Issues in Teaching Pronunciation

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This discussion thread, streamlined here, was taken from messages posted to the English Language discussion list [} in January, 2007.

From: Tom Zurinskas truespel at Fri Jan 5 19:57:20 EST 2007

Thanks for your comments, Bonita.

Truespel, as a phonetic spelling that uses no special symbols and spells out all schwas. It's not fair to all accents to pick one dominant form, such as ~is for ending "ous". I had to do a lot of listening to pick the spelling of some of those schwas. Accents will vary. In fact truespel can be used to write accents for better understanding for kids. That's basically what it is - a simple English friendly phonetic writing system.

Regarding using truespel as an initial teaching system for kids, this idea seamed compromised to me also by the realization that kids would have to unlearn it to learn tradspel (traditional spelling). However, IBM's Writing to Read method, as test by ETS with over 6,000 k-1 kids, found that learning to write and read phonetically not only improved learning, but the effect lasted through transition to tradspel. Truespel need not be unlearned. There are now dictionaries using truespel (truespel dictionaries books 2 and 3) so one need never forget it, especially when future translation guides use it.

Note that phonemic awareness is enhanced teaching truespel, and that is the key ingrediant they found for successful readers. In light of this, England is switching its early reading system (based on studies with 300 kids) to "synthetic phonics" which is a phonemic awareness method. Thus, the concept of teaching phonetics first is proven. I believer truespel would be good for this application. No other phonetic spelling systems are really user friendly enough to do this.

So thanks for your input. Truespel is a tool awaiting many uses. It's dictionary is over 60,000 words and faily complete. It's free to use through the converter at Of interest is that once a text passage is converted, if you convert it back you'll see all the homonyms (words pronounced the same).

I'll gladly support any application. Some interesting ones is that an animator is using it for mouth movements and a chip maker says that his voice chip works best with truespel based voice modeling.

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL4+ See and the 4 truespel books at

From: Bonnita Solberg bdsunmt at Sat Jan 6 13:58:26 EST 2007

Hi Again Tom; I think the critical difference between use of this program with kids and using it with adults is that our ESl students come with a very limited vocabulary that is often mispronounced and cannot be spelled correctly because of it. Some do not have an alphabetically based first language, some do not pair sounds with letters; they often do not read or write even in their first language. To teach students truespel phonetics then convert to English spelling is one step too many in my estimation. Was this system developed in England or a British English speaking country? The pronunciations presented do vary from American English in more than one case. In any event, good luck teaching English speaking kids with your system; I think it is not appropriate for an adult population that wants to talk to survive and has little time to spend in a classroom learning basic English conversation. It could be a research project to determine how much time adult ESOL students need to learn truespel letter-sound pairing, then essentially unlearn truespel pairing to learn the true English spelling. I would love to hear from others in the adult ESOL field. Bonnita

From: Tom Zurinskas truespel at Sun Jan 7 19:17:44 EST 2007

Hi Bonita,

The pronunciations of truespel are based on the voicings, as I heard them, from the American Heritage Talking Dicitonary and in some cases, a wonderful internet resource. They are both very siimilar. Accents will vary, but if one were to speak as truespel spells, it would be exceptable meda quality USA English.

As I am writing, I see a news report saying that the lack of being able to speak Arabic hurts our efforts in Iraq. I believe that truespel, as the only English friendly phonetic spelling system, would be a good way to display or teach other languages to Americans (See truespel book one, . It can be learned quickly by English natives using extended truespel. Present standard phonetic system, such as SAMPA, are not English friendly and not intuitive to use. The military could use truespel.

I understand that in China, some teachers are using the IPA to spell English phonetically for English learners. That is so hard.

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL4+ See and the 4 truespel books at

From: Bonnita Solberg bdsunmt at Mon Jan 8 19:20:00 EST 2007

Tom: I definitely believe that Truespel would be useful in learning language after one's first language if the person is educated at least to high school and/or is able to intellectually confront the material. I see its usefulness for learning Arabic and do believe that I could use the system for that purpose. Bonnita


From: Tom Zurinskas truespel at Tue Jan 9 11:53:33 EST 2007

Thanks Bonita,

I'm a retired FAA gov worker so I don't know about profit or marketing. I put truespel out there for free at for all users. It's the only "pronunciation guide spelling/writing" system I know of that's English friendly with no special symbols also showing stress in words. I hope you can use it and others can as well for variouis applicatioins. Let me know if I can assist. Thanks again.

From: Nicole Graves cnaamh at Tue Jan 9 20:33:50 EST 2007

Hi Bonnita,

I haven't looked at "Truespel". I don't see the point of learning an "intermediate" or in-between code. My program serves adult ESOL students. They are immigrants and refugees or sometimes people who have come as such years ago but are just now coming to class. The focus is on survival and immediate communication. Time is very limited: 6 to 7hours a week. We have open enrollment. We do intensive lessons such as I have described using Pronunciation Pairs and our own in-house stories to teach awareness, discrimination and patterns. And on the spot mini-lesson as needed. We use Pronunciation card games from Pro Lingua at various levels for production and discrimination. We use Clear Speech from time to time. We always teach about voiced and voiceless. We use rubber bands for length. We teach intonation by choral reading and stress with Cuisenaire rods. We show linking, etc. We use a variation of the Human Computer where the teacher stands behind the student but near one ear. The teacher says a word and the student repaeat several times. The student' eyes should be closed when you do this as print can interfere. It always works for me! Our focus is not on teaching rules but on discovery and usage. We teach meaning negotiation and reading signals. The learner has to be aware of a breakdown in communication and has to accept the responsibility to repair it by using all available means. The learner also has the responsibility to signal the speaker of a problem in communication. Sometimes higher students will ask or already know about phonetic transcriptions. In those cases, I give them of 3 systems: IPA, Merriam-Webster and Trager-Smith. The ESL Miscellany from Pro Lingua has two pages on them. We have Pronunciation Pedagogy and Theory published by TESOL a while back on our resource shelves too.


