Friday, May 22, 2009

English Pronunciation

Many ESL schools utilize the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to teach and reinforce English pronunciation. My first hand experience teaching Asians English tells me this is not practical. Why?

Ok, first most second Language students from Asia travel to the Philippines or other destination for a limited time. The average stay is 8 weeks. many stay 4 weeks, and a few study abroad for 32 weeks or longer. Secondly, the majority of these students do not know the IPA. So with this in mind, should I spend the time to teach the IPA, or use a direct hands on method to show tongue and mouth positions?

I used to teach remedial speech in middle school in the U.S. The method to get speech impaired students at this level to get proper tongue position is to reinforce correct position through direct interaction using diagrams, animations and most importantly modeling behavior. (Monkey see Monkey do).

Mistakenly many ESL students think pronunciation is solely a speech skill, it is not. It is first a listening skill. If you can't hear it properly, you will never be able to model it or repeat it.

My technique:

At the beginning of each class I use a self made tongue twister to drill my students. First, I have to say we have fun with it, and even in a one on eight class it is effective. Every one gets a turn to say the phrase on the board.

First I model the pronunciation several times, then I introduce any new vocabulary in the sentence. Sometimes I point out homophones and homonyms (words spelled the same or differently, have different meanings, but sound the same; or spelled the same in the latter subset homonym).
Dipththongs and blended letters and words I usually correct and teach as each student takes a turn saying the phrase.

I show them and instruct them on tongue position using my techniques from remediation teaching. I have seen remarkable improvement in the majority of my students within one or two weeks. My students are all adults 20-55, so teaching them pronunciation is exactly like remedial speech instruction, IE: unlearning old habits and replacing with new behaviors.

Term Meaning Spelling Pronunciation
Homonym Different Same Same
Homograph Different Same Same or different
Homophone Different Same or different Same
Heteronym Different Same Different
Polyseme Different but related Same Same or different
Capitonym Different when
Same except for
Same or different

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