Unit 1: Listening for Pronunciation Practice


In this first unit of the module on listening, we will illustrate a few activities that you can use in your classroom to improve your students’ listening comprehension by making them understand differences in pronunciation. As an English teacher, you might already be familiar with the phonetic symbols for sounds in English. If you are not, you can refer to any good English dictionary (e.g., Oxford/Cambridge/Longman’s Advanced Learners’ dictionaries) that contains a pronunciation key. This will help you become familiar with phonological information about English sounds, which in turn will enable you to devise classroom activities to develop your students’ listening skills. As you are perhaps aware, the pronunciation of English words differs according to which part of the word is stressed, which vowel is long or short, which words in a sentence are pronounced in their weak forms and so on. To be able to understand and respond appropriately to spoken English, JSS students need to be aware of such distinctions when they hear English being spoken. The activities in this unit will focus on giving students opportunities to hear pronunciation differences in appropriate contexts, so that they can use these skills for real-life listening. At this level, we strongly recommend that you do not teach your students the phonological symbols, because this kind of technical knowledge will not help them in actual communication situations. Instead, you can use your technical knowledge to design pronunciation tasks for classroom practice.

Unit outcomes

Upon completion of this unit you will be able to:


  • help your students recognise differences in English pronunciation stemming from vowel length (i.e., between long and short vowel sounds),

  • give your students practice in recognising the difference in meaning in words that are pronounced with different stress when used as different grammatical words,

  • familiarise your students with the use of weak forms of English words, and

  • design activities to give your students pronunciation practice in a specific context.



L1 (First language):

The language acquired at birth, normally informally.

Phonetic symbols:

The symbols developed by the International Phonetic Association to represent each distinct sound found in human languages, such as vowel and consonant sounds.


Referring to the sounds of a particular language (e.g., the vowel and consonant sounds of English).

Weak forms:

The unstressed forms of structure/function words like auxiliary verbs, pronouns and articles in an English utterance.

Teacher support information

You might know teachers who do not think there is any need to teach listening skills. This is unfortunate because people actually engage in more listening activities than they engage in reading for the purpose of extracting, understanding and evaluating information. Listening skills will develop only when students have an opportunity to hear English being spoken in natural contexts. Because a child’s home environment may not offer such a context, it is important to include classroom activities where students can listen to samples of oral English that represent or recreate real-life uses of English. In the Resource sections, listening passages are provided for you to read in a normal conversational style or to play on an audio or video player.

Case study

Case study

Mr Audu is an English teacher in a JSS in Nigeria. When he began teaching a new group last year, he realised that his students did not understand the English spoken on the radio. They tuned in only to music channels, and skipped other programmes on the radio. He also noticed that the students only watched the pictures on TV and were unable to understand what was being said. He decided that he had to do something to help his class to develop an interest in listening to news, and other programmes, both on radio and on TV. He also decided that he needed to develop his students’ interest in listening as he wanted to improve their reading abilities. He realised that there were no materials available. There were textbook passages for teaching reading comprehension but none for teaching listening comprehension. He decided to try out his own strategies.

Mr Audu, who was not confident about his own speaking skills, decided to practise his oral skills at home and tried to ensure that:

  • his reading speed was at a normal conversational pace,

  • his pronunciation was accurate, and

  • his voice level and tone were modulated to make his speech intelligible.

He also selected some recorded material from the Teachers Resources Centre. However, first he had to:

  1. Adjust the seating arrangement so that each student could hear the recording clearly.

  2. Adjust the volume of the audio system to a comfortable listening volume.

  3. Minimise the effect of background noise that might interfere with the sounds while the tape played.

After ensuring that these problems were taken care of, he made exercises for his students to complete while and after listening to the recordings. The students found this new learning resource interesting, and after a month or so of practice, their teacher found them spending more time listening to radio and TV broadcasts and entertainment programmes in English.

Points to ponder

  1. Do you think it is important to teach your students to practise listening, since they already hear you speaking English in every class?

  2. Have you used the audio player in your class to give your students pronunciation practice? How did you deal with background noise?


Activity 1: Distinguishing sound differences

Activity 1

Second-language speakers of English often confuse the pronunciations of the long and short vowel sounds of English. Some of these differences are found in ship and sheep, full and fool, gull and girl and so on. Students can usually recognise or pronounce these words correctly when spoken in isolation. However, when they hear the same words in a specific context, they are often unable to distinguish the difference in pronunciation. This sometimes leads to poor comprehension of spoken English.

In this activity, you can make students conscious of the differences between words that have long and short vowels between the same consonant sounds. Before the students do the activity, play the text in Resource 1 once (or read out the transcript) and have a general discussion about the story. Then give them a sheet like the one below, and tell them to circle the word they hear as they listen to the text for a second time. For example, the first word they will hear is sleep, and the second one slipped.

