A Big Chapter
Pronunciation is a big chapter for them, as it is for most Spanish speakers in the south of Spain. Those consonants at the end of the words (ng, tch, kt, pt) are so hard to form and their lips, tongue and teeth struggle every time we practise ‘isn’t’, ‘evening’, ‘vegetable’. We recently stepped into the world of the regular past simple ‘-ed’ verbs. Arrived, lived, worked, changed, liked – lots of drilling, bingo games, listen and repeat with and without the CD. The next day, one of the ladies showed up with her front tooth broken. She said she’d been practising the ‘-ed’ past simple endings at home and the filling of this tooth she’d broken years ago came off! So, this is why pronunciation can be dangerous!
Apart from this, correcting pronunciation mistakes has to be done carefully and selectively. Before interrupting a student to correct the way they say ‘comfortable’ (/ˈkʌmp .fə.tə.bl/ or /komfortéibl/), we should really ask ourselves whether their pronunciation would really hinder communication.
A Core Part of the Lesson
I recently attended a seminar in Seville by OUP writer and teacher Robin Walker whose message to teachers was that pronunciation should be a core part of our lesson – as important as teaching grammar, vocabulary, writing and speaking. If a student is not confident on how to pronounce a word, they will not use it. So, correcting and working on students’ pronunciation is essential, but speaking English with a strong accent is not a crime. If your student pronounces ‘aren’t’ /árent/ and not /á:nt/ it’s not the end of the world. However, if you’ve got a student who says /éi/ or /éitʃ/ or even /éiht/ when they’re thinking of the number 8 (like one of my lovely ladies does), then that’s something you need to work on with them and incorporate as one of your main aims in your lesson. How you’ll go about it depends on your class – level, L1, etc. You might for instance want to focus only on difficult numbers and their pronunciation (3, 6, 8, 13, etc.) or on ‘gh/ght’ endings, you might want to do it with a game or your students might ask you to write the phonetics for them or you could create a transcription of your own that your students prefer or understand better.
Activity Ideas for Teaching Pronunciation
Here are some ideas of target language I usually practice with my Spanish students and activities I use to make it into a fun part of the lesson.
- gh/ght words:
enough, laugh, tough, rough
bought, fought, brough, sought, thought, caught, taught
Whenever one of these words comes up in class and I hear a student having trouble pronouncing it, I write up all of these words jumbled up on the board. I ask them in pairs to take a look at the words and say them out loud together, check how confident they feel with their pronunciation. Then, I write the four different sounds on the board: /ʌf/, /ɔːt/, /uː/ and /oʊ/. I ask them to categorise the words according to the sound of ‘(ou)gh(t)’. It’s usually a challenging task with which students sometimes get desperate. But, in the end it’s worth it because they realise how much easier it is to pronounce these words. Students actually make up a much harder pronunciation that the real one, e.g. /bouht/ instead of /bɔːt/ or /kæutʃht/ instead of /kɔːt/. I think it’s important to encourage students to see how easy saying these words really is. Sometimes it’s as easy as asking them to look at your mouth when you pronounce them.
To have a laugh, I drill the words with the whole class. Ask them to concentrate and pronounce the words correctly in unison. I start pointing to words one-by-one, slowly and looking at the students till they pronounce it. The first time, I go through the words in order, then I start pointing randomly and then I might repeatedly point at the same two words 2 or 3 times and then start jumping from one word to another faster and faster until students break out in laughter. J
- ed regular past simple
An old-time classic. I’m sure all of your students have declared how much they hate the regular past simple. It’s true that some of the past simple verbs are tricky (‘changed’), but most of them aren’t. I usually create a powerpoint slide with all the regular past simple verbs and pair up my students. I assign one box for each student. They then take turns calling out a number from their partner’s box (they usually pick the ones that they don’t know how to pronounce) and challenge their partner to pronounce the verb correctly. After a couple of minutes, I either pick verbs myself and check/correct their pronunciation, or ask them to pick the 10 most difficult ones to drill individually and as a class. I go through the voiced/voiceless and –t/-d sound theory, but not too much. I just highlight the importance of pronouncing /id/ only when they should. Of course, how you explain the theory behind the –ed pronunciations depends on what your students need.
A fun activity usually follows: table tennis. I ask them if they like playing table tennis and to get ready to play. In pairs (different than before if possible), Student A calls out the infinitive of a regular verb, Student B calls out the past simple and Student A the past participle. Then it’s Student’s B turn to pick a verb and so on. It’s good practice.
Other fun activities which you could do with your class focusing on the above language or any other words that your students have trouble saying (e.g. ‘comfortable’, ‘useful’, ‘road’, etc. go around when your students are doing a speaking activity and take note of all the words they mispronounce. You can use them for all these activities.) are the following:
- Minimal pairs: e.g. ‘sheep – ship’, ‘peach – beach’: write them up on the board or dictate them to the students. Say them and ask students to say ‘a’ or ‘b’ (e.g. ‘a) sheep b) ship), or have students in pairs or small groups take turns to say a word and the others have to listen and point which word their partner is saying.
- Bingo: fast and fun. Students draw a six- or nine- bingo grid. This game works well with regular past simple verbs. Make a list on the board with regular infinitive and past simple verbs. Ask students to copy some in their grid. Call out verbs (make sure you cross them out on your personal list) and wait till someone calls bingo. Check that the winner has crossed out the correct verbs. Then students can take turns calling out the verbs.
- Tonguetwisters: if you’re creative, write up your own tonguetwisters with target words you feel your students need to practise. Make sure it’s fun and encourage students to keep practising at home, record themselves on their phone and listen to check for mistakes.
Written by Katie Foufouti
Katie Foufouti is a highly experienced ESL teacher and ELT materials editor currently working in Spain. Her list of clients include Macmillan Education, Cambridge University Press and Signature Manuscripts.