by Ivana Duckinoska
More often than not, we hear about pronunciation being marginalized in the EFL classroom and we tend to blame the time-constraints and packed curriculum for that. I believe we have all been or still are in the same boat. But what if we entered the classroom (or start our Zoom sessions☺) with the mindset that pronunciation can be practiced from the beginning to the end regardless of which skill we are teaching?
Pronunciation is present in everything that we do in the classroom; when practicing any of the four language skills, reading, writing, listening and speaking, learners’ inner speech is running through their heads and constantly drilling pronunciation unconsciously. However, if we fail to seize this momentum and deliberately make the most of it, it is likely that our students’ internal speech will be practiced in their minds with their L1 pronunciation (Underhill, 2019), which might affect their fluency and intelligibility in spoken discourse.
While there is no doubt that speaking-oriented classes are a more fertile ground for teaching pronunciation (Levis & Grant, 2003), teachers can also easily adapt any classroom material into pronunciation training without having to sacrifice much of their time on compiling pronunciation materials. The following set of activities will attempt to offer ways in which teachers can tweak their instruction to accommodate corrective feedback and practice on pronunciation.
An activity that my students particularly enjoy is taking turns in preparing news reports each week. The instructions are as follows:
- Read in detail about a particular current event (any field of your interest).
- Prepare a short news report, which can be in the form of bullet points or a short presentation.
- Pre-teach words you believe your classmates will find unfamiliar. Present the new words as dictionary entries, e.g. rapport (n) /ræpˈɔːr/ = the ability to communicate well with someone, She establishes good rapport with her students.
- Present the news report to your classmates.
In addition to some of the benefits that this exercise provides, such as learner agency and autonomy, pronunciation practice can be integrated here through awareness raising. The students are encouraged to compare and “rate” their own pronunciation during their rehearsal before the lesson and performance during it. Questions such as Do you think you conveyed the message clearly?; Were you satisfied with the way you sounded while speaking?; Is there any aspect of your pronunciation you think you should work more on? are just a few starting queries that you can prepare for your students. However, since researchers in the field warn of the danger of giving limited feedback on random aspects of pronunciation so that the main lesson aim is not neglected (Levis and Grant, 2003), I suggest teachers pick only a few particular aspects that they will be providing feedback on; it can be on segmental (word) level or suprasegmental (across word boundaries) level and stick to them throughout their course of teaching.
Practicing pronunciation on word level can be a great vocabulary revision exercise, which, depending on the proficiency level, can be adapted to focus on irregular plural forms, parts of speech and homonyms, to name just a few. For example,
1a. How many /ˈwɪmɪn / did you mention?
1b. I am not sure if I understood the /ˈkɒntent/ of your presentation.
- content (n)
- content (adj)
1c. Which /ˈkænvəs / do artists use when they draw their art?
- canvas (n)
- canvass (v)
Pronunciation practice can be very easily integrated in your grammar teaching as well. If you have noticed that your students tend to use too many strong forms when speaking, i.e., grammatical words used in their citation form with a strong vowel as in /wɒz/, instead of a reduced schwa vowel /ə/ as in /wəz/, which is more common for connected speech, e.g. I was running /aɪ wəz ˈrʌnɪŋ/, and do not discriminate between different parts of speech, such as auxiliary vs. main verbs, then practicing the different pronunciation variants of the grammatical words should do the trick. For example,
2a. Main verb have vs. Auxiliary verb have
I have /hæv/ a problem. – strong form of have when used as a main verb,
I have /(h)əv/ had a problem recently. – weak form of have when used as an auxiliary verb.
2b. Preposition of vs. adverb off
I am sick and tired of /əv/ the computer. – weak form of of, strong form /ɒv/
I switched off /ɒf/ the computer. – adverb off
Afterwards, you can check your students’ knowledge through simple questions. For example,
3a. Is it /hæv/ or /əv/ in We have experienced many problems recently?
3b. Is it /ɒv/ or /əv/ in I ran out of battery?
Depending on which aspects you choose to focus on (e.g. vowel reduction, assimilation, elision…), you can prepare a list for your students and encourage them to tick the ones they hear when their classmate presents/speaks in class or when they do a listening exercise. Here is one example of what I use with my students:
|Feature||Tick the number of times you have heard these|
|Weak forms of auxiliaries (e.g. /(h)əv, (h)əz, də..)|
|Weak forms of modals (e.g. kən, wəd..)|
|Intrusive ‘r’ (e.g Ana and John ˈænər ən ˈdʒɒn)|
Hopefully, you can take something from these activities and adapt them to your classroom needs. Remember, we do not need to spend ages compiling any materials; we can easily make do with what we have already. You can also read more about when to integrate pronunciation in your classroom in our PronSIG blog here.
Don’t forget to check our previous blogs on pronunciation teaching here, as well as follow PronSIG on social media and leave your comments below.
Levis, J. & Grant, L. (2003). ‘Integrating Pronunciation into ESL/EFL Classrooms’, TESOL Journal, 12(2), p. 13-21.
Underhill, A. (2019). My Top Ten Pronunciation Tips: Physicality and Integration. Available at: https://www.oxfordtefl.com/blog/my-top-ten-pronunciation-tips-physicality-and-integration-by-adrian-underhill
Ivana Duckinoska is PronSIG’s treasurer and fellow committee member. She is an English teacher and lector at the University of Skopje, Macedonia, and holds a BA in English Language and an MA in English Linguistics, both by the University of Skopje. She has been teaching English for 10 years. She has worked with different methods from A1 to C2 level and prepared test takers for the Cambridge English exams and IELTS. Her main interests are pronunciation, teacher and student well-being.