Pronunciation Problems

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Pronunciation Solutions For Consonants

Click on the phoneme you wish to read about:

Phoneme /t/ & /d/
Phoneme /t̬/
Phoneme /f/ & /v/
Phoneme /θ/ & /ð/
Phoneme /ʃ/ & /ʒ/
Phoneme /p/ & /b/
Phoneme /s/ & /z/
Phoneme /k/ & /g/
Phoneme /tʃ/ & /ʤ/
Phoneme /r/
Phoneme /l/
Phoneme /w/
Phoneme /j/
Phoneme /m/
Phoneme /n/
Phoneme /ɳ/
Phoneme/h/

PHONEMES /t/ & /d/

Time and Dime

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Put your tongue against the gum right behind your upper teeth;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue touch the upper teeth;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /d/.
  • Don’t put your tongue tip between your teeth (the sound will not be very different but will delay or obstruct the production of the preceding or succeeding consonants.  For example, if you say “mattress”, or “I’d rather” it gets difficult to move your tongue back inside your mouth for the /r/);
  • Don’t leave a gap between your teeth (again, it will delay the production of other phonemes);
  • Don’t put your tongue against your gum far from your upper teeth (it will sound like an Indian /t/, not English);
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /t/.
  • Ask the students to watch the position of their tongue in the mirror as this is the only way for them to become conscious of their mistakes;
  • Ask the student to practice with the following sentence “My mouth, tongue and teeth are tired of talking”;
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the position of the tongue inside of the mouth;
  • Ask the students to place their fingers around their Adam’s apple (the bone sticking out of the neck) and feel the difference between /d/ and /t/ or [dime] and [time].

PHONEME /t̬/

City

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Tap the back of your tongue tip quickly against the alveolar ridge;
  • Do not press the tip of your tongue against the gum;
  • Do not open and close your jaw while moving your tongue up and down;
  • Do not pronounce strong /t/ or /d/.
  • This sound is extremely difficult to describe as it results in the tongue tip moving rapidly and hardly touching the gum;
  • For Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Arabic speakers, the closest sound to it is the “trill” as it’s also made by vibrating the tongue;
  • For Japanese, it’s between /d/ and /l/. Ask the students to pronounce the Japanese word [kokoro] quickly and you might hear a very similar sound but unfortunately, some Japanese students say [kokolo]. It really depends on where they are from in Japan;
  • Koreans pronounce /d/ fairly close to /t̬/;
  • If you get stuck and just can’t find the equivalent in the student’s native language, it’s always safe to ask the students to say /d/ very quickly and repeatedly without moving their jaw.

PHONEMES /f/ & /v/

File and Vile

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Raise your lower lip until it comes into contact with your upper teeth;
  • Keep your tongue idle and resting in the bottom of your mouth;
  • Push air out from between your lips and upper teeth;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /v/.
  • Don’t move your upper lip down (otherwise your lips could touch each other and then the word [fee] will sound like [pee], [fight] like [bite], [van] like [ban] and [vote] like [boat];
  • Don’t press your lower lip too hard against the upper teeth (otherwise /f/ will sound like /p/);
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /f/.
  • Ask the students to look in the mirror and prove to them that they ARE making the mistake you are trying to correct for them;
  • Hold their upper lip up for them using a pen or their own finger to prevent it from involuntarily coming down;
  • Hold their palm up in front of your mouth and show them how it should feel and then ask them to try that themselves;
  • Tell them to put on and keep a fake smile to freeze their upper lip;
  • Show them how you can move your lower lip independently without sound and then ask them to try it to prove to them once again that it's a question building a new muscle habit.

PHONEMES /θ/ & /ð/

Ether and Either

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Put the tip of your tongue slightly between your teeth;
  • Push the air out mainly from between your tongue and upper teeth;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue come into contact with your upper teeth;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /ð/.
  • Don’t bite on your tongue (Otherwise the word [think] will sound like [tink] and [breathe] will like [breed].);
  • Don’t raise your lower lip to the point that it touches the upper teeth (otherwise the word [three] will sound like [free] and [than] like [van]);
  • Don’t place your lips around your tongue;
  • Don’t keep your tongue tip behind your teeth;
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /θ/.
  • Make sure the students have a mirror and are observing the movement of their tongue and lips in the mirror;
  • Tell them to hold one piece of paper up in front of their mouth and position the bottom of the paper close to their mouth. When pronounced correctly, the air from the /θ/ causes the paper to move;
  • If not paper, grab the palm of their hands and hold it close to your mouth so that when you pronounce /θ/, they can feel the cool air against their palms. Now ask them to try;
  • Place their fingers around your Adam’s apple and show them the difference between [teeth] and [teethe] or [bath] and [bathe].

