Teaching ESL – Pronunciation Issues
Common pronunciation and sound distinction issues:
Pronunciation issues also vary across different regions of the same country, across different age groups, and different learners. This is not an exhaustive list of pronunciation issues.
General Information about Communicating with Limited English Speakers
b/p – example: bark/ park
example: boys/ voice
Most Spanish speakers
l/r – example: liver/ river
Japan, Korea, Thailand
l/n – example: line/ nine, lumber/number
Parts of Vietnam, southern China and Somalia
m/n – example: lime/ line
Some Spanish speakers
s/sh – example: so/ show
Vietnam, Southern China (Cantonese speakers)
w/v – example: west / vest, wine / vine
Parts of South Asia (Afghanistan, India and Pakistan)
The following pronunciation issues occur across learners from a wide variety of countries:
Long vs. short vowels: ship vs. sheep
Between short vowels: pan vs. pen, cat vs. cut
To help English learners practice pronunciation issues related to vowels, go to Pronunciation Practice.
Consonant clusters: card vs. cart, person vs. percent
When “r” occurs in the same word as “l”, as in “girl”, “world”, or “rural”, the pronunciation is particularly challenging for adult and teenage speakers of other languages.
In addition, in most East Asian languages, each syllable is distinct. Sounds do not flow from one word to the next like in European languages such as English. For example, it’s helpful to point out to learners who speak Asian languages that the phrases: “the mall” and “them all” are pronounced identically.