A question raised on the online Trinity Diploma at Oxford TEFL.
What tips or techniques can I start to use to hopefully see some quick results and boost my confidence in teaching pronunciation?
Well, luckily – and perhaps unusually – the answer is quite simple: Accept that you don’t know with certainty, and instead explore. Because that’s what the Sts need to do. How to go about that? Find the sounds in your own mouth. That unlocks everything. See what you are doing inside, how the lips, tongue and jaw work together. These are the only three things that move. And there are two things that don’t move, teeth, and palate (hard at the front, getting softer as you go back). Getting to know the territory is not complicated, In fact its simplicity is startling when you see it. It only seems complicated because we do not know it directly, and because we over rely on books which give us knowledge about it. The books can be useful, but cannot substitute for your own direct experience.
The key is proprioception,
The key is proprioception, which you cannot learn from a book. Proprioception is a term from neurology that means your internal sensing (or awareness or ’feeling’) of which muscles we are using and how strongly. You need proprioception when you move any part of your body, but especially when learning a physical skill like knitting, abseiling, a musical instrument, typing or dance. And pronunciation is more like dance than it is like grammar. You, like many of us whether native and non native teachers, may lack confidence teaching pron because we don’t sense what we are doing in our mouths, so pron becomes some vague and wispy thing that happens but we don’t really know how, so you don’t know what to grab onto, so you cant really help your sts, so you don’t really feel confident.
Direct perception of what the muscles are doing.
And all the talk about pron takes us away for the direct internal perception (sensing, ie proprioception) of what the muscles are doing. Once we connect with the muscles and see / feel / sense what they are doing, only then can we get the muscles to do it a bit differently. And since we are sensing the muscles we will also know if they are indeed doing something different. And if they are we will almost certainly hear a difference. And that difference might or might not be quite the new sound we are looking for, but we have GOT BEHIND THE HABIT of the mother tongue set of sounds. We have escaped the grip of the mother tongue set of sounds. As soon as you can begin to do this your sts can start to do it too. I introduce Sts to the four muscle buttons that make all the sounds. But I don’t tell them, I set them up to discover this by working on the first few vowels – which they don’t even have to say correctly – yet. This article should help you get started: and also these 2 x 3 minute videos, Click here then select videos no 7 and no 13,
Exploration in the moment rather than prior certainly
The further good news is that just stopping to see what you are doing in your mouth, when a sound needs working on, and getting your Sts to do the same, can put you and the class into inquiry mode. It’s not about immediately getting to correct, its about seeing what it happening, what are the moving parts, what are the tools to work with, getting to know the territory. As you do this, gradually all results will start to be better grounded, and quicker, and correctness emerges….
Let exploration rather than prior certainly be your basis for confidence….Easier to say that do I know! I hope you’ll have some fun trying this out..
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