIFFERENT AGE
vyučovanie angličtiny, vyučovanie anglickej výslovnosti, deti, dospelí, vyučovacie techniky,
ELT, teaching English pronunciation, children, adults, teaching techniques,
Teaching pronunciation is often a neglected or ignored in English language. Nevertheless,
correct pronunciation is without doubt a fundamental feature of successful communication in
the English language. For this reason, attention should be paid to teaching pronunciation right
from the beginning of English language teaching. However, different age groups learners
require different approaches and techniques and these are addressed in this paper.
Vyučovanie výslovnosti je často zanedbávané, alebo ignorované na hodinách anglického
jazyka. Napriek tomu je správna výslovnosť základnou črtou úspešnej komunikácie v anglickom
jazyku. Práve preto by sa mala venovať veľká pozornosť vyučovaniu výslovnosti hneď od
začiatku učenia sa anglického jazyka. Rôzne vekové skupiny učiacich sa si vyžadujú rôzne
prístupy a vyučovacie techniky a autorka článku ich tu rozoberá.
Place of teaching pronunciation
English pronunciation is very difficult for foreign learners and it is due to the fact that spelling
and pronunciation are two different matters. On the top of it, speech sounds of English are
unlikely to be identical to the speech sounds of the mother tongue of the learners. There might
be differences in placement of word stress, quality and intensity of syllables, speech rhythm,
intonation, etc. It is quite common to assimilate English sounds to the mother tongue sounds
and to apply other suprasegmental features of the native language to pronunciation of English.
However, in teaching English pronunciation, such assimilation should be avoided and learners
need to be taught correct segmental and suprasegmental features of pronunciation.
According to Gilakjani (2011) those who start learning English after their school years
have greater difficulties in acquiring intelligible pronunciation and the degree of difficulty
increases with age. However, Králová (2010) claims that learners of any age are able to create
additional phonetic categories for new language sounds which do not correspond to the mother
tongue sounds. The fact is that there are learners of English at all ages and that teaching
pronunciation should not be concerning only children but also adults.
Role of teaching pronunciation in schools is very unfavourable next to teaching
grammar or vocabulary. This is a problem of English teaching in many countries. Experienced
teachers are not keen to teach pronunciation and they claim that there is not clear guidance in
textbooks and that the isolated exercises do not bring the wanted effect (Griffiths, 2011).
Teachers often claim that there is not enough time for teaching pronunciation in their classes
(Gilbert, 2008) and they are more confident to teach grammar and vocabulary (Datko, 2013).
Teachers also complain that they do not receive enough training in methodology of teaching
pronunciation. For the fact how difficult the English pronunciation is, there is very little
attention paid to teaching and developing it. According to Haycraft (1978) foreign teachers of
English ignore teaching pronunciation because they themselves do not have enough confidence.
However, teaching pronunciation is inevitable in ELT and it needs to be integrated right from
the beginning, taught regularly and included in to daily classroom procedures.
Factors influencing learning pronunciation
According to Králová (2016) a foreign language competence (including pronunciation
competence) cannot be limited to the contrastive analysis of two language systems. An
individual’s pronunciation competence depends on relations to the language systems (phonic
interference) and extralingual environment (Sabol, 1993). Extralingual factors include the type
of language contact (direct, mediated, occasional, permanent), the form of contact (natural,
artificial), the type of bilingualism (individual, group) and the type of bilingualism (learnt one
of the languages as an adult, learnt both languages as a child, learnt both languages as a child,
one being suppressed).
Gilakjani (2011) names the following factors affecting pronunciation in a foreign
language. Native accent influences pronunciation in a foreign language. The older the learner
gets, the stronger is the effect of native accent. Stress, intonation and rhythm effect
intelligibility more than errors in single sounds. Exposure and motivation for learning the
foreign language also determine learners’ development of pronunciation. Personal or
professional motivation for learning English can result in desire for native-like pronunciation.
