HomeReading, Writing, Listening, & SpeakingFour reasons you don’t need to feel worried about teaching English pronunciation.

Four reasons you don’t need to feel worried about teaching English pronunciation.




Robin Walker and Gemma Archer respond to common worries teachers have about pronunciation and offer practical solutions to improve your teaching.
Over the years, both as teachers and trainers, we’ve noticed the clear interest that most English teachers feel for pronunciation. At the same time, we have also observed that teaching English pronunciation can make far too many colleagues feel anxious. The interest teachers show can only be commended, given the central role pronunciation plays in learning English successfully. Anxiety, on the other hand, needs to be dealt with every time it occurs.
To this end, in these two blog posts, we want to respond to some of the most frequent worries expressed by teachers who have attended our courses and workshops in the UK, Spain, and around the world. We’re going to lead by responding to four comments that are all too familiar to us, and that tie into the contents of our new book, Teaching English Pronunciation for a Global World. In the second blog, we will pick up on one or two more. In this way, we hope to pre-empt unnecessary anxiety where possible or reduce anxiety where it has already set in.
1) “When my pronunciation isn’t that good, it’s really hard to have the confidence to work on pronunciation in class.”
It is easy for teachers to think that their pronunciation isn’t good, if by ‘good’ they mean that they don’t have a standard, native–speaker accent.  Of course, the vast majority of teachers around the world, both nonnative-speaker and native-speaker with regional accents, do not have a standard English accent. Sadly, this anxiety about accent all too often leads teachers to avoid pronunciation.
But worrying about having a standard accent ignores the fact that today pronunciation teaching is primarily about being intelligible to other users of English, rather than sounding like a native speaker. This intelligibility focus is supported explicitly by the Council of Europe in its 2019 update to the Common European Framework of Reference. It is also the benchmark for all of the major English language exam boards, whose performance descriptors refer exclusively to intelligibility, and never to native-speakerness.
 In this respect, any teacher, native speaker or non-native speaker, that successfully uses their English for international communication, is clearly intelligible. This teacher, then, whatever their accent, has good pronunciation, and is very well placed to teach English pronunciation to their students.
2) “My students’ mother tongue pronunciation really gets in the way of their attempts to pronounce things well in English.”
It is easy to see how our students’ mother-tongue can be an obstacle to good pronunciation in English. But that does not mean that the first language is always going to be a problem. In fact, if used intelligently, it can be an invaluable resource. For example, some languages have the sound /f/ but not the sound /v/. Now the only difference between them is the voicing with /v/, so if we get our learners to add voicing to /f/, which is a sound from their mother tongue, then they are making the English sound /v/.
In addition, most languages have English sounds that are ‘hidden away’ in common words. The /?/ sound in words like thing or strong is not a phoneme in many languages but does occur in these same languages whenever /n/ is followed /k/ or /g/. This is the case with the ‘n’ in the French word dingue (crazy), in the Polish word tankowac (to fill the petrol tank), or in the Spanish word tengo (I have). In short, we shouldn’t evict the mother tongue from the classroom. It’s far too useful to be left outside.
3) “My students have access to so many pronunciation apps via the internet that I feel that it’s a waste of time to work on pronunciation in class time.”
There are two issues we need to remember here.  The first is that pronunciation is a skill. We know from the world of sport, that skills are acquired in various stages, and that in the early stages a qualified trainer is critical for success. If you try to teach yourself to play tennis, for example, then any incorrect technique that you acquire because of the lack of guidance, will be very hard to eradicate later.
The same is true for learning pronunciation, where the qualified trainer is the teacher. The second issue with apps is that they are not all of the same quality. Good apps, for example, give learners the freedom to choose what to study, in what order, where and at what pace. They provide clear instructions about what the user has to do, and give immediate feedback and individualised, guided correction. Measuring a new app against these features allows us as teachers to guide our students towards the apps that are best suited to their particular needs.
4) “When I tell them we’re going to do a pronunciation lesson, some of my students switch off, and others seem to lose interest after the first quarter of an hour.”
Pronunciation is different to the other aspects of learning English. Rather than being something you do for its own sake, pronunciation is something that helps learners to do other things – to speak fluently, to listen and understand effectively, to learn vocabulary more easily, and so on. Because of this, it is generally not a good idea to dedicate a whole lesson to pronunciation. Usually, it is better to integrate it into parts of a lesson aimed at other skills or language knowledge.
Before an oral activity, for example, make sure your students can comfortably pronounce the key vocabulary or language structures. Similarly, as you introduce new vocabulary, spend five minutes on its pronunciation. Surprisingly, research suggests that reading also benefits from knowing the pronunciation of the words in the text, so a spot of pronunciation work before doing a reading passage can be very helpful. The same is true for listening. In short, rather than dedicating a whole lesson to pronunciation, it is more effective and more motivating to integrate pronunciation practice into lessons focusing on other things.
Final thoughts:
Do you recognise yourself in any of the comments in this first blog? If you do, we hope that what we say both here and in Teaching English Pronunciation for a Global World, will help you to see that your anxieties are understandable, but misplaced. Any teacher whose English is intelligible is well placed to teach pronunciation, regardless of their accent. Pronunciation apps are really useful, but teachers are critical to making sure they are used effectively. Pronunciation is best integrated into work on other aspects of learning English. Your students’ first language can help as much as hinder, or even more so.
If you want more great tips to help you teach pronunciation effectively, you can register for a sample chapter from our book.
You can also look out for our second blog, where we will explore some other aspects of teaching pronunciation that can create unnecessary anxiety.

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