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.


Pronunciation Practice


General Information about Communicating with Limited English Speakers


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b/p  – example:  bark/ park

Somalia, Honduras


b/v  –

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.