When analysing language and presenting it to students, we are often told on teacher training courses that we need to look at three areas: meaning, form and pronunciation (m,f,p).
In many language lessons I have observed, the ‘p’ is the one which is given the least classroom time and it seems that it is all too easily marginalised. I was fortunate enough to participate in a fantastic workshop by Robin Walker recently where we spent 3 hours looking at the priorities when teaching pronunciation and practical ideas for working on this vital area with students in class. You can read more about Robin and his research into pronunciation and English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) here in his excellent blog.
Working on pronunciation in class
The basic premise – recognition before production
Students need to be able to hear and notice the difference between sounds before they can be expected to produce them. Therefore listening exercises in which they are practising discrimination are vital first steps in pronunciation work.
It can be useful to use minimal pairs to help students to discriminate one phoneme from another similar one, especially when the sounds don’t exist in the students’ L1. Italian students, for example often struggle to hear the difference between the /æ/ and the /ʌ/ in cat and cut as there is no equivalent phoneme to /ʌ/ in Italian.
Same or Different?
A simple discrimination exercise in which the teacher says two words with a slight pause between. Students then respond: ‘same’ or ‘different’.
T: ‘cat cat’
T: ‘cut cat’
Odd Man Out
Another simple discrimination exercise in which the teacher says a string of three or four words, one of which is different. The students respond with the number of the the word which was different.
T: ‘cat cut cat cat’
T: ‘cut cat cat cat’
One or two?
Write the words on the board in two columns numbered 1 and 2 and highlight the phoneme. See whiteboard picture below:
After modelling the two sounds, say one of the words and ask students to tell you if they heard word 1 or 2. Continue this until they are demonstrating a better ability to differentiate the sounds and then up the challenge by saying two or three words in a row, e.g. ‘Cat, cat, cut’, to which students must reply 1,1,2.
Handing over to the students
These exercises can then all be handed over to the students, individuals can say the words and the class and the teacher can respond with what they heard. The next step of course, can be handing over completely for students to continue in pairs.
For more ideas on working on pronunciation with your students, there are some great activities in Mark Hancock’s excellent book ‘Pronunciation Games’. A valuable resource book every teacher should have access to.