Some learners are more adept at requiring correct pronunciation than others. Pronunciation
Attitude Inventory measures learners’ relation to the target language pronunciation. Students
who are more concerned about their target language pronunciation usually gain better
pronunciation. Motivation, positive attitudes, exposure to the target language, and openness to
the target culture influence the success in foreign language proficiency and pronunciation.
According to Pennington (1994) is pronunciation viewed as a component of linguistics
rather than conversational fluency. Teachers regard pronunciation very little importance in
conversational classes and they view it as the least useful out of language skills and therefore
sacrifice teaching pronunciation in order to spend time on other areas of language (Elliot,
1995). There is a question whether explicit instruction can help in learning foreign
pronunciation. It was found out that phonetic instruction to adult learners of English can largely
improve their allophonic articulation.
Age is a strong determining factor influencing foreign language pronunciation. It is
closely connected to the theory of Critical Period Hypothesis (Lenneberg, 1967) which states
that children between 2 and 13 can achieve native-like proficiency in acquiring a foreign
language, especially pronunciation (Loewen, Reiders, 2011). According to this theory, older
learners of a foreign language can rarely achieve native-like fluency and pronunciation.
According to Králová (2010) ability to create separate categories for foreign language sounds
similar to the sounds of the mother tongue is decreasing from the age of six years.
According to Avery and Ehrlich (1992) sound patterns of the mother tongue are
transferred into the foreign language. When the sound is absent in the native sound inventory,
the learners might not be able to pronounce the sounds. Combining sounds rules in native
language might be different to the target language. Stress, rhythm and intonation patterns of the
native language might be transferred to the target language. All these factors might cause
problems for learners because the rules are language specific and can vary from one language
Teaching English to young learners
In Slovakia, it is compulsory to teach English from the third grade of primary school (8
years of age). However, many schools provide English language from the first grade. English
language teaching should mainly support the pupils’ personalities at primary education.
Knowledge of foreign languages should develop abilities of pupils to understand that there are
differences between languages and cultures. Teaching English to young learners should evoke
interest, joy, desire to explore and discover, and the teachers should support children’s
capabilities and abilities (ISCED 1, 2011).
English language teaching at the primary school level should stimulate interest in the
language, provide basis for further English language education, develop communicative
competences in their mother tongue and English, support universal development of pupils
(social, emotional, cognitive and personal), develop intercultural competences, and all linguistic
activities should focus on listening comprehension, speaking with the accent on pronunciation
The Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR, 2001) recommends teaching
pronunciation right from the beginning of foreign language teaching. During early stages of
learning, pupils should practice correct pronunciation. The emphasis within teaching
pronunciation is to meet the communicative objective of the language (ISCED 1, 2011).
The National curriculum sets the level of proficiency in English of primary school
pupils to A1.1+ according to the CEFR (2001). Concerning pronunciation, pupils should be
exposed to authentic spoken utterances, encouraged to imitate the teacher, audio-recorded
native speakers, video-recorded native speakers, read aloud phonetically weighted texts,
practice ear-training, phonetic drilling, imitation, tongue twisters, explicit teaching, etc.
Clapping, clicking, tapping, gestures and mirrors can be also used in teaching pronunciation.
Young learners are still considered to be in the ideal “Critical Period Hypothesis” age and can
achieve flawless like pronunciation if their teaching pronunciation is addressed correctly.
Suitable techniques for teaching pronunciation to young learners are described later.
Teaching English to adults
According to Harmer (2005), adult learners are those who are over twenty years old.
There is a general assumption that adult learners are much more disadvantaged in learning
foreign languages than younger learners. However, there are not only disadvantages with adult
learners, but adults also have many advantages next to younger learners.
Harmer (ibid.) stated that the ability of adults to work with abstract thoughts and their
life experiences bring advantages into foreign language learning. Adults are often more
disciplined and create patterns to their learning. They are able to struggle with learning even
when it is boring and they can focus even when something is not interesting. A crucial factor in
foreign language learning is motivation and adult learners usually have high motivation, know
what they want to achieve and they follow their goals.
