Event announcement: IATEFL PronSIG/GISIG event


Next month (14 October 2017), Laura will be giving a workshop at the joint IATEFL Pronunciation SIG/Global Issues SIG event in London, UK, about developing learners’ ability to understand different accents of English.

Here are the full details:

How to help learners understand the world’s accents

The use of English as an international lingua franca means learners need to understand a wide variety of accents, both native and non-native. How can teachers prepare them for such diversity? In this practical workshop we’ll demo a 5-step lesson plan, informed by the latest research into ELF and pronunciation.

Click here to register to attend. Online booking closes on 1 October 2017.

Hope to see you there!


Event announcement: IATEFL webinar


This Saturday (9 September 2017), Laura will be giving a free 1-hour webinar for IATEFL about teaching pronunciation for English as a Lingua Franca. Click here to register to attend.

In the webinar, we’ll explore how ELF differs from EFL, what features of pronunciation are high and low priority for international intelligibility, and what classroom tasks and techniques we might use to help our students develop their pronunciation and listening skills in a world with such a diverse range of English accents. All the advice and information will be based on the latest research into ELF and pronunciation teaching.

Here’s the abstract:

What do learners of English need to sound like? Who do they speak to? Who needs to understand them? Who do they need to understand? In 2017, the answer to all these questions is probably not “native English speakers”. Linguists estimate that non-native speakers of English now outnumber its native speakers by at least 3 to 1 (Crystal, 2008), and approximately 80% of interaction in English worldwide takes place with no native speakers present (Beneke, 1991). What does this mean for our classrooms? This webinar will consider new pronunciation priorities and challenges for learners and teachers of English, including practical tips and activities.

The webinar will take place at 15:00 BST (British Summer Time). Click here to check the time in your location.

Hope to see you there!


English UK plenary: ELF and the multilingual classroom


Thanks to all those who attended Laura’s presentation at the English UK Teachers’ Conference in London on Saturday 12 November 2016.

You can download the slides from Laura’s plenary by clicking here and, if you missed it, you can watch the video here. (Apologies for the sound and picture quality! The video also stopped recording for several minutes in the middle of the presentation, so we have re-recorded and inserted the missing section as a screencast.)

Thank you, Fortaleza!


Thanks to everybody who attended Laura’s plenary at the 11th ABCI conference in Fortaleza on 21 July 2016.

Here’s the full description of her talk from the conference website:

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 17.07.55

You can watch a video of the presentation here, or by copying and pasting the following link [https://youtu.be/xeqfDkQbt6w] into your browser:

You can download her slides by clicking the link below:

ABCI conference plenary slides – Laura Patsko 21 July 2016

And here are direct links to the things she mentioned in the presentation which are described in more detail on this website:

If you’ve got questions or comments, feel free to leave them below, or to contact Laura through the “meet and contact us” link in the navigation menu on this page.


BELTA webinar: Teaching pronunciation and listening for ELF


Thanks to everyone who attended Laura’s webinar for BELTA today. You can download her slides and accompanying notes by clicking here.

If you couldn’t make it, you can still find all the relevant information on this blog, including:

We hope to see you at a future event!

ELFpron webinar this weekend!


Just a quick post to invite you to join us this Sunday at 16:00 CET for a webinar presented by Laura and hosted by BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers’ Association.

Click here to find out what time the webinar will happen in your time zone.

The topic is – unsurprisingly! – “Teaching pronunciation and listening for English as a lingua franca”. Here’s a short abstract:

The ELT industry has traditionally assumed that English learners need to talk to and sound like native English speakers. But nowadays, the majority of interaction in English actually takes place between non-native speakers. In other words, English is often used as a lingua franca (ELF). This session will outline the needs of English users in this context and make some practical suggestions for the classroom, focusing on pronunciation and listening skills. Teachers will come away with an appreciation of the need to understand and be understood among an ever-widening range of English speakers, and how to help learners achieve this.

We hope to see you there!


