Watch your mouth

As I mentioned previously, pronunciation and phonetics are my preferred subject areas; they can be a real challenge for many students, which is why I enjoy thinking of ways to make them more accessible and pleasant to practise. One way in which I do this is to come up with silly sentences and rhymes which use the appropriate sounds. Now, this may sound childish, but students of all ages react to these sentences and tongue twisters, and many even offer up tongue twisters from their own languages. One example that I have used many times, which focuses of a variety of consonant sounds and some intonation, is:

I left this thing in the back of my pack, right?

 Does it make sense? No. Does it need to? Of course not. Make it clear to your students that this is not a grammar exercise, the meaning of the sentences is not important, just the sounds. This particular sentence focuses of the /l/, /r/, /ð/, /θ/, /b/ and /p/ consonant sounds, and looks at the way we raise the pitch of our voices at the end of a sentence to create a question. These particular sounds are very good practise for Arabic speakers, French speakers and speakers of many Asian languages, and getting the class to really emphasise the intonation for the question can be really good fun for all involved.

Just remember, if you don’t mind looking a bit silly, they are less likely to mind risking it. It is also important to be clear that you are not trying to get rid of their accent; it is an important part of their identity, and we’re not training them to be BBC news anchors from the 70s. So if there is a part of their speech which is different, but not incorrect, don’t feel that you have to pounce on it.

My way of dealing with pronunciation relies heavily of having a good rapport with your students, and quite a relaxed classroom atmosphere; but if this is not the case, or doesn’t fit with your particular teaching style, then you can always adapt it to make it work. You could be more serious when you model your mouth shapes, or use diagrams to show them what they need to do, whatever you think will work, but whatever you do, make sure you are patient and supportive and give them a big old-fashioned smile.

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