TEFL Pronunciation Problems

Pronunciation problems happen when speaking a second language because most people are used to hearing and making sounds only exist in their mother tongue.

For example there might be many sounds in your mother tongue and English that are similar.Some however,are only partially similar and others are totally different.When you hear or trying to say the partially similar or totally different sounds it?s easy to make mistakes because you are used to hearing and making sounds in your mother tongue.It is important therefore,to make yourself aware of how sounds in a different language are made and practice listening to them and saying them as much as possible.

To make language sounds we move our jaw,tongue,lips and the vocal cords in our throat in a number of different ways.If,for example,your brain is not used to telling your tongue to move into a certain position in your mouth in order to make a particular sound,then you may have difficulty saying that sound clearly.

Here are a few suggestions on how to train your brain:

1.Learn to recognize that there are differences between some English sounds and your mother tongue sounds.

2.Learn to hear clearly and think about how sounds are made when you are listening.

3.Discover how these sounds are made.Find out for example:

How far open your jaw should be Whether the tip of your tongue should be touching the inside of your upper teeth or whether it should be lying flat. If your lips should be rounded like when you are going to kiss someone or spread like when you smile. Whether the vocal cords in your throat should be vibrating or not(in terms of voiced or voiceless sounds)

4.Practise moving your jar,tongue,lips correctly as possible so that you are able to make the problematic English sounds clearly.

According to some researchers,non-native speakers tend to say only some of the vowel sounds in English clearly.The main reason for this is that in English there is a difference between what are called long and short sounds.Non-native speakers tend not to make a difference between long and short sounds but instead something in between.Another reason for making mistakes when saying English vowel sounds,may be related to understanding how to move the jaw,tongue, lips etc into correct position.

To understand how problems occur with consonant sounds,it?s important to understand how the vocal cords in your throat work.When you say any vowel sound and some consonant sounds your vocal cords should vibrate.Sounds produced this way are known as voiced sounds.The consonant sounds that do not cause your vocal cords to vibrate are known as voiceless sounds.All vowel sound are voiced naturally,and we already know how to do this.

Try feeling how your vocal cords vibrate to make avoiced sound.Place two fingers lightly across your throat say one of the vowel sounds.You will notice that the vibration of your vocal cords can be felt in your fingers.

The best way to check the pronunciation of the words is to be aware of the way sounds are written to show correct correct pronunciation and to use a dictionary.

You have to be aware of the following other areas:

Word stress

Sentence stress


Improving your English pronunciation is not just about understanding and practicing the differences between vowel sounds and consonant sounds,it is also very important to be aware of how all the different elements of speech are put together.Understanding and practicing English word stress and sentence stress,linking etc.will help you enormously in hearing connected speech clearly and being able to speak English with confidence and more fluency.


The Practice of English Language Teaching Jeremy Harmer

TESOL Teaching Materials

Author: Galip Toker

Date of post: 2006-11-20