With the myriad of phonetic rules and accents in the English language, it’s no surprise that learners have questions like, “How do the sounds of letters s and z differ?” or “Why is the letter b silent in climb and tomb?” Confounding the problem, there hasn’t previously been much pronunciation instructional support for teachers nor have there been TEFL courses dedicated to this topic.
To remedy this, Bridge has developed a Micro-credential course in Teaching English Pronunciation. The course provides targeted training to help teachers understand the techniques they can use to help students articulate words and sentences correctly and confidently. The course also covers common struggles, like those outlined below, that students and educators face when studying and teaching English pronunciation and how to overcome these challenges. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the challenges and solutions outlined in the course.
1. Speaking like a native English speaker
It’s a common misconception among many ESL learners that they should speak with an American, British, or other specific type of English accent (or else talk like their favorite actor) in order to be considered fluent or have an advanced level in the language. However, by making a huge effort to lose one’s accent, learners may end up feeling frustrated and intimidated when they speak with native English speakers.
Although it’s almost impossible for non-native English speakers to eliminate their accent completely, reducing it is more doable. Especially if a student’s accent makes it hard to understood him or her, they can work towards enunciating their words neutrally. As you teach English pronunciation, remind students that speaking in English with the accent from their first language will not necessarily be a setback for communicating. In addition, their unique accents will always be part of their cultural identity, which they should be proud of!
2. Mouth positioning
From saying words with th to different diphthongs, ESL learners may find it tricky to articulate certain sounds simply because they don’t exist in their native language. Thai speakers, for instance, struggle with pronouncing consonant clusters like dr and sm. Meanwhile, Portuguese speakers pronounce the letter r differently. As a result, they struggle with finding the right mouth positions to make these sounds.
You can introduce your students to new phonetic sounds by using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) chart and showing how the mouth, tongue, teeth, and other speech organs work to produce each sound. For instance, you can show them how you expel air every time you make voiceless sounds like with f and s. Then, you can have them repeat the sounds through pronunciation drills or even fun activities like tongue twisters!
3. Using correct sentence stress and intonation
Learning which words to emphasize and where your voice rises and falls in a phrase or sentence can be a challenge to students, especially if the intonation in their mother tongue differs a lot. The Spanish language, for example, doesn’t have as many intonation variations as English does. Because of this, learners may encounter problems getting their message across.
There are many ways teachers can help students improve their sentence stress and intonation. For example, you can use Total Physical Response (TPR) techniques, which use physical motions alongside speech, to guide learners while speaking. Activities like animated texts, storytelling, and roleplays can also get them used to shifting intonations and expressing emotions in English better.
4. Spelling difficulties
Why can’t we use the same phoneme for hear and steak? Why do flower and flour sound the same?
The English language is full of words where spelling and pronunciation don’t match, and this often stumps learners who are used to words that are pronounced how they’re spelled. Teachers, meanwhile, find themselves going to great lengths just to explain pronunciation rules, exceptions, and reasons why certain words are pronounced in a certain way.
One way to help your students understand the variations in English sounds is by making them understand how words are constructed with syllables, root words, and elements – like prefixes and suffixes – that transform words. As you teach these, make sure to provide plenty of examples too! Activities with minimal pairs or flashcards can also help students assimilate these new sounds and even learn new vocabulary.
5. Repeating pronunciation errors
So, you’ve done all of the phonetic drills and corrected your students’ pronunciation mistakes. Yet, they mispronounce the same words during a reading activity – oh no! While it’s okay to make occassional pronunciation slipups while speaking in English, repeating the same errors over and over could mean that something can be improved either with their learning process or your error correction.
Even before you start your course, make it a point to assess your students. Find out what their motivations are for learning English, what their biggest struggles are, and which study techniques usually work for them. You will also discover these along the way, so don’t be afraid to change your teaching strategies if you need to.
You can also encourage students to practice pronunciation at home through online apps. The Sensay app, for instance, allows teachers to create speaking exercises for their students right on the platform. Then, students can record their voice through the app so that they and their teacher can assess the provided results.
6. Feeling overwhelmed by too much information
After learning all of the vowel sounds, silent letters, how to pronounce the schwa sound, and the many other English pronunciation rules, it’s not uncommon for students to feel overwhelmed with too much information. After all, there are just a lot of rules to remember, especially when you start getting into more complex words and sentences!
Consistently jog your learner’s memory on the pronunciation rules they’ve previously practiced through activities that involve reading aloud or singing songs. Additionally, advise students to write down new words and how to say them just in case they forget how they’re pronounced in the future.
7. Speaking speed
Even with the correct pronunciation of words, English students may either speak too slowly because they’re conscientious of making mistakes or too quickly because they’re nervous or desire to sound more fluent. While slowing down their speech may hamper overall communication, speeding up too much may make them mispronounce words.
You can help dispel your students’ jitters by pointing out that speaking clearly should be their ultimate goal. Assigning tasks that will get them talking, like class presentations, are also useful for developing a good speaking pace. Aside from these, encourage them to learn from the best speakers. Have them watch news reports or TED Talks so they can get an idea of what comprehensible speech sounds like.
Pronunciation is essential in the English language because it goes hand in hand with communication. Taking the Bridge Micro-credential course in Teaching English Pronunciation can help you master the most effective ways to teach pronunciation and the right tools to use to feel empowered when helping students to learn the art of articulating English words and to feel confident while speaking.
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