This is the first in a series of posts that focuses on a useful pronunciation technique I’ve been using a lot recently with my one-to-one students. Keep reading for a simple example (with video!)…
Some quick background
Pronunciation of individual sounds (phonemes) has traditionally been taught in one of two ways:
- Listen and repeat. And again. And again…
- Focus on the articulators: where is your tongue? What position is it in? Is it touching your teeth? Are your lips rounded? etc.
To my mind, the first of these approaches is only useful for about a minute. When the students leave the classroom, the model they had earlier is no longer available so they have nothing to copy.
And while the second approach is much more useful, it can still be somewhat convoluted, requiring diagrams of the mouth and metalanguage which some students (especially at lower levels) have difficulty understanding.
So what’s secret option number 3?
This is an alternative to the techniques above. I call it ‘borrowing‘.
The principle is simple: some sounds may not exist as phonemes in the student’s first language (L1), but they may in fact occur ‘accidentally’ in the L1 in some specific contexts*. As the teacher, you just need to follow 4 very simple steps:
- Find an example of this sound occurring in the student’s L1. (If you don’t speak that language, try looking in Chapter 5 of ‘Teaching the Pronunciation of ELF’ by Robin Walker, which has plenty of useful examples from 9 different L1s.)
- Get the student to pronounce that word in their L1.
- Get the student to isolate the sound you’re trying to focus on.
- Get the student to ‘borrow’ the sound from their L1 into English.
An example from (Mexican) Spanish
This is easier to understand when you see it in practice. So here’s a working example to use with a Spanish-speaking student who has trouble pronouncing the /z/ in the word ‘easy’:
- /z/ is not a phoneme of Spanish. This means many Spanish speakers will use [s] instead when saying English words like ‘zoo’, ‘goes‘ and ‘easy’. But /z/ occurs naturally in Spanish in some words, like ‘desde’ (in English, ‘since’).
- Get the student to say ‘desde’. This should sound roughly like [dezde] (click here to hear examples).
- Get the student to say only the consonant before the second /d/. This is [z]. (Congratulate the student on finding the sound!)
- Now tell them to use this sound in an English word which features /z/.
And here’s a video of this technique in action:
Thanks very much to my wonderful student Mario for his participation in this demonstration!
*In other words, they may exist as allophones.
Walker, R. (2010) Teaching the pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.