Focus on pronunciation in MFL

Author: Lucy Palmer
Published: 31/10/2022

The introduction of the dictation and reading aloud elements in the 2024 GCSE curriculum means there’s likely to be more focus on pronunciation for the cohort that’s currently in year 7, so we’ve recently published a French and a Spanish pronunciation teaching pack to help to you support KS3 and KS4 students with phonics and liaison (for French) and phonics and stressed syllables (for Spanish).

We’ll also be expanding our collection of stand-alone pronunciation and phonics resources over the next few months. In the meantime, here are some issues to consider – and techniques for tackling them.

French and Spanish phonics

Integrate pronunciation into every lesson

As advice from the experts emphasises, introducing more pronunciation doesn’t need a radically new way of teaching. Rather, it’s about adding to your usual content and making sure a relevant pronunciation focus is included in each lesson. The Teachit resource Vacaciones en familia for KS3 Spanish, and French equivalent Vacances en famille, provides a great example of how to integrate phonics teaching into a topic-based lesson.

Tackling L1 interference

Making the right sounds

Students’ first language has more impact on pronunciation than on possibly any other area of language learning. We all know people who’ve become really fluent in another language but still have a strong foreign accent, and while an accent can be charming, it can also hinder comprehension.

Adrian Underhill, an influential teacher of English as a foreign language, points out that learners can often hear or identify a sound correctly in the target language but just can’t produce it because of what he calls the ‘mother tongue grip’. To overcome it, he recommends encouraging students to experiment with a whole range of sounds and to move fluidly between them. The role of the teacher is then to pinpoint when students have hit the right sound – such as the [u] in French ‘tu’ or the [e] in Spanish ‘tres’. Although it’s based on the English phonemic alphabet, his Introduction to Teaching Pronunciation gives a good idea of the method he recommends.

Using diagrams of the speech organs can also help – pointing out to students whereabouts in the mouth the tongue should be; showing them that the soft palate is higher in French [u] than in French [ou]; or explaining that they should feel Spanish [g] or [j] in the back of the throat, as if they’re growling.

Remembering the rules

The ‘rules’ or patterns of spelling in students’ first language obviously also have a huge influence on target language pronunciation. Learners often struggle with letter combinations that look the same but are spelled differently – remembering, for instance, that [ie] in German is pronounced not like in English ‘lie’ but like in English ‘lee’. Here, it can be helpful to remind students of basic TL words that they already pronounce correctly – such as ‘sie sind’ for [ie] or ‘eins’, ‘zwei’, ‘drei’ for [ei] – and encourage them to use those words as models for remembering the correct sound–spelling correspondences.

Rachel Hawkes recommends using a visual–auditory–kinesthetic (VAK) approach, in which students associate each sound with an image and a gesture, helping to make the sound memorable through the combined forms of processing, and this is the technique used in our Mastering pronunciation teaching packs.

One sound, several spellings

In French in particular, one sound can often be spelled in several different ways, and students may not realise that ‘dent’ sounds the same as ‘dans’, or ‘fin’ the same as ‘faim’. Matching activities can help students to recognise words containing the same sounds, as in the Teachit resource Pronouncing words like ‘je’ and ‘deux’. Sound mazes can also work well, like Mark Hancock’s maze puzzles for English; students follow the same sound through the maze, ignoring words with a different pronunciation. Keep a lookout on the Teachit site for MFL pronunciation mazes, coming soon.

There's more to pronunciation than phonics

Stressed syllables in Spanish

The accent mark can seem unimportant to beginner students of Spanish, and they may get sick of being reminded to put the accent on the vowel in a question word (e.g. ‘qué’ for ‘what?’ versus ‘que’ for ‘that’), but accent marks to indicate stressed syllables are of course really helpful in Spanish, as examples of minimal pairs can show – like ‘caminó’ (he/she walked) and ‘camino’ (path), or ‘hacía’ (I/he/she was doing) and ‘hacia’ (towards). Of course, the context will help students to work out the correct meaning, but teaching the rules of syllable stress will help to pre-empt confusion.

Sounds in connected speech

As anyone who’s learnt English or taught French will know from experience, words can sound quite different in connected speech from in isolation. Even working out where one word ends and the next begins can be challenging, so it’s important to raise awareness of French liaison and of sounds that are dropped in connected speech, like the ‘x’ at the end of ‘six’ or the ‘t’ at the end of ‘huit’. Marking where they expect liaisons to occur in a text and then listening to check is a simple but effective way of helping students to learn liaison rules that is included in our French pronunciation teaching pack.


Understanding intonation is also helpful in French and Spanish for distinguishing questions from statements. Drawing an intonation ‘graph’ or ‘conducting’ the rising tone with your hand can serve as a quick visual reminder to use raised intonation at the end of the question.

More resources on pronunciation and phonics

For more resources, including tips on Improving your German pronunciation and our French and Spanish phonics animations, see our complete pronunciation and phonics collection.

This article was first published as a newsletter in November 2022.

Lucy Palmer

Senior Content Lead at Teachit and former teacher of English as a foreign language.