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Effective teaching: pronunciation

July 15, 2007

Hello again,
I have been discussing with teachers recently what makes effective teaching. We have covered a lot of topics but...

... pronunciation was the area that appears to cause greatest difficulty. It seems we have to keep reinventing the wheel. In discussing pronunciation nobody seemed to have systematically taught the international phonetic alphabet. Yet this is quite simply the most effective way of achieving accurate pronunciation at a stroke.

For English, students need only a fraction of it: the short vowels, long vowels, vowel dipthongs and certain consonant clusters. It can be learnt in a single session and reinforced with enjoyable activities such as those found in Mark Hancock’s Pronunciation Games (CUP).

Typically students mispronounce because of first language interference (e.g. /prI:vaet/ from French speakers) or because they are mislead by spelling. Some of the most frequently used words are the most often mispronounced: says ( /seiz/ instead of /sez/), said ( /seid/ instead of /sed/). Once learners are used to seeing a word first in the IPA and only afterwards as it is spelt, they quickly reproduce accurate sounds.

Knowing the IPA is also a useful long-term learning strategy; it means that students can check the pronunciation of new words in a dictionary and thus gain autonomy over pronunciation.

Teachers can make their own worksheets by downloading an IPA font to their computers from: http://www.phon.ucl.ac.uk/home/wells/fonts.htm/.

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