Pronunciation Tips for ESL learners

Written by tutor Pat D.

Learning English takes time and effort but the rewards are considerable. With your increased language skills, you can qualify for many more jobs and feel much more comfortable in conversations with your neighbors, co-workers and new American friends. I would like to offer you a few simple suggestions for quickly improving your pronunciation and reading comprehension.

1.) What Is A Syllable?

In English, we break our words up into units that we call syllables. Each syllable can only contain one vowel sound. Some words are only one syllable long like the words “one, two, dog, can, pig, and sign.” Most words are made up of more than one syllable, which means there must be at least one vowel sound for each syllable. However, it is important for you to remember that one vowel sound might contain more than one vowel. For example, the word “rain” contains two vowels (“a” and “i”) but it makes only one vowel sound (“ai” sounds like a long “a”) and therefore, it has only one syllable.

2.) Making Better Connections Between Written and Spoken Words

Have you ever noticed that the words you read in a book might seem unfamiliar to you until you hear a native English speaker say the word aloud? Afterwards, you realize that you have heard this word before and even know what it means but you did not make the connection between the spoken word and the written word. It is especially frustrating because they don’t seem anything alike to you. Fortunately, there are a few tips that will help you to pronounce and recognize these words when you see them in print.

3.) Recognizing and Pronouncing Closed Syllables

A closed syllable is one that ends with a consonant. Closed syllables contain short vowel sounds. For example: big, hat, run, pink, lock, and then. While these examples happen to be one-syllable words, this rule applies to multi-syllable words too. Take the word “ discontent.” You would divide it into three syllables: dis/con/tent. Since each syllable ends with a consonant, all the vowels are short.

4.) Recognizing and Pronouncing Open Syllables

An open syllable does NOT end in a consonant; in other words, the vowel is left open. In these cases, the vowel in the open syllable is long. For example, the first syllable in the word “report” (re/port) is open so the “e” is long. In the word, “donut” (do/nut), the first syllable ends in the vowel “o”, which is long.

5.) Pronouncing Syllables That End in a Silent “E”

When you come across a word that ends in a silent “e”, you need to apply a different rule. Since the “e” is silent, it does not create it’s own syllable so you can treat this word as a one-syllable word even though it has two vowels separated by a consonant. The silent “e” tells you that the vowel that comes before the “e” will have a long pronunciation. Examples: hope, name, dime, use, and mile. In each of these cases, the first vowel is long.

There are several other rules of greater complexity but these should help you pronounce a great many words that have given you trouble in the past. After a bit of practice, you will quickly recognize how to break words into syllables and then apply one of the rules above.

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