Webinar recording: Helping learners listen to different accents


Last week, ELFpron blogger Laura Patsko gave a webinar for Cambridge English Teacher entitled “The ear of the beholder: helping learners listen to different accents”. She covered 3 main areas:

  1. Understanding a particular accent is predominantly a question of familiarity with speakers who have that accent. No single accent is inherently more or less intelligible than another.*
  2. Learners are very likely to encounter a range of accents of English in the world, because it is used widely as a lingua franca between speakers who choose English as their language of communication, often because they have no other option. This means it is unrealistic and unhelpful to focus on using or understanding only one or two (native) accents of English in the classroom.
  3. Learners’ familiarity with a range of accents can be developed through a simple 5-step lesson structure, which was demonstrated in this webinar.

There is more detail about this 5-step lesson plan in another blog post which Laura recently wrote on this topic.

You can now watch the recording of this webinar on YouTube, and it is also embedded below (visible on some devices):

*If you’re interested in reading research which investigates the relationships between ‘strength’ of accent, intelligibility and comprehensibility, check out the work of Tracey Derwing and Murray Munro. Their 2009 article “Putting accent in its place” [open access link] is a good one to start with.

Helping learners understand different accents


This post accompanies the workshop Laura gave on 7 November 2015 at the English UK conference in London. You can view the presentation slides here. (You may also have seen or heard about this workshop earlier this year, at the IATEFL conference in Manchester; and you can also watch a recording here of the webinar Laura gave for Cambridge English Teacher, explaining how to conduct this 5-step listening lesson.)

Why help learners understand different accents – and why L2 accents in particular?

English is used by millions of people around the world. They do not all sound the same, and very few sound like the recordings featured in popular published ELT materials. To be successful communicators internationally, students need not only to make themselves understood, but to be prepared to listen and understand the truly vast variety of voices they’ll encounter in the world outside the classroom.

How can I develop these skills in class?

In the aforementioned workshop, we looked at a 5-step lesson structure which can be adapted using any video* which you’ve selected as suitable for your students (in terms of level, subject matter, relevance to students’ interests, etc.).

Here’s an example of Javier Bardem, a Spanish-accented speaker of English, which we used in today’s workshop (from 18 seconds in – where the interviewer asks “Do you think you’ll ever explore your acting abilities to their furthest limits?” – to 1 min 20 secs, where he concludes “…and I’m lucky enough to make a living out of that.”). In the lesson structure outlined below, I’ve included suggestions of which features of pronunciation you could look at which occur in part of this clip.

*You could use audio, but video is ideal for working on pronunciation because part of listening comprehension is actually visual – seeing the speaker’s mouth and face gives extra information to your brain which helps it make sense of the stream of sound!

1. Listening

  • It’s important to establish context for, and interest in, the clip.
  • It’s important that students have a good idea of the speaker’s main message before focusing on specific features of his/her pronunciation.
  • First, get students to listen for a general understanding, then for more detailed understanding. You can create your own questions for this.

2. Noticing

  • Once context and interest have been established, give students a selection of words from the clip which show one particular feature of the speaker’s L1-influenced accent of English. In this Javier Bardem example, I suggest:
    • “when I was 18 years old”
    • “for several reasons”
    • “sometimes you lose it”
  • These phrases all contain words with the /z/ phoneme (“reasons” contains it twice!), which Spanish speakers often substitute /s/ for (because /z/ is not a phoneme of Spanish). Do not tell the students this yet!
  • Students listen to the clip again and tick (or grab – if you prefer to a kinaesthetic version of the activity, you can put the words on slips of paper) each word/phrase as they hear it.

3. Analysis

  • Once the students have ‘found’ them in the clip, ask the students how they themselves would pronounce these words/phrases.
  • Play the appropriate moments of the clip as many times as necessary for students to contrast this speaker’s pronunciation with their own. Make sure they’re just contrasting – not passing judgment or correcting. Here are the relevant time markers in this clip of Javier Bardem:
    • “when I was 18 years old” (0:29)
    • “for several reasons” (0:36)
    • “sometimes you lose it” (0:43)
  • Prompt them to identify patterns. (In this case,  you’re hoping they’ll notice that he always replaces /z/ with /s/.)

