Elvira Carralero describes some of her upbeat views on pronunciation following her recent 32 hour pronunciation workshop. Elvira’s bio and contact is at the end.

I would like to share some ideas about the role of pronunciation in language learning now that I have just finished a Pronunciation Workshop based on the Sound Foundations approach.

The pronunciation workshop was held at San Javier Language School, Spain. It lasted 32 hours in which 20 students (levels from B1 to C1) moved from isolated sounds and words to connected speech and storytelling. The last session was a Festival of Stories inspired by Adrian Underhill’s course ‘From Pronunciation to Storytelling’ which I was so lucky to attend in the summer of 2016.

The students’ reaction was positive and even enthusiastic. At the beginning, some of them ‘complained’ for not having being taught ‘these things’ before. By ‘these things’ they meant English sounds and the prosodic features of speech. The Sound Foundations approach also liberated them from their cognitive selves and allowed them to explore the language physically in a much more natural way.

I came up with some personal conclusions:
  • Pronunciation is still hugely neglected in the language classroom. The language learning approach is still mainly based on the written word. New technologies have changed course books into e-books, but the approach remains more or less the same. The start point to learn new input is still based on the written word. However, the natural way of learning a first language is obviously oral as it happens with the vast majority of language exchanges in everyday communication.
  • Finding a place for pronunciation between grammar and vocabulary is not enough. The distinction between grammar and vocabulary has become quite blurred, in the first place. Even though the lexical approach and corpus research have helped to introduce chunks into the classroom, these chunks are still mainly introduced through the written word, which is quite contradictory. I truly believe that any decent approach should start by looking at language as a string of sounds which we need to hear first, and then differentiate and produce. The issue is not how to integrate pronunciation into teaching, but how to integrate our teaching into pronunciation which, in my opinion, is the only way to go.
  • Storytelling is a powerful tool to put all things together (sounds, words, the simplifications of connected speech, rhythm, intonation…). Despite having very different levels, all the students made progress and, most importantly, had fun while learning and delivering their stories.
  • It was amazing to witness how, on the first day, my students were able to impersonate quite well an English speaker talking in Spanish. Even when they sounded very Spanish when speaking English, their impersonations contained a wide repertory of accurate English sounds, decent rhythm and quite proper intonation. That makes me think that instead of ‘teaching’ pronunciation is much more effective to draw attention to our students’ internal knowledge and encourage them to compare and explore the characteristics of both their first and the target language.
  • If something, this workshop has made me want to liberate myself from course books and to explore a whole syllabus based on pronunciation. In fact, that’s what I’ll try to do from this week on in a Drama Club which I have just set up in my school.

Elvira Carralero teaches English at San Javier Language School in Murcia, Spain. She works with students from 16 years old. She has just finished a Workshop on Pronunciation and has started a Drama Club which is currently putting on a play in English. She’s also in charge of a radio project made by students and broadcast on the local radio. She is happy to be contacted at elcarla@telefonica.net by anyone interested in her thoughts and work on pronunciation.