He (ibid.) also stated disadvantages of adult learners in foreign language teaching. Adult
learners can be critical of teaching methods, because their previous learning experiences might
have predisposed them to certain teaching styles and methods and they could feel
uncomfortable with new or different teaching patterns. They can also be negatively influenced
by failure or criticism, which can make them feel anxious and under-confident.
Teaching pronunciation to adults is one of the most difficult issues in ELT (Strevens,
1991). Adults have reduced auditory discrimination and plasticity for language acquisition, they
are inferior to monitor their own pronunciation performance, notice and correct own errors.
Their mimicry is reduced in adulthood too. Their shyness is increased and they are unwilling to
make unfamiliar sounds. Adults prefer writing to speaking, are afraid to make errors in
speaking, especially in public. However, there are some positives of teaching pronunciation to
adults too. Adults can follow detailed instructions and can intellectualise their learning. They
can explicitly learn about speech organs and production of speech sounds, phonemic alphabet,
apply rules to pronunciation, etc. This is what young learners cannot do.
Pronunciation teaching techniques
The Common European Framework for Languages (2001) recommends teaching pronunciation
right from the beginning of foreign language learning. According to the CEFR, pronunciation
should be developed via contact with authentic spoken language. The recommended techniques
are listening and repeating, drilling, minimal pair drills, ear training, phonetic training, reading
aloud, imitation, tongue twisters, sound-colour charts, phonics, songs/rhymes, recording
learners’ pronunciation, etc. Also clapping, clicking, tapping, gestures, mirrors, visual aids, etc.
can be used for teaching pronunciation. It is advised to combine different teaching techniques.
Most popular and common pronunciation teaching techniques recommended by AMEP (2002),
Celce-Murcia, Brinton, Goodwin (2002), Reid (2014), Morley (1991), O’Connor (1993), Baker
(2006), Hancock (1995), Hudson (2012) with the focus on age suitability are analysed below.
Listening and repeating.
In this technique, a teacher or recorded native speaker are set as models for imitating sounds. It
is one of the most traditional ways of teaching pronunciation, but it can be made more
interesting with using CDs, interactive boards, internet activities, etc. Pupils could also record
themselves and listen to their own pronunciation. This technique is suitable for all ages from
young learners to adults.
It went out of fashion with introduction of the audio-lingual method, because it was associated
with a repetitive approach. However, drills do not have to be mindless, as they can offer a
chance to learners to practice saying new words and phrases without an extra strain of trying to
communicate. This technique is very useful with beginners even though it is a strictly
controlled activity. Drills can be practiced individually, in pairs or chorally. There can be
repetition drills, transformation drills, substitution drills, chain drills and probably the most
attractive are the Jazz Chants. Jazz chants are great not only for practicing segmental, but also
suprasegmental (rhythm, intonation) levels of pronunciation. As it was mentioned earlier, drills
are suitable especially for beginners and are recommended for all age groups too. Adults might
be reluctant to do playful activities due to their shyness.
Minimal pair drills
Words which have the same pronunciation except one phoneme are called minimal pairs
(man/men, bright/bride, tin/thin, sin/sing, etc.). This technique helps learners to recognize
differences between sounds and it helps them to articulate individual sounds. In practicing
minimal pair drills, learners should first differentiate, then recognize the sounds and finally to
imitate the minimal pairs with correct sounds. This technique should be also used with all age
groups, but probably more suitable for young learners who have the elasticity of the brain to
recognize and imitate sounds they hear. Adult learners might struggle with such activities
without explicit explanation.
It is a very effective teaching technique, where learners focus their attention on hearing. In
pronunciation there is a close relationship between speech perception and speech production.