  1. a) sleep      b) slipped

  2. a) sleep      b) slipped

  3. a) bit           b) beat

  4. a) bit           b) beat

  5. a) lip           b) leaped

  6. a) lip           b) leaped

  7. a) sheep     b) ship

  8. a) sheep     b) ship

  9. a) peel        b) pill

  10. a) peel        b) pill

To give your students more practice in distinguishing sound differences, you can make similar activities with other comparable sets of words. Some examples are long /u:/ and short /u/ sounds (book and food), /^/ and /ɜ:/ sounds (hull and hurl), /e/ and /ei/ sounds (get and gate) or /^/ and /a:/ sounds (bun and barn), etc. You can create short passages containing examples of the same sounds (as in Resource 1) or use several pairs of sounds in the same passage to make it resemble real-life contexts. This exercise will help them recognise the sounds when they hear them in contexts outside the classroom and will improve their comprehension of spoken English.

Activity 2: Recognising differences in word stress

Activity 2

Like other languages, English has a fixed stress pattern for words containing more than one syllable. This means that a particular syllable in a word is said with more force than the others. For example, the word example is always pronounced with stress on the second syllable (ig-ZAM-pl), while the word pronunciation has the stress on the fourth syllable (pro-nunt-si-EI-shun). Sometimes, the same word has a different pronunciation according to whether it is used as a noun, adjective or verb. For example, the word present is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable when used as a noun (PRE-zent), and on the second syllable when used as a verb (pri-ZENT).

This activity should help students notice these differences in stress when the words are used in a specific context. Before you begin the activity, take the students through the list of words below by putting them up on the board and pronouncing them with the correct stress each time. For the activity, have the students listen to the passage in Resource 2 (you can say them aloud or use the audiotape), and underline the part of each highlighted word (i.e., the syllable) that is stressed. Here are the words for the board.

PRE-sent (Noun)      pre-SENT (Verb)

RE-cord (Noun)        re-CORD (Verb)

OB-ject (Noun)          ob-JECT (Verb)

PRO-duce (Noun)     pro-DUCE (Verb)

AB-sent (Adjective)   ab-SENT (Verb)

RÉ-sumé (Noun)       re-SUME (Verb)

CON-duct (Noun)      con-DUCT (Verb)


Activity 3: Recognising the use of weak forms

Activity 3

As you are no doubt aware, English is a stress-timed language — that is, in a sentence, the stress falls at regular intervals. This gives spoken English its own definite rhythm, and sometimes this rhythm poses a problem for listeners who do not have a similar rhythm in their own language. One feature of English rhythm that commonly causes problems in comprehension is the use of weak forms. For example, when pronounced in isolation, auxiliary verbs or articles such as would, have or a are said with the vowels in their strong (normal) forms — /wud/, /hæv/, /ei/. But in utterances, these are pronounced in their unstressed, weak forms — /d/, /v/, /ǝ/, as in the sentences below:

  • We’d like to see the principal, please.

  • I’ve missed classes the whole of last week, you know!

  • It’s a hit!

In classrooms, teachers usually speak to students slowly, articulating each word carefully for ease of understanding. While this is a good strategy when explaining a concept, it does not give students exposure to the “real” English that they will encounter outside the classroom. In this activity, you will be able to give students practice in understanding English spoken at normal conversational speed, when weak forms are used. Before you begin the activity, have class discussions on contracted forms of verbs. (You can also refer to Activity 2 of Unit 2 in Module 6 — Communicative Grammar for a discussion of contracted forms.) This discussion is meant to refresh your students’ knowledge of the use of contracted forms in informal English. You can, for example, have students complete the following exercise in pairs. You can also ask them to add similar words to the list. In Column 2, write the full form of the contraction in Column 1.

Column 1: Contracted form Column 2: Full form

Have a class discussion on how these contracted forms are the written versions of the weak forms of the verbs, and how people use these weak forms in informal conversations. If the students are to easily understand what people say in conversations, they must become familiar with this special feature of spoken English.

For the activity, tell your students that they will listen to a conversation (Resource 3a) twice. The first time they will just have to listen with attention. The second time, they will have to fill in the blanks in the passage (Resource 3b) with the full forms of the words that they hear.

To give your students more practice, you can put them in groups of four (i.e., to make two pairs). The first pair will prepare a dialogue similar to the one in Resource 3a, and have a conversation. The other pair will have to write down the words that are said in their weak forms. The pairs then repeat the activity; the second pair writes their dialogue, and the first pair completes the task.

Unit summary


In this unit, we looked at a few important aspects of spoken English that JSS students need to be familiar with. The skill of listening improves only when students have regular exposure to the spoken form of the language. Also, practising pronunciation of words in isolation does not help much, as in conversations people tend to speak faster and use certain conventions like weak forms, for example. To enable students to understand spoken English, you should use activities involving providing answers both while and after listening.



  • Which activity was relatively easy for you to use in class?

  • Which activity was easier for the students to do?

  • What kinds of activities could you design for pronunciation practice?


Resource 1: Pat and The Sheep on Noah’s Ship

Resource 1

This transcript of a short story shows the difference in pronunciation between the short /i/ and the long /i:/ sounds of English. You can play the audio version or read it at a normal conversational speed to the class for the activity. The text should be read twice, with the students being asked just to listen the first time. Before reading the text for the second time, announce that they should do the activity while they listen.


“Mummy, Mummy, wake up!” shouted Patricia.

