What makes pronunciation different from other skill areas?
Learning pronunciation in a new language is different from learning grammar or vocabulary. Each area has its particular challenges, but there is something important to consider about teaching English pronunciation. As children, we learn to distinguish between the sounds that are important in the languages we hear around us, and we spend considerable time learning to make our articulatory muscles create the sounds needed for communicating in those languages.
Imagine going to a dance or yoga class for the first time and having the instructor ask you to stretch your head down to your knees. Could you do it easily? Sometimes we are asking our students to perform equivalent feats when we ask them to pronounce particular sounds in English.
How can teachers help students with pronunciation?
First of all, have fun. Many students are nervous about speaking, and tension in the body affects the articulators.
Give students time to warm up. Follow the example of drama teachers, and have your students stretch their mouths and face as a warm up. Encourage them to make silly sounds and facial expressions. This can release tension and establish a relaxed atmosphere in the class.
Get students moving. Having students use their whole bodies as they practice pronunciation points can help them remember and incorporate the new sounds. If you’re practicing intonation, hand out markers and have students move their arms like conductors to mimic the intonation patterns they are practicing. Have them crouch and stand up at the end of yes/no questions as a way of reinforcing the rising intonation. Get them to stand up and stomp their feet for the stressed words in sentences.
Use props. Sometimes using props and role play can help students feel less self-conscious about pronunciation. Have them pretend to be their favourite English-speaking actors, and perform a dialogue imitating their chosen actors.
Sing. You don’t have to be a talented musician to use music in your classroom. Singing simple songs provides natural pronunciation practice for students, and is something that many people enjoy. Students can use these for practice on their own- many people sing to themselves or their children without even being aware that they are working on their pronunciation.
Use nursery rhymes. While some teachers worry that adult learners may be insulted if they use nursery rhymes in class, these little poems provide a wealth of valuable practice opportunities for students. They are short, easy to remember and have distinction rhythm and rhyming patterns. Some of them also provide interesting cultural information.
Loosening up and having some fun could be just what you and your students need to make progress in pronunciation.
Take an accredited TESOL course with OnTESOL!