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Improving Students' English Pronunciation With Video Role Models

by Darren K. LaScotte, Elaine Tarone, PhD |

Second language acquisition research tells us that social factors—such as a speaker’s audience, identity, emotion, and stance—influence the pronunciation of a second language and impact intelligibility. That is, speakers make themselves more or less easy to understand based on the social situation and context they find themselves in. For teachers, this may not seem like new information. We are well aware that our students’ demonstrated proficiency levels in language skills can shift across various tasks and lesson units. We are also increasingly aware of the need to center social context in our lessons, as different situational factors will call for different language forms to carry out specific language functions (e.g., WIDA, 2020).

Unfortunately, however, it seems that many of the available commercial textbooks that teach pronunciation to students continue to use a decontextualized and rule-based approach, which starts with individual sounds and phonemes and describes rules for how to combine them to form larger units, much like the way that grammar textbooks describe and teach syntax. In such teaching materials, social context appears to be an afterthought, as very little is usually said about the importance of real-world social and pragmatic factors that can affect intelligibility.

An Innovative Approach to Teaching Pronunciation

In this article, we offer a different approach to teaching pronunciation called the Mirroring Project, which can complement and expand upon more traditional methods and materials that teachers may already be using in their classrooms. Unlike other more traditional approaches, the Mirroring Project starts with social context and focuses squarely on students’ selection and reenactment of the voices of video-recorded speakers—whom we refer to as students’ pronunciation role models.

In “mirroring,” students choose a short video of a pronunciation role model whose identity, emotion, and stance they want to emulate, and they practice reproducing the words and movements of that role model, word for word and gesture for gesture—akin to a mirror image. Later, they try to “channel” their role model’s pronunciation patterns and body movements to deliver their own ideas as they record original interactive presentations in front of the class. (To view video-recorded presentations of two learners before and after their Mirroring Project, see LaScotte et al., 2020).

The Mirroring Project was originally designed with international teaching assistants in mind to help them prepare for rehearsed presentations and university lectures (Lindgren et al., 2003; Meyers, 2013), but has since been expanded to include students in intensive English programs as well (LaScotte & Tarone, 2022). Here we briefly outline the Mirroring Project in 10 easy steps, and we invite practicing teachers—in whatever teaching context(s) they find themselves—to try out this activity in their own classrooms.

The Mirroring Project in 10 Steps

Step 1: Identify Pronunciation Challenges

The first step is to have your students undertake some type of diagnostic, such as giving a self-introduction or a short speech about a topic of interest. Record this diagnostic and then analyze it together with students to identify each individual’s unique areas for improvement (e.g., use of pausing, rate of speech, pitch range, or gestures).

Step 2: Select a Role Model

Based on the diagnostic, ask each student to choose a pronunciation role model who is both exemplary in the areas that were identified as needing improvement (in Step 1) and someone the student identifies with. Once students have their role models, they select a short video-recorded speech segment (1–2 minutes) for analysis. Teachers can help to guide them to consider segments that are a good fit.

Step 3: Analyze for Purpose and Tone

Students analyze the purpose and tone of the video segment, and the ways in which verbals (e.g., volume, rate of speech, pausing, intonation) and nonverbals (e.g., gestures, facial expressions) contribute to that purpose and tone. For example, if the model is angry or distraught and is trying to persuade their audience to do something, what verbal and nonverbal elements help communicate this?

Step 4: Analyze for Verbal and Nonverbal Characteristics

During this step, students should transcribe the segment (or download a transcription, if available). Then, students analyze the segment for the features of pronunciation and nonverbals they are working on.

Step 5: Mirror the Model, Frame by Frame

Next, students focus on putting each short phrase (or thought group) into their short-term memory by watching their video, pausing after each phrase or sentence, then saying that phrase or sentence immediately afterward, mirroring the exact words and body language of the model.

Step 6: Memorize the Segment

Now, students are ready to memorize the entire speech segment and make it their own. Have students use their marked transcript and practice reading each thought group, looking up, and saying it to a partner or small group.

Step 7: Record a Trial Version

Each student comes to the front of the room and performs the segment just as in Step 6, but now they have a larger audience consisting of their classmates and the teacher. Video-record each student’s trial version, then ask the audience to give them feedback.

Step 8: Critique the Trial Version

After class, students watch their trial versions and complete a self-critique in which they identify their own strengths and challenges. They can analyze aspects of their pronunciation and how effectively they captured the emotions and tone of the model. The instructor can also provide feedback on students’ strengths and challenges.

Step 9: Record and Critique a Final Version

For the final version of mirroring, each student again records their performance of the segment. However, this time they are expected to have memorized it so that they do not need the transcript. If desired, they can bring in props or even dress like the original model. After viewing their final recording, students complete a self-critique, focused this time on ways the final version improved compared to their trial version.

Step 10: Channel the Model Speaker

It is clearly not enough to simply mirror the exact words of a role model; a learner must transfer the model’s “voice” (pronunciation and nonverbal patterns), using it in the delivery of their own ideas. In Step 10, students perform (in front of an audience) an original presentation, such as a self-introduction or a written speech, while trying to channel the voice of their model speaker. Video-record this presentation for use in a final evaluation and self-critique. Teachers can help students to analyze their performance in Step 10, noticing areas where they have improved since completing Step 1. Students can also set future goals for continued pronunciation improvement.


We encourage readers to try out the Mirroring Project with their own students, and we hope they will enjoy and benefit from using this approach as much as we have. We also hope they will share their innovations, successes, problems, and solutions with colleagues in professional venues. In our experience, this approach has worked best in combination with a more decontextualized analysis of pronunciation from a traditional textbook. In other words, we are not saying teachers should only use the Mirroring Project and do away with their analytical pronunciation lessons. Instead, students can use that analysis to develop voices that effectively and intelligibly communicate their identities in social interaction.

Interested readers can find more information about the research that supports this and other top-down approaches to pronunciation teaching, as well as ready-to-use student worksheets for Steps 1­–10 of the Mirroring Project, in our latest book, Voice and Mirroring in L2 Pronunciation Instruction (LaScotte et al., 2023).



LaScotte, D., Meyers, C., & Tarone, E. (2020, November). Voice and mirroring in SLA: Top-down pedagogy for L2 pronunciation instruction [Conference presentation]. 2020 Minnesota English Learner Education Conference.

LaScotte, D., Meyers, C., & Tarone, E. (2023). Voice and mirroring in L2 pronunciation instruction. Equinox.

LaScotte, D., & Tarone, E. (2022). Channeling “voices” to improve L2 English intelligibility. The Modern Language Journal106(4), 744–763.

Lindgren, J., Meyers, C., & Monk, M. (2003). Approaches to accent: The Mirroring Project [Conference presentation]. TESOL 2003 International Convention & English Language Expo, Baltimore, MD, United States.

Meyers, C. (2013). Mirroring project update: Intelligible accented speakers as pronunciation models. TESOL Video News/tesolvdmis/issues/2013-07-27/6.html

WIDA. (2020). WIDA English language development standards framework, 2020 edition: Kindergarten–grade 12. Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.


Note: This article was first published in the November 2023 issue of TESOL Connections.

About the author

Darren K. LaScotte

Darren K. LaScotte, PhD, is a teaching specialist in the Minnesota English Language Program at the University of Minnesota, where he teaches English as a second language to international students. Over the last decade, his scholarship has focused on second language acquisition and use and on the resulting implications for teaching and learning. He is a corecipient of the 2023 TESOL Award for Excellence in Research (with Elaine Tarone).

About the author

Elaine Tarone, PhD

Elaine Tarone, PhD, is distinguished teaching professor emerita and retired director of the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota. A recipient of the American Association for Applied Linguistics Distinguished Scholarship and Service Award in 2012, her research focuses on second language acquisition in social context. She is a corecipient of the 2023 TESOL Award for Excellence in Research (with Darren K. LaScotte).

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