4. Prediction

  • Prepare more examples of words that follow these patterns – ideally, these should be examples which come from the clip but which you haven’t already used. In our Javier Bardem example, I suggest:
    • “what it was” (0:51)
    • “easy choice” (0:57)
  • Students predict how this speaker would pronounce these words. Remember to ask them (without confirming if they’re right yet) what they’ve predicted. This will help you actually observe the development of their listening skills!
  • Play the clip again so they can check their predictions.

5. Reflection & discussion

Get students to reflect on both the purpose and process of this activity, i.e.:

  • Why is it so important to understand many different accents of English? And why not just focus on native-speaker accents? (Answer: see the beginning of this blog post!)
  • Is it easy to develop this aspect of the skill of listening? (No, but it’s not impossible, either. The important thing is that exposure alone isn’t enough to develop your ability to understand others’ pronunciation. Sometimes you need to examine more closely what they’re doing. We do this naturally in our first language, but it takes some conscious effort at first when learning a second language.)
  • How can students increase their exposure to a range of accents? (If you’re in a multilingual classroom, this is easy – there will be a range of L2-accented speakers sitting right beside you. If you’re in an English-speaking country and want to understand those speakers, try to engage in conversation with people outside class, such as in shops or in your host family. If you don’t have easy access to such human resources, or aren’t confident enough to do these things yet, then look online for clips like the YouTube one in this blogpost.)

Some very important things to remember

Development of these skills takes time. Contrary to what many students and teachers perhaps wish, learning is not fast or easy! Don’t expect miracles – but don’t give up too quickly, either. It’s worth developing your ability to understand others’ pronunciation, as intelligibility is a two-way street. Speakers need to make themselves understood, and listeners also need to make an effort to understand.

There are lots of videos out there but they’re not all appropriate. Use your common sense and discretion when selecting video clips to show your students. Think about possible cultural taboos or other areas of potential sensitivity, try to find clips that reflect students’ interests, and – above all – try to find clips of speakers who represent the people your students will really need to understand. If, for example, a student works in an international company where all his/her colleagues are Italian and French, prioritise understanding of Italian-accented and French-accented speakers of English!

Proficient L2 celebrities make good role models. Not only is it helpful that such people often give interviews which end up online and can be used as authentic material in class, but these people are also excellent examples of L2 speakers of English whose pronunciation has clearly not held them back in life! Many students will aspire to native-like pronunciation, and some will have good justification for this – but other students will find this unnecessary and potentially demotivating. For these students, seeing a real-life example of somebody who they admire and who has also gone through a similar learning process to them (from the same L1 background), this is a much more realistic and appropriate model to aspire to than an anonymous native-accented speaker on a coursebook CD.

Analyse; don’t mock. Studying accents is a sensitive business. Although some generalisations are possible, beware the risk of stereotyping and never ridicule others’ speech: it’s not good scholarship. There are countless people out there, celebrity and otherwise, who are very proficient L2 users of English with successful lives and careers. For the speakers listed below, for example, features of their L1 pronunciation do not appear to hinder their international intelligibility – an encouraging message for your students!

Where can I find more examples of L2 accents?

The internet is jam-packed with people speaking English. YouTube is a helpful resource, though it can take time to find appropriate clips. In addition to the clip of Javier Bardem which we watched in this workshop, here are some more suitable examples we’ve found, with accompanying notes on characteristic L1 pronunciation features which you could look at in steps 3 and 4 of the lesson structure above:

1. Chinese: Shen Wei (choreographer)

Note: the relevant part of the clip starts at 1 minute, 31 seconds.

