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

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Tech for Teach

English Central improves on textbooks

I have a few classes next year of first-year skills classes, speaking and listening, which are pretty standard at many universities with EFL departments. I have not taught first years for a long time, so first I sat down to look through catalogs at the textbooks available. Then I backed up. I wrote down what I thought a first-year university student would need most. What could I offer that others could not? My list was short. I’ve learned to keep plans simple. I came down with 4 things.

  • Pronunciation should be good enough to be understood, and good enough not to be distracting. Continue the fight against katakana English.
  • Learning new vocabulary. This means (do I have to say it?) well enough to be able to use it. The meta-skill: students need to develop their own method or process.
  • Learning how and when to ask questions. (Answer: almost all the time and any place.)
  • Learn how to tell a story. This is much broader than just language, but brings out a lot of language in the process.

I