On the Road – Practical Pronunciation

Continuing with our series of follow-up posts from our ON THE ROAD teacher development event in Algeciras, Claire shares her thoughts on how to make pronunciation practical, and accessible, to our students.
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Language is about communication, and this session was about reminding us of how pronunciation plays an integral part in this. We reviewed the different elements that are included under the pronunciation umbrella and most importantly, we thought about how we can help our learners. We agreed that pronunciation is often overlooked in the classroom for various reasons. Some teachers feel they do not have the tools to teach it effectively and others may not always feel that it is as important as other skills.

In order to deal with these issues, we discussed how pronunciation is important to all four skills and why helping our learners enables them to free up their processing power to focus on other skills and techniques. We then moved on to a review of the different aspects we need to consider while teaching. Phonetics and phonology were two parts that we focused on so that we could remember why we can’t teach one without the other. We reviewed segmental and suprasegmental features; including our lovely unstressed schwa, intonation and stress, all of which are included in a useful phonemic chart which can be used in several ways.

There was a brief look at the places of articulation and a chat about manner of articulation and how we could simplify this for our learners. This moved us nicely on to getting physical!

If our learners can’t physically produce the sounds that are needed, then they can’t ‘repeat’ or be drilled. We looked at the ‘facial gym’ and discussed how learners should be aware that it’s not their fault they can’t reproduce the sounds, It’s like asking an Olympic swimmer to run a marathon. Their muscles are used in a different way in their first language and need to be retrained.

This gave us the perfect opportunity to reflect on what we do. Can we understand how we produce the sounds needed or should we dig out that mirror and take a good look at what’s needed to do this? Mirror, mirror on the wall may be the next addition to the classroom!

Putting pron into practice

After this we looked at typical difficulties from our area and possible solutions to deal with them. The lovely consonant cluster (we live in Espain), the /g/ /w/ dilemma (are we good, or would we?) and the schwa shrug (a teenager on a Friday; or a Wednesday as some people thought!). The joy of word stress and delivering that with a punch and moving our bodies to help with the greater range of intonation required to communicate our meaning and intentions in English. All the practical solutions were engaging, memorable and fun.

There is a lexical lesson included in the PowerPoint. Can you identify the possible problems and how you would deal with them? If you have the time, get that mirror out and work with another teacher to see how you can overcome the potential difficulties.

To sum up, pronunciation should be an integral part of all our lessons. Pre-planned pron. (PPP) could be the way forward. Anticipating difficulties in both our planned lesson and including possible emergent language allows us to integrate this effectively and enables our learners to communicate with confidence. How lovely would that be?

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