Belmont International English



This is an area that needs a great deal of attention.  Many of my students have studied English in their home countries, sometimes for years, but the language has been taught as if it were a science, with a lot of emphasis on grammar.  They can conjugate an irregular verb in all its tenses, but they get little return for all their hard work, because listeners who are not used to talking to foreigners often can't understand them.

Vowels are a significant problem, since the mispronunciation of the vowel sound in a word can often lead to misunderstanding. The vowels that most of my students have problems with are the lower, more relaxed vowels. The long or short uh sounds are our real bugaboos.

Once I had a French teacher who told me, "You are unable to understand these words because you pronounce them so badly."  There is much truth to this statement.  Once students really understand the difference, and learn to make the distinct sounds, they begin to discriminate between them as they listen to spoken English.

click here for a discussion of vowels

I have some practices for pronunciation of vowels.  I usually go around the room, asking each student to pronounce a word group, and I correct the pronunciation.  I try not to embarrass anyone, but I do insist on a major effort.  I don't accept poor vowel sounds.  Only if a student pronounces the vowel nearly perfectly will I say, "That's it."  If his pronunciation is imperfect, we will work on it for a while, but if he can't get in a reasonable period of time, I will move on, saying, "I need to hear more difference between those two vowels," or, "You need to work on that."  I am interested in knowing that everone can pronounce the vowel, but I understand that when they are involved in speaking, they are trying to juggle vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, as well as the subject they're talking about, so I am not as demanding on the pronunciation during speech as I am during the pronunciation practices.  You can try the exercises I have found helpful.  click on the links below to view and download these exercises.

Vowel practice 1

Vowel practice 2

Uh practice

Uh contrast

Uh and ah practice

Ee as in police vs. ih as in city

click here to download file

Ih practice

Ih practice 2

Ee vs. ih

-ed endings

Syllabic stress  Ay, there's the rub!  Putting the accent on the wrong syllable is a recipe for failed communication.  This area is a constant source of frustration for English learners.

syllabic stress patterns

stress patterns and vowel sounds

Consonants are not usually much of a problem.  Mispronunciation of consonants may contribute to a foreign accent, but there is not usually enough of a problem to interfere with communication.  In Japanese, there is little or no distinction between R and L, and in Spanish, there is little or no distinction between B and V.   Lots of people have problems with the TH, voiced or not voiced.  Most students are able to pronounce these consonants OK in practice in class, but forget when they are involved in conversation.  I will sometimes point out faults in pronunciation of these consonants after the student has finished speaking, but I don't make a big deal of it.

click here for a discussion of consonants

Verbal tics

Students sometimes get into bad habits which are really hard to break. Often, they try to generalize and carry over into English patterns which are common in their native languages. One of the most difficult verbal tics to eradicate is the habit of adding a vowel sound to the end of a word which ends with a consonant. Italians and Koreans seem to do this a lot. I often say, AThe president of the United States was not Georgia Boosha. He is George Bushhhhhh.@

I think that most teachers agree that it is not helpful to interrupt someone who is trying to express a thought. I try to take notes and point out pronunciation problems after the student has finished speaking. I worried a lot that students would be shamed or embarrassed by corrections in front of a group, but I don’t know any other way to do it, and I have had healthy positive responses to my corrections. Students often tell me that they would like to have more corrections.