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.

Can You Take a Compliment?

thank you  

“Aw, it was nothing...” ‘I didn’t do anything special...” “I was just part of the team that worked on it...”



For a lot of people, it is very difficult to accept a compliment. Many of our non-native English speaking clients tell us they grew up in a culture where accepting a compliment is considered rude and even boastful.

In the United States, if anything, we are accused of over-using compliments. Recently, there have been many psychology books admonishing this tendency, because many children begin to feel like they are the center of the universe and can do no wrong! Obviously, we need to strike a balance between both extremes.

In the American culture, if you do receive a compliment, it is expected that you will respond politely and honestly to the praise. Certainly a modest response is more favorable than a blatant conceited response. For example,

Compliment: “You did a great job facilitating the meeting this morning.”

Response #1: “I know. I am an amazing team leader.”

Response #2: “Thank you.”

For compliments to be meaningful, we need to be sincere and specific. Instead of telling a client or student, “You are doing great,” it is more helpful to say, “I like the way your took meaningful pauses between your thoughts. It helped you slow down your speech, and made me really focus on your ideas.” In addition, we want our clients and students to know when they are doing something correctly so that they will continue to utilize a trained strategy or technique. Constantly negating or down-playing feedback is not going to help our client gain the necessary self-awareness and confidence to improve.

Here are some expressions that are acceptable to use when someone has offered a sincere compliment:

  • Thank you, thanks
  • That’s nice to hear
  • You are kind to say that
  • I appreciate your comments
  • I’m happy that you liked (it)
  • Thanks for saying that

So remember when giving compliments, be honest and specific, and when receiving them, be gracious. If you need help with social communication skills, contact us at