Articulatory setting: an approach to pronunciation teaching

file0001116635215.jpgWhen working with intermediate and advanced learners on speaking skills, we typically pay attention to a number of different aspects of the spoken language. In addition to syntactic complexity and accuracy, lexical variety, register and communication strategies, pronunciation is a key element of speaking to be addressed in class.  Sometimes, however, pronunciation problems appear to be not difficulties with specific components of pronunciation such as phonemes, word stress and intonation, but rather with an overall manner of producing speech which affects all of them. In this case, some language teachers and teacher educators call upon the notion of articulatory setting or voice setting.

Honikman (1964) discusses articulatory setting as follows:

[…] there is an elusive aspect of articulation which, up to the present, if not totally neglected, has not received the attention it merits. I refer to what is here termed the articulatory setting of a language.

By articulatory setting is meant the disposition of the parts of the speech mechanism and their composite action, i.e. the just placing of the individual parts, severally and jointly, for articulation according to the phonetic substance1 of the language concerned. To put this another way, it is the overall arrangement and manoeuvring of the speech organs necessary for the facile accomplishment of natural utterance.

She describes working with a French-speaking EFL learner to change the native language setting to an English setting leading to this Eureka moment:

she really did sound English and knew it, also her features took on an English ‘look’. To both of us it was very satisfying. Of course it needed further perseverance to establish the setting; instructions for obtaining the articulatory setting required were finally reduced to the following formula: taper and concave the tongue, draw it as a whole back into the mouth so that the pointed tip presses against the edge of the alveolar ridge; close the jaws, don’t clench them; still the lips; swallow to relax; now to limber up, repeat [t, d, n, l].

Another example of this technique comes from Christopher Aruffo in this TED talk:

I have worked on this periodically with learners with mixed success. It’s probably more suited to more intensive courses with fewer students than is generally the case for me. But I do feel there is something to the whole idea, and there are links below via Borissoff and for those who wish to explore further.


Aruffo, C. (2012). Learning dialects and accents. TEDxMcMasterU  Video

Borissoff, C. (2012). Basis of articulation or articulatory setting. IATEFL Pronunciation SIG newsletter PDF

Honikman, B. (1964). Articulatory setting. In D. Abercrombie, D.B. Fry, P.A.D. MacCarthy, N.C. Scott and J.L.M. Trim (eds), In Honour of Daniel Jones, London: Longman, pp. 73-84. PDF

Jones, R. H., & Evans, S. (1995). Teaching pronunciation through voice quality. ELT Journal, 49(3), 244-251.

Linebaugh, G., & Roche, T. B. (2015). Evidence that L2 production training can enhance perception. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 9(1), A1-A17. PDF

Messum, P. (2012) Teaching pronunciation without using imitation: Why and how. In. J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 3rd Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference, Sept. 2011 (pp. 154-160). Ames, IA: Iowa State University PDF

Messum, (2010). Understanding and teaching the English articulatory setting. IATEFL Pronunciation SIG newsletter. PDF

Pronunciation science. 15 articles