Pronunciation Objectives in the ESOL Classroom

It’s a challenge to integrate pronunciation objectives into an already packed ESOL curriculum.  Other curriculum priorities, time constraints, and teachers’ comfort levels often leave pronunciation and suprasegmentals at the bottom of the list. How can we seamlessly integrate these objectives into the current curriculum?

By learning the stress, intonation, and pronunciation rules that guide American English, ELL (English Language Learners) students can adopt a more listener-friendly communication style, gain confidence, and succeed both academically and professionally.

There are specific rules that help the ELL master the suprasegmentals and pronunciation of American English that can be incorporated into other activities. When a word or syllable is stressed, it is produced with a higher pitch, louder voice, and longer vowel.

Here is a sample of some of the numerous rules that can be addressed in the classroom:

  1. Compound Nouns: Stress the first part of a compound noun, e.g., laptop, whiteboard, midterms.
  2. Adjectives + Nouns: Stress the noun, unless you are contrasting the word, e.g., blue pen; for contrast say, “Please use a blue pen, not a black pen.”
  3. Proper Nouns: Stress the last word, e.g., United States of America, United Nations, The Language Institute.
  4. Initializations (abbreviations that are pronounced one letter at a time): Stress the last letter, e.g., USA, MBA, GRE, ELL
  5. Past Tense: If the last sound of the verb is voiced, pronounced the ending as “d”, e.g., listened, loved; if the last sound is voiceless, pronounce the ending as “t”, e.g., walked, coughed, and if the verb ends in “d” or “t,” add an extra syllable, “ed,” e.g., waited, coded.

The written text can be highlighted to identify the rule patterns. Provide the students with any text to read.1 Highlight the rules with an assigned color.2  Practice reading sentences aloud while following the pronunciation pattern for that rule. This will give the ELL student a practical way to focus on suprasegmentals while addressing other classroom objectives.

Help your students learn the rules for clear and comprehensible speech while still accomplishing your curriculum objectives.


1 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner, LK, RULES By the Sound, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, © 2009.

2 Feinstein-Whittaker, M and Wilner LK, RULES on the Run, Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking, ©2014.