Practical Teaching Ideas

Teach pronunciation with this 5-step smartphone approach

2014-02-21 12.30.02

How do you teach pronunciation in your language classroom?

At a TED event a couple of years ago I caught myself turning-off whenever one of the presenters had a strong accent. This experience kicked me into gear to start looking for ways I could more effectively teach pronunciation in my language classroom.

This post shares an approach to teaching minimal pairs (MP) which incorporates student’s smartphones. You can find a more detailed description of my work on this component here.

Before you get started, students will have to download the free apps, Pronunciation Power (ProPower) and  Dragon Dictation.

Step 1: Share a list of about 10 minimal pairs. (e.g., rot & lot)

Minimal Pairs demo

Step 2: Practice the sound

Provide a demonstration on how to create the sounds in the list and refer students to ProPower . ProPower will illustrate how students can physically create a specific sound.  In addition, the app shares examples of words containing the sound in question as well as a list of comparative words (e.g., fry & fly). There are also recordings for each of these words, so students are able to model their pronunciation.

Step 3: Performance feedback 1 with voice recorders and video cameras

Ask students to record themselves reading the MP list. Following this step, students should play back their recordings and identify errors or difficulties in performing the desired sounds.

Even better, ask students to record themselves on video. Students can then watch the video to discern whether they are physically creating the sounds correctly.

Step 4: Performance feedback 2 with Dragon Dictation

Share a list of example sentences which include the desired sounds. (e.g., Shirley is a girl‘s name). Moreover, a higher level class could be challenged with a longer piece of text.

Next, ask students to record themselves once more reading these sentences, or ask students to dictate the sentence into Dragon Dictation. Although this voice recognition software is not perfect, students can have fun trying to get Dragon Dictation to produce a text which replicates what they are reading.

Another solution during this stage is to ask students to interact with Siri on the latest iPhones. Students can make a search query similar to the example image above, where I instructed Siri to “define wrist“.

Step 5: Test

Too bookend this activity, I recommend staging a short listening test. In this test the teacher can read one word from each MP and ask students to discern which word you are reading. Teachers could also ask students to complete a short dictation exercise where the teacher reads a couple of sort sentences which include some of the words from the MP list (e.g., Where`s the largest pearl in the world?).

Although I recognise the value in watching a speaker’s mouth to discern the sounds being created, it is also important to focus on students’ listening skills.  To this end, I have have been creating my listening tests in Tellagami. That way I can also expose students to different varieties of English pronunciation.

Screenshot 2014-02-21 13.10.30Once students are familiar with these activities, this short pronunciation component will take only 10~15 minutes of class time. All activities could be performed individually or in this suggested sequence.

Who knows? Maybe one of your students will grace the TED stage in the years to come.

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