Teaching pronunciation is a long-term goal that takes patience and practice. Many ESL/EFL students feel frustrated when they see they cannot eliminate their accents so easily. In fact, it is quite hard to get rid of one’s accent when you are an adult.
The focus of a pronunciation class should be on reducing their accent so that their pronunciation will not affect comprehensibility.
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The areas of pronunciation teachers should focus on are vowel and consonant sounds, word, and sentence stress, linking sounds, and intonation. Other features that are important to work on are the elimination of sounds (elision) and combination or blending of sounds (assimilation).
To analyze which areas are problematic, teachers should assess the students’ pronunciation first. Some techniques that can be used to identify which areas give them the most trouble are having the students read a paragraph aloud and, without interrupting them, take notes of the obvious pronunciation problems.
Or, have the students role-play or have a simple discussion on a topic they will feel comfortable talking about, so that there is no focus on structure, vocabulary, or grammar at this point, and keep a mental note of the problematic areas. Teachers can also record the students’ speech and analyze it.
Once the pronunciation problems have been identified, teachers need to give students practice. Practice should go from the most structured drills to free and spontaneous conversations.
Following is a list of steps that could be used in a pronunciation class that will focus on the recognition and production of a sound (vowel or consonant).
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1. Individual sounds – Teaching Pronunciation
Always start off by concentrating on the individual sounds. Get the students to pronounce the sound after you. Make sure that when teaching vowels, for example, you show your students the position of the tongue, the lips, and also the length of the vowel:
A. The tongue: the horizontal position of the tongue (front, central, or back) and the height (high, mid, or low position)
B. The lips: spread, neutral or rounded
C. Length: long or short vowels
If the problematic sound is a consonant, show your students the three main features of a consonant sound:
A. Place of articulation: This refers to the place where the organs of speech meet in the oral cavity. For example, in a bilabial sound the lips are together to produce /m/; or for a labiodental consonant like /f/, the upper teeth articulate with the lower lip.
B. Manner of articulation: This refers to how the air comes out of the oral or nasal cavity. For example, to produce a plosive consonant like /p/, the air coming from the lungs is stopped at the lips and then released with a puff; for a fricative sound like /f/, the air flows continuously through the gap between the teeth and the lower lips.
C. Voicing: The vibration of the vocal folds. Consonants can be voiced (the vocal folds vibrate) or voiceless (the vocal folds are drawn apart and the air comes out freely without producing any vibration).
2. Practice: Listen and repeat – Teaching Pronunciation
A. Make a list of words with the problematic sound. Read out the words or play a tape. Get the students to repeat each word. Then get the students to produce the words on the list one by one.
B. Ask the students to suggest words that contain the sound they are practicing. This activity encourages students’ participation and makes your lesson less teacher-centered.
3. Hear the difference? Minimal pairs – Teaching Pronunciation
This type of activity is very good for giving the students practice in auditory discrimination.
A. Make a list of minimal pairs. Read out the list so that you train your students to hear the difference between two sounds. For example ‘cat’ / æ / – ‘cut’ /ʌ /.
B. Choose one word on the list and have your students recognize the word. Ask your students to circle the word they hear.
C. As learners make the most progress when they can monitor their own pronunciation and sound discrimination abilities, pair the students up and have them choose words on the list. Their partners will have to circle the sound they hear.
In the next blog, we will show you more activities to practice pronunciation in an ESL/EFL class.
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