Learners talk pron 1: Toni

“La cancioncilla – se te queda” (The tune sticks in your mind)

Watch the video below of Toni talking about the impact learning English with integrated pronunciation work has had on him as a student. Listening to his reflections is hugely satisfying for us. Toni has been Mark’s student for two years now. He told Mark, AKA “the pron guy” to his students, that he has really felt the improvement in the last two years with his work on pron. Before this, with other teachers, he had the meaning and the form down but not the sound. Teachers made him listen and repeat – that was about the extent of it; all that meant was that he said the same thing louder but not necessarily better!

As you watch the video, notice the categories we created to signpost his comments, and think about how his reflections resonate with you and how you teach pronunciation.


Perhaps the most pertinent and repeated comment is about the importance of musicality. Pronunciation has made learning fun and memorable. Zooming in on pron has created a sense of the “cancioncilla” (tune) of English, in effect it helped language stick, like an earworm.

In a previous post on MFS, we spoke about the importance of isolating sound and making space for work on sound as well as meaning and form in lessons. This special focus has obviously made an impact on Toni as he repeatedly speaks about the way forgetting about meaning and form and just considering the sound of English has been novel, memorable and enjoyable for him. For the first time, his teacher has shown him how musical English is and working on this has helped Toni engage with language in a whole new way; a motivating way.


Many teachers shy away from this altogether, especially at levels higher than elementary. However, Toni mentions the fun factor! He remembered examples of front and back chaining – chunking. He feels and hears the sound of the language – separate from the meaning and form, as we said earlier. We need to isolate the sound in tasks and effective drilling is one key part of this. A big takeaway for us is that Toni recommends we don’t shy away from individual drilling. Many teachers don’t want to put learners on the spot, afraid they will feel uncomfortable. Toni reminds us that it’s essential for the teacher to hear each learner in order to know they are getting it right. If we are going to drill, we need to do it effectively and with the intention that every learner will get it right. So, let’s consider drilling for a moment and the different ways we can do it.

The choral drill – the teacher says something and all the students repeat.

The individual drill – the teacher says something and an individual student repeats.

Change your voice with choral and individual drilling – the teacher says something in a: low voice, high voice, loud voice, quiet voice, happy voice, sad voice, excited voice, boring voice, whisper, mumble, silent drilling (only the physicality of the sounds is visible) and the students repeat in the same way.

The substitution drill – the teacher says a sentence and the students repeat. With each repetition the teacher suggests a different word each time. The change can be made using flash cards or a simple command from the teacher. This is good for practising suprasegmental features of phrases and focusing on target vocabulary at the same time. Example: “What did you do last night?” /wɒʔ dɪʤʊ duː læs naɪʔ/ The teacher wants to practise the sentence stress of the question O o o O O O, and some connected speech like assimilation between “did” and “you”, the elision of /t/ in ‘last’, the presence of glottal stops in ‘what’ and ‘night’, as well as the target vocabulary – ‘time phrases’. The teacher substitutes last night each time with yesterday, last week, last month, last Saturday, two days ago etc. We can also substitute the verb or the question word each time while consistently repeating the rhythm and target features of connected speech.

The chain drill – the teacher asks a student a question and the student answers. Then this student asks the next student the question and the next student answers, and so on. This is effective for practising structures such as past simple questions/ answers with regular verbs etc.  

Back chaining/ chunking – the teacher starts from the end of the sentence and works back. This is effective for longer utterances with connected speech, for example, ‘If I were you, I’d do it’ /ɪf aɪ wə juː w aɪd duː w ɪt/.  So we could start with /ɪt/ then /w ɪt/, then /duː w ɪt/, then /aɪd duː w ɪt/, then /w aɪd duː w ɪt/, then /juː w aɪd duː w ɪt/ , so gradually building back to drill the complete utterance.

Front chaining/ chunking – like back chaining, but the teacher starts from the beginning of the sentence and works forward. This is effective for longer utterances with connected speech and allows the teacher to concentrate on and isolate sections (chunks) of the utterance, for example, the sections of the above utterance with the intrusive /w/ linking sounds.

Split drilling – the teacher divides the utterance up between several students or groups of students and the student or group repeats their part. For example, the left side of the group repeats /ɪf aɪ wə/ and the right half repeats /juː w aɪd duː w ɪt/. Then they can exchange parts. You can make this fun by changing the groups, for instance, boys and girls etc.

Recently, we did some drilling with teachers in a workshop and asked them to tell us how they felt, as human beings, while being drilled. Did they enjoy the gentle drilling with Nicola sitting down and drilling in a low voice, using gestures and being super encouraging and supportive? Or, did they prefer Nicola standing and being full of movement and energy? It was a split. Teachers appreciated that drilling does not have to be sergeant major style. It can be gentle with the teacher coming down to the learners level. We also drilled them and coached them at the same time on physicality with the individual sounds /ʌ/ and  /ɑː/. Did they appreciate Mark asking (as opposed to telling) them in what position their tongue was and telling them where it should be? This produced great discussion and debate on tongue position. The teachers agreed that it was different and almost certainly memorable, and could imagine this being useful for students.


Just like in L1 – enunciating and getting better control of your mouth will make you clearer. Toni helps us to reflect on the idea that pronunciation is relevant to all levels. We can’t guarantee learners are clear speakers in their L1! They need to open their mouths and sound clearer, even in L1,  and we can help them do this in English with more work on pron! Toni enjoyed the work with smiley faces (lips spread) and sad faces (lips neutral), saying how it made the pron memorable for him – attaching movement and emotion to pron work.

Personal development

After hearing and feeling sound in isolation Toni felt it useful to go back to seeing the language. He could then try and work to connect the written and physical (the sound) and try to use logic to figure out the patterns and connections between how words look and sound. He enjoyed grouping words together according to their sounds, spotting spelling combinations and their sounds, and grouping words with problem sounds.

Through all this he developed his awareness of English pronunciation and also became more autonomous in his pron learning, seeking out answers and monitoring his progress.
For us, one of the key things from watching Toni was this idea that he had to move away from seeing language to hearing and feeling it before he felt he could really use it and feel comfortable and confident with it. Having done this, he can now really OWN IT!

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