Business English pronunciation

Question: I teach Business English and my courses are really short (about 12 hours). What aspects of Business English pronunciation would you cover if you were me? Thanks.

Reply: Yes, Business teachers often wonder about the role of pronunciation on their short courses. If you have a jar full of pebbles, you can still pour a lot of dry sand round the pebbles. But then you can still pour a lot of water into the sand! I see vocab as the pebbles, grammar as the sand, and pronunciation as the water that surrounds everything – without taking up more space, or time! So, how can we include pronunciation without taking up time? Here are some ideas:

Attention takes no time

This is something I would do on all courses, because it takes up no extra time. I would ensure that attention to pronunciation is present in everything. For example: whenever the learners practise a new word or phrase, which inevitably involves them saying it a number of times, I would draw their attention to their own pronunciation. This does not mean they say it more times, or take longer, just that pronunciation is firmly included in the sweep of their attention.

In this way the necessary practice of new language is enriched simply by adding the dimension of noticing pronunciation. In this way pronunciation ‘piggybacks’ on the same bit of practice you are already using to ensure retention of the new language.

How to develop attention to pronunciation

1 First off – Enjoy it! Just muck in and enjoy it! Let go of your pronunciation anxiety and your compulsion to correct. Look for enjoyment first, and correctness second. The physicality of pronunciation can help both the noticing and the enjoyment. You don’t have to correct everything.

2 Be playful. When a student makes a pronunciation improvement, ask her to say it the previous incorrect way, and then immediately in the new way, so that she can feel, see, hear the experience, and knows that she can make the difference, and knows how she does it

3 Vary the practice. And this is also playful. For example learners can practise new language:

  • silently, in their heads
  • whispering
  • aloud but softly, to themselves
  • aloud to others…
  • saying it slower, faster
  • saying the words separately, then joined up

4. The pron chart. I would use the pron chart simply because it makes the whole process of paying attention to pron more possible and much quicker. It saves time even on short courses. The chart gives you a pron whiteboard to work things out on. Imagine teaching grammar and vocab without an ordinary whiteboard! Don’t teach sounds, just indicate them when the student has one that is pretty much correct. And soon you’ll find the chart getting integrated. You don’t have to teach the pron chart in order to use it. Just as you don’t have to teach the whiteboard in order to use it.

5. Word stress and unstress.  would have students pay attention to word stress – the syllables that carry energy, AND even more importantly to the unstressed syllables where energy is removed. This is helpful on a short course because

  • once you get the stress it is easier to get the sounds. Stress and unstress actually affect pronunciation, They are not just things you add to an existing pronunciation
  • Also stress and unstress affect comprehension. In many cases stress/unstress patterns carry more meaning than the sounds.
  • This practice extends nicely to sentence stress and unstresss in connected speech, which in turn is the basis of intonation.

6. Relaxed and clear connected up speech I would encourage connected up speech that is relaxed and clear, even if it is f-a-i-r-l-y  s-l-o-w. I find that if learners allow themselves the space to speak a bit slower then their language production faculties can do a better job. This includes being relaxed and comes back to the enjoyment. Allowing this space starts with the teacher being relaxed, supportive and and enjoying listening to the students.


All this can be done using the business language that occurs naturally as part of the business course content. You don’t need special materials and vocabulary for pron. Just use what’s the already. Let pron be a way of practising new business language. Remember, pron is there all the time. You don’t have to introduce it. Every lesson is already a pron lesson even if you do nothing! You just have to bring it out. Let pronunciation support learning, retention, intelligibility, enjoyment and self esteem.

Everything has pron!

Every scrap of cognitive learning – grammar, vocab – has a physical / acoustic / pronunciation tag to it. And it all assists memory and retention. Fee of charge! So use it … Students of business English are interested in understanding and being understood. They are mostly open to pron for good business reasons. They just need a teacher who is open to it too.

These are my suggestions for business English pron. courses, I hope you may find them of some use.