My top 10 resources for learning about and teaching pronunciation

Pronunciation has been referred to as “the CINDERELLA of language teaching in that it has been neglected, and become disconnected from other language learning activities” (Underhill, 2010). Yet, it is known to exercise an important influence on all four  language skills, not only speaking: when we read, we “sub-vocalise” words, or hear them in our mind;  when we listen, our awareness of pronunciation will affect what we are able to hear and how the sounds we hear are represented in our mind. When  we write, knowledge of sound-spelling relationships comes into play, as we hear the words internally first. (Hancock, 2013; Underhill, 2010). This all-encompassing element of teaching is the focus of the latest post in my “ELT Top 10’s” series. 

So here we are:

My top 10 resources to help you get Cinderella to that ball! (Click on any picture to be taken directly to the corresponding resource.)

BOOKS:

 

1. Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

This book is fantastic. I came to it with nearly zero knowledge of phonology and little idea of how to teach pronunciation effectively. It revolutionised my approach to teaching pronunciation and reading it marked the beginning of an interest in this element of teaching that continues into the present. It’s written in a way that makes it accessible to anybody, regardless of knowledge level. It is a guided discovery to phonology and pronunciation, and contains a great number of activities that you can do alone to enhance your own understanding, or with your learners to help them develop theirs. There is also a “classroom toolkit” of further activities designed for classroom use. A word to the wise, though, don’t read it in public: it will get you making noises and faces that you may not necessarily want to share with the general public! 😉

2. Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca by Robin Walker

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 08.11.04

Screenshot from Amazon

This book recognises that pronunciation is no longer connected only with native speaker speech and sounds. English has become a globalised language, a lingua franca, and in many contexts learners will use it with fellow non-native speakers rather than native speakers. Have you ever wondered about the practical applications of Jennifer Jenkins’ lingua franca core? Do you know about English as a lingua franca but struggle to see how to apply this in the classroom? Then this book is for you. It also comes with an accompanying audio CD of sample speech from 15 ELF speakers, which you can put to various uses, helped by the book.

3. Pronunciation Games by Mark Hancock

Screenshot from Amazon

Screenshot from Amazon

A collection of games for teaching different aspects of pronunciation, this book is a must-have for any staffroom. The games are divided into three sections: 1. Syllables and stress; 2. Sound awareness; 3. Connected speech. Each game comes with complete instructions and photocopiable materials for you to take into class with you. Why not play the games with a colleague before using them with your students, so that you know what to expect? This book is completely different from Sound Foundations, being materials rather than theory-based, but both remind us that pronunciation need not be dry and dull, and provide us with a way to make it stimulating and engaging.

ONLINE RESOURCES AND ASSOCIATIONS

 

4. The Adrian Underhill online bundle!

 

a. Sounds: the pronunciation app

Screenshot from the Macmillan Sounds app website

Screenshot of the Macmillan Sounds app website

An ELTon award winner in 2012, this wonderful app is aimed at learners of English but can be equally as useful for teachers. You can hear the sounds on the chart, example words with those sounds in them, record&play back your own pronunciation, practice your phonemic spelling (great if you don’t know phonemic script and have embarked on a Delta!) and use a variety of quiz modes to test yourself on what you’ve learnt. It also comes with extra materials such as lesson plans and tips from the brilliant Mr Underhill, himself. (Can be used on both Apple and Android operating systems. Free version with fewer features, paid version at £3.99)

b. Adrian’s Pron Chart Blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill's pron chart blog

Screenshot of Adrian Underhill’s pron chart blog

So you’ve discovered the wonderful pron. chart and now you want to know what to do with it, how to use it with your learners and generally find out more about the marvellous world of pronunciation. This blog would be a good place to start. Here, you can learn all about how to integrate the chart into your lessons and how best to help your learners get their mouths around pronunciation. (Free resource)

c. A youtube video of an Adrian Underhill pronunciation workshop

Screenshot of Adrian's workshop youtube clip

Screenshot of Adrian’s workshop youtube clip

…And if you want to see it all in action, in the flesh, have a watch of this great youtube clip, in which Adrian demonstrates a range of techniques for making pronunciation more physical and visible for learners – and teachers! (Free resource!)

 5. ELF Pronunciation

Screen Shot 2014-06-07 at 09.10.54

Screenshot of the ELF Pronunciation blog

This blog is maintained by Katy Simpson and Laura Patsko – two teachers with an interest in teaching pronunciation to learners who need English as a lingua franca, who won’t be speaking to native speakers in the majority of their interactions. They have come together to create this fantastic resource for other teachers. From non-native speaker models to adaptations of well-known games for learners (so that the games become more ELF-friendly) to information about resources such as BBC Voices, and more, this blog has something for everybody. It’s full of practical, helpful information and materials for taking ELF pronunciation into your classroom, and it’s free! Can’t say fairer than that.

