Teaching pronunciation

Dan Evans’ talk at KOTESOL was one of my favourites and it got me thinking about spending more time on pronunciation rather than hoping that my students would pick it up. I wanted to write a little bit about what I’ve found useful and make a few observations about pronunciation in Korea.


The stereotype of Seoul/Gyeonngi accents in Korean is that there is much less intonation than other areas of the country. I teach in Gyeonngi and so I’ve spent a little time on this. I’ve been working a lot with encouraging question asking recently and so building ten minutes of intonation into these classes is really useful. The students seemed to find it really interesting to look at sentences that have a different meaning with different intonations. For example with ‘can you buy some food?’ you can tell how close the speakers are by looking at the intonation. If they’re close, it’s likely to go down at the end because it’s not really a question, close friends might buy food for each other all the time like this. If they’re not that close, it’s likely to go up because there’s a genuine question.

I’ve found it a bit more difficult to get intonation to ‘stick’ when it comes to rise-fall or fall-rise intonation. This doesn’t seem to happen as much when people speak Korean. A lot of the students seem to think it sounds really funny when they speak that way.

Stress and tone groups

I taught an extra class that was preparing pupils for public speaking. The idea was that they’d do some creative writing and then practice presenting it. By the end they actually got really good at using stress and tone groups when they read. I usually annotated for these and got them to practice these features and then peer correct each other. You can see what one of these looks like below (sadly it’s an early draft). Annotating like this was actually much harder than I’d thought it would be. Hopefully with practice I can get better at it.



Syllables are possibly one of the biggest problems for Koreans pronouncing English words. In Korean a syllable can’t have more than three sounds and can only have one sound before and one sound after the vowel (I.e. the most complicated Korean syllable goes consonant-vowel-constonant).  There’s also a problem in that in Korean a ㅅ (‘s’-sound) at the end of a syllable becomes a ‘t’ sound. In English syllables can be really weird (hello ‘schmaltzed’) and so problems arise.

A variation on snap where students have to shout snap when the two cards have the same number of syllables works really well with this. The students got really competitive and really enjoyed it. It works well as a ten minute activity if you have spare time. There’s a set of cards below to download/print/modify/use as you wish.

Syllable Snap cards