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Texas ISD School Guide
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How to Teach English Pronunciation to Chinese ESL Students

Teaching English pronunciation to Chinese students is difficult because they don't naturally stress syllables the way native English speakers do. To help these ESL students become skilled at pronouncing English words, without making the words sound choppy and rote, the key is to teach them phonetics. Phonetics is teaching the sound changes that exist with different letter combinations, such as connecting or reducing the proper vowels and consonants in each word. Another aspect of teaching pronunciation to Chinese students that may help is focusing on stressed and non-stressed syllables and the pitch differences between their language and English.

Teach the difference between short and long vowel sounds and consonant sounds through song. There are 25 consonant sounds and 15 vowel sounds in the English language, but it's best to start with the short vowels (a, e, i, o, u), then teach the other 10, which are diphthongs, combinations of the short vowels. Once students have mastered the vowel sounds, start on the consonants. A good song for teaching short vowels is by Ron Brown, What's That Sound? (Short Vowels); a good song for teaching consonant sounds is The ABC Rap by The Gum Rappers.

Communicate the difference between stressed and non-stressed syllables by playing the name game. Have the students write their names in English on separate index cards, then write each student's name phonetically underneath. Count the number of syllables in each name and have each student slowly clap out the syllables in his/her name; once each student is comfortable pronouncing each syllable, speed up the clapping process. The faster a student can clap out his name, the closer he is to making the separate sounds a whole sound. Have the students switch name cards after they master their own names.

Emphasize the importance of pitch and rhythm by playing classic musical instruments. When teaching a word, say it, then play an instrument like a flute, keyboard or drum to emphasize the degree of volume and the length of sound. Using hand gestures like a music conductor helps students understand how pitch and rhythm relate to each word. For example, when the pitch is high, hold your hands up, and when the pitch is low, hold them down. Moving your hands up and down as if you're conducting a song indicates to students when the pitch is changing between syllables. Even if you don't know how to play an instrument, you can use this technique.

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