Ear training is also a teaching technique in music. Traditionally, the ear training technique was
connected to identification of individual sounds. However, it can be just as efficient in teaching
suprasegmental features, such as word stress, rhythm or intonation. Recognition of individual
phonemes can be done using minimal pair tests. Listening for a specific task can be used for
both segmental and suprasegmental features. Ear training should be used with all age groups,
but it is more efficient with young learners, who have the ability to hear different or new
sounds, rhythm of the speech and intonation. Adults lose this ability and it can be frustrating for
them not to be able to hear the differences in speech.
Tongue twisters are purposefully created sentences or rhymes aiming at certain sounds which
are difficult to pronounce. Tongue twisters are in all languages and are created for
pronunciation training of the mother tongue. However they are very useful in foreign language
learning too. They are useful for all age groups, can bring a lot of fun to the class and learners
usually enjoy saying them. To avoid frustration, they should be practiced once the required
sound has been learnt.
Songs and rhymes
Using songs and rhymes is considered to be a very effective way of teaching English. They are
rhythmical, learners can dance, move or do TPR while singing. By singing or saying rhymes,
learners practice pronunciation drills, rhythm or intonation. Songs and rhymes are especially
useful and loved by young learners who love singing and do not like static exercises. They are
very motivational too. Songs and rhymes can be used for all age groups, but older learners and
adults can be more shy and reluctant to sing.
This technique is not as popular as it was in the past, because not everybody feels confident to
read aloud and it does not always reflect the way people speak. It includes reading passages of
texts and it can focus on problematic sounds, stress, rhythm, intonation, etc. Choosing the right
text can make this technique interesting and it is suitable for older learners, who can read well
in their mother tongue. The young learners are still learning to read well in their mother tongue
and forcing them to read in English might be confusing and frustrating.
Recording learners’ pronunciation
This technique involves audio-recordings of learners’ speech, free conversations, role plays,
tongue twisters, reading, etc. It is a very useful technique, which is time consuming, as the
follow up listening takes a lot of time. It is valuable though to get a feedback on own
pronunciation. However, it is suitable for older learners who can hear and analyse their own
They are not a technique, but aids which help in teaching pronunciation of individual sounds.
They can be pictures, sound-colour charts, mirrors, etc. Pictures of articulator, position of
articulators in production of individual sounds, phonemic symbols could be used for description
of how sounds are produced. Such pictures help especially adult learners to understand
articulation of individual sounds. A mirror can be a very useful tool for a learner observing
his/her own articulation of different sounds. Mirrors are useful with all age groups, adults
understand the position of different articulators and make purposefully required position, and
they can also bring fun for young learners to see the movement and position of their mouth and
It has been developed for native speakers of English to connect the spoken and written
language. Each letter or combination of letters represent a sound or sounds. Learners must
recognise which symbols (letters) make which sounds in order to read. This technique is
becoming very popular in ELT too, where learners know the letters (can read), but do not know
the sounds of the foreign language. Phonics in ELT teaches learners sounds of English,
connects them to letters (starting with simple words to create a pattern – cat, pen, sun). The next
step is to introduce that sounds can be represented by more than one letter (k in cake) and the
final step is to introduce tricky words with alternative spellings. This technique is especially
recommended for young learners.
This is becoming a very popular technique in English pronunciation teaching. It was originally
developed for teaching native speakers how to read and write. It was a spelling programme
connecting letters to colours. The Sound-colour charts give a direct link between sounds and
colours. The teacher trains students to vocal gymnastics, it means that students become aware
of different lip positions, muscular movements for new sounds. Sound-colour charts replace
learning phonemic alphabet and can be suitable for all age groups from small children to adults.
This technique is quite demanding as it includes phonetically transcribed words or texts.
Learners need to be acquainted with phonemic symbols for consonants and vowels and need to
be able to connect them to individual sounds. Visual aids in a form of phonemic chart,
articulator diagrams are very helpful. This technique is not suitable for young learners but can
be very helpful for adults. Adults have difficulties to hear different sounds and imitate them.
