Communicative Activities for Teaching Pronunciation
Teaching and practicing pronunciation can be very challenging. It can also be uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing. That's why many teachers and students avoid it. We will address some ways to make it more engaging and fun for advanced learners of English.
Last week, we talked about the steps to take when teaching pronunciation to intermediate to advanced students of English. As a quick review:
1. Weakening of unstressed vowels
2. Word stress
3. Thought Groups
4. Sentence Stress
5. Intonation Patterns
Of course, you can work on minimal pairs and specific word pronunciation at any time if needed, but this will not greatly affect intelligibility. The goal in teaching pronunciation is to help our students pronounce intelligibly in real-life communication. The steps to achieve this are generally in the following order:
1. Learning to identify a sound when a native speaker produces it. (passive)
2. Learning to produce the sound when the learner is focused on pronunciation.
3. Mastering the sound or pattern when the learner’s attention is focused on meaning. (Prator, Jr. and Robinett)
Steps one and two comprise the bulk of activities in most English as a Second Language pronunciation classrooms. What can teachers do to offer more communicative pronunciation practice for our students?
1. Recite poems – Most poems have sentence stress inherently built in. You can really feel the rhythm of the language when reciting a poem. A great one for this is “Sea Fever” by John Masefield.
Find one that is an appropriate level for your students. Many poems also rhyme, which enhances vowel and word stress.
2. Telling a joke – To tell a good joke, one must master timing. This is great for pausing in thought groups as well as intonation patterns.
3. Acting/Drama – Students can memorize short dialogues, which include minimal pairs or specific sounds.
4. Reading + Follow Up Discussion – Give students a text targeting specific sounds. For example, a text about different types of therapy or the theater to practice / th / or a text about the weather to practice /w/.
5. Be creative! Come up with topics and a word list containing the sounds or intonation patterns to practice and have students ask and answer questions about it.
To reduce students’ self-consciousness, small groups are great! The teacher can join and facilitate in a less threatening way. Tell stories of your own pronunciation gaffs! I’ve got plenty in French and Arabic! Laughter is a great medicine for inhibition. Try blind-folding students so no one can see each other. I, personally, have never attempted it in the pronunciation classroom. If you try it, let me know if it works!
Prator, Jr., Clifford H. and Betty Wallace Robinett. Manual of American English Pronunciation. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1985.