Accent vs Pronunciation

Teaching pronunciation - for teachers; 20 tips to improve pronunciation - for students; Personal experience - Conan Smeeth;


What is the difference between pronunciation and accent?

Pronunciation is the way in which a word or a language is spoken. It involves the sequence of sounds and stress and intonation. If you mispronounce a word you may use the wrong sound or stress the wrong syllable and that may impede understanding. 

Accent is the way we pronounce certain sounds, and it is unique to every individual. It is affected by the area we were born, media we consume and people we communicate with. 

Basically, pronunciation is crucial for understanding and the language itself, whereas your accent provides information about your origin. 

In class, it is important to pay attention to pronunciation and make a clear distinction between it and accent. There are certain courses that will train students’ accent and help them sound a particular way, but it shouldn’t necessarily be part of a general English course.
When students request accent training, they may often feel ashamed of the way they sound due to cultural peculiarities, as is often the case with Russian students. However, if your accent does not hinder understanding, it can and often should be left alone. 

Phonetic alphabet

A lot of pronunciation training starts with the phonetic alphabet. 

  • It helps students when they consult dictionaries;

  • It helps teachers point out specific pronunciation problems and explain sounds to students;


  • Different dictionaries may use different symbols

  • It is possible now to simply listen to the way the word is pronounced

  • It is one more thing for students to learn which they may not really like

So all in all the decision is up to the teacher. It is possible to teach only certain sounds and symbols that students of a particular nationality may find challenging and focus on them only. 

Exposure to Accents

Although it is not that important to correct students’ accent, they should be able to understand a wide variety of accents themselves. Many modern course books already use recordings where people have different accents, but you may also find authentic realia from different English-speaking countries or of different nationalities and backgrounds. Your students may never even hear anybody speaking RP (Received Pronunciation - a standard British accent), but will come across people with Spanish, Chinese or Indian accents. 


One important aspect of pronunciation is intonation - this is something teachers definitely shouldn’t ignore. Different languages tone sentences and questions in a different way and doing it right will only improve overall fluency and comprehension. Teach sentence stress, question intonation and ways of showing hesitation, disagreement or approval, the students will love deciphering recorded conversations for hidden meanings.

Being Intelligible 

In the recent years the focus has shifted from accuracy to being intelligible. The majority of adult students are unlikely to achieve native-like level of pronunciation and the main goal for them should simply be intelligible. There is no obvious benefit of spending a lot of time teaching pronunciation, rather studies show that people will learn it gradually and naturally. 


  • Drilling phrases and collocations focusing on natural rhythm and intonation

  • “Shadowing” the dialogue

  • Identifying sentence stress and intonation contour

  • Using intonation to convey different meaning: politeness, uncertainty, disagreement

Share your ideas on how to teach pronunciation in the comments!

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10 Tips To Improve Your English Pronunciation

Many English learners feel overwhelmed when they start learning the language. English comes with its set of challenges, students often feel that they will never be able to correctly pronounce the tricky sounds for which there is no equivalent in their native languages.
However, before we get into tips and techniques on improving your English pronunciation, let’s first go over what accents, how they are formed, and why it isn’t always up to you to lose them completely.
Don’t worry THAT much about the accent.
When we are children, we learn our native language very easily. At that point in our lives, the part of our brain that is responsible for learning a language is very plastic. Scientists say that we develop our accents by as early as the age of 6 months.
As we get older and develop a mastery for our language, our brains then focus on performing other activities and lose that language learning plasticity. This is why when we start learning a new language as adults, it is much more difficult to get rid of our pesky accent.
When we start learning a language, there are many factors that affect our pronunciation. Some of those are

  • Our age – When we are young and we learn several languages at once, we use the same area of our brain. As we get older and start learning another language, we don’t use that same area. Instead, it is an area of the brain that is adjacent to the one we used as children.

  • The length of time we have been exposed to the second language – By the time we are fluent in our native tongue, we are 5 or 6 years old. This means that we get over 5 years’ worth of listening and repeating practice.

  • Our natural aptitude for mimicking accents – Some people are naturally good at recreating foreign accents. In other words, they have an “ear” for languages.

Having said all this, we want to stress the fact that it’s still very much possible to achieve near-native speech. And also, do yourself a favor and keep in mind that a flawless accent isn’t necessarily an indication of one’s command on a language. You can speak with an accent and be an extremely eloquent speaker.Nevertheless, there are some excellent tips to help you improve your English pronunciation, which we have provided below.

  1. Speak Slowly and Exaggerate the Sounds

  2. Pay Attention to the Physical Aspect of Pronunciation

  3. Listen to Pronunciation-Focused Podcasts and Videos

  4. Practice Saying Tongue Twisters

  5. Incorporate English Listening into Your Lifestyle

  6. Practice Difficult Sounds and Break Down Words into Syllables

  7. Practice at Home and Record Yourself

  8. Shadow Native Speakers

  9. Read Aloud Every Day

    Read more here


I’m Conan and I’ve been teaching ESL for over 10 years. Today I’m happy to give you some hints on how to help your students develop pronunciation, I hope you’ll find them useful :-)

  • Enunciate clearly and properly, i.e. grading your language!

    • We’re so used to speaking naturally but is it what the students need?

    • A trap we fall into is not having a clearly break between words

  • Once students become more familiar with your style of speaking, then you can gradually start talking more naturally;

  • Break things down into easier parts — it will help students understand you more and will increase their motivation!

  • Audio tools are key; if you use a textbook, most of them have supplementary listening activities;

  • Facial expressions -> producing certain sounds should lead to certain facial gestures, try practising some exercises for facial gestures before your pronunciation activities, it will bring more effectiveness.

    • Can you feel your mouth moving backwards for certain sounds?

  • Reading texts can help with pronunciation! Especially reading out loud and recording the voice for the further corrections — can be good for a home task.

    How much does their native language impact their pronunciation?

    • Be aware of any inherent difficulties;

      • Some sounds are hard for certain tongues!

      • Remember, what we take for granted might be abnormal for them;

    • The stress of the syllables might be affected;

      • Audio helps correct this -> it gives students the chance to hear the intuitive speech;

      • You can compare your own pronunciation/accent with what your students listen to;

      Odds are they will ask you why do you pronounce [word] in a certain manner;

That’s all for now!
Stay amazing ❤