Alphabet Pronunciation Activities For Adults

Alex Case
Ways to teach pronunciation and recognition of the English alphabet, including in fast connected speech

Teaching children how to say the English alphabet is easy and fun, with numerous resources for native-speaking kids like the ABC Song and Sesame Street easily adaptable for EFL learners. None of these are suitable for adults, however, and there are few similar resources for native speaker adults for EFL teachers to attempt to adapt. This is an issue in our field because many adult learners do have problems with things like spelling out addresses and email addresses in English, something that often comes up in situations like telephoning and listening in EFL exams. This article is about how to find and come up with sufficiently interesting and age-appropriate activities to be able to spend the right amount of time on this important point.

Pron is pron

The easiest way to find and think of age-appropriate activities to practise the alphabet with adults is hiding in the second word of the title of this article – pronunciation. Most pronunciation activities can easily be adapted to be used with the alphabet. For example, many of the activities described in the article on minimal pairs (see link below) will work with the alphabet, as there are plenty of examples of words (e.g. fee and V) or other letters (e.g. B and V) that are minimal pairs of letters of the alphabet. There are also many words that are homophones of English letters, e.g. X/ex and B/be/bee. Many of these are used as abbreviations in texting and informal online communication, making for a natural link to a lesson on “CU” for “see you” and “2moro” for “tomorrow”.

For letters of the alphabet that don’t have homophones in English, you could get students to match them to rhyming words, e.g. D/me and F/deaf. This could include letters that rhyme with each other (e.g. C/D), and many books contain a similar activity where students match the letters by their vowel sound.

With all three of these suggestions, you have the two options of mixing the letters up with words as part of a more general pronunciation lesson or doing a whole lesson on the alphabet, perhaps even including all three approaches.

What do you do with a bunch of letters?

Another good way of coming up with classroom activities is to think about when and how students, and people more generally, use the names of letters. Examples include double checking comprehension (e.g. “Do you mean bat with a B or vat with a V?”), dictating addresses and dictating email addresses. All of these are most common on the phone. Activities including any of these things are always good for practice of the English alphabet. For many of our students, however, the most natural place to spell things out and to ask others to do so is in the classroom. You should therefore make sure that they know how to ask for spellings (perhaps including more complex questions such as “What is the last letter of…?”) and always dictate the spellings for them instead of/before writing them up on the board.

Spelling games

The most popular spelling game is of course Hangman, in which students guess the letters in a word while a hanging man is drawn bit by bit for each letter they say which isn’t in the word. This is a bit childish for most adult classes, and I’m not that convinced it helps learn the spelling of words, but it is good for pronunciation of the letters and there are more suitable variations (see link below). The simplest change is to give them a maximum number of incorrect guesses rather than drawing a hanging man. You could also use whole phrases or sentences. Especially with longer examples like sentences, you could also play the game by starting at the first letter and working along it, with each correct letter being written in after only one guess.

Most of the other ideas I have come up with are connected to dictation. For example, you could dictate the spelling of a word with one mistake included and get them to correct you as soon as they spot the error, therefore practising both listening and speaking. You could also dictate a word with the letters mixed up and ask them to shout out the word once they have put the letters into order.

Written by Alex Case for EnglishClub
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.