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ESL forum > Ask for help > Teaching English to University students    

Teaching English to University students


Teaching English to University students
Dear everyone, 
i have been recently asked to teach a class of university students who are interested in learning Communication and prononciation. I haven ´t met the learners yet and i have no idea what ´s their actual level. Taking into consideration this is my first experience in teaching such classes, i would be so thankful if you could provide any help regarding the methods, the materials, or suggest any sort of book that would allow me to cover the two crucial points " communication and prononciation"

Thank you in Advance 

6 Mar 2017      


I teach in China, where there ´s also many challenges with pronunciation. 
Lately I ´ve been having really good success with two things -- Rhymes and parallel sounds.
1) Rhymes --- If there ´s a word they can ´t pronounce well (Example: Plane usually comes out like plan), but there ´s a rhyming word they CAN pronounce well (Day) -- I ´ll get them to recognize the rhyming vowel and it has been really useful in improving overall pronunciation.
2) Parallel sounds -- There are many letters in the English alphabet that make sounds generally not found in Chinese.  However, there are some parallel sounds. If I can find a Chinese word that has a similar sound as is in a word they aren ´t pronouncing well, I ´ll often use that sound to get them to hear the similarities.  Now, that said, I don ´t speak Chinese, but I do know the pinyin pronunciation of enough words to draw some useful parallels.  
These are probably not methods blessed by pedagogy, but they have been useful for me.  

6 Mar 2017     


Minimal pairs are a good way to work on distinguishing sounds which are often confused.
To work on the initial "h" sound, use pairs such as hill-ill or howl-owl.
To distinguish between i and ee, use pairs such as ship-sheep or fit-feet. 

7 Mar 2017     




A Level Evaluation, even if it is a self diagnostic test would be a good start. The British Council site has good links for that. Then I like to use something like Online listening Tasks like at http://linkengpark.com/choose-meaningful-and-interesting-lessons/  These are split into different Levels of ability. Many of the links have the transcript as well, so the students can listen and repeat. If you have Headsets with microphones for the students in a language lab Environment then you can randomly listen in on the students as they read back the text on the transcript and make any suggestions or corrections as necessary from the teacher PC. We use the Sanako Software for that but maybe your School / University has something similar?
Hope that helps,

8 Mar 2017     

United Kingdom


Dear T. Abdellah:

‘COMMUNICATION’ is the absolute basis of ‘Language’.

According to Professor David Crystal, “Communication refers to the transmission and reception of information, (a message), between a source and a receiver using a signalling system”. (A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 2008).

In simple English, this means passing a message from Person ‘A’ to Person ‘B’, (or to many people), using a wide variety of techniques.

These include spoken messages, (in one or more of 1000’s of languages), spoken face-to-face, or by telephone, radio, television, computer and many other electronic devices.

Another way to communicate is by written messages, using words, pictures or symbols, (in 100’s of written scripts), sent by messenger, post, newspapers and books, or by electronic methods.

Spoken messages particularly are often made more difficult because the speaker expects an immediate answer, (but not with written messages). Problems are caused by the different abilities of the speaker and the listener; the unspoken ‘rules’ regarding the use of formal and informal language; special words, (jargon), used by certain trades and professions; and the relationship between speaker and listener …  (father-child, boss-worker, teacher-student, etc.

A third way of communicating is by sending signalled messages, using Morse Code, Semaphore, Smoke Signals, Heliograph, Sign Language, Road Signs, Maps, etc.

Finally, (but not excluding others), there are some personal messages which are almost Verbal, such as a laugh, a yawn, a sneeze, a gasp, a sharp intake of breath, etc. And there are some personal messages which are Non-Verbal, such as facial expressions, a smile, a gesture, body language, the length of pauses, the effect of the surrounding environment, etc. They all ‘say something’ and can alter the meaning of the message.

Accurate communications, (especially spoken messages,) often fail because of outside influences … noise, other voices, movement, embarrassment of the speaker, mispronunciation, lack of vocabulary, lack of understanding, etc. This sometimes means that the speaker ‘sends’ one message, but because of ‘interference’, the listener ‘receives’ a different message.

I use this explanation to my students: “Sometimes an error the size of an Ant in the mouth of the speaker, becomes a misunderstanding the size of an Elephant in the ear of the listener”.

Whenever possible, accurate communication is essential.

11 Mar 2017     

United Kingdom


Dear T. Abdellah:

Regarding PRONUNCIATION, the previous writers have given you some excellent suggestions.

Pronunciation varies from speaker to speaker, and from area to area, depending on the dialect. However, I try to teach Standard British English which will be acceptable in the area where the students live.

When I am teaching pronunciation, or when a student makes a serious pronunciation error, I frequently find that he/she is reading the word, and trying to pronounce it phonetically. In other words, they think that they can read the word, letter by letter, and then pronounce the word. This is not correct!                                                                                                                                                                             English is NOT a phonetic language! You must stress this, because many students persist in trying to read English as it is written. For example, as you know, the ‘a’ in ‘cat’, ‘father’ and ‘mate’ are three different sounds. The letter combination ‘ough’, as you probably know, can be pronounced in 10 different ways: ‘cough’, ‘bough’, through’, etc. Many Beginner students do not realise this.

So, it is often NOT possible, (even for English speakers), to read an unknown word and pronounce it correctly, unless they have previously HEARD it pronounced CORRECTLY. This is the reason that I always teach that Listening is the most important of the four disciplines, Speaking, Listening, Reading, and Writing. Of course, in English, there ARE rules of pronunciation, but, at the Beginner Stage, the ability to listen accurately, is VITAL. It is possible that others will disagree with me, but I have formed my opinion after 25 years of TESOL.

Like others, I often use Minimal Pairs to teach pronunciation. However, I use a similar method when a student badly mispronounces a short word, let us say, ‘boat’. Perhaps he pronounces it as ‘boh at’.  I try to correct him by slowly pronouncing the word correctly, ‘boh oot’, and asking him to repeat it after me, several times. If this fails, I ask good speakers in the class, (especially speakers of his language), to say the word, followed by him saying it. The psychology is: “If they can do it, so can you do it!” If this fails, I quickly write on the board a list of words, (usually in alphabetical order), which have the same spelling and the same pronunciation as the original mispronounced word. “Oat; boat; bloat; coat; float; goat; gloat; groat; moat; stoat; throat.” I then go around the class asking each student to pronounce each of the words, in turn.

If the word was ‘nose’, (noh ooz’), I would quickly write “chose; hose; nose; pose; prose; rose; those”, stressing that these are ordinary English words. To avoid confusion, I use words with the same spelling and pronunciation.

At first, it is moderately difficult for the Teacher to quickly think of appropriate words. But when you can do it successfully, it convinces your students that they can trust you, because they realise that you know your subject. This reinforces your lesson. Good Luck!

11 Mar 2017