Why Bother with Pronunciation?
If you’re not convinced about the merits of spending time on pronunciation, here are some reasons to start thinking about it…
* It’s fun! It can be a moment of light relief in a lesson as students all have a go at making sounds which don’t come easily to them.
* It’s incredibly useful for students. For many of them, it will be their pronunciation that gets in the way of others understanding them when out and about.
* It’s a great use of lesson time! Grammar and vocabulary can be found in books. Pronunciation needs to be heard and copied.
* It’s a great leveller. Even your best students will have some sounds they struggle with.
* As English spelling doesn’t really help all that much with pronunciation, it’s necessary!
Top Tips for Teaching Pronunciation
- Don’t be scared! Your students will be more afraid than you are!
- Do your homework. It’s worth spending a bit of time understanding the mechanics of pronunciation (what the tongue, voice, lips, etc. are doing) so that you can not only demonstrate the sounds to students, but explain what they should be trying to do too. If you try to get students to repeat sounds without knowing how they are actually produced it’s pointless and the incorrect pronunciation will probably continue! There are lots of resources which can help you with this. Why not start with ‘Adrian Underhill on Successful Pronunciation’ videos on youtube.
- Do have a look at the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). If you’re not familiar with it, this is just a standardized way of representing the sounds of spoken language. This can be very useful to teachers and students since there is no consistent way of spelling specific sounds in English! I have seen ‘light bulb’ moments when students are introduced to different words containing the same sound and had never realised that all those spelling variants were actually to be pronounced in the same way! It really is worth having a basic understanding of the IPA so that when you teach you can hone in on particular sounds the learners struggle with. Knowing the corresponding IPA symbol is helpful with this. You probably won’t be teaching your students all the sounds/symbols in IPA but if you understand it (more or less) as a teacher you’ll be much better equipped to deal with any problems they have and just for teaching pronunciation in general. An IPA app called Macmillan Sounds: the Pronunciation App might come in handy for you!
- Teach your own pronunciation. For many students, their aim is not to acquire a particular accent but rather to be easily understood.
- Before they can produce the sounds, students may need to practise hearing the sounds and distinguishing between them. To do this you can play games which involve moving to one side of the room when they hear a certain sound, or putting words into categories.
- Pronunciation works best on a ‘little and often’ basis. Choose one sound to focus on and have a five minute slot in your lesson.
- Create an environment which is safe and encouraging for students so that they can try sounds out. One way to do this is to have a rule that no one is allowed to laugh at someone else. Explain that some sounds will be easier for some of us than others but we will all have sounds we struggle with.
- Have a laugh. Use fun activities and pictures to help you.
- If you have a group of students who are all from the same language background, have a look at Learner English to gain a brief overview of the sounds they will find particularly difficult and why.
- Encourage students to practise at home in front of the mirror – it does help!
- As well as practising individual sounds, be sure to model it in the context of a whole sentence said at a natural speed to model intonation and stress.
- Use rhymes! They need to hear the rhythm and stress of the English language. In Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock there’s a game which is great for getting the ‘rhythm’ of the English language. Intonation and stress are as important in English as pronunciation and worth bearing in mind. When teaching new words, try and teach the correct stress.
Baker, Ann, Ship or Sheep?: An intermediate pronunciation course. Cambridge University Press, 2006
Hancock, Mark, Pronunciation Games. Cambridge University Press, 1996
New Headway Pronunciation. Oxford University Press. (A course of books available for various levels)
Pronunciation app to help learn the IPA chart: http://www.macmillaneducationapps.com/soundspron/
Swan, Michael & Smith, Bernard, Learner English. Cambridge University Press, 2001
‘The Sounds of English’ and ‘Tim’s pronunciation workshop’, BBC Learning English: http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/features/pronunciation
Timesaver pronunciation activities, Mary Glasgow Magazines
Underhill, Adrian, Successful Pronunciation. Macmillan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5RekixAMoM