Another question raised by a teacher on the online Trinity Diploma at Oxford TEFL.
I’ve been reading Kelly’s book How to Teach Pronunciation and I have also watched and read some of your material. It seems to me that Kelly’s suggestion is to deal with the sounds and the chart little by little, while your suggestion is to work with the whole chart. What are the pros and cons of both approaches? (Ana C.)

Thanks for your question Ana. This is a really good one, and there is plenty of room for different views here. But this is my view, dividing it into pros and cons, according to your question.

Doing sounds one at a time / little by little

Pros: I suppose this is the same idea as used for Grammar and Vocabulary teaching where you learn one thing and then add another and slowly build up the whole picture by addition. In other words you sequence the material. This enables you to know where you are, see what’s coming next, predict and control content, and enjoy the benefits of legitimate postponement of things scheduled for later. It might also offer a sense of a making progress as individual items get ‘covered’ and ‘ticked off’.

Cons: Such an approach may apply in the case of grammar and but you can’t apply it to sounds because you need all the sounds at once, right from the first lesson. They all need to be in circulation from unit one but a sequential syllabus delays attending properly to many of them, giving learners longer to internalise use and internalise them ‘wrongly’. This suggests the need for something other than a conventional sequential syllabus

Working with the full range of sounds

Pros: This approach recognises two realities: 1) That all the sounds are needed from the very first lesson, therefore you need an approach which acknowledges this and exploits this by allowing you to focus on any sound, moving fluidly and purposefully between them. 2) That all the sounds are interconnected. They all shape and define each other, so that work on one sound benefits other (neighbouring) sounds too. This is especially true of the vowels. To know a vowel you need to keep cross checking with the other vowels since they all define each other. “This sound is what that one next to it isn’t”

This view means that you are learning one system, not 44 sounds. And in a systemic approach all the sounds gradually get better together. “Correctness” emerges as a systems feature.

Cons: To take such an all-at-once holistic approach might require a different way of thinking that allows you to recognise and work on what needs doing rather than following a set menu. And it may require the teacher to develop a different range of interventions. It might also imply that the teacher should not simply expect immediate correctness, but should value benefit to the sound system.

Do you know the big secret of pron?

You can argue that the one-at-a-time approach is unavoidable in the case of grammar and vocabulary, because there is so much of it. It appears to go on forever. But the extraordinary thing about pronunciation is that there is NOT very much of it. There are only 44 sounds of which perhaps half will be close-ish to sounds in the learner’s mother tongue. There are a few things around connected up speech, though that still recycles the same range of sounds, and there is the arch-important feature of stress and unstress and the ‘rhythm’ of English . But … the key rules that a learner needs will fit on a couple of sheets of paper. This is the big and well kept secret – there isn’t much to pron. There is not a lot to do – though it needs a lot of doing! Anyway, I hope the pros and cons bit helps with your question.