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How to Pronounce Difficult Words and Phrases in English

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

Many ESL students learn vocabulary through memorizing lists of new words or through social media or reading books. But when it’s time to speak the words in conversation, students may not know how to pronounce it.


How do you practice your pronunciation skills on your own? How do you try speaking new words without a native teacher?


In this lesson, we will use a strategy called Back Chaining. Back chaining involves pronouncing each syllable of a word starting at the end of the word and building the syllables as we go. Back chaining requires a student to have basic knowledge of English phonics and be able to identify syllables.


Here are the steps for Back Chaining:

  1. Copy the word or phrase onto your paper

  2. Use a pencil or pen to separate each syllable

  3. Pronounce the final syllable out loud

  4. Then add the syllable before it and pronounce the two syllables.

  5. Continue adding syllables and pronouncing them until the word or phrase is complete.


Let’s look at some examples following the steps above!


Vocabulary Word: Appreciate

  1. Appreciate (copy the word)

  2. Ap / pre / ci / ate (separate the syllables)

  3. “ate” (speak the final syllable out loud)

  4. “ci / ate”(speak the final two syllables out loud)

  5. Continue the pattern of adding the syllables:

  6. “pre / ci / ate” (speak the last three syllables together).

  7. “Ap / pre / ci / ate” (add them all together and speak them).


Pro Tip: Verbal Repetition is KEY! Repeat each step several times out loud (using your voice). Repetition teaches our mouths to become comfortable with the new word.


Let’s look at an example with a phrase:


Phrase: Houston is a populous city.

  1. Houston is a populous city (copy the phrase)

  2. Hou / ston / is / a / po / pu / lous / ci / ty (separate the syllables)

  3. “ty” (pronounce the final syllable)

  4. “ci / ty” (pronounce the final two syllables together)

  5. Continue the pattern of adding the syllables:

  6. “lous / ci / ty’

  7. “pu / lous / ci / ty”

  8. “po / pu / lous / ci / ty”

  9. “a / po / pu / lous / ci / ty”

  10. “is / a / po / pu / lous / ci / ty”

  11. “ston / is / a / po / pu / lous / ci / ty”

  12. “Hou / ston / is / a / po / pu / lous / ci / ty”


Repeat each combination as many times as you need.


Pro Tip: Notice where one syllable ends and the next syllable begins with the same sound. For example: “populous city.” The “s” and the “c” make the same sound: an unvoiced “s” sound. You can join the sounds together. This is called linking. Linking these words sounds like this: “populou-sity.


Watch this video for a few examples of Backchaining.

Now, try it yourself! Here are some words and phrases to try on your own. Follow the steps and practice speaking out loud:

  • Generosity

  • Mathematical

  • Believable

  • University

  • Irregular

  • I can’t believe it.

  • Texas is a beautiful state.

  • Learning English is a lot of work.


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