6.  English Communication Global

Screenshot: English Communication Global blog site

Screenshot of English Communication Global 

This is Robin Walker’s site. On it you can find a mixture of great resources e.g. articles, links to books that may be of interest, materials, blog posts – so it is not just the services offered, although these may be of interest to you too e.g. coaching for presentation-giving and INSET training workshops. Well worth having a look!

7. Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

Screenshot of Hancock McDonald English Language Teaching

This website is maintained by Mark Hancock and Annie McDonald, successful speakers and materials writers, and is a pronunciation treasure trove of quality content. You can find talks, materials, activities, blog posts, articles and more, all related to pronunciation and related issues. And, it’s free! So what are you waiting for? Get discovering and experimenting!

8. Teaching English British Council

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

Screenshot of TEBC Pronunciation Articles page

The Teaching English British Council website has a collection of articles relating to pronunciation that would be worth reading if you want to extend your knowledge and understanding in this area. All freely available! If you are interested in English as a Global language, due to the effect this has on pronunciation teaching and, indeed, all other areas of teaching, then don’t forget to have a look also in the research publications section, where you can find The future of English as well as other publications, all freely available to download.

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Screenshot of The British Council phonemic chart

Another interactive phonemic chart, this time by The British Council and freely available to use online, in addition to being downloadable as an app.

9. IATEFL Pron. SIG

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG's website

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG’s website

If you are interested in pronunciation, you might like to think about joining IATEFL’s Pron. SIG. This would connect you with like-minded individuals and entitle you to receive Pron SIG newsletters too. Like other IATEFL SIGs, you can expect webinars and pre-conference events around your area of interest.

The Pron. SIG also have a Facebook page which you can “like” for free:

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Screenshot of IATEFL Pron SIG Facebook Page

Again, this is a great way to connect with others who have a keen interest in all things pronunciation-related and keep up with any new developments in this area of teaching.

10. Online learner dictionaries

 

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary

Screenshot of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

Screenshot of Macmillan Online Dictionary

 

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner's Dictionary

Screenshot of Cambridge Learner’s Dictionary

And finally, let’s not forget the venerable online dictionary. These days, online learner dictionaries, such as those pictured above, are very complex affairs, dealing with the wide range of crucial elements that are involved in “knowing” a word. One very useful element within these dictionaries is the combination of the phonemic spelling provided with each word, with the sound file. So you can see the phonemic script and listen to a recording of the pronunciation. Both of these are usually given in both British English and American English versions. 

As usual, there is no doubt that I have inadvertently omitted some quality resources from this list – so if you have a burning desire to have something (a book, an article, an online resource) added to this collection, please do comment below! 🙂 

References:

Hancock, M. and McDonald, A. (2013)  Adrian Underhill on pronunciation as the Cinderella of ELT published on their blog.

Underhill, A. (2010) Pronunciation – the poor relation? Teaching English British Council website

 

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Helping pre-intermediate learners with listening: focus on weak forms

Introduction

My starting point for this activity was Sandy Millin’s Stepping into the real word: transitioning listening workshop at IATEFL 2014. In particular, it was this section of notes that I made during her workshop [my complete notes for the workshop here]:

Weak forms

“Pronunciation of a word changes when within a sentence. The schwas make a difference – the most important sound? With this sound, it’s difficult to draw the line between pron. and listening. “I wanna be a schwa – it’s never stressed!”

Give students some common grammar words which have strong and weak forms; ask learners to create a sentence using these words or a short story and discuss whether it’s a strong or a weak form as used in that context. Learners have to identify when the sounds will be weak or strong, then try to say them. Trying it out in sentences helps learners to be more confident when they hear it. Not expected to speak like this all the time, just a classroom game to build confidence and ability to recognise sounds.

Get students to race to say sentences as quickly as possible to win a point for their team. Weak forms come out as they try to get the sentences out as fast as they can.”

Counter-intuitively, I used a course book listening for my adaptation of this sequence. It was an interview with Jessica Ennis soon after she won the World Championships. (Of course, since then she has done rather well in London 2012!) There were a couple of reasons for this: Firstly, weak forms were in evidence. The TRB doesn’t say anything about the origins of the recording or how it was made, but it’s clearly at least trying to be authentic and challenge the learners’ listening skills (it’s a purely listening skills focused sequence the recording forms part of). Secondly, I felt that the book didn’t fully exploit the recording in the afore-mentioned sequence – it only had two fairly brief listening activities and a discussion activity attached.

 The sequence I devised, however, could be used with any listening recording –  basically, the sequence fits in after learners have listened to a recording for meaning.  I used a guided discovery approach with the goal of awareness-raising and metacognitive development, as well as the specific focus on weak forms.

