Teaching Speaking and Pronunciation

Here are some interesting research notes from some articles I read recently on teaching speaking and pronunciation. I hope the findings are useful to you. If you like, the references are listed so you can read the studies yourself. Alternatively, you can leave me a message and I will send you a link to any of the articles referenced here. Enjoy!


This survey covers a wide variety of research on speaking and pronunciation, ranging from vocabulary growth in young Spanish English speakers from migrant families to methods of adult pronunciation training. It also explores pronunciation strategies of adult ESOL learners, segmental acquisition of vowel production aptitude in adult ESL learners, and explores case studies in explicit, work-specific vocabulary instruction. The purpose is to gain knowledge and methodological insight into teaching speaking and pronunciation to a variety of ESOL learners from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds.

Keywords: ESOL, Pronunciation, Speaking, Vowel Formation

Jackson, C.W. & Schatschneider, C. & Leacos, L. (2014). Longitudinal Analysis of Receptive Vocabulary Growth in Young Spanish English–Speaking Children
From Migrant Families Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, Vol. 45, 40–51

The authors of this study argue for more progress monitoring across early school years for young Spanish English-speaking children. The intended audience are Educators and administrators in early childhood education.

The longitudinal analysis focused on the developmental trajectories and performance of 64 kindergarten, Spanish, English-speakers from migrant families. The authors also examined the extent to which gender and individual initial performance in Spanish predict receptive vocabulary performance and growth rate in English.

The subjects from low socioeconomic backgrounds performed lower in English than their monolingual English peers. Also, those who performed better in their native language also tended to perform well in English. Finally, as they grew over two years, the performance gap between the Spanish children and their English counterparts narrowed considerably. However, the performance of the Spanish children in their native language became sagged as their focused turned to their L2.

The relevance to teachers of ESOL is to inform them that students who did well in their L1 are more likely to do well in their L2. As students excel in their L2, their L1 proficiency also tends to decline. Therefore, teachers should be aware of these dynamics as they seek to incorporate second language students into a “mainstream” English curriculum.

This study rings true with my personal experience. Aptitude carries from L1 to L2, as does lack of aptitude. Students who excelled in their native language tend to excel in their target language as well, and vice versa.

Franklin, A. & McDaniel, L. Exploring a Phonological Process Approach to Adult Pronunciation Training, 2016. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 25, 172-182.

The research sets out to prove that much of the interference between a learner’s target language in pronunciation is rooted in their L1, and goes on to establish that phonological process analysis used on children is also useful in helping adults to address their pronunciation challenges. The authors further assert that the same rigors applied to people with speech disorders can be applied to people with speech differences, with similar results.

Two adult Japanese subjects’ phoneme accuracy was analyzed, and then compared and interpreted against developmental norms for monolingual English children.

ELL’s made common errors in their TL compared to monolingual children.

Implications for TESOL teachers: As learners age, they are less likely to establish new categories for TL sounds. However, this decline is gradual, and the phonetic systems of adult learners remain malleable through their lives, allowing room for new categories to be learned and established in the TL.

It is challenging and yet important to simultaneously recognize that adult ELL’s may develop similarly to children but mustn’t be treated as such in the learning environment. Furthermore, it’s illuminating to know that adults’ phonetic systems remain malleable throughout their lifetimes, making pronunciation learning meaningful and worthwhile, regardless of the learner’s age.

Madrigal-Hopes, D. & Villavicencio, E. & Foot, M. & Green, C. Transforming English Language Learners' Work Readiness: Case Studies in Explicit, Work-Specific Vocabulary Instruction, 2014. D0i:10.1177/1045159514522432.

The authors assert that Spanish-speaking immigrants will be the greatest contributors to the American workforce over the next 25 years. Therefore, work readiness training methods must be developed to address their language challenges. One such training study is discussed here.

The research consisted of three adult ELL’s who were tested before and after English work readiness training. Measured were English language proficiency, acquisition and application of vocabulary, as well as confidence using English in the workplace.

At the conclusion of the research, it was found that an explicit, work-specific curriculum has the potential to increase proficiency, vocabulary and confidence in the subjects. In addition, Spanish-speaking immigrants demonstrate lower levels of literacy in English and are more likely to have experienced interrupted formal schooling making it more difficult to acquire literacy skills in their native or second language. Because such factors can impact the rate of literacy skills development, the need for intensive adult literacy programs extending far beyond social, basic oral language skills is imperative.