Sally yawned and stretched. “Will this child ever sleep?” she thought. Suddenly she heard a thud. “Oh, no!” thought Sally, “Pat must have slipped again!” “Mummy!” she heard the child scream. Her eyes flew open to see milk poured all over the bed. Her daughter was trying to fill the spilt milk back into the bottle. Sally bit her tongue to stop herself from shouting. “I think I’m going to beat her up now!” muttered Sally to herself. But before she could say anything, Pat ran straight into Sally’s arms. Sally noticed that her daughter had a cut on her upper lip. Sally leaped off the bed quickly and ran down to the bathroom to get some antiseptic. She returned to find Pat standing beside her bed looking at her. In one hand she held her broken milk bottle and in the other she carried a storybook. Sally suddenly realised why her daughter had come to her. It was 7.00 a.m. “Mummy, please tell me the story of the black sheep on Noah’s ship!” she pleaded. Sally laughed. How easily the child had forgotten about her fall and her hunger! Sally quickly peeled a banana, fed it to Pat and popped a headache pill in her own mouth. “She really is a sweet and clever child,” thought Sally. She must remember to tell her husband about this morning’s events!



Resource file

This audio recording can also be found on the DVD, in the following location:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit1\Activity1\Resource1\Audio\Pat and the Sheep on Noah’s Ship.mp3

Resource 2a: Allen’s announcement (transcript)

Resource 2a

Allen: Good morning, everybody! Please pay attention to this announcement.

Amina: Wait a minute! I don’t think everyone’s here — Ricky is absent, and so is Sheila.

Allen: Well, I can’t hold the announcement just because they choose to absent themselves from work! There’s good news for us — there’s a present for you if you present the record of last week’s activities accurately. The video guys will record the best presentation! And the boss wants the best presenter to submit his or her résumé at my desk so that your promotion can be processed!

Amina: I don’t object to getting a promotion, but what is the object of carrying it out like this?

Allen: We’ll come to that in a while. All right, guys! Who will conduct today’s session? Remember, there’ll be marks for good conduct as well!

Amina: Let’s not forget that we have to produce a good report at the end of the day.

Allen: True. And after that everyone’s been ordered to resume work — no holiday, guys!



Resource file

This audio recording can also be found on the DVD, in the following location:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit1\Activity2\Resource2\Audio\Allen’s Announcement.mp3

Resource 2b: Allen’s announcement (worksheet)

Resource 2b

Underline the part of the word (the syllable) that is stressed in each word you hear.

  1. Ab-sent

  2. Ab-sent

  3. Pre-sent

  4. Pre-sent

  5. Re-cord

  6. Re-cord

  7. Re-sume

  8. Re-sume

  9. Ob-ject

  10. Ob-ject

  11. Con-duct

  12. Con-duct

  13. Pro-duce

  14. Pro-duce

Resource 3a: Practising weak forms (transcript)

Resource 3a

Teacher: Kenny, why haven’t you been in class all week?

Kenny: Sorry, Teacher. I’ve been unwell.

Teacher: Well, I’ll have to mark you absent for the whole period.

Why don’t you get a certificate from your doctor?

Kenny: She’s out of the country at the moment, Teacher.

I’m going to ask her to write one when she comes back next week.

Teacher: We’ve finished three chapters in the last few days, so you’ll have to finish your homework for all of them.

Kenny: I’d like to meet you after class, Teacher, if you’re free.

Teacher: I’m sure we can arrange something, Kenny. Meet me after class at four today.

Kenny: Thank you, Sir. I’ll bring my father along. He’s been wanting to meet you to discuss this.



Resource file

This audio recording can also be found on the DVD, in the following location:

  • Scripts\Module1\Unit1\Activity3\Resource3a\Audio\Practicing Weak Forms.mp3

Resource 3b: Practising weak forms (worksheet)

Resource 3b

Teacher: Kenny, why ______ you been in class all week?

Kenny: Sorry, Teacher. I ______ been unwell.

Teacher: Well, I ______ have to mark you absent for the whole period. Why ________ you _______ get a certificate from your doctor?

Kenny: She ______ out of the country at the moment, Teacher. I ______ going to ask her to write one when she comes back next week.

Teacher: We ______ finished three chapters in the last few days, so you ______have to finish your homework for all of them.

Kenny: I ______ like to meet you after class, Teacher, if you ______ free.

Teacher: I ______ sure we can arrange something, Kenny. Meet me after class at four today.

Kenny: Thank you, Sir. I ______ bring my father along. He ______ been wanting to meet you to discuss this.

Teacher question and answer


Question: In the class we read English lessons aloud to the students before making them read these themselves. Is this not enough to help them learn good pronunciation?

Answer: Listening to the teacher read out a lesson in English is an effective means of giving students exposure to good pronunciation. However, the English textbook may not have enough instances of the language spoken in real life, as in the form of conversations. Students need exposure to the kind of informal English spoken in the real world, not just the language of stories and poems. Lessons should therefore be supplemented with activities that require students to listen to other, more natural instances of language use because this is what will prepare them to respond appropriately to people outside the classroom.