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Practicing sounds

  • “Repeat after me” is not enough. Don’t do it for more than a few minutes at a time. Follow up with more contextualized practice.

  • When you’re planning a practice sequence, don’t think only about what the teacher is going to do. Think about what the students will do. How will they do intake, experience, practice? Will they understand? How will it seem to them?

  • Make sure students understand what they’re saying. Sounds don’t exist in isolation--they live in words. Students will have to use those words in the future. What good is it to practice saying words they won’t be able to use?

Types of practice activities

Classify types of activities. Give some example practice activities: Type, age groups

Sounds like a list of activities for speaking practice. Rationale for communicative practice in teaching pronunciation.



Listening discrimination

  • Minimal pair words

  • Minimal pair sentences

  • “Odd man out” listening

Vowel sorting handout

Things to practice saying: Controlled,

Minimal pairs: What to do with minimal pairs besides just repeat them.

Sentences

Dialogs

Proverbs, famous quotations, poems, skits, jokes and riddles



Tongue twisters. Use sparingly. Don’t make them too hard, or they’re kind of pointless. If you can’t say it, why should they? Make sure students understand them.

Use tongue twisters carefully. Don’t jump right from explanation and very controlled practice with a sound to a difficult tongue twister. Do some practice with ordinary sentences first. (You don’t teach somebody to play tennis and then send them straight to Wimbledon. Or from Little League to the World Series.)

One good way to do pronunciation practice is to ask students to bring in words that they’ve had trouble pronouncing or that they didn’t understand when somebody else pronounced them, and use these as the basis for practice. It tends to fit their needs a lot better than blindly using what’s in the book

Board games

Info gaps: General info gap (What are they doing? Etc.) (What word is in box 2?)

Calendars

Schedules

Maps (city with streets, country with cities)

Floor plan of rooms of house/office, furniture to put in them

Diagram of floors of house, people in them (like in Azar)

Menu

Family tree, team roster, office workers



Diary/journal (in past tense)

Mad Libs type activity—students supply past tense verbs for blanks in story, then read ridiculous story.

Listing various things (making choices, ranking)

Desert island list

personality quiz, music preferences, other surveys (intonation of lists?)

Advertisements

Recipes

“web page” to order things from



Find the difference pictures

Puzzles like “Baker Street”

Role plays

Shopping list

Situations given

Find someone who

Think of words in categories with particular sounds

Bingo: vowel, consonant, word stress

Examples in Teaching Pronunciation: p. 153, 158

Teacher dictation

Partner dictation

Cloze listening (sentences, paragraphs)

Consonant sorting?

Chain words

Strip story—cut up and rearrange

Write a story/ sentences with words from list

Match sound to word (looking at words, looking at pictures)

Match sound to sentences

Same/different sound

Which one is different?

From Cary: Another activity I like for the classroom (not sure how it would look on the web) is to ask the students to survey about five or so people and ask them about something they "can" do and something they "can't" do.  I find it's hard to understand if students are saying "can" or "can't." 

Human Tape Recorder/Telephone. Human Cell Phone? Two “callers” stand on opposite sides of room. One tells “human cell phone” a message. He goes to other person and delivers message. Second person sends back an answer, etc. Human cell phone has to try to “be” the caller--like a tape recorder.

Demo videos:

How do you “introduce the phoneme inventory” if you’re teaching children or complete beginners? How do you reintroduce it for more advanced learners? What’s the difference? (Videos showing somebody doing this would be valuable.)

Short videos showing the difference between pairs of sounds (l/r, z/zh/dzh, etc.) Showing how to use the big teeth to illustrate different sounds.

Videos showing how to demonstrate sounds with various tools, using feathers, rubber bands, etc. Very short clips--maybe only one minute. Explain what point you’re going to demonstrate, what tool you’re using, and why it’s appropriate. Show how to do it. Use a real student in the video? Build a whole library of little clips. Guard them against people who want to link to them or borrow them.

Examples or “scripts” of how you would explain a point or introduce a sound to young children, older children, high school, adults, or whatever. Maybe three groups, different age and ability levels.