Among the many implications for TESOL teachers is the realization that training ELL’s along specific work-related lines may have more tangible and beneficial results for the learners, and therefore should be pursued.

My personal reaction to the study is the increased awareness that a massive burgeoning industry will be job-specific EL training. Narrow-casting the training objectives of ELL’s by gearing training to their work experience and job opportunities in English has far-reaching implications for the ELT profession.

Chiu, Y. 2012. Can film dubbing projects facilitate EFL learners’ acquisition of English pronunciation?_British Journal of Educational Technology Vol 43 No 1 2012 E24–E27 doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01252.x

The author maintains that hands-on film dubbing is a communicative approach to teaching pronunciation that is more effective than isolated training which is limited to individual phonemes, and more effective than conversation classes alone.

In the study, two classes of 83 freshmen in an ESL conversation course in Northern Taiwan were studied. One group was control (41 students); the other group participated in film dubbing. The control group participated in a conversation course without film dubbing. The dubbing group broke into small groups of 2-4 and dubbed an English language movie or TV show about 10 minutes in duration. The muted clip was played to the entire class, with the small group reading subtitles and acting as the actors in the scene. A 33 statement questionnaire was then given, measuring seven components of pronunciation, intonation, motivation, etc. Data was then compared between the control group and the film group.

Analysis of the data strongly suggests that the students who participated in the film dubbing group improved their pronunciation more than the control group.

Application for TESOL: Film dubbing is an excellent exercise for improving pronunciation among ELL’s.

Late in my tenure at Dublin School of English, I came across Film English, which tied together films and EL lessons. I always meant to employ that resource more, and this gives me even more ideas on how to incorporate the powerful medium of film together with English language teaching.

Chan, A. (2006). Strategies used by Cantonese speakers in pronouncing English initial consonant clusters: Insights into the interlanguage phonology of Cantonese ESL learners in Hong Kong IRAL 44 (2006), 331–355 DOI 10.1515/IRAL.2006.015

Two and three consonant clusters not found in Mandarin present much more difficulty for Cantonese speakers than those which are found in both languages. Substitution, re-syllabification and deletion often occur.

A group of three native speakers of English were the control group. Six secondary students; six Y3 university English majors. Their levels were Intermediate and advanced, respectively. Each group was given four speaking tests: word-list reading; picture description; passage reading; and an open conversational interview. The study compared consonant clusters which were found in both languages with those found only in English. A total of 7,643 tokens of clusters were recorded and compared.

Three-member onsets presented more difficulty than two-member onsets. 62.6% of 3 member onsets were produced accurately, whereas 80.5 of two-member onsets were produced accurately. Not surprisingly, 99.1% of the 2-member onsets exhibited sound deletion with so-called “liquid” consonants such as /r/ and /l/. Examples of words which exhibited deletions included problem, and free, which were pronounced /probem/ and /fi/. Deletions of first consonant fricatives was very rare. The deletion usually occurred later in the 3-member onsets, for example spleen was pronounced /speen/. Cantonese students also exhibited unnecessary aspiration in consonant clusters beginning with “s”. For example, sister was properly pronounced /sista/ by the control group but often pronounced /sistha/ by the Cantonese L1 group with a softly voiced /h/. Re-syllabification was also common. For example, brother, a two-syllable, two consonant cluster, was often pronounced with three syllables as a coping mechanism.

ELL’s frequently use coping mechanisms, such as deletion and substitution, when encountering consonant clusters. It is important to familiarize oneself with the interlanguage of certain dialects when endeavoring to go to a specific region to teach ESL.

In my limited experience, students in Hong Kong do not learn English as a first or a second language. Rather, it is a “value added” proposition for them, as something to help them to reach their professional potential. Therefore, they speak Cantonese to one another all the time, except in business meetings where English speakers are present. That makes it a ripe and fertile ground for well-trained English language pronunciation teachers. Next stop Hong Kong, perhaps!

#LearnEnglish #TeachingSpeaking #Teaching #TeachingPronunciation #StevenWalterThomas #ThomasInvestLLC #ThomasInvestLLC

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