Pronunciation Game: GO FISH!

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CONFUSED_149280356A few days ago, a Korean student asked me,

‘Can I lend a book?’
‘Lend?’  I asked and looked at her with my screwed up error-correcting teachery face.
‘Yes, lend a book’ she said.
‘Is it lend or borrow?, I smiled cheekily
‘Yes, lend – borrow’ she replied looking a little confused.

So my soft approach wasn’t working. 

‘Do you want to borrow a book?’ I asked.  ‘and I will lend it to you’
‘Yes, can I lend for one week please? .
’ She replied.


I was really in ‘teacher mode’ now and was just about to continue my concept checking with ‘Do you lend a book in the library?’ when It suddenly dawned on me what she was actually asking! (And she must have thought I was losing my mind.)

I was hearing /lend/ which in context, seemed to kind of make sense but in her mind she was saying /rent/ and must have thought I was a crazy person making strange faces at her.

One of the most common problems for Korean and Japanese students tends to be the distinction between /l/ and /r/.   Japanese has no English form of /l/ or /r/, but instead have a single consonant that lies somewhere in between these sounds. In Korean, there isn’t technically a distinction between /l/ and /r/, but a form of both, that are allophones of the same phoneme.

pronounciation_296802275Students can get quite frustrated with their own difficulties and their lack of ability to get their tongues around certain phonemes but sometimes they are completely unaware that what they think they are saying is not what others are hearing.

When these students are studying in monolingual classes, they can somewhat ‘get away’ with these errors and can be more easily understood by their peers.


However, in multilingual lessons where these students are interacting with European and South American students, such intelligibility can lead to frustration on both parts which only feeds into their unwillingness to speak out and can discourage them from taking part in communicative activities at all.  This, in turn has a ripple effect on other students who show a preference to being grouped with students who ‘speak more’ and who they can understand.

I designed this activity below (GO FISH) as part of my Trinity Diploma Phonology interview which works well at really drilling the phonemes and focusing in on the difficulties your students have.   (you can also create your own cards dependent on your students difficulties and follow the same game rules). 

But before you play, you need to do show them HOW to make the sounds and the physicality of the mouth, tongue and teeth.

At the beginning of the lesson, I wrote /l/ and /r/ on the board with two words – ‘Cloud‘ and ‘Crowd‘ and elicited the pronunciation from each student individually, asking them to think about the position of the tongue in the mouth.  First I asked them to tell me where the tongue was for /l/ – they didn’t have a problem pronouncing this sound.  Then I asked them to pronounce /r/ and they couldn’t.

L AND RThen I wrote /n/ on the board and asked them to pronounce this with the blade of the tongue against the alveolar ridge.  (You’ll have to draw this for them).

From the position of /n/ I asked them to leave the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge to produce /l/ and breath inwards, they should be able to feel the air pass along the side of the tongue.  For /r/, go back to /n/ and curl the tip of the tongue backwards without touching the roof of mouth, when they breathe inwards, they should be feel air pass above the tongue.

When they’ve got it (or almost), it’s time for the game…..


Pronunciation Game Cards (Download)

  1. Hand out 18 cards per group of 3 students (6 per student)
  2. Students take it in turns to tell the other students what card they have in order to find a match, such as the following, which is not a match.
    Student one:  ‘I have a cloud.’ What do you have?
    Student two: ‘I have a rock’
  3. If the student asked has the minimal pair match, (crowd) they must give it to student A.  Student A then takes the matching pair and places them on the desk, practicing both words.   If the student asked doesn’t have the match, the turn moves to the next student.
  4. The first student to match all their cards, wins.
  5. If a student gives a wrong card by mistake, they must keep the card and they lose a turn.

What other pronunciation games can you suggest? 

2 Responses

  1. dhouha barkawi

    A very interesting article

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