Previously, our Senior Research Manager Laura Patsko shared the first five of her top ten tips for teaching pronunciation. Today, she shares tips six to ten, and reminds us to have fun in the classroom!
6. Use your eyes
Pronunciation is a physical process, and we naturally augment the information received via our ears with the information received via our eyes. Looking at a speaker’s mouth is particularly helpful when recognising individual phonemes and distinguishing them from others, such as /b/ versus /v/, /m/ versus /n/, or /ɔː/ versus /əʊ/.
Try this with your students:
- Find a visible minimal pair like the ones above.
- Write one sound on one side of the whiteboard and the other sound on the other side.
- Stand between these symbols, face the class and silently show them the sounds. Alternate them at random, e.g. /b/, /v/, /b/, /b/, /v/, /b/, /b/, /b/, /v/ etc.
- Students point at whichever sound you’re making.
- Invite students to take your place and test the rest of the class! (Or get them to write the symbols on paper and test each other in pairs.)
7. Use the rest of your body!
I repeat: pronunciation is a physical process! Here are some ways you can encourage students, both adults and younger learners, to use their whole bodies to make these physical process memorable:
Word stress: Use a fist to show unstressed syllables and an open hand to show stressed syllables. For example, “banana” would look like this:
Nuclear/tonic stress: Cut up short sentences into individual words. Line them up on the table and invite students to push one word up with their finger, raising the pitch of their voice as they do this. Ask them what effect this has (= it draws attention to that word, and may create a contrasting meaning). For example:
8. Use the students’ first language.
Here’s an interesting fact about pronunciation: some linguistic sounds only occur in certain contexts – and they’re not always obvious. So students might not have realised that they can already make certain English sounds in their first language! For example, /z/ is not technically a Spanish sound, but it exists in Spanish in connected speech in words like ‘desde’. If you draw students’ attention to this, they can ‘borrow’ that sound from their first language when speaking English!
9. Remember, nothing is difficult if you do it slowly enough.
Pronunciation often feels scary because people speak so quickly. When working on pronunciation in class, one of the simplest things you can do to remove the fear factor is: just… slow… down.
10. Have fun.
Pronunciation, especially accent, is a very personal thing and closely linked to a person’s sense of identity. So it’s natural that it can seem a bit scary or uncomfortable to examine it closely. Remember – and remind your students – that learning takes time and that the classroom is a safe environment to experiment. Be prepared to play and to laugh, so the learning process is enjoyable.