In this article taken from ENGLISH TEACHING professional magazine, Alex Case discusses the importance of teaching pronunciation to Business English students.


Pronunciation work has now become a standard part of almost every English language textbook. Nevertheless, when it comes to business English, this aspect of teaching seems to be lagging behind in terms of what materials are available and how much time is spent on it in class. For me, this is rather strange as many of my business students need and/or ask for more pronunciation work to help with comprehension and speaking. The reasons they give are as follows:

  • The need to make a good impression, as well as to be understood
  • The need to understand every word in situations such as negotiations
  • The need to understand and produce subtle shades of meaning using stress and intonation
  • The need to deal with native speakers
  • The lack of opportunities to ask for much repetition in situations such as conference calls and large meetings
  • The fact that they have read much more about their area of business in English than they have spoken about it
  • The need to communicate by phone, and therefore the need to communicate with a lack of body language and context clues
  • Feeling inhibited speaking English in front of colleagues for reasons of office prestige – for example, talking to a subordinate with much better pronunciation.

Establishing needs

If any of the above are relevant to your students, you may want to think about introducing more pronunciation work into your classes. However, you may well not know if any of these relate to your students, as pronunciation is often ignored, even at the needs-analysis stage. (If you are at that stage, see the bottom of the page for a downloadable needs analysis focused on business English.)

The type of pronunciation work business students need, and therefore want to cover in class, can also differ from that required in general English classes. For example:

  • More acronyms (and therefore more need for the alphabet)
  • More numbers
  • More compound nouns
  • More words with shifting stress from noun to verb (e.g. an import, to import)
  • More fixed expressions at a lower level, and therefore weak forms of words such as and and prepositions such as of (e.g. the head of my department).

Getting down to work

After you have decided what pronunciation work needs to be done, the challenge is then to bring it into class without too much of the drilling and pictures of ships and sheep of traditional pronunciation teaching. Jazz chants are also out!

I have found the best way of tackling pronunciation is to spend most of the lesson on a vocabulary and/or speaking point, but with the point craftily chosen to highlight an aspect of pronunciation that the students need to cover. An example of this is using the topic of office vocabulary and office facilities to look at the pronunciation of compound nouns.

Alternatively, you can look through the topic you are going to cover and see if a pronunciation point jumps out at you from it. You can then ‘adjust’ the vocabulary to emphasise that particular point.


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