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Teaching Pronunciation Drills to Korean Students

Besides speaking, the next thing my Korean students struggle with is their pronunciation.

Pronunciation is challenging to learn because adult learners have already developed their own oral musculature patterns. 

This blog is perfect for English teachers in South Korea and ESL teachers in Canada who are teaching newcomers or international students.

About the Author:  Melissa is a 120-hour TESOL graduate who spent one year in Japan before continuing her teaching career in Toronto, where she teaches English to South Koreans

The Objective of the Lesson

The main objective of this lesson is to awaken and soften the oral muscles. I always compare this class to a Pilates or Yoga class.

It should be controlled and students should feel accomplished as they move through challenging (mouth) positions.

The key is to go slow, exaggerating the articulations so that they can feel the muscle articulation for each sound and mark those traces in their memory.

At first, I go over and evaluate studentspronunciations of individual sounds of North American English.

The animated cross-section of the different sounds is very helpful to give a visual image of the muscle positions in the oral cavity.

In the case of Korean students, the majority of them struggle with these sounds:

    • most vowels
    • /l/, /r/, /f/, /v/, /p/, /b/, /th/ (both voiceless θ as in “three” and voiced ð as in “the”)

I begin by focusing on pronunciation drills for these challenging phonemes (sounds).

After every articulation, the teacher should give a word to put the sound into practice.

Methods for Teaching Vowels

Begin with vowels and use an IPA vowel chart  to demonstrate (see image)

Teaching English to South Korean ESL students

For vowels, its the chins positions that are important to consider.

So a low-back vowel means their chin has to go down and move back (almost sinking into their necks, as in the ain spa).

I also emphasize that the vowels /i/ and /e/ are always pronounced with a ysound (glide) at the end.

For example, sweeyt for sweetand eyt for eight. /o/ and /w/ are very round and pronounced as having a w(glide) at the end.

For example, downt for dontand boowt for boot.

Methods for Teaching Consonants

As for consonants, here are the ways I explain them to my students, putting them into practice with a word list.

/l/: tip of the tongue is touching either the back of the upper teeth or for a more exaggerated movement, the tongue goes between the teeth.

/r/: the tongue does not touch any articulatory points, but its curled (see image)

Teaching English to South Koreans in Canada

/f/: upper teeth touches bottom lip; neck does not vibrate

/v/: exact same articulation as /f/; neck vibrates

/p/: upper and lower lip touch; neck does not vibrate

/b/: exact same articulation as /p/; neck vibrates

Most Koreans mispronounce /f/ as /p/, and /v/ as /b/. So its important to show how much these sounds differ in their articulatory points.


[θ] as in three: tongue goes between teeth; neck does not vibrate

[ð] as in the: exact same articulation as /θ/; neck vibrates

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Pronunciation In Context

When students become comfortable with these articulations, they can begin to put them into context by reciting short news articles or movie monologues (using scripts).

However, anytime they have a misstep, teachers can refer back to this lesson, as it is a good foundation on the mechanics of North American English sounds.

Recommended Reading on Teaching Pronunciation:

Teaching English Conversation Skills: Passing the Ball Activity

Teaching Pronunciation: Accent Improvement

TESOL- Teaching Pronunciation Mechanical Activities

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