Syllables, word stress, and rhythm
Up until now we’ve been talking about individual sounds—consonants and vowels. In the next few chapters we’ll be going beyond sounds to talk about suprasegmentals—the features of pronunciation that affect more than just a single sound. The main suprasegmental features of English are:


  • Word stress

  • Rhythm

  • Connected speech

  • Prominence

  • Intonation

In this chapter we’ll talk about syllables, word stress, and rhythm.

What are syllables?

Counting syllables

Usually a syllable has to have a vowel. But sometimes we can have a syllable with no vowel. The consonant stretches out longer to replace the vowel. This only happens with a few consonant sounds: /n/, /l/, and /r/.

Noun/verb pairs with different stress

Suffixes that affect stress

Compound nouns, two-word or compound verbs, phrasal verbs, verbs + preposition combinations

“14” and “40”

-s and -ed endings here?

Unstressed syllables

Citation forms and reduced forms

Word stress

There are rules that can often predict where the stress will fall in a word. They take into account the historical origin of a word, affixation, and the word’s grammatical function in a sentence. They are rather complex, and it’s not a good idea to try to teach all these details to students.

In stressed syllables:

• Vowel is lengthened

• Vowel is “clear” (unreduced)

• Vowel is higher pitched

In unstressed syllables:

• Vowel is less clear

• Vowel is often reduced to /´/

Patterns of word stress:

• Based on word endings

• Based on parts of speech

• Words where stress changes part of speech (record, suspect, etc.)

• Stress in compound nouns

• Cf. stress in adjective-noun combinations

• Stress in two-word verbs and compound verbs

Teens/tens (13/30, etc.)

Variable word stress (see Pronunciation Plus p. 71, Accurate English p. 105)

• Words with “disappearing syllables” (interest, every, comfortable, restaurant, etc.)

Primary stress and secondary stress

How to teach syllables and word stress

How to practice

Rhythm

Rhythm is very rhythmical.

Stress-timed and syllable-timed languages and examples

(or stress-based and syllable-based)

The relation of stressed and unstressed syllables to rhythm

Citation forms and reduced forms

Reduced syllables/words

Patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables

English is a stress-timed language. This means that the time between stressed syllables remains fairly steady, and extra syllables have to crowd in between the stressed syllables. Each syllable does not last the same length of time. English has a rhythm like this:

Many other languages are syllable-timed. This means that each syllable takes about the same amount of time. These languages have a very regular rhythm, like this:

Ways to teach rhythm

Clapping and other rhythmical things. Step to the rhythm.

Metronome? Watch out.

Summary

Blue marbles: types of rhythm



Connected Speech

When people talk normally, their words blend together and change in predictable ways. This is not sloppy, uneducated, or bad. It’s just normal. It happens when people speak casually, but also when they speak formally. In short, all speech is connected speech.

The Law of Economy: Your mouth is basically lazy. It wants to speak in the easiest way possible, so it blends all the sounds together.

On the other hand, listeners need to be able to hear the difference between different sounds, or they won’t understand what you’re saying. Your mouth can’t be too lazy.

Our mouths have to find a balance when we speak: Comfortable, but not too lazy.

linking


Assimilation

Reduced forms of words:

Reduced function words

Assorted prepositions, articles, pronouns, conjunctions

Loss of /h/ (him, her, his)

“Them” /´m/ (and “him” /Im/)

Contractions (doesn’t, can’t, I’ll, he’s, etc.)

Reduced forms of common combinations (gonna, wanna, gotta, etc.)

Linking:

Consonant + vowel (it’s ait sa)

Vowel + vowel (y/w linking)

Consonant + consonant (and assimilation)

Palatalization (/t/ + /y/ = /tS/) (Don’t you?)

Segmentation: It’s sometimes difficult to know where to divide a stream of words.

How to teach connected speech

How to practice

Can/can’t (are/aren’t, were/weren’t)

Thought groups, prominence, and intonation

Thought groups

• Chunking—Pauses are usually based on grammatical structures

Each thought group has its own intonation pattern.

Prominence

Sentence stress/focus/prominence:

• Emphasize content words

• De-emphasize function words

• Position of sentence stress (unmarked = stressed syllable of last content word)

• Using sentence stress for focus/emphasis

• New information/old information

• Disagreeing and correcting

Stress in short answers (Yes, I can./ Yes, I can do it.)

What is intonation?

What affects intonation?