PHONEMES /ʃ/ & /ʒ/

Shower and Casual

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Position your lips slightly forward;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue touch the teeth on both sides;
  • Raise your tip and place it right underneath the area between the alveolar ridge and hard palate without touching;
  • Tense the corner of your lips and blow air;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /ʒ/.
  • Don’t place the tip of your tongue behind your upper teeth (otherwise the word [shower] will sound like [sour] and [casual] like [cazual]);
  • Don’t keep the tip of your tongue straight;
  • Don’t relax your lips or spread them back (it will not sound like an English /ʃ/ or /ʒ/ );
  • Don’t let the tip of your tongue touch your gum (otherwise the word [cash] will sound like [catch] and [leisure] like [ledger]);
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /ʃ/.
  • Show them how you usually silence a noisy little kid by putting your index up against your lips as this might trigger a visual memory of the sound;
  • Make sure they use a mirror to observe the movement of their lips;
  • Ask them to watch your lips and then copy in front of the mirror;
  • Grab their fingers and place them around your Adam’s apple to show them the difference between [Ancient] and [Asian].

PHONEMES /p/ & /b/

Bye & Pie

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your lips;
  • Build pressure inside the mouth;
  • Release the air by opening your lips;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /b/.
  • Don’t leave any gap between your lips (Otherwise the word [pool] will sound like [fool] and [boat] for [vote]);
  • Don’t let your lower lips touch your upper teeth;
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /p/.
  • Ask them to use the mirror to observe the movement of their lips;
  • Ask them to watch your lips and then copy in front of the mirror.

PHONEMES /s/ & /z/

Rice and Rise

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your teeth without biting;
  • Place the tip of your tongue it closely behind the area between the gum and upper teeth;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue come into contact with the upper teeth;
  • Tense or relax your lips depending on the phonetic context;
  • Push air out from the tight passage between the tongue tip and the teeth;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /z/.
  • Don’t let your lower and upper teeth touch each other;
  • Don’t place the tip of your tongue against the gum too far behind your upper teeth (otherwise the word [sit] could sound like [shit] and [zero] like [zhero];
  • Don’t add a schwa sound before /s/;
  • Don’t move your lips forward;
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate for /s/.
  • Exaggerate the sound for the students to hear it clearly;
  • Ask them to use the mirror to see if they can still see the tip of their tongue between their teeth;
  • Use very common words such as [yes] or [bus] to help the students pronounce /s/ in the beginning of the word especially if they’re adding a schwa sound before it or confusing it with /ʃ/;
  • If students are able to pronounce /s/ but not /z/, ask them to say a long /s/ and to pretend coughing without interrupting the air flow of /s/;
  • If the tongue tip comes into contact with the back of the teeth prior to /s/ or /z/ (it would sound like /ts/ or /dz), ask the students to produce /s/ and pronounce the word [zero] right before they stop sound /s/, so it would sound like [sssssssszero];
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the students the exact position of the tongue inside the mouth;
  • Place their fingers around your Adam’s apple to show them the difference between [rice] and [rise].

PHONEMES /k/ & /g/

Come and Gum

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Bring the root of your tongue into contact with the velum;
  • Build pressure inside the mouth and release it by a sudden lowering of the tongue;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /g/.
  • Don’t let the throat vibrate for /k/.
  • Place their fingers around your Adam’s apple to show them the difference between [coat] and [goat] or [coal] and [goal] or [buck] and [bug];
  • If the students move their tongue too deep down the throat when pronouncing /k/ or /g/, place a front vowel such as /ӕ/ before or after and see if it sounds better.

