Mark Hancock's 50 Tips for Pronunciation Teaching

Appeared in: 
Speak Out!, 64, 79-81.
Review by: 
Robin Walker
Mark Hancock's 50 Tips for Pronunciation Teaching -

This review first appeared in the newsletter of the IATEFL Pronunciation Special Interest Group. For more information about membership and the events and publications of this group go to

Spoiler alert. I know Mark Hancock. But there again, so do many members of the PronSIG, so that puts most of us in the same boat. Second spoiler. Over the years, Mark and I have talked a lot about pronunciation teaching and share many things in common as to what matters and why. Final spoiler. I thought Pronunciation Games (CUP, 1995) was brilliant. I’m coming clean about all of this so that it is absolutely clear where I’m reviewing 50 tips for teaching pronunciation from. But at the same time, my personal perspective had me looking at Mark’s new book wondering, ‘Will it be as good as his earlier work?’, ‘Will he have been forced to offer tips so as to make up the ‘50’?’, or ‘Will a book of tips have enough structure?’.

The book is in three sections. These respond to the key questions in pronunciation teaching of Why, What and How? Section A deals with Why and offers tips on choosing goals and models, which it does from the viewpoint of the learner, the teacher, and the teaching context. The first of these tips sets the scene for the whole book. In it, Mark makes a strong case for intelligibility as the central focus of pronunciation teaching. This stance is nothing new to anyone who has been close to developments in pronunciation teaching these last twenty years or so, but it’s a message that has somehow not been widely taken up in terms of classroom practice, so it’s pleasing to see it so well laid out in Section A.

Section B is about What, and, after advocating being selective when teaching pronunciation, and not being afraid to simplify rules and explanations, Mark moves on to offer expert guidance on the bread-and-butter issues. There are tips on teaching consonants and vowels, tips on connected speech, and tips on stress and intonation. But there are also valuable tips on sounds, symbols and spelling, as well as on integrating pronunciation into everyday teaching. Readers will welcome both of these subsections as they dip into areas that are all too easily overlooked.

Section C tackles the How of pronunciation teaching. There are almost twenty tips here, and they look not only at the presentation and practice of different aspects of pronunciation, but also at how we might go about feedback and assessment. As with spelling, this is an area that is all too often overlooked. Three final tips suggest ways we can use or create resources for teaching and learning purposes, whilst supporting all fifty tips there are four appendices and a glossary.

So, so far, so good. But now to my initial wonderings, beginning with the contents. The structure is clear, as I said earlier, and as to the quality of 50 tips for teaching pronunciation when compared with Pronunciation Games, well it’s not as good. And it’s not as good for one simple reason – it’s far better. First, there’s Mark’s creativity, which seems to know no limits. In Tip 14, for example, he compares phonemes on a chart to chocolates in a box, with the contents in both cases looking equally attractive because of the packaging. This is such a good image, and I can already see myself telling learners that eating too many chocolates isn’t good for you. More importantly, the intervening years since Pronunciation Games appeared have not been wasted. This is apparent in the introductory ‘Why I wrote this book’, and particularly so in the tips on goals and models in Section A, all of which Mark has given a lot of thought to. It’s also evident in individual tips such as Tip 19 on accent variation, where he advocates giving learners practice in dealing with accents regardless of whether they are native and non-native speaker in origin.

Are the tips all useful or are they making up the numbers? No, there’s no making up of the numbers, and there could have been more, but 50 is a nice round number, so no quibbles there. Did I read all of the tips? Well, let’s say that I didn’t read them all with the same attention. Some felt like familiar ground and I tended to skim through them, especially in Section B and its tips on consonants and vowels. Some also felt inconsistent with a book aiming at international intelligibility, such as those on intonation and the fall-rise. But many warranted the fullest attention, especially those in Section A, each of which I read more than once. They’re like poems, in fact – the more you go back to them, the more you get out of them.

If number isn’t an issue with ‘50 tips’, there is, I feel, an occasional issue of readership. The book is for the general English teacher who has some knowledge of pronunciation but is not a specialist, and who is teaching learners who will mainly use English for international communication. The reader profile is clear, but reaching this reader is harder than might first appear. The critical issue is how much an author can assume the reader already knows, and how much needs explaining in detail in order to fill in the gaps (that the reader really shouldn’t have, perhaps). Here authors are on a hiding to nothing, and inevitably when they think they have got it right, their editor will tell them that they’re being too technical, or that Tip X needs to be more accessible. The end result with 50 tips for teaching pronunciation is that sometimes I have the feeling that Mark has been dragged away from writing a genuine tip and has found himself, voluntarily or otherwise, filling in the gaps in the reader’s (inadequate) understanding of the pronunciation of English. This happens more in Section B than in the first and last sections.

Last question. Will the book be of use to the intended reader? And last answer. Undoubtedly. In fact, it will reach a very wide audience, in part because of its novel, refreshing format, but also because it is highly readable, can be dipped into at any time and in any order, invites re-reading, and is full of sage advice and powerful images. Highly recommended, then, for teachers and teacher educators alike.

Robin Walker has been in ELT since 1981, working as a teacher, trainer and consultant. His main interests are pronunciation and English as a Lingua Franca. He has published numerous articles on pronunciation, and is author of Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca (OUP, 2010). From 2008 to 2015 he was editor of Speak Out!, the IATEFL pronunciation SIG journal. He is a member of the Oxford University Press Expert Panel for Pronunciation for the 21st-century learner.

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