Typical intonation patterns

Based on grammatical patterns of sentences

Based on intention (finished, uncertainty, etc.)

“Squarish” or “roundish” drawings of intonation contours?

How to teach this stuff

How to practice

Sometimes it’s hard to tell that the intonation is going down if the last syllable of the sentence is stressed. The pitch goes up on that last syllable, but then it drifts down quickly, and some people have a hard time noticing the last drift down.

All languages have intonation. None are just flat.

Can/Can’t and other affirmative/negative pairs

Intonation:

• Statements

• Yes/no questions

• WH- questions

• Clarification questions

• Tag questions (up at end/down at end)

• Lists

• “Or” (different kinds too)

• Incomplete utterances, first clauses

• American English intonation tends to have a wider pitch range than in some other languages. (Not invariably, though. Listen to police officers and basketball players being interviewed on the news.)

Using intonation to show emotion and attitudes

Intonation carries meaning: Sounds as words (uh-huh, huh-uh, hmmm, uh-oh, etc.) These are different in some languages.



Beyond “Repeat After Me”

Activities and methods for teaching suprasegmentals or pronunciation beyond the individual phonemes.

Put some of this in “Teaching the sounds”? Put suggestions for suprasegmentals in each appropriate chapter?

Look at Beyond Repeat After Me handout

Example activities

Sequence of activities: Simple to complex, controlled to freer. Listening, then production

Communicative practice—why and how? (Isn’t it just speaking practice?)

pair/group work, info gaps, dialogs,

Won’t students learn bad pronunciation habits from each other if they do group work?

Sometimes you have to make your own materials or find your own sources. What you need may not exist yet.

When and how should we correct students’ pronunciation? How about during communicative practice activities?

Whispies, etc. And link to list of sources on weebly page

using multisensory methods

music


drama

pictures


Toys and gadgets. Stuff from long-ago CATESOL presentation

Mouth exercises

(what we can learn from speech therapists)

Your pronunciation toolbox

Technology

Shadowing/mirroring

Pronunciation software and the Internet

Both of these can provide great materials for practicing pronunciation, but BE CAREFUL! Not all materials are of good quality. Some are amateurish and inaccurate. Check and judge materials carefully before you have students use them. If in doubt, use something else.

Why technology won’t replace a good teacher.

Voxopop, voicethread, voki, etc.

If you’re using technology, have a back-up plan.

There’s no one best way to teach pronunciation (from blog). “One size fits all” does not apply to teaching.

Should we expect students to memorize all those rules? No. There’s a difference between showing students a pattern and helping them practice it, and making them memorize a bunch of rules.

In his wonderful book, How to Teach Grammar, Scott Thornbury has a chapter called “How Not to Teach Grammar” that gives a model of a truly dreadful grammar lesson with warnings of what not to do. In the same spirit, here are my suggestions for:

How not to teach pronunciation

1. Don’t simplistically equate sounds of one language with those of another. Don’t put the sound system of L2 through the filter of the sound system of L1. No katakana English.

2. Don’t do only “listen and repeat.” It’s valuable and necessary, but it’s not enough.

3. Don’t practice only individual sounds and words. Longer stretches of language are needed too.

4. Don’t teach only sounds and ignore suprasegmentals. On the other hand, don’t teach only suprasegmentals and ignore sounds.

5. Don’t try to turn your students into replicas of yourself. Be a little more broadminded. Don’t assume everybody wants or needs to sound like you.

6. Don’t stay ignorant. You do need specific knowledge of the English sound system and how it works. Intuition is not enough.

7. But don’t be afraid of learning about phonology. It’s not that hard to acquire the knowledge you need. And you do need it.

8. Don’t assume learning pronunciation is easy for students. It’s not. Put yourself in the position of being a beginner at learning a new language, and see how hard it is to produce new sounds. (Try Arabic!)

9. Don’t confuse sounds with letters. Don’t confuse phonics with pronunciation. They’re separate things with separate rules and purposes.


  • Don’t look at teaching pronunciation as a chore. It can actually be fun and interesting.

Beyond Repeat After Me

I have nothing against “repeat after me” per se. It’s a valid and useful way to practice pronunciation, and we need to do it. But it’s not all there is, and if you do it for too long, it loses its effectiveness and puts your students to sleep. Here are some ideas for other ways to practice pronunciation.