PHONEMES /tʃ/ & /ʤ/

Cello and Jello

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Position your lips slightly forward;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue come into contact with your upper teeth;
  • Press the tongue tip against the alveolar ridge to build air pressure;
  • Release the air pressure by loosening the jaw;
  • Make sure your throat vibrates for /ʤ/.
  • Don’t spread your lips back;
  • Don’t keep the tip of your tongue straight;
  • Don’t place the tip of your tongue too close behind your upper teeth;
  • Don’t begin the sound while your jaw is open;
  • Don’t begin the sound without making sure the tip of your tongue is pressing against your gum;
  • Don’t let your throat vibrate /tʃ/.
  • Ask the students to use the mirror to observe the position of their jaw and lips;
  • Ask them to copy you while looking in the mirror;
  • Place their fingers around your Adam’s apple to show them the difference between words such as [chop] and [job] or [rich] and [ridge];
  • If the students can’t say the /t/ in /tʃ/, give them a word that finishes with /t/ like [not] and another starting with /ʃ/ like [shy] and instruct them to say [not shy] like one word with a pause. Use the same trick for /ʤ/ by choosing [good] and [job], etc;
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the exact tongue movement inside the mouth.

PHONEMES /r/

Really

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Move your tongue back deep and high inside the mouth;
  • Feel the sides of your tongue come into contact with the gum above the upper teeth;
  • Curl your tongue tip and place it below the hard palate;
  • Bring your lips together in a tight circle when you pronounce /r/ in the beginning and middle of the word.
  • Form a small square shape with your lips when you pronounce /r/ at the end (however that depends on the speaker and his/her speed).
  • Don’t leave the tip of your tongue idle (otherwise you will not be able to link /r/ with the vowels after it);
  • Don’t let the tip of your tongue touch the gum or be very close to it (otherwise the word [rice] will sound like [lice] or you will produce a trill like [rrrrrice]);
  • Don’t spread your lips back (otherwise it’ll be more difficult to move your tongue back);
  • Do not blow air from your lips (otherwise the word [right] will sound like [white]).
  • Mimic the dog’s bark or the tiger’s roar (although most learners have different illustrations for that in their cultures);
  • To explain how far back the tongue should be, ask the students to pronounce /k/ and then explain that you need them to maintain almost the same tongue position and height without touching the roof of the mouth;
  • Ask the students to use the mirror and observe the position of their jaw and lips;
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the exact movement of both the body and tip of the tongue inside the mouth.

PHONEME /l/

Cool

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Relax your lips;
  • Press the tip of your tongue against the gum behind the upper teeth;
  • Rest the tongue in the bottom of your mouth to create a gap at the center of the mouth between your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
  • Don’t place the tip of your tongue against the gum while your jaw is open (otherwise it will sound like a European /l/);
  • Don’t leave the tongue in a high or medium high position inside your mouth;
  • Don’t move your lower or upper lip simultaneously with the tongue (otherwise the /l/ will be confused with /w/);
  • Ask the students to use the mirror and observe the position and movement of their jaw and lips;
  • If the students move their tongue and lips simultaneously, ask them to put a fake a smile to suppress the muscles from moving involuntarily;
  • For the students with a European /l/, ask them to pronounce the vowel /ɔ/ and then maintain the same position of the tongue at the back of their mouth while raising the tip of their tongue up against the alveolar ridge.

PHONEME /w/

White

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • With your jaw mostly closed, circle your lips tightly;
  • Let your tongue rest in the bottom of your mouth idly;
  • Push air out from the edge of your lips.
  • Don’t let your lower and upper lips come into contact with each other (otherwise sounds /m/ /p/ or /b/ could be heard before /w/);
  • Don’t leave your upper lip idle (otherwise /w/ could sound /v/);
  • Don’t let your lower lip touch your upper teeth;
  • Don’t let the back of your tongue come into contact with the velum (otherwise /g/ could be heard before /w/ and for example the word [would] will sound like [good]).
  • Ask the students to use the mirror and observe the position and movement of their lips;
  • Show the students that you’re able to move your lips independently from your jaw when you say [would];
  • Ask the students to practice with the following sentence “what were you doing with the white wooden wall?”;
  • Use common interjections such as [wow].