From: Jim Williams jw at Mon Jan 8 09:39:15 EST 2007

Ms. Solberg, I wanted to respond to your comments about your search for finding a program to teach pronunciation and spelling skills to ESL students with wide and varying educational backgrounds. You indicate that you are now in the long process of developing for yourself a system that teaches both pronunciation and spelling skills. I can tell you from personal experience that you are indeed setting out on a longer journey than you perhaps might ever have intended. Thirty years ago I was teaching high school English and remedial reading at an inner-city high school in Atlanta, Georgia. I too began to investigate various programs that would teach reading, pronunciation, and spelling skills for my struggling students. I did not find any programs that I felt were suitable for them, so I began to develop my own program. The net result is now thirty years later the fifth edition of my book We All Can Read was published this past summer along with an online version of the program that anyone connected to the Internet may access. 624 lessons from my book are published online combining text and audio to teach decoding, pronunciation, and spelling skills to the adult learner. The first 28 of those online lessons are accessible for anyone at http://

All adult students who are learning English as a second language regardless of their educational background need to be taught the direct and consistent relationship between English letters and sounds. Once students learn the basic foundation, they will almost immediately be able to see an impact in their ability to pronounce and spell words. Thank you.

Jim Williams E-mail Address: jw at Web Address:

From: Paul Rogers pumarosa21 at Wed Jan 10 12:08:46 EST 2007

My method of teaching ESL focuses on pronunciation from the first class. I have observed that when a student feels comfortable pronouncing English, then she or he is able to advance with confidence. Also, if a student cannot pronounce words with relative ease, that student cannot understand spoken English very well either. And my method is step-by-step as in building a house. Each lesson leads to or reinforces the next.Pronunciation is the foundation. For example, Beginning students: First Lesson 1. The alphabet 2. Demonstration of the pronunciation of g, j, and v using a lot of humor. 3. Repetition of the alphabet out loud by the class. 4. Spelling out loud. Each student must spell her or his name out loud in English, and, depending, the names of family members. Second Lesson 1. The numbers up to one million. 2. Pronunciation of short u ("numbers"), th (three, thirteen), short i (six), silent e at end of word (five, nine), etc. 3. Simple practice. How much is ...1 and 1, 2 and 1, telling time, etc. 4. All students take turns reading a dialogue out loud. Other Lessons Greetings Pronunciation of h (Hello), use of "you" etc. Note: I use “reminders” constantly in my classes, especially with g, j, short I, and th. Class participation reading dialogues out loud.

I have also designed a series of exercises to help students learn the differentiation between short i and ee, j and y, th and t, and v and b. These exercises are done in a contest format. Within a month, most of my students get a good grasp of pronunciation and a working vocabulary. All of my students receive a textbook I have written plus an audio cd that accompanies the text. Usually I work in a computer lab setting so that half the class can use PUMAROSA. Below is a lesson I use to teach the pronunciation of the past tense which is contained in my grammar workbook. LA PRONUNCIACION DEL PASADO El tiempo pasado de los verbos tienen la terminaciòn de “D” o “ED”, y hay tres pronunciaciones. 1. Con el sonido de “T” A los verbos que terminan en su forma bàsica con las letras “k,” “p,” “ss,” “..ace,” “sh” y “ff” (y las palabras que tienen el sonido de “ff,” como “laugh” - reirse, y “cough” - toser), - la pronunciaciòn de la “-ed” en su forma pasado es “T.” Ejemplos: “helped” se pronuncia “helpt” “talked” se pronuncia “takt” Las más comunes: ached = aekt asked = aeskt cooked = kukt jumped = jampt looked = lukt stopped = stapt walked = iualkt washed = iuasht watched. = iatcht worked = iuirkt 2. “ED” A los verbos que terminan con los sonidos “d” o “t” en su forma bàsica, su forma pasada se pronuncia “ED.” Ejemplos: “sounded” se pronuncia “saund-ed” "constructed" se pronuncia "construct - ed" otros: acted demanded demonstrated divided exploded voted NOTA: Este grupo de palabras tambien contiene muchos cognados, o palabras que estàn parecidas o iguales en inglès y español. 3. “D” Con los demas verbos, su terminaciòn en el pasado se pronuncia “D,” asi: “lived” se pronuncia “livd” “learned” se pronuncia “lernd” Otras: Copied Defined Described Employed Explained Played Remembered

  • Usa el diccionario para traducirlos; solamente quita la “d” o “ed.”

From: Dottie dottie at Wed Jan 10 18:27:42 EST 2007

Paul -- I've used Pumarosa w/Spanish-speakers. Have you used it w/other language speakers? I have no Spanish-speakers. One of my Farsi-speakers tried your website, but was rather distracted by the Spanish.

Dottie Shattuck HIAS-NC

From: Paul Rogers pumarosa21 at Fri Jan 12 13:12:54 EST 2007

Concerning Tom´s post that took issue with my method of teaching differnces in the sounds of the past tense of regular verbs: I studied linguistic theory ... many years ago. And it can be very interesting. But, the real question is what a teacher does in front of the class. In other words, what is most practical. If it becomes necessary in a class of 25 to 50 students to "teach" the pronunciation of the past tense, how should it be done? My method is the most practical that I know, and I have used it for more than 15 years. Paul Rogers

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