Dropping consonants at the end of syllables:

  • “my childhood
  • “at that time
  • “no art schools”
  • “a lot of Western concepts, ideas into China”
  • “after that, once we learned all the traditional…”

2. Japanese: Takashi Murakami (artist)

/l/ and /r/ pronounced similarly:

  • “original story”
  • really childish”

/b/ and /v/ pronounced similarly:

  • “have to move

/f/ pronounced like /h/:

  • “have to move”
  • finally a big monster is coming”

3. French: Jean Dujardin (actor)

Note: the relevant part of the clip starts after 13 seconds.

Dropping /h/ at the beginning of words:

  • he is”
  • his”

Dropping /s/ at the end of words:

  • “sometimes he’s a joker”
  • “a team of art specialists

Finally, an appeal…

It can be very time-consuming to find clips and create accompanying questions/materials like those above, though of course this hard work is worthwhile! If you use this 5-step lesson plan with your own clips, please do share those examples with other teachers. If you’d like to share them with a wider audience outside your own staffroom, we’d be happy to host a guest blog post here – just get in touch. We’d especially like to find more examples of female and older/younger speakers than those in the examples given here.


ASEAN school exchange


When I heard that a small group of teens from my school in Thailand were going on an ASEAN exchange to Indonesia and wanted help preparing to use English in that context, I jumped at the chance to talk to them about ELF.

What is ASEAN?

ASEAN stands for Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The member states are Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. There has been increasing focus on teaching children about ASEAN because the countries have forged closer ties in 2015 with preparations for a common market (the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC).


What was the aim of the workshop?

To raise students’ awareness of the main differences between their own accents and the accents they might hear in Indonesia, and to build confidence interrupting and asking for clarification in the event of not understanding someone.

What materials were used?

I came across the Tumblr Accent Challenge while hunting for clips on YouTube of Indonesian teenagers speaking English. People from all over the world have uploaded videos of themselves pronouncing a set list of words and answering the following questions:

  • Pronounce the following words: Aunt, Roof, Route, Theater, Iron, Salmon, Caramel, Fire, Water, New Orleans, Pecan, Both, Again, Probably, Alabama, Lawyer, Coupon, Mayonnaise, Pajamas, Caught, Naturally, Aluminium, GIF, Tumblr, Crackerjack, Doorknob, Envelope, GPOY.
  • What is it called when you throw toilet paper on a house?
  • What is a bubbly carbonated drink called?
  • What do you call gym shoes?
  • What do you call your grandparents?
  • What do you call the wheeled contraption in which you carry groceries at the supermarket?
  • What is the thing you change the TV channel with?
  • Choose a book and read a passage from it.
  • Do you think you have an accent?
  • Would you like to be a wizard or a vampire?
  • Do you know anyone on Tumblr in real life?
  • End the audio post by saying any THREE words you want.

I used this particular clip and this handout of the Tumblr Accent Challenge.

How was this used in the workshop?

  1. As you can see, the language level is quite high, so we went through the list of words and questions before listening. It was also useful for the students to try saying the words in the list to prepare for their task while listening, which was to think about the following question: “Do the people in the video say any sounds differently to you?”

  2. After watching the video, the students picked up on some quite specific points, e.g. the use of /d/ in ‘the’,  and other comments were more general like ‘they go up and down a lot’. It was also interesting because the speakers in the video answer the question ‘Do you think you have an accent?’ with ‘No’, which the students thought was funny, because to them the Indonesia teenagers had quite distinctive accents. They said they’d never heard Indonesian accents before.

  3. This was a useful springboard into talking about the students’ own pronunciation because it helped them to appreciate how people in Indonesia might feel about their Thai accents. I gave them a list of pronunciation features from the Lingua Franca Core that often affects the intelligibility of Thai L1 speakers’ English. You can download the handout here and adapt it as necessary. I asked the students to rate how clearly they think they can pronounce each of the features. In doing so, they were saying the words aloud and practicing them at the same time. Then we focused on the areas they felt they wanted more help with. We also talked about the importance of being aware that these features could lead to breakdown in communication, so you can choose different words if it seems that one particular word is not clear to your listener.

