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Rising to the pronunciation challenge together!

What comes to your mind when you think of teaching English pronunciation? Listen, identify, discriminate, and repeat? Pronunciation boxes? Minimal pairs? Accents? Intelligibility? Having had the chance to study some aspects of English pronunciation and to develop several meaningful activities together with my students, I would say the key word is integration. Pronunciation does matter, and it is everywhere. Therefore, it is crucial to effectively integrate pronunciation into our classes.

Well, for different reasons, rarely do we see teachers going beyond the so-called ‘pron-slots’. To be honest, I used to do the same. The need to cover the syllabus, pressured for time, a tight schedule ([ˈʃedʒ.uːl] or [ˈskedʒ.uːl]? 😊), lack of confidence about their own pronunciation, and so on. Anyway, the truth is that most of the time teachers tend to prioritize grammar, vocabulary, colocation, context and meaning.

So, how can we balance all these things and at the same time integrate pronunciation into our classes? To begin with, we should not work on English pronunciation only when there is a pronunciation box/activity in that specific lesson. First[JG1] , if there is a pronunciation box, you can try to go beyond that. For instance, by bringing more examples, exposing students to different accents, familiarizing students with some phonemic symbols -even if it is at least for reference-, clarifying the meaning of fluency, and making students aware of the importance of intelligibility. Also, I must mention that it is possible to explore pronunciation activities even with basic levels and young students, not only with advanced and older ones. 

Second, even if there is not a pronunciation box in your teaching resources, teachers might take the opportunity to put into practice the suggestions mentioned above and, at the same time, work with some possible sounds that students have been struggling with in the lesson that is being presented. For example, imagine if you are presenting vocabulary and notice that students are having difficulties with some words. On the one hand, you can call students’ attention to these sounds immediately by bringing more examples of other words with the same sound or, if this is the case, by showing students that they can find some of these sounds in their own language (L1). 

On the other hand, teachers might pay attention to the English sounds that students find more challenging and come up with an activity to practice these sounds on the following class. Teachers could bring the same words from the previous class now phonetically transcribed and then invite students to guess the words. Later, focus on the consonant or vowel sounds according to student’s needs. Finally, challenge students to discover other words with the same sounds. Of course, these suggestions may be adapted, the idea is that they could work as a kick-start.

Either face-to-face or online, it is possible to make the most of the time spent with developing pronunciation activities together with students. Nowadays, with all the tools available online, it is a wholesome experience. I have already used Genially to practice minimal pairs while working with the long [iː] and short [ɪ], I called it Quiz Time. I have also used Jamboard to practice the alphabet with beginners, such as the Colorful Alphabet. I used an activity Thelma Marques adapted from Adrian Underhill in which, she focusses on vowel sounds and some colours to teach the alphabet in English. In class, I usually use some cards with the letters, the corkboard with the vowel phonemic symbols, and I invite students to build it together, but last year I really appreciated that Viviane Biasini adapted the activity on Jamboard and shared it with me. It is terrific!

Moreover, I believe YouEnglish is truly useful and helpful when it comes to expose students to a variety of accents and to explore the language in different contexts. Besides, I really enjoy  IDEA (The International Dialects of English Archive), an archive of primary-source recordings of English-language dialects and accents as heard around the world. Likewise, I have already worked with a video since the beginning of 2020 in which people from around the world unite to share their hopes and fears concerning life in lockdown. I like to refer to this part of the class as Englishes Time!

It is fascinating to see some students’ reaction when they listen to other accents, although some students still insist on speaking like a native speaker of English. This reminds me of an interview I saw once with David Crystal in which he said, “So as long as you are intelligible and clear, retain your identity.”, I could not agree more and I would add that we should treat our mother tongue as an ally, not an enemy. And I do believe teachers and students must be aware of that.

One of John Wells’s (2005) prioritizing recommendations for the teaching of English pronunciation in an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) context is to concentrate on the matters that most impede intelligibility; while encouraging fluency and confidence. That is why I thought of making pronunciation more appealing and useful to students from different levels through activities in which they will have the chance to learn and practice some critical sounds in English and feel more confident about it. 

To sum up, teaching pronunciation is all about finding a balance and integrating skills in a way that teachers and students feel more comfortable and confident about their own pronunciation, and are able to rise to the challenge together!

Carol Gonçalves 

Coordinator of BRAZ-TESOL Pronunciation SIG

References

CRYSTAL, David. “A question of accent”. (2013, September). Retrieved from http://www.davidcrystal.com/?fileid=-5158

UNDERHILL, Adrian. Sound Foundations. Macmillan, 2005

WALKER, Robin. Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford University Press, 2010

WELLS, John. “Goals in teaching pronunciation”. by K. Dziubalska-Kołaczyk, J. Przedlacka–Bern: Peter Lang, p. 251-292, 2005. 

https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2020/04/09/life-in-lockdown-around-the-globe-coronavirus-lc-lon-orig.cnn (Accessed on July 3rd, 2021)

https://www.dialectsarchive.com/ (Accessed on July 3rd, 2021)

https://bit.ly/fistorfeast (Accessed on July 3rd, 2021) 


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