PHONEME /j/

Year

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Bring the sides of your tongue into contact with your upper teeth;
  • Slide your tongue forward;
  • Spread your lips back slightly.
  • Don’t open your jaw when pronouncing the beginning of this sound (otherwise it will be difficult to have the tongue close to the roof of your mouth);
  • Don’t let the tip of your tongue or the blade to touch the hard or soft palate (otherwise /d/ will be heard before /j/ and the word [yes], for example, will sound like [Jess];
  • Don’t leave your tongue idle inside your mouth [otherwise the word [year] will sound like [ear].
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the exact position of the tongue inside the mouth;
  • Use common words like [I], [eye], [boy] to help the students to pronounce /j/ in the beginning of the word. For example: Spanish speakers’ tongues touch the alveolar ridge when they say /j/ which makes it sound like /ʤ/, but if you ask them to say [boyyyyyes], it will solve the problem. The same goes for Japanese speakers who cannot pronounce /j/ before vowels /i/ /ɪ/ and /e/. Use the same trick to help them out [boyyyyyear]. You can ask the students to leave [boy] out and try with [year] again.

PHONEME /m/

Muffin

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your lips and blow air from your nose simultaneously.
  • Don’t leave your lips open when you pronounce a word ending with /m/ (otherwise the word [cam] will sound like [can] or [cang?];
  • Ask the students to observe their lips in the mirror;
  • Explain to the students that the most common error with /m/ is not closing their lips when it’s at the end of the word;
  • Put both of your hands up with your palms facing the student and move each hand separately when comparing between a word that ends with /n/ like [can] and another with /m/ like [cam] or [line] and [lime].

PHONEME /n/

Mine

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Bring the tip of your tongue or the blade into contact with the alveolar ridge (hard palate);
  • Blow air from your nose.
  • Don’t move the back of your tongue up or back towards the velum (otherwise the word [sun] will sound like [sung];
  • Don’t use the nose before your tongue blade touches the hard palate;
  • Don’t place the tip of your tongue between the teeth and then make a sound through your nose unless /n/ precedes consonant /ð/ in words such as [that] [this] [that] [the].
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the exact position of the tongue inside the mouth;
  • Ask the students to use the mirror to restrain themselves from involuntarily placing the tip of the tongue between their teeth;
  • Show the students how to breathe from their diaphragm and use the air stored in the diaphragm to produce a sound. Choose a simple word finishing with /n/ like [on] and tell the students to say [ahhh] using the air stored in the diaphragm and then to close their jaw slowly while raising the tongue tip towards the roof. Tell the students not to use their noses before you instruct them to;
  • Put both of your hands up with your palms facing the student and move each hand separately when comparing between a word that ends with /n/ like [sun] and another with /ɳ/ like [sung].

PHONEME /ɳ/

Nothing

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Close your jaw;
  • Bring the back of your tongue into contact with the velum;
  • Push air through your nose.
  • Don’t let the tongue make a popping sound when it comes off the velum (it will sound like [thing guh].
  • Use the dental and tongue model to show the exact movement of the tongue inside the mouth;
  • Put both of your hands up with your palms facing the student and move each hand separately when comparing between a word that finishes with /ɳ/ like [thing] and another with /n/ like [thin] or [wing] and [win];
  • Ask the students to position their tongue against the velum as if they are preparing to say [good] but without actually saying it. That should be the ending of [thing].

PHONEME/h/

Have

The Do'sThe Don'tsPronunciation Solutions
  • Push air out as if you’re trying to leave steam on a window pane;
  • Lips’ shape depends on the vowel preceding or succeeding /h/.
  • Don’t raise your tongue towards the roof of your mouth (/h/ could sound close to /ʃ/;
  • Don’t pull your tongue backwards towards the throat (otherwise you’ll produce an Arabic or Spanish sound);
  • Don’t let your lower lip touch your upper teeth (otherwise [hood] will sound like [food]);
  • Don’t push air out from your lips;
  • Don’t let your lips restrict the air flow;
  • Don’t pronounce this sound except when you see the letter [h] otherwise words like [ate] will sound like [hate] and [I] like [hi].
  • Ask the students to imagine they’re blowing steam on a window pane;
  • Put both of your hands up with your palms facing the student and move each hand separately when comparing between [hate] and [ate];
  • Ask the students to imagine they’re panting after running for 10 minutes and then ask them to say [have] while panting.

To the Phonetic Instructions Guide For Vowels