When it is explicitly explained how sounds are produced and they are given concrete visual
form of a symbol, it helps adult learners to understand and pronounce the different sounds.
Teaching sounds and explicit learning
Explicit learning on the segmental level can by done by introducing sounds in new words and it
is explained how these sounds are articulated. Learners can practice new sounds by drilling or
other techniques. The next step is to recognize particular sounds in different words (hut, cat,
cup, hat). Learners are introduced same spelling patterns with different sounds (paid, said/none,
gone). Learners practice connecting words with sounds by grouping words according to e.g.
same vowel sounds in them. Using crosswords focusing on sounds, rhyming crosswords, odd
one out, putting similar sounds in the contrast are some other activities practicing particular
sounds. These explicit teaching techniques are more suitable for older learners who have lower
ability to imitate unknown sounds. But by understanding how to articulate new sound and by
practicing them with such activities, older learners can gain correct pronunciation.
Suprasegmentals and explicit learning
Explicit learning can be on the level of suprasegmentals, where learners learn and practice word
stress, sentence stress, rhythm, weak forms, intonation. Word stress can be practiced by
counting syllables, highlighting stressed syllable, recognizing different stress patterns, grouping
words according to a stress pattern, etc. Sentence stress and rhythm can be practiced by
recognizing lexical (stressed words) and function words (in their weak form). Example
sentences, jazz chants, rhymes, tongue twisters practicing rhythm can be drilled. Songs are also
very good activity to practice suprasegmentals. Intonation is difficult to teach explicitly, as it is
mostly produced at subconscious level. There are some rules to follow on what attitudes and
emotions different tones can carry. Drama techniques and simulations are good techniques
where intonation is especially important. Suprasegmentals taught explicitly are suitable mainly
There are many different techniques and activities which can be used for teaching and
practicing pronunciation. Some of them are suitable for age groups and some are better for
young learners and some for adults. This paper analysed most of the available teaching
techniques for pronunciation with the focus on suitability for different age groups.
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Článok sa zaoberá problematikou vyučovania anglickej výslovnosti. Anglická výslovnosť je vo
všeobecnosti zložitá, keďže písaná a hovorená forma slova je vo väčšine prípadov iná a často
zložitá. Napriek tomu, že existujú určité pravidlá výslovnosti, v angličtine je mnoho bežných
slov, ktorých výslovnosť je nepravidelná a tým aj zmätočná. Hlásky, slovný prízvuk, rytmus reči
a intonácia sú veľmi rozdielne medzi angličtinou a materinským jazykom. Učiaci sa si často
asimilujú hlásky materinského jazyka do angličtiny ako aj ďalšie suprasegmentálne javy.
Učitelia majú často sami problém s jednotlivými javmi vo výslovnosti a snáď aj preto nevenujú
vyučovaniu výslovnosti dostatočnú pozornosť. Je mnoho faktorov, ktoré ovplyvňujú učenie sa
výslovnosti v cudzom jazyku, ako je vek, motivácia, vystavenie sa cudziemu jazyku, atď.
Špecifiká učenia výslovnosti u mladších žiakov a u dospelých sú rozobraté ako aj výhody
a nevýhody pri učení sa výslovnosti v rôznom veku. Jednotlivé techniky vyučovania výslovnosti
sú vymenované, opísané a odporúčané pre jednotlivé vekové skupiny (počúvanie a opakovanie,
drilovanie, drilovanie minimálnych párov, trénovanie ucha, jazykolamy, pesničky a rýmovačky,
čítanie nahlas, nahrávanie výslovnosti učiacich sa, vizuálne pomôcky, phonics, zvukovo-
farebné diagramy, fonetický tréning, učenie hlások a explicitné učenie, suprasegmentály
a explicitné učenie.
Kontaktná aresa autorky:
Eva Reid, Mgr., PhD.
Katedra lingvodidaktiky a interkultúrnych štúdií
Univerzita Konštantína Filozofa v Nitre