Question time. Ask students to bring in the words or phrases that they’ve had trouble pronouncing or understanding, such as names of streets (“Harvard” vs. “Harbor”), cities (“Irvine,” “Las Vegas”), or even beverages at Starbucks. They might appreciate help in pronouncing their own address, phone number, etc. Set aside a question time now and then and spend some time practicing what the students feel a need for. This can really make a difference in their lives.

Minimal pairs. VIDEO

• Choose a minimal pair with the sounds you’re practicing, for example, “rock” and “lock.” (Stick to words students are likely to know. Uncommon words like “roam” and “loam” aren’t the best choices.)

• Have students practice both words. Point out differences in how the sounds are pronounced. Use demonstrations, mirrors, or giant teeth.

• Mark the words “1” and “2.” Say one of the words and have students tell you which word you’ve said, holding up one or two fingers. Keep this up until they can identify the sounds pretty well.

• Have students do the “1 or 2” practice with a partner for a few minutes while you go around and check their pronunciation.

Whisper. Try doing minimal pair practice again, whispering softly or saying the words without making any sound, and have students decide which word you’re saying. This pushes them to pay attention to lip rounding, tongue movement, etc. This also makes good pair practice.

Sentences. Make up or have students make up sentences using words with the sounds you’re practicing. Try to include the students’ names or something about the class now and then. Don’t make the sentences too difficult. Have students practice these sentences, as a group or with a partner. Students often enjoy sentences they’ve made up themselves more than ones from a book.

Dialogs and drama. Short dialogs are also useful. Just make sure they make sense and sound as realistic and plausible as possible. Encourage students to say the lines with feeling as they practice with a partner. Then it’s only a short step to using drama—short skits or impromptu role plays—that encourage students to use what they’ve been practicing.

Mirrors. Mirrors are absolutely necessary in teaching pronunciation. It’s not always easy for students to feel whether their lips are rounded, whether their tongue is touching their teeth, etc., but with a mirror they can see what’s happening.

Video clips for shadowing practice. DEMO VIDEO Shadowing is a technique in which learners listen to and imitate the speakers in a short video clip. Then they try to speak the lines of the dialog with or slightly after the characters in the clip. Here’s one way to do it:

1. Find a short film clip (less than two minutes) with a natural-sounding, self-contained conversation. Find or write a script for the clip. (Try YouTube or EnglishCentral.com for suitable clips. EnglishCentral has transcriptions!)

2. In class, give the students some background about what’s happening in the scene. They need to understand what’s going on.

3. Play the clip. First, the students just watch and get the general idea of the characters and situation.

4. Hand out the script. Go over any unfamiliar words and expressions. Make sure the students understand the dialog.

5. Watch the clip again. This time, give students something specific to listen for—pauses, intonation, linking, etc.—and have them mark it on their script. If you want, play the clip again.

6. Have the students compare their markings with a partner, then talk together as a class about what they found and why it happened that way. (E.g., the speaker’s intonation on a certain WH- question went up instead of down because she was asking the question for the second time. She didn’t hear the man’s answer the first time.)

7. Have students practice reading the conversation with a partner. Encourage them to try to do it just the way the characters in the movie did—with the same pauses, intonation, emotions, etc.

8. Play the clip again. Ask the students to try to read the dialog along with the characters in the film. (This will work best if the characters are speaking fairly slowly.) Repeat if there’s time.

9. Review the conversation in a later class by practicing it again.

Pictures. There are lots of possibilities. For example…

• Have students find things in a picture that contain a particular sound.

• Have students find things in a picture with a certain number of syllables or a certain stress pattern.

• Practice intonation by having students ask and answer questions about a picture.

• Use the picture as the basis for a dialog or story containing the sounds, stress patterns, or intonation patterns you’ve been practicing.

Pronunciation scavenger hunt. Ask students to look for words with a particular sound, number of syllables, or stress pattern, either using real objects in the classroom or nearby or objects in pictures.

Visual aids and gadgets. VIDEO, handout from CATESOL. Giant teeth, sagittal section diagrams, etc. can help students see and understand how to pronounce sounds. Gadgets like straws, rubber bands, and feathers can help them improve their pronunciation. (See the handout “Toys for Pronunciation.”)

