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7 Secret Pronunciation Rules

Your Teachers Never Taught You

(but You Should Teach Your ESL

B Y S U S A N V E R N E R 215,422 views

English spelling is at best confusing and

at worst a hot mess.
It is no wonder so many ESL students struggle with making the
connection between written words in English and how they are
pronounced. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or
reason to it. I am a big proponent of teaching the phonetic alphabet
to ESL students, primarily because I think it makes a big difference
in their ability to achieve accurate pronunciation. But sometimes the
phonetic alphabet is not an option. You might have ESL students
who are casually studying the language and do not want to cover any
material so academic. You might opt out of teaching the phonetic
alphabet because you just have too many other things to do. Or it
might be some other reason. After all, how many dictionaries use the
phonetic alphabet when listing the pronunciation for an entry?
Whatever your reason for not using the phonetic alphabet, there is
good news. As unpredictable as English spelling
and pronunciation may seem at times, there are some rules that
your students can follow when they encounter unfamiliar words. Here
are seven simple spelling and pronunciation connections you can
share with your students to help them achieve accurate
Remember Rules for Pronouncing Vowels
1.Before going through these rules with your students, they will
need to know the difference between short vowel
sounds and long vowel sounds. If you are unclear about
these definitions, look for an explanation in a standard English
only dictionary or read about it here.


A Vowel Followed by a Single Consonant at the End of a

Word Is Pronounced as a Short Vowel

Words that conform to this rule are often some of the first
that students of English (as well as native speakers) learn
to read. Pup has cup. Man has ham. All of these words follow
the short vowel + consonant rule. You might see these words
represented in this way. CVC.


A Vowel Followed by Two Consonants at the End of a Word

Is Pronounced as a Short Vowel

Words that conform to this rule may be single vowels

followed by a consonant blend (see below for an
explanation of consonant blends) or those that are
followed by two distinct consonants. You may see these
types of words represented in this way. CVCC. Some
examples include the following: stops, want, hand, wish, and


If a Vowel Is the Final Letter in a Word, It Is Pronounced as a

Long Vowel

A vowel at the end of a word may appear in a single

syllable word or a multisyllabic word. Either way, the
pronunciation rule remains the same. A final vowel at the end
of a word is pronounced as a long vowel. Some examples of
single syllable words which follow this rule are go, pi, lo, be,
and he. Multiple syllable examples include ago and ego. You
might see these words represented like this CV.


If an E Appears at the End of a Word, It Is Silent. The

Preceding Vowel (Separated from the E by One or More
Consonants) Will Be Pronounced as a Long Vowel

Silent e is one of the first spelling rules children learn in

school, and no wonder since it is so common in English. If
you are teaching phonics, you might have students underline
or cross out the silent e and mark the preceding vowel as long.
You might see words which follow this rule represented in this
way: CVCe. You can find examples throughout the English
language, but some of them are hate, care, note, flute, bite,
nice, and ape.


If Two Vowels Appear next to Each Other in One Syllable,

the Second Vowel Is Silent and the First Vowel Is Pronounced
as a Long Vowel

We see vowel combinations all the time in English. A

general rule as to their pronunciation is to say the first vowel
and ignore the second. These vowel combinations come in all
kinds of match ups. You might see words which follow this rule
represented this way: CVVC. English examples include true,
beat, train, leaf, and load.

Consider Rules for Pronouncing Consonants

1.One thing to keep in mind when discussing consonant
pronunciation are consonant blends. A consonant blend is two
or more letters that are pronounced as one sound in English.
Some blends are clearly two sounds which become one
complex sound (for example bl in black, tr as in atrophy). They
often include the letters l, r, or s but not always. Other “blends”
are actually only one English sound which is spelled by using
two or more consonants. These sounds include sh (wish), ch
(chair), tch (watch) and others.

If One Consonant Follows a Vowel in the Middle of a Word,

It Is Pronounced as the First Sound in the Next Syllable

Where a consonant is pronounced in a word does make a

difference in a student’s pronunciation, particularly if
they speak slowly. Think about the difference between pap-
er and pa-per. Clearly the second is the correct pronunciation
while the first sounds, at best, strange, and at worst like a
different word entirely. Other examples include tele-phone
(not teleph-one), la-bor (not lab-or), lo-cate (not loc-ate) and
pro-tect (not prot-ect).


When Two Consonants Follow a Vowel in the Middle of a

Word, One Consonant Is Pronounced at the End of the First
Syllable and the Other Is Pronounced at the Beginning of the
Next Vowel

Of course, consonant blends act as one consonant

sound, but non-blend neighboring consonants will follow
this rule. When a consonant is doubled in the middle of a
word, it also follows this rule. Some examples include sub-ject,
tal-ly, ab-ject, top-ple, and haz-mat.
Ultimately, English is a complicated language with complicated rules
of spelling and pronunciation. These rules, while generally true, do
have exceptions. When you teach them to your students, be sure that
they know these rules are not hard and fast and that exceptions can
be found to each of them. They may choose to use these rules to
pronounce words they have never seen before, or they may use the
rules to determine the spelling of an unfamiliar word they have heard
pronounced. What matters most, however, is that these rules give
your students a place to start when they encounter a word that they
do not know how to pronounce.

What other pronunciation rules do you

teach your ESL students?
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