  4. Then we worked on interrupting people to say you don’t understand. First, we brainstormed phrases you could use (there’s space to do this at the bottom of the handout). This was unproblematic because knowing what to say is not the problem – actually saying it is another thing! Interrupting someone is culturally quite uncomfortable for Thai people to do, so it took a lot of practice. I spoke too quickly and the nominated student had to interrupt and ask me to speak slower. Then we also tried asking someone to explain one specific word they couldn’t understand. So I deliberately spoke about a topic they understood but inserted one difficult word.

The students responded very enthusiastically and I could see some real ‘lightbulb’ moments. These students were aged 16 and 17, so much older than I currently teach, and therefore able to discuss language variation and issues surrounding accents in a mature way. There were only seven of them and they had been selected to go on the trip. This was quite a different experience to my usual teaching, which is far more limited by time, large numbers of students, and exams. Still, it was an exciting project to be a part of, very briefly, because this is ELF in action. Maybe next time they’ll take me with them… !


“Does my child have good pronunciation?”


I lost count of the number of times I got asked this over three days of parent-teacher meetings at my school. In fact, I don’t know if this was the exact question they asked, because we rely on translators. But there was definitely an interest in pronunciation, even among parents of my kindergarten students. So what do you say? Especially when parents say things like “I want her to have a British accent like yours” (don’t get me started!)…

Here are a few things I said at the time, and others I wish I’d said but only thought of afterwards! They might at least provide some inspiration if you’re looking for ways to provide meaningful feedback without getting into a debate about the phrase ‘good pronunciation’.

Pronunciation feedback you could give at a parent-teacher meeting:

  • Your child is confident articulating the main vowel and consonant sounds of English and she is consistent in her pronunciation. There is also a clear difference in the way she pronounces similar pairs of sounds, for example, short and long vowels like ‘ship’ and ‘sheep’. Her classmates never seem to misunderstand her because of any pronunciation issues.
  • Your child pronounces most of the key vowel and consonant sounds clearly but she has some difficulty differentiating between /v/ and /w/. She needs to make sure her teeth are touching her lip for /v/. You might like to try doing some tongue twisters at home together because this can be a really fun way to practice pronunciation. Try googling British Council Learn English Kids Tongue Twisters.
Fun tongue twisters that children can try at home

Fun tongue twisters on the British Council Learn English Kids site

  • Your child lacks confidence speaking English and this impacts on her pronunciation because she speaks very quietly and is reluctant to open her mouth too much. Her confidence will build with age and it’s important not to push her too hard at this stage, as that could make her even more uncomfortable. Try listening to more songs at home together, if she enjoys this, to help her become more familiar with the sounds of English.
  • Your child copies the sounds of words clearly when she is repeating after me, which shows she doesn’t have difficulty articulating the sounds. However, when she’s speaking more freely in a pair or a group, she sometimes forgets what the new words sound like, even if she can see the word on the board or in her book. This issue is connected to reading and remembering sound-letter relations, rather than pronunciation in the sense of articulating the sounds. I would recommend watching more cartoons with the subtitles on in English or listening to songs which show the lyrics in English, to help her become more familiar with sound-letter relations.
  • Your child pronounces most of the key vowel and consonant sounds clearly but she sometimes has difficulty hearing the difference between sounds when she’s listening. When we do dictation activities, I’ve noticed that she sometimes confuses sounds which are articulated in similar places in the mouth. For example, she might write down ‘t’ when she should have written ‘d’. I would recommend watching more cartoons with the subtitles on in English or listening to songs which show the lyrics in English, to help her become more familiar with sound-letter relations.

What other top phrases do you have to talk about pronunciation at parent-teacher meetings? And do you have any other suggestions for parents about how they can help their children work on pronunciation at home? Share your ideas in the comments section below.