Automatic pronunciation grading for developing students’ fluency and speaking skills

Illustration image of a student using an automatic pronunciation grading tool to practice speaking and pronunciation skills

Sanako’s language teaching solutions are used in English and foreign language classrooms across the globe. So we have a good understanding of the challenges that teachers are facing and the products / services that they want us to build or develop. For some time it’s been clear that teachers were struggling to give students sufficient time or opportunity to practice their pronunciation skills and to get rapid feedback on their performance.

Whether working face-to-face or virtually with students, it’s impossible for teachers in a one-to-many teaching model to listen to every learner all the time. We’ve therefore been inundated with requests to develop a digital and automatic solution to support students to improve their pronunciation skills. As a result, we’re pleased to introduce a new feature and learning activity in our Sanako Connect platform: Automatic Pronunciation Grading.


Why focus on pronunciation?

For many language learners, the ability to speak confidently and correctly in their chosen L2 with native speakers is a key learning objective. Of course, knowing the vocabulary and grammar are important also, but without clear pronunciation learners may have difficulty in making themselves understood. This can also quickly reduce a learner’s confidence and motivation to use their L2 in the first place.

Ensuring that learners have clear and confident pronunciation skills does take time and requires practice. Speaking in a foreign language frequently demands that your mouth, tongue and lips move in unfamiliar ways. And this, like any other physical skill, requires practice. Students also need clear and actionable feedback to understand where they are going wrong and where they need to improve. Otherwise bad habits become ingrained and are then harder to address.

Language educators therefore need to provide specific opportunities for learners to practise pronunciation and to receive accurate feedback on how they sound. With traditional teaching methods this can clearly be very difficult when you’re the only teacher in a class with 40 students! Luckily new education technology can help us here!


Where will you be able to access automatic pronunciation grading?

The new pronunciation exercises with automatic grading are now exclusively available within our browser-based language teaching hub – Sanako Connect. This is a fully cloud-based language teaching platform that combines the best parts of virtual classroom solutions, language learning apps, and language labs. As such, it facilitates real-time teaching and self-paced language learning in a single software tool.

Connect has been designed specifically for professional language teachers (ESL, EFL, MFL, World Languages) and contains all of the features that language teachers need everyday. Whether that’s sharing a deck of flashcards to practice vocabulary; grouping and pairing students for live speaking and conversation practices; listening into and recording their conversation as well as providing real-time feedback; and supporting both asynchronous and synchronous teaching. It is used by thousands of professional language teachers in hundreds of leading language departments, high schools and universities across the world.


How does automatic pronunciation grading work in practice? 

Once a teacher has set up a class in Sanako Connect and invited students to join it via an unique URL or QR-code, their focus can then move onto creating the lesson resources and associated tasks for students to work through. Educators are now able to create and share automatic pronunciation grading exercises with students to practice and develop their speaking skills.

Below is a screenshot from the exercise editor. It’s easy to create automatic pronunciation grading exercises by just copy-pasting the source text into the system which then transform it into spoken language.

Screenshot from Sanako Connect - Editing an automatic pronunciation grading exercise

Educators begin by creating a series of exercises for students to work through for a particular lesson or topic. Single words, sentences or paragraphs of L2 text can be typed (or copied and pasted) into the task creator within Sanako Connect as shown in the above screenshot.

Once complete, the pronunciation exercises are then shared with the relevant student group. Students simply access the lesson and resources via a unique link or QR code sent by the educator. As everything is stored in the cloud, students can access these resources, where and when they need.

When students open the exercises they begin by listening to the first word, sentence or phrase that the teacher has added. A piece of text-to-speech technology has automatically converted the text into a spoken audio of native speaker authenticity and quality.

Once they’re ready to proceed, the student speaks, replicating what they have heard. A recording is made of their speech and the student then receives automatically generated feedback on their pronunciation via a speech recognition engine.

Automated Pronunciation Grading Feature in Sanako Connect

Students can easily complete their exercises using a laptop, Chromebook, tablet and also using their smartphones. Student users can also change the automatic speech to repeat the model sentences in a male or female voice and they can also adjust the playback speed.Image of a mobile phone  with Sanako Connect's automatic pronunciation grading exercise open in the mobile screen

Supporting various modern languages

Automatic pronunciation exercises on Connect can be conducted in major global languages including English (UK & US), French (and Canadian French), Italian, Japanese, Spanish (and US Spanish), German, Hindi, Korean, Portuguese (and Brazilian Portuguese), Mandarin, Russian, and Indonesia. More languages will be added over time – keep an eye on our social media channels for updates! 

Students can choose to repeat the exercise and try to improve their score or can move onto the next one. Evidence suggests that the feedback score provides a motivational gamified element that encourages students to keep trying to set a personal best or to beat their friends!

At any time, students can replay their practice attempts and / or the original recording to see how they compare and where improvement could be made.

These exercises are deliberately designed to enable students to practice as much as they want / need to. When they have worked through the whole exercise, their work can then be submitted to the teacher for feedback. 


Automatic pronunciation grading saves teachers’ time

At any time, educators can access a complete record of students’ performance. Teachers can also see how many times students practised the exercise and how their performance improved over time. 

If teachers identify that a score or a student is cause for concern, then they can easily listen to and review the recordings. This will help them to identify which words or phrases are causing problems for students and the educator can then plan a series of carefully targeted interventions to address any issues. 

It is worth noting that these automatic pronunciation grading exercises are not yet intended to be a formal assessment tool, rather they provide increased opportunities for repeated practice and to reinforce learning over time.

Image of a student submission for automatic pronunciation grading exercises

Finally, all of the exercises that educators create can be easily saved onto and organised within Connect for future use and to share with colleagues. As such, these resources can then be easily reused and repurposed for other age groups or for different classes. 


How else can Sanako Connect help educators to teach pronunciation skills?

Sanako Connect software helps educators to improve their students’ pronunciation and oral communication skills. In addition to addressing the use cases above that use our latest automatic pronunciation grading features, Sanako Connect also enable educators to:

  • Provide authentic speech models for students, who then record their own voice for comparison and receive targeted and tailored feedback from their teacher.
  • Teachers can provide detailed and time-coded feedback: A piece of audio or text feedback can be placed next to specific points of the student’s recorded oral submission where their pronunciation needs attention.
  • Create specific pronunciation tasks using a wide variety of media including sound files, text, presentations, videos and/or web pages.
  • Create groups of students to conduct live conversation practice simultaneously. Teachers can listen in, give feedback in real-time and even record the individual group discussions for later review.


If you’d like to test out a pronunciation exercise on Sanako Connect for yourself, just click here or scan the below QR code with your phone’s camera app to access some sample exercises!

Blog call to action image with QR code to access automatic pronunciation exercises