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ESL forum > Techniques and methods in Language Teaching > Teaching Chinese students    

Teaching Chinese students


Teaching Chinese students
Hi everyone!
I hope you are having a nice day. I am writing because I have to help a student from China with his pronunciation, although he speaks some English his pronunciation is almost unintelligible. I�m looking for practical ideas or tips that I could use to help him to pronounce better, to articulate the sounds better, but I am a bit lost about where to start. Should I explain the phonemic chart, the minimal pairs, etc or just go to practical direct phrases? I have read a couple of posts but I still don�t find specifically what I�m looking for.  I am not looking for worksheets to practise writing.
Thanks in advance. 

17 Feb 2021      

United Kingdom

My advice is to use homophones. I have been doing stuff with homophones for years and there are often benefits for pronunciation (band for banned, guest for guessed, mist for missed, etc,). Also, games that use fixed expressions in clear contexts. Having said that, I teach English in Spain and I am aware of the problems with how phonetic Spanish is when compared to English and the problems that can cause in adult learners. Chinese is mostly a mystery to me. I once met a Chinese woman online who taught English in a state school (classes of 60 students) and she spoke with an impressive American accent even though she had never been out of China. I suppose age and ability are going to count for a lot. If he likes games, you might get some progress. If he is a mature student but insists in trying to say the words how he sees them, and prefers to focus on grammar, its going to be tricky. Good luck!

17 Feb 2021     


Hello what I do is ask my students to post the sentences they are working on  on toPhonetics.com
They can turn  their sentences into  phonetics and listen to them as much as they like.

18 Feb 2021     


Thank you for your replies.. Many students whose mother tongue is chinese  tend to skip some specific sounds at the end of words, or confuse them with others due to the Chinese phonological system. I have to keep researching.

18 Feb 2021     

Russian Federation

As far as I know Chinese people dont catch separate sounds.  They do have sounds and pronounce them but the minimum unit of the language for them is a syllable. So I think it is better to start with one-syllable words in English. The first words should contain the sounds which are familiar for them and are pronounced in almost the same way.

Chinese writing system consists of characters, but they have a kind of transcription which is called pingyin. It is written with latin letters but not all the letters match the English or Spanish sounds. For example, x is something between s and sh (not ks); q is ts (not kw).

The sounds which are familiar for Chinese students are the following:
p (the same as English p with aspiration)
ch (a little bit different. They use aspiration after ch)
zh (similar to sounds in ginger but not soft)

i (the sound is almost the same e.g. it can be found in English word sit)
a (the sound in the word bun or sun)
u (like in moon)
ai (I, like, sky)
ou (show, note)
ei (eight)

So you can start with such words as I, mummy, hi, come, sing, moon, go, she, he, we etc.

After that it is possible to work with the sounds which are typical for English. Such sounds must be used with familiar vowels and make a syllable or two. E.g. though, with etc. I would pronounce the words slowly. Th--th-th ough, wi th-th.

Here are the pingying sounds.

Remember that at first it would be hard for them to pronounce some words that end with a consonant. It is quite possible that they will add a vowel i or e at the end. E.g. like would be li kee. It is because the minimum unit is a syllable not a sound. They will have to understand and see what a sound is. But words ending with ng are much easier because they have such words in their own language. Besides, the words which contain two or even three consonants in a syllable are also hard for them. E.g. strong would be something like si-ti-rong. The reason is the same.

I hope it helps.

21 Feb 2021     

United States

Having the students listen and repeat works best for a starting point. That is how babies and children learn to speak. You can do this by either having them copy you, use YouTube pronunciation videos, or by typing targeted words into Google translate. One important key is that the student should be able to see the word(s) that they are listening to and repeating.

Important pronunciation focuses: Voiced and unvoiced th. Practice words that start and end with th. Have students watch you as you form your mouth for this. Have them practice saying thanks drawing out and stressing the th. Do the same for v and w. Look for Rachel�s English on youtube for help on this.

A lot of Chinese students have problems with r. Look for videos by Coach Shane on the internet. He teaches English in Korea and has some good videos pronouncing pearl, early, etc. that would help in this area.

Focusing on minimal pairs is also good because of the difference of how vowels are pronounced in Pinyin and in English. In English I frequently hear the a in Wuhan pronounced like the a in hand, when actually it is pronounced aw as in pawn. And in English the a in Shanghai is frequently pronounced like in the word rang, but again it is pronounced aw as in pawn.

The i is usually pronounced as ee in Pinyin (sounds like peen-yeen). I have a Chinese friend who has excellent spoken English except when she says the word kids, she ALWAYS says keeds.

Finally, silent e can be a real problem. One student kept telling me she needed to buy toothpastuh. I was like, What??? Finally I realized she was pronouncing the silent e in the word toothpaste.

P.S. I have a few worksheets and a couple PowerPoints in my account that I have used with Chinese students with much success to practice minimal pairs, intonation and tongue twisters if you need them. Chinese is a tonal language consisting of four tones. Take the word ma for instance. Depending which tone you use with ma clarifies which word you are saying - either mother, horse, cursing, or Ive forgotten the fourth meaning. Maybe you can get your student to tell you about this aspect of his native language to open up the conversation of practicing pronunciation.

21 Feb 2021     



25 Feb 2021