How to deal with students who do not know phonemic script

Teaching Pronunciation

Diary submitted by Lee R., Valencia

How to deal with students who do not know phonemic script

Phonemic script is generally seen by English teachers as a useful tool for pronunciation when students find it difficult to pronounce certain words. However, not every student will know phonemic script and will have to circumnavigate it. This section will analyse the pros and cons of phonetics and how students can better pronunciation if they do not know it.
Firstly, phonetics has many advantages that can aid in the learning of vocabulary. One of these would be, for example; by providing a clearly structured form of a pronunciation model (such as a phonemic chart) in a classroom context. Doing this can, according to Pavlova-Anevska (2013) “[…] help them [students] learn the phonemes that are different of absent from the mother tongue.”. This suggests that it not only provides a key for students to unlock pronunciation, but it also offers more phonemes that may not be used in the native language – which can be seen as useful for a Spanish student learning English since there are many differences. An example of this difference, for instance, is seen with the pronunciation of the letter ‘H’ in ‘hospital’ where the /h/ sound is omitted to form ‘ospital’ in Spanish.
On the contrary, disadvantages to phonemic script are that students may not understand the meaning of words regardless of being able to pronounce them. This is supported by Pancare (n.d.) in her article where she states that “Using only the phonetic approach, a student may read an entire sentence without understanding it.” Furthermore, in English, it is not always possible to gauge pronunciation with nonphonemic words such as ‘sugar’ where the ‘S’ would suggest the phoneme /s/ but is actually pronounced as /ʃ/.
Using this information in relation to my own experiences in dealing with students, I have found that the majority of students – except for one – did not know how to use the phonemic script. However, for the one exception who did know, I would repeatedly incorporate phonemes, especially at the start – as they were a beginner- with enunciations that were not in the NL. After having a few lessons, the student had progressed and would attempt to break down words using phonemes. I also made sure that they understood the word after they could pronounce it.
On the other hand, for the majority of students, other methods had to be taken into consideration. First of all, the most effective way, in terms of the time it takes in a 40-minute lesson, that I found was to write down the word as it would be pronounced or written in Spanish and then say it to the student, for example, the word ‘could’ would be spelled as ‘cud’. I often used a choral repetition approach to practice this. Despite the usefulness of this method, particularly with nonphonemic words (said  sed), teachers who do not know the native language of the student may find this difficult to do as they may not know the phonology of the language. However, whenever I encountered this problem when writing words such as ‘Occasionally’ (with /ʒ/), I would resort to a second method that frequently worked – this was to show, explain, exaggerate and repeat tongue and mouth movements while enunciating so that they could mimic.
To conclude this section, it is possible to say that there are multiple strategies that can be applied to TEFL and pronunciation. I believe that the most efficient option in terms of time is where the word is written as how it would be pronounced in the native language. If the student already knows phonemic script, I am of the opinion that this should used as much as possible as it is a very effective way for learners to get to grips with pronunciation issues.


  • Pavlova-Anevska, M. (2013). Using the phonemic script [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/miroslavapavlova12/using-the-phonemic-script
  • Pancare, R. (n.d.). The Advantages & Disadvantages of the Phonetic Approach. Retrieved from http://classroom.synonym.com/advantages-disadvantages-phonetic-approach-8599845.html


How to deal with students who do not know phonemic script

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