Phonemic symbols and other visual representations for sounds. Some teachers and students like to use phonemic symbols to represent sounds (usually some version of IPA); others hate it. Phonemic symbols can provide a “hook” to connect a sound to and keep all those weird new sounds from seeming like an amorphous, confusing mass, and are especially helpful for visual learners. Other students are just confused by the symbols, especially if they’re just learning the English alphabet. Used judiciously, phonemic symbols can be helpful, especially for sounds that don’t have a consistent spelling in English.

You can also represent sounds visually in other way, by linking them to a color, shape, or image. Some teachers use gestures to represent sounds and remind students of how they’re pronounced. (There’s an interesting book called Pronouncercizing by Millicent Alexander that introduces body movements to represent phonemes. It’s available from New Readers Press: http://www.newreaderspress.com/Items.aspx?hierId=0450.)

Several websites have short videos giving explanations of how to produce sounds. Check the quality of the video contents carefully before you use it in class. Some look good at first glance, but are actually inaccurate or misleading. Links to some of these websites are on http://teachingpronunciation.pbworks.com Resources for Teaching Pronunciation.

Communicative activities. Many of the activities you use for speaking practice can also provide good pronunciation practice if you choose topics and vocabulary carefully. Just sprinkle them with words that require students to produce the sounds or other aspects of pronunciation that you’re practicing. For example, you can use: EXAMPLES, VIDEO?

• Info gaps

• Role plays

• Describing or telling stories about pictures

• Describing or working with maps, menus, diagrams, tables, or other information

New vocabulary. When you teach new vocabulary words, make sure students can pronounce them. Have them repeat after you a few times. Ask students to listen and tell you how many syllables the word has, where the stress is, what letters in the spelling are silent, etc.

Teacher dictations. Prepare several short sentences using the pronunciation points you’re practicing. Dictate them in a natural way of speaking and have students write what they hear. Check together. Then ask students which words or sounds caused them trouble (or have them tell a partner). Go over the problem words, discussing why they were hard to hear or why they might have sounded like different words. (Why did “I saw them” sound like “I saw him”? Why did someone write “50 dollars” instead of “15 dollars”?) This can be a good starting point for pronunciation discussions because it shows students the gaps in their hearing or understanding.

Partner dictations. Prepare two sets of three or four sentences using the pronunciation points you’re practicing. Label them A and B. With students in pairs, give the A sentences to one partner and the B sentences to the other. Students take turns dictating their sentences to their partner and writing the sentences their partner dictates. You can also have students write their own sentences for dictation. EXAMPLES

Sorting activities. Make a list of words for students to sort in some way: By initial sound, vowel sound, way of pronouncing –s or –ed endings, etc. Include boxes on the handouts for students to write words from different groups. EXAMPLES

Tongue twisters. These are lots of fun, but use them sensibly. Avoid sentences that contain obscure vocabulary or ones that don’t make sense. Students should be able to understand what they’re saying. And don’t make the tongue twisters too difficult! Even you would have trouble saying “The sixth sheik’s sixth sheep’s sick,” so how can you expect your students to say it? A challenge is fun; something that’s impossibly difficult is not.

Jokes and riddles. Have students practice reading jokes aloud and telling them to each other. Emphasize pausing and intonation to make the jokes effective. (The hardest part here is finding jokes that will make sense to students. Sometimes humor in another language just doesn’t make sense, so choose carefully.)

Poems, children’s rhymes, or limericks can be good for practicing sounds, rhythm, and intonation. Choose something that fits your students’ interests and level. If Jazz Chants fit your style, they can be good practice too. 


Songs are great for pronunciation practice if your students like to sing. Choose a song that they’ll enjoy singing. YouTube has videos of lots of popular songs with lyrics.

Games. Common games like Bingo, dominoes, or tic-tac-toe, or card games like Go Fish can be adapted for pronunciation practice. I’ve also got a pronunciation review board game that’s been fun. Try these sources:

• 15 Top Fun Pronunciation Games:

http://edition.tefl.net/ideas/pronunciation/top-fun-pronunciation-games/

• Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock, Cambridge University Press.

• Primary Pronunciation Box by Caroline Nixon and Michael Tomlinson, Cambridge University Press.

How to conduct an activity. Giving instructions clearly.


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