Webinar – Pronunciation – 2016 January

Thank you!

Firstly, thank you to those home tutors who attended this first webinar of 2016. We talked a little about ‘keeping your Teacher Profile alive’, namely adding the five excursions to your profile page. If you haven’t done that yet and would like to do so, please contact us.

pronunciationThe main topic of the afternoon, however, was discussing some different aspects of pronunciation and how to practise these in the home tuition context.

Do students value pronunciation practice? Yes!

I had wondered whether students would generally not be so interested in pronunciation practice over short (1-2 weeks) home tuition courses but the feedback from teachers is that they really do want that. It is a chance for them to fine tune their pronunciation – a chance they might not have so easily in their home country.

What to practice?

The British Council love to see theipa Phonemic Chart displayed. If you don’t already know your way around one of these, I would recommend you should know what all the symbols mean, even if you don’t feel confident writing or transcribing yet.

The phonemic chart is designed such that the monophthongs are on the top left, the diphthongs on the top right and the consonants across the bottom.

Vowels are arranged by mouth position: left to right is ‘front of mouth‘ to ‘back of mouth‘, top to bottom is ‘tongue high, jaw high‘ to ‘tongue low, jaw low‘. You can check the sounds

  • from top left to bottom left: beat, bet, bat;  read, red, rad;  fees, fez, faz (the words don’t need to be ‘real’ words in order to make the sounds)
  • from top left to top right: beat, bit, put, boot;  feet, fit, foot, lute.

Minimal pairsminimal pairs

Minimal pairs are the simplest way to practice pronunciation, contrasting two similar sounds in order to differentiate between them. Here is an example of four pairs of words, one set of four contrasts the short /i/ and the long /i:/, the other contrasts the unvoiced /g/ and the voiced /k/. Minimal pairs are fairly easy to invent quickly and can be done in different ways e.g. T-S, S-T, spoken, whispered, spoken silently (to notice mouth shapes).

Intrusion and Elision

Intrusion is when an extra sound appears between two sounds. Elision is when a sound disappears between two other sounds.

There are three common intrusive sounds:

  • /r/ – “I saw a spider.” The /r/ comes between ‘saw’ and ‘a’, sounding like ‘sora’ /sɔrə/
  • /j/ – “I am” sounds like ‘I yam’ /aɪjæm/
  • /w/ – “No eggs.” sounds like ‘no weggs’ /nəʊwegs/elision

See if you can notice any intrusion or elision in the short phrases above. If you’re not sure, try saying them really slowly.

Weak forms

Many common words (not only these below) have both strong forms and weak forms in their pronunciation. weak formsIf you’re not sure what a weak form is, notice the difference ways you might pronounce the ‘have’ in the question “Have you got one?” if you say each word slowly and individually compared to faster, more fluent speech.  Teach students these different forms and drill them carefully in short phrases.

Word stress and sentence stress

Word stress means the stress patterns within individual words.Sentence stress means which syllables/words are stressed over a whole sentence.

Word stress is usually fairly straightforward. Consider how you might teach the correct word stress pronunciation of the word ‘important’. It’s a convention to put an apostrophe in front of the stressed syllable. Compare ‘important, im’portant, impor’tant. The second is correct, the first sounds like impotent and might get a person into trouble. “Good morning sir, nice to meet you. You have made an ‘important contribution.”

Luke I am your fatherSentence stress can make a big difference to meaning. What are the answers to these questions?

  • (Darth Vader tries to get Luke’s attention.)
  • Is that other guy my father?
  • Are you really my father?
  • Are you someone else’s father?
  • Are you my mother?

(No,) Luke, I am your father.


English is said to be a stress-timed language. As examples, Japanese, Spanish and French are said to be syllable-timed languages. Being a stress-timed language implies that the stressed (e.g. louder, clearer, higher pitch) words in a sentence will occur in a regular-ish kind of beat rhythm, often coming in pairs.rhythm
Consider the phrase “Walk down the path to the end of the canal.” Hopefully you’ll find that you put the first pair of stresses on ‘walk’ and ‘path’ and the second pair of stresses on ‘end’ and ‘canal’. Rhythm is a fairly subtle point! One way to notice rhythm is natural speech is to turn down the radio or tv to the point where you can’t hear most of the filler words and you can only hear the stressed words.

Students appreciate work on pronunciation

The take-away message is that students do appreciate the time taken on distinguishing sounds. Drilling can make for a wonderful change of pace. A 5-minute drilling session when you’re practising a weak form in “Do you like…?” /dʒəlaɪk/ can be really illuminating for a student and make a good change of pace if the conversation seems to be stagnating.

Learn the basics of the phonemic alphabet. It impresses students and BC inspectors.

Have fun with sounds!

Further reading

Alan Underhill – Sound Foundations

Michael Swan – Learner English

Ship or Sheep” and “Tree or Three”

Pronunciation games’ – Hancock, http://hancockmcdonald.com. On this website there are some brilliant ideas for helping students with pronunciation – e.g. the ‘word blender’ activity: http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/word-blender and the ‘wrong lyrics’: http://hancockmcdonald.com/materials/wrong-lyrics-3.

CBBC Newsround – this is an informal presentation of the news and is presented by a number of different presenters with a wide variety of accents. Each broadcast is only about 5 minutes long and I ask students to listen for gist initially, then feedback orally, then we listen again for further detail and analyse what is actually said, sometimes even transcribing a small part either in a spoken or written way.

This entry was posted in Cultural awareness, Lesson ideas and examples, Useful resources, Webinars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply