How to teach English pronunciation
Posted on 8-03-2018 by Joseph Francis
When you’re struggling to curtail the Bs on the end of ‘bomb’ or wrestling with students who can’t see the difference between ‘mud’, ‘blood’, and ‘flood’, it might just be time to focus in on speaking skills. The thing is, it’s notoriously difficult to get non-natives humming out the Queen’s, crossing their verbal Ts and dotting their verbal Is as it were. To help you through the quagmire of silent sounds and stressed consonants, we’ve put together this hit list of tips on how to teach English pronunciation. It should help you keep those speaking skills aplomb – see what we did there?
Crank up the Student Talking Time (STT)
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Student Talking Time is one of the holy grails of classroom activities. It refers to any period during a lesson that you’re schtum and the pupils are chatting – in English, of course. That could be a free-flowing practice session at the end of a vocabulary lead-in. It could be the fruits of a good pair activity. It could even be just idle gossip. If it’s in any way related to the Target Language, you’d be wise not to stop it. The reason? It helps raise confidence in speaking, yes, but can also be a cracking way to test pronunciation skills. You’ll soon find that students correct each other, learn from each other’s verbal output, and eventually forge some sort of peer-to-peer feedback loop. Now that’s how to teach English pronunciation…
Be aware of WHO you’re teaching
It’s always important for ESL teachers to remember that non-native learners of English are often approaching the lingo with knowledge of a whole different alphabetical system. That’s especially true if you’re teaching in countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam, or in places like Eastern Europe, where the scripts range from augmented characters to Cyrillic. The upshot is that a teacher in Beijing is likely to have to focus a lot more on pronunciation skills than, say, a teacher in Paris or Rome.
Use repetition. Use repetition. Use repetition
The benefits of re-covering language material are well-documented. If you’re wondering how to teach English pronunciation effectively, then taking a similar approach can really help. We’re not only talking about ensuring you repeat Target Language aims from lesson to lesson, but also repeat the same pronunciation itself several times within a lesson. In other words, literally stand there and say ‘flood’ or ‘mood’, ‘visa’ or ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ over and over again until you hear your students do it correctly. There’s really nothing like hear and repeat to drill the ins and outs of curious vowels and consonant sounds.
Isolate minimal pairs
Now we’re getting into the real nitty gritty of how to teach English pronunciation. Minimal pairs refer to any duo of words which differ in just a single phonological element. In laymen’s terms, that means something like ‘pin’ and ‘bin’, or – and this one should help you understand how a focus on these tricky little partners can help in a quest for the Queen’s – ‘ran’ and ‘rain’. See how doing exercises that home in on the particular sound changes in the latter can reveal the effect an additional vowel has on the whole word?
Rhyming and music
No matter if it’s a Romantic poem or a rambunctious rock ballad, you can always fall back on trusty rhythm to convey some seriously central aspects of speech. Think of it this way – there’s a reason why nursery rhymes, Shakespearean pentameters, and even the lyrics of ZZ Top sound good. It’s because they’ve used English in a way that works. Part of that is manipulating pronunciations to create positive and negative rhymes; rhymes which can help reveal the sounds and character of words to students approaching the language for the first time. What’s more, lyrics of songs are easier to remember than bland old teacher speak, don’t you think?
There are oodles more tips that could help you in your quest to discover how to teach English pronunciation. If you’ve any more to add, we’d love to hear about them in the comments below. Or, if you think it’s time you got TEFL qualified and traveling, be sure to head over to our courses page…