The role of the teacher
The teacher has a special role to play, that of a ‘speech coach or pronunciation coach’ (Morley 1991: 507). There is a link between pronunciation work and coaching in sport. You have a few rules to learn but most of the improvement is practice, practice, practice! As well as actually ‘teaching’, we can monitor our students’ speech production and help them recognise speech.
Integrating pronunciation into
… vocabulary work
Meaning and spelling are often clarified for students but the pronunciation of a word is often forgotten. The more times students mentally engage with new vocabulary, the more likely they are to learn it. Elicit the number of syllables in new words, spelling rules, highlight sound features, eg schwa, consonant clusters and the stress placement and rules. Point out patterns: the only way to learn these fundamental pronunciation points is to notice them, note them down and practise them regularly. You don’t need to teach separate lessons on word stress. Integrate it in into your normal lessons when you introduce vocabulary.
… listening activities
‘If they cannot hear English well, they are cut off from the language … If they cannot be understood easily, they are cut off from conversation with native speakers.’ Nooteboom (1983: 183-94).
The post-listening phase is the point in the class when we have the opportunity of actually teaching pronunciation, but paradoxically it is often the part of a listening comprehension class to which least time is devoted. Before they see the transcript, let learners re-hear and spend time with the crucial parts of a recording which provide the answers. They can mark on the tapescript the words that are stressed and discuss the kinds of words that are stressed (they will usually be the words that give meaning: verbs, nouns and adjectives). They can also see how the pitch gives us clues as to the speaker’s attitude.
Dictation is a good way to consolidate intonation, especially if the students themselves are involved in the dictating. Cut dialogues and short texts from the coursebook into strips for students to memorize and dictate to their group. Direct them back to the original text to compare their notes and correct their mistakes. This idea works well with large classes and different levels.
… speaking activities
English is a ‘stress-timed’ language, meaning that the rhythm is marked by the stress of the important words. Practising and creating raps, poems and tongue-twisters improves students’ awareness of this. They can also mark stress and intonation patterns in short dialogues and practise them in pairs.
As a part of controlled practice, highlight the relevant pronunciation features first and then beat out the stress while carrying out a choral then individual drill. During freer activities, monitor students’ pronunciation: include notes on any area of pronunciation that leads to miscommunication. Group feedback after speaking activities that addresses pronunciation issues helps to focus learners’ attention on the importance of the area of phonology. You could also record learners’ speech and have them listen to themselves reading a short passage. This will help you to focus on what the most frequent types of errors are.
Pronunciation needs to be taught in conjunction with communicative practices for the learner to be able to communicate effectively; as it crops up, in awareness activities and as an integrated part of each lesson. Spend five minutes on pronunciation work in every class and you should soon see the results!
Anna Cole is a teacher and teacher trainer based in Barcelona. She is the author of various Teachers’ Books, Workbooks and resource packs for Secondary level including Brilliant, Créditos Variables, Imagine, United, the Macmillan Secondary Course, Definitions 1 & 2 and Gateway A2, B1, B1+, B2 (all published by Macmillan).