Here are three tools to make pronunciation motivating: a thinking tool, a physical tool, and a psychological tool
1.. The thinking tool: The Sound Foundation pronunciation chart
– offers a cognitive/mental understanding of the territory and the pronunciation journey itself
– presents the content in one gestalt, showing the relationship of sounds to each other and to the whole.
– Provides the “whiteboard for pronunciation”, on which sounds can be worked out, exercised, compared, played with, recognised, confused, put into words, taken apart again.
– brings pronunciation effortlessly into every aspect of every lesson without need for materials or interruption.
– has a meaningful layout that tells you HOW and WHERE the sounds are made in the mouth.
To watch a demonstration go here and select videos 2, 3 and 4. Each is less than 3 minutes long.
The physical tool: pronunciation as a physical activity
In the first lesson learners help learners to connect with the muscles that make the pronunciation difference, to locate the internal buttons that trigger the muscle movements. This leads to greater motivation as students discover that they can quickly make a pronunciation difference that they can do and hear. In the first lesson I help them find just FOUR buttons which enable them to get around the mouth and find new positions of articulation. These are:
- Lips (spread/back or rounded/forward)
- Tongue (forward or back)
- Jaw + tongue (up or down)
- Voice (on or off)
To watch a demonstration go here and select videos 6 and 7. Each is only 2 minutes long.
3.. The psychological tool: the psychological atmosphere.
The psychological atmosphere that helps a learner:
– Playfulness towards the topic and the students’ learning
– Think of your lesson as a pronunciation adventure playground
– Curiosity and experimentation valued as much as correctness
– The teacher too learning and facing each learning situation afresh.
To watch a demonstration select video no 9 (it’s less than 3 minutes long)
Make pronunciation motivating! If you’d like watch a one hour teacher training session filmed at Oxford University please click here
Hi Adrian, hi everybody,
having followed Adrian’s suggestions (as much as I could), this term I was very happy with my pronunciation lessons and students seemed to enjoy the lessons… even though they sometimes gave me puzzled looks. What is really difficult is getting them to actually say the sounds aloud, instead of just reading them in their minds. My group was large (30-40) and I could tell some of them were just lip-synching most of the time…
The best thing, however, was that I was very motivated, unlike the previous years, because I was actually learning how to teach something new, using a new approach the students had never experienced before. Yes, I made some mistakes, but the important thing was that I was having fun with them!!!
Now I have a question for Adrian. Last term I attended a course in history of phonetic studies. The teacher told us about a machine invented by phoneticians at the University of Zagreb in the 1920, this machine supposedly corrected wrong pronunciation by recording the learner and then adjusting the frequencies in the recording in order to help the learner hear the mistake and correct it. I don’t know exactly how this worked, but, clearly what lies behind it is the tenet:
“the learner cannot pronounce the sounds he/she cannot hear.”
Now, here comes the question… how do we decide that the problem is in the hearing and not in the articulating? I mean, unless we have some hearing impairment (which should be certified by a doctor) can we say for sure that learners cannot pronounce some different sounds because they cannot hear/perceive them? (as they don’t exist in their own language). The problem is we can only judge by what the learner articulates, the sounds he/she emits. Surely there is some physical component (although I would tend to place it in the mouth rather than the ear) but there are also psychological & cultural ones. I think it is a simplification, the explanation must be much more complicated. What do you think, Adrian? Thanks for your answers and for sharing your insights.
Thanks for your comments Cat. It’s great to hear that you have felt happier with your pron lessons (perhaps your students’ puzzled looks are saying “why is this so much fun….?”) and no accident that you link your own motivation to your learning to teach something new…. I can connect to that in my own teaching: It seems to me that learning is contagious. When one person is really engaged in their learning it can affect others around them, especially when it is the teacher. When you are learning too you are doing what you are asking your students to do: learning! Actually I think it is more difficult to learn from a teacher who is not learning….But if the student is learning the language and the teacher is learning how best to help the student at that moment…. then both are on the same side of the learning fence! Let us know how it goes with your students who don’t say it aloud….
About your question: Many years ago I met a teacher in Geneva who had been involved in experiments with a machine such as you describe. I will try and find out who that was, and what she did. Later on similar if not identical experiments were taken up by the extraordinary scientist, inventor and ear specialist Alfred Tomatis (1920 – 2001). He worked with all sorts of listening and speaking problems in ingenious and entirely original ways. For example he said he helped opera singers to develop the frequencies in their voice by enabling them to hear a fuller range of frequencies using the Electronic Ear that he developed, which did something similar to what you describe: It enhanced frequencies that the ear was not receptive to, for example by doctoring certain frequencies in pieces of classical music. After much listening by the patient it is reported that changes began to take place in both hearing and speaking/singing. You can find more on the web or his books, for example The Conscious Ear or The Ear and Language. This is an interesting line of enquiry.
I’ve been using some of your discovery activities in my teaching & had some fantastic reactions, and results, particularly with lower level students. I recently tried to integrate work on pronunciation with a 1 to 1 advanced class that I teach. Far from embracing it, my student ended up becoming self concious. It was as though she suddenly realised she’d been getting it wrong all these years. Do you have any tips on helping upper intermediate and advanced learners get over this feeling?
Yes, good question. And I suppose that a student who is prone to feeling self conscious may be more likely to do so in the more exposed setting of 1 to 1. My advice to myself here (which may be helpful to others) is to be guided by the student’s learning processes, and indeed to facilitate the student’s learning processes by for example asking her to self assess her performance, her precision, her accuracy, her comprehensibility, her pronunciation, her speed …. and so on, whatever is relevant to the activity. And this way you go with what she notices, and explore her questions, which may gradually become more critical as she gets bolder.
Suppose you record a few sentences of her speaking on a voice recorder or mobile video, and play it back to her and ask her what she notices about her speaking. And you can follow and deepen her self critique and interests, and get her talking about what she notices and you can gradually open up new areas as you do so. This is a great activity on its own, and much easier to do in 1 to 1. It can be fun too to record a bit of conversation between both of you. And then listen, and just chat together about what you hear, and the differences and similarities between your two ways of talking.
An activity I like and also a good way to introduce the pron chart to a class is this: when you have a new item of vocabulary, you probably deal with its meaning, collocation, spelling and usage, and pron, and you can also ask her to say it, to point out the pron on the chart, perhaps to check the pron in the dictionary, and then back to pointing it on the chart. And just deal with what she notices, If you keep doing this you will soon find places to stretch her pronunciation a bit and to point out things she is not noticing. I’d like to know how you get on! I expect other people know this problem too and will have suggestions,