For many teachers, pronunciation can be a scary thing to focus on and teach in the classroom. Five years ago, this was the same for me! I was terrified of trying to do anything more than the bare minimum of drilling a new word. I had not been taught pronunciation, I did not really know how it worked and had never really thought about it in any great detail, so I avoided it without even considering the effect that would have on my students.
However, a huge part of my DipTESOL focussed on pronunciation and I realised that I had been letting my students down. By not focussing on pronunciation in my classes, my learners were unable to communicate clearly and would potentially have issues understanding others. I realised I had to change the way I thought about pronunciation in my lessons. And slowly, at first, I began incorporating small aspects of pronunciation into all of my lesson plans. Now, I can’t imagine not incorporating it in some way.
There are a several ways we can help our students become better communicators, here are a few tools which are simple and easy to use, which help us include more pronunciation in our classrooms.
If you have access, there are many online tools we can use in the classroom. The most basic would be an online dictionary, which includes the pronunciation of words with the definition. The Macmillan online dictionary has British pronunciation, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary offers American pronunciation and the Cambridge online dictionary offers both. So any time you are introducing new vocabulary you can take a moment to check the pronunciation in an online dictionary and drill the word with your students.
There are over 800 million YouTube videos online and many of them focus on English pronunciation. If you search for a specific word such as ‘knowledge pronunciation’ you will find several videos, with differing accents – once you find someone you like the sound of, you can subscribe to their channel and use them as your go-to source. This could be used as an alternative to the online dictionary, although it is likely there will be less choice of words than with the dictionary.
When you teach grammatical structures which can be contracted, make sure you model this for your students. By understanding the contractions, they are more likely to be able to comprehend faster speakers of English, who will be using this pronunciation rather than saying each word individually. This is real life communication and it is essential for learners to be able to follow and respond to questions such as “How’s school/ your job/ your summer going?” You can use audio files or YouTube videos as models so the students can shadow the script and practise the rhythm and tone of the words.
Another great tool is a voice recorder; most mobile phones have this function on them. When getting your students to read aloud, or practise a presentation, ask them to record themselves on their phone. They can then listen back to themselves and hear whether they are speaking clearly. It can also be a good way to help them identify any particular sounds they find tricky to pronounce, which you can then work on as a class. If one student is struggling, it is likely others will be too.
Sometimes when we listen to ourselves we do not hear our mistakes, because we know what we wanted to say. It is the same with proof-reading our own writing – I am sure there will be a couple of mistakes in this text because I am looking at it through my own filter – I know what I wanted to write, therefore I might miss a spelling error or not notice if a word is missing! So, one way to take out the subjective element is to change the mobile phone’s settings to English language and practise doing voice searches with Google – this can be a fun way to highlight any pronunciation problems and help students improve certain sounds they find more challenging. This can also demonstrate the importance of clear pronunciation as a small mispronunciation could be the difference between “he’s thinking” and “he’s sinking”!
This all being said, you don’t need any technology; you as their language teacher are their best source of English. Make sure you speak English regularly, model the pronunciation for them and make sure you highlight any pronunciation points they might find challenging – and you are going to know what’s difficult for them if you have the same mother tongue, as you will have struggled through the same issues.
If you would like more support with your own pronunciation, as well as teaching resources, sign up for my emails, which are free to receive. You can also check out my pronunciation courses here.