‘I meant what I said and I said what I meant.’ Dr Seuss
How many of our students worry that they’ve put the wrong sound into a word and ended up saying the wrong thing altogether? And how many of them don’t worry enough about using polite intonation and end up sounding rude??
When I ask my students what they want to focus on during a course, often the answer is ‘Pronunciation!’, which in itself, is a bit of a tongue twister! They say they want me to correct them all the time but students always say that and it’s possibly not the best way to help them reach a balance of intelligibility and appropriacy without feeling overly self conscious about having an ‘accent’. If we over-correct they will just lose confidence about their ability to say anything at all. We all have an accent – even native speakers don’t all speak the same way but we all (usually!) understand each other and almost nobody speaks like the Queen…
One piece of advice I have given my students is to get a graded reader that comes with a recording and ask them to read the book while sometimes listening to the recording. Then for one paragraph in every chapter, I ask them to read and listen and then read the paragraph aloud and record themselves and then listen to themselves and compare that with the recording on the CD. This is a very easy solution but your students might need some help with it to start with.
In Touchstone Online there are similar activities that are the same idea but a bit more high tech and is also more relevant to their current studies. The ability to record is already built in so students don’t need to go looking for recording equipment and the pronunciation work is built into contexts that students are studying for language work already like this activity where students can participate in a role play type exercise based on the language and situation they have covered in the unit.
As a lot of Touchstone work is to be done online and alone, students can’t be corrected by the teacher even if they wanted to. So how can they use the online course material to help them instead? Sometimes students can hear that what they are saying is not the same as what they hear on the recording but they don’t know how to fix it so you need to help to break it down for them.
Train your learners to recognise patterns in pronunciation beginning with simple exercises. For example, play 2 sentences and ask them to tell you if they are the same or different. Ask what is different between them. (the words or context or maybe one is a question and the other isn’t) Then play the same sentence uttered by different people and ask them to say if they are the same or different. Again ask what is different between them. (e.g. man/woman’s voice or maybe one speaker is angry and the other is calm) Then play the same sentence spoken by a native speaker and a non-native speaker. Ask what is the difference between them. (Any number of things!) Do this type of exercise regularly but in small doses. Next, ask them if they think they are more like the first or the second speaker and why. Then ask them to record themselves, listen to eachothers’ recordings and say whether their peers sound more like the first or second speaker and why. As with all peer evaluation activities, this helps raise awareness of what they say themselves and helps them to look at or listen to their own output more critically – and hopefully in a constructive way!
Do these types of exercises regularly so students get used to having to evaluate the sounds and intonation patterns made by others. Vary it so that sometimes you are looking at individual sounds and sometimes you are thinking about sequences so that over time students build up a variety of parameters to use when evaluating their own language. Then when they record themselves, ask them to think about what they hear themselves saying in the ways you’ve trained them to use in class. You could even give them a short self evaluation sheet if they are really struggling with yes/no questions to help them identify areas they need to work on.
If you have any favourite activities for training students to improve their own pronunciation, please share them with us!