Time:

45 minutes

Materials:

A listening recording – authentic or otherwise – where weak forms are in evidence; guided discovery handout (available here). [Handout optional – as long as you had some sample grammar words to display, you could do the whole sequence by feeding in the instructions/questions orally as you go along!]

Procedure:

  • Fold up the handout so that learners can only see the first question:

“What two things do all these words have in common?”

  • Let learners look at the words (a sample collection of grammar words that have weak and strong forms – I took a screen shot from Sandy’s slides, as she had prepared just such a sample using a word cloud creator like Wordle, to save me some time!) and discuss the question together. My learners found this challenging so I gave them some clues to help: “One of the two things is related to the type of word; the other is related to pronunciation“. One of my learners did then say “they are weak forms”, cleverly enough, so I expanded her answer to include that these words have both strong and weak forms, and they are all grammar words and grammar words are often weak unless we want to emphasise them for a specific meaning-related reason.
  • Unfold the handout and get learners to look at the sample collection of grammar words and work in pairs to assign each a strong and weak pronunciation. We did an example together first – also identifying that the strong pronunciation is the dictionary pronunciation but the weak pronunciation is often used when the word is used as part of a sentence, unless the word is being emphasised to express a particular meaning – then they worked in pairs for a few, then we went through some together to see what they had come up with, until one of the learners said “Is it my hearing or do they all change to the same sound?” – cue introduction of the schwa! and me acting a weak, frail, hunched over little person to visualise this friendly, neighbourhood weak sound! – and a bit more discussion, which culminated in them saying that they wanted to hear the weak sounds in conversation. – Which was exactly what I had planned…
  • [If it hasn’t already been discussed within the previous step, ask learners how they think this phenomenon – weak forms – could affect them when they listen to people speak]
  • Direct them to the transcript of whatever recording it is you are using for this sequence, in my case the interview with Jessica Ennis. Get them to work in pairs, look at the grammar words in the transcript and decide if they think those words are pronounced as strong or weak forms. [I let them do it for the first part of the transcript, to get them thinking about the role of those grammar words in the given sentences and the likely resultant pronunciation but then stopped them to move onto the next stage in the sequence, as time was limited. However, I don’t think it’s necessary to do the entire transcript anyway, as it could get a little arduous!]
  • Play the recording again. Get learners to check what they have already discussed and continue the process but as a listening exercise this time, underlining strong forms and/or circling weak forms. Let them compare afterwards and give them the opportunity to ask about any they aren’t sure about.
  • Let them experiment. Ask them to work in pairs (or whatever number suits your recording/class numbers) and read through the transcript aloud together, each taking one of the roles, and using the weak forms they have identified. Encourage them to say the sentences quickly as speed influences pronunciation of weak/strong forms, so by speaking quickly, the weak forms are more likely to occur!
  • Play the recording a final time. This time, learners should mutter along with the transcript, again giving them the opportunity to listen and also feel the pronunciation in their own mouths as they produce. I deliberately did the last two stages in this order, as I felt they’d be more successful with the muttering if they had had the chance to try it out previously and therefore had more familiarity on their side, having thought about the links between meaning and pronunciation of the grammar words. [This shadowing/muttering along with a recording is an activity I picked up during my Delta]

At one point during this sequence of activities the issue of ELF pronunciation was also raised – the learners were wondering about the necessity of speaking like this, as they felt it would be very difficult to [of course], so I said that this depended on their goals: that use of weak forms/stress can make it easier for native speakers to understand, but that if they are speaking to other non-native speakers, then understanding is much easier if you don’t use weak forms. And I also pointed out that whether or not they wanted to speak to native speakers, focusing on weak forms as we had done in this lesson would help with listening, which they fully agreed with.

At the end of the lesson, I asked if it had been useful and the answer was a very heartfelt “YES!” 🙂  Certainly a lot of interesting discussion was generated and the learners appreciated the extra time spent working with the recording and these words that give them so much difficulty in understanding.

I’m planning to adapt the sequence for use with my other pre-intermediate learners [who are lower in the pre-intermediate level] by using it with a notoriously challenging listening that’s coming up in their course book]. With either class, having done the sequence using a course book recording, I’d like to revisit it [not repeat the whole sequence obviously, but apply the concept] with them, using a more authentic recording. I’d also like to extend the concept by devising an activity that gets them to use syntactic and contextual clues to identify weak forms within utterances they have not seen a transcript for.

Thank you, Sandy, for the inspiration! 🙂 (As well as Vandergrift and Goh, 2012 and Field, 2009, of course! – They always influence what I do with teaching listening!)

References:

Field, J. (2009) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge University Press.

Millin, S. (2014) Stepping into the real world: transitioning listening   ( http://sandymillin.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/iatefl2014/ )

Vandergrift, L. and Goh, C. (2012) Teaching and learning second language listening: metacognition in action. Routledge

listen

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