Pronunciation Integration

Since starting my Trinity Dip course earlier this year, pronunciation has definitely become more of a feature in my lessons. Prior to the phonology units, this had been for me (and it would seem the same was true for many of my course mates) a neglected area of teaching. Sure, we did the odd activity focusing on word stress or regular past simple endings, but not every lesson (and maybe not even every week... No need for too much detail here though as I have written about this already in one of my contributions as a Teaching English Associate.)

The main barrier for me for a long time was the view that there had to be such a thing as a 'pronunciation lesson' or a lengthy pronunciation activity. Through the Dip course, I became exposed to ideas for 'pron slots,' just a few minutes in length but fully connected to the target language. I also got many useful ideas for making phonology focal points more interactive for students. In this post, I will briefly share a quick and easy pronunciation activity that really got my B1 teenage learners thinking about the sounds of English.

As part of a review of future forms, I prepared slides with a dialogue including going to, will, present continuous, and present simple:

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We quickly went over the grammar reviewing the uses of the various future forms as we did so. Before we got round to the performance part of the lesson, I showed them a slightly annotated version of the same dialogue:


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Their task was to predict what the underlined parts would sound like before they heard me model it. The great thing about doing it this way is that it encourages the students to actively think about how words link together and how they sound in flowing speech rather than simply asking them to retrospectively (and receptively) identify them.

They, of course, immediately decided the first 'going to' would be heard as 'gonna' /gʌnə/ and that 'want to' would similarly become 'wanna' /wɒnə/. However, the other parts prompted a little more thought. Many pairs initially said the second underlined instance of 'going to' would also be 'gonna' before saying it aloud and realising it didn't sound right. They then figured out for themselves that when part of a prepositional phrase it is pronounced /gəʊɪŋ tə/.

For the other parts, I wanted them to focus on connected speech. They then realised that 'do anything' had a linking /w/ between the words, and 'be at' a linking /j/. They also predicted how the /t/ sounds of 'what' and 'time' would blend together and how the /t/ of 'won't' would disappear. We even got onto some assimilation with the recognition that 'won't be open' would actually be pronounced as /wəʊm biː jəʊpən/ - elision of /t/, assimilation of the remaining /n/ to /m/ and linking /j/ between 'be' and 'open', all covered in the space of a few minutes.

For the remainder of the lesson, we did a disappearing dialogue with those features of connected speech and the target future forms all gradually being removed from the display slide. As I monitored, I was pleased to see that those features of connected speech were being reproduced as they spoke. Finally, they did a text reconstruction in their notebooks, annotating it with phonemic script as they did so.

It was that simple - a short and sweet student-centred predictive activity which got them focused on the sounds of English and showed results in their spoken output later in the lesson. This time, I focused on connected speech. I could just as easily have focused on weak forms, highlighting the articles and prepositions or getting them to predict instances of /ə/ that would come up. Sentence stress would have been another option as would have intonation.

The key thing that has come out of my learning experience on the Dip is that a little and often approach coupled with encouraging the students to analyse the sounds for themselves is what ensures the pron slot really hits the spot. ;-)

Comments

  1. Dave, I have found the ELF core invaluable in deciding which features of pronunciation are most useful to teach to students at different levels. Understanding which elements have the most impact on intelligibility really helped me to avoid some of the pitfalls of teaching pron: eg trying to use native-speaker features of connected speech as a model for non-native speakers. Sometimes, introducing things such as assimilation and elision, weak forms etc actually make non-native English speakers less intelligible, especially if they are communicating with other NNES. At that level (A2/B1) I would focus more on tonic stress and vowel length.

    But I totally agree, it is really important to do pop-up pron tasks in every lesson. The students enjoy them. Recording (if you have that possibility) is really good fun.

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  2. Hi Penny and thanks for your comment. I have done a lot of reading on ELF recently as part of my Trinity Dip course and I think there are a lot of valid points behind it. It is an undeniable fact that most of the English our earners speak will be with other non-native speakers and, of course, basic intelligibility should be the main goal.

    My goal is not to push my students towards 'native-like' pronunciation but rather an understanding of my it all works. Awareness of elision, assimilation and weak forms really helps with listening comprehension, which is especially important for these kids who will have listening tests and who have subject teachers from around the world, all with different accents.

    Awareness of weak forms also helps them realise that people are not always 'speaking too fast' - it's more about the rhythm and the 'unstress'. My teenage learners certainly love the fact that they can now understand the boys from One Direction in interviews more clearly!

    Whatever our focus or aim, the pop-up tasks are the way to go. It's good to break up the lesson with a change of pace and great to recycle those aspects of phonology that we have been focusing on.

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  3. Hi Dave,

    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ll be putting up a post about it on tomorrow’s TeachingEnglish Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for likes and comments.

    Best,
    Ann

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