One challenge every ESL teacher faces is teaching his or her students correct pronunciation.
The sounds a person instinctively makes have been a part of their brains since they were less than a year old, so it is no surprise that both children and adults have trouble with pronunciation when they study English as a second language. The good news is that you have tools at your disposal, some closer than your finger tips, that can move them closer to perfect English pronunciation. Here are some keys to teaching pronunciation to internationals that I have found the most valuable throughout my years of teaching.
How to Teach Your Students Perfect Pronunciation
Open Your Mouth
An ESL teacher does more than impart knowledge found in a book. An ESL teacher is often a model for culture and society. Your students watch you closely and ask questions about appropriate behavior for their interactions with native speakers. But your students’ observations of you should become even more personal when it comes to modeling pronunciation. Letting your students look at and into your mouth can make the difference as they learn English pronunciation. Because your students’ native languages may not include all the sounds that make up the English language, their bodies may struggle to say particular words even when their brains understand what they should sound like. For your students’ trouble sounds, move your mouth slowly. Describe to your students what muscles you are using and where your lips, teeth and tongue are positioned. Let them look at you up close even though it may feel very strange the first few times you open up to your students. When they see your mouth and how it moves, they will better understand how they have to move their own.
Once your students have looked into your mouth and heard you describe the specific movements that a particular sound involves, it is their turn. If they cannot see their own mouths, though, how will they know if they are getting it right? Investing in a classroom set of handheld mirrors is a move that will pay for itself several times over during your ESL teaching career. When your students see their own mouths as they pronounce English sounds, some mistakes may stand out in the looking glass. Students will be able to see if their mouths are correct when they make troublesome pairs like ‘l’ and ‘r’ or short and long ‘i’ sounds. I have found that some students just do not have an ear for pronunciation, but when they can see their bodies in the mirror and have a visual of their errors, they are able to achieve excellent English pronunciation. Keeping a set available to your students is easy and may make a huge difference in how some students speak.
Press the Red Button
I may date myself by saying I first used tape recorders in my early pronunciation classes, but even though technology has advanced, letting your students listen to themselves remains an important tool for the ESL teacher. We all sound differently in our heads than we do to the people around us, don’t we? ESL students are no exception. Not only can they mishear the tonal qualities of their voices as we all do, but they can also mishear the accuracy of their pronunciation. Though tape recorders may be a thing of the past, today’s technology makes it even easier for students to get empirical feedback on their spoken English. Give your class one to three sentences to dictate that test for a particular pronunciation pattern. Then, have pairs work together to record one another as they speak these sentences aloud. Most students will probably have tools on their cell phones which will enable them to keep and then view a recording of themselves saying the test sentences. Don’t stop there, though, with your movie making. Give your students a chance to record you, up close and personal, saying those same sentences. Then, have them watch your recording and then their own. By comparing their own pronunciation to yours in the test sentences, listening to and watching themselves, they will be able to note the points at which their pronunciation differs from yours. This is a good activity to do on a regular basis – weekly or monthly depending on the length of your class. That way, students can also compare their latter recordings to their earlier ones and see evidence of their improvement overall.
Release Your Inner Linguist
Perhaps it is because I approach English instruction from a linguistics vantage point, but I have always found that my students take well to learning the phonetic alphabet. If you are familiar with the phonetic alphabet, you know it is a system of writing based entirely on the sounds in words. This one alphabet is used to transcribe any spoken language. That may seem like a complicated way of spelling words, but it’s really more than that. English spelling may theoretically be based on the sounds in words, but often one letter will make two, three or more sounds. And alternately, one sound may be spelled a handful of different ways. When your students know and use the phonetic alphabet, it gives them another empirical tool for learning and perfecting their English pronunciation. Then any time you introduce new words into their vocabulary with their phonetic spelling, if they have mastered the phonetic alphabet they will have no trouble pronouncing these new words.
You can use many techniques to help your students perfect their pronunciation. These four essential keys help your students focus on the science of speaking.
When your students have the tools to understand that science including ways to construct and evaluate language, they are sure to be successful in their English pronunciation.
What keys are essential for your pronunciation classes?