Teaching pronunciation

Teaching pronunciation is often overlooked in our field and the main reason I find is that it can be a bit daunting, not only for teachers to master it (in order to teach it), but also for students to grasp it, especially students who are beginners.

However, is it really, daunting? Alternatively, the question would be: does it have to be this way?
I oftentimes find myself teaching the correct pronunciation of “basic” or “well-known” words to advanced students (who have been in contact with the language for at least 8 years) and I still get the famous “ohhhh, really?” or “Are you sure it is this way, teacher?”.
In order to draw a better picture, I am talking about commonly mispronounced words, such as:
1. Iron /ˈaɪən/ (BrE) or with the /r/ sound /ˈaɪərn/ (most commonly in AmE). This applies for your favourite band: Iron Maiden or the prominent Iron Age. Or even pig iron (a form of iron that is not pure).
2. Money, monkey and company /ˈmʌnɪ/, /ˈmʌŋkɪ/ and /ˈkʌmpənɪ/. If you have a close look at these words the first and last sounds are the same: /ʌ/ and / ɪ/. The letter “o” is pronounced as “uh” and the letters “k + e + y”, often pronounced as you read them “kei” is actually pronounced as “ki” – see also key: /kiː/ and keyboard: /ˈkiːbɔːd/ or /ˈkiːbɔːrd/.
3. Colour (BrE) or Color (AmE) /ˈkʌlə/ or /ˈkʌlər/. As the latter, the “o” is pronounced “uh” and not “ó”.
4. Course and Curse /kɔːs/, /kɔːrs/ and /kɜːs/, /kɜːrs/. It is a matter of saying the “ou” as “ó” and the “ur” as “uh” (for Brazilians to understand it better).
Here, we end up changing the meaning of the message we want to convey if mispronounced. I always tell my students we must be really careful not to call English a curse. “I have been doing an English /kɔːrs/” (with “ó”) instead of /kɜːrs/ (with “uh”).
5. Students are often surprised to learn that the well-known word: Sandwich (also sarnie /sɑːnɪ/ in informal British English or /sɑːrnɪ/ if you would like to add the /r/ sound) ‘two slices of bread, often spread with butter, with a layer of meat, cheese, etc. between them’, does not have the /d/ sound between /n/ and /w/ – /ˈsænwɪʤ/ in BrE as opposed to /ˈsændwɪʤ/ most often pronounced in AmE.
I believe that proper pronunciation teaching is a pillar to learning the English language properly, especially or mainly to beginner students. This way, we will avoid having advanced students with addictions towards some sounds (as seen above).
Tips for teaching phonemes:
I understand that students’ anxiety might be quite high when seeing these “weird” symbols in a lesson (“I have never seen them before, what is this, now?” – They might think). That is why it is extremely important that the teacher feels comfortable first.
• Be confident and students will as well. Engage them, show them how interesting and important this is, and they will see it as well.
• Start with words that are simpler to read, such as: tomato /təˈmɑːtəʊ/ (BrE) or /təˈmeɪtoʊ/ (AmE); potato /pəˈteɪtəʊ/ (BrE) or /pəˈteɪtoʊ/ (AmE); ten (10) /ten/ ; eight (8) /eɪt/.
• Play games, such as: bingo, running to the board, having words and sounds in different parts of the walls (and/or floors) and matching the words and the sounds.

Kelly,G. (2000) How to Teach Pronunciation. Longman.

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Beatriz Solino de Francisco

Beatriz holds the Cambridge Train the Trainer and the DELTA Mods II and III(Teaching Exam Lessons). She has a Licentiate’s degree in English Language from PUC SP (2007). CPE level of proficiency and she has been teaching for 15 years. She is an Academic and Pedagogic Coordinator. She is currently doing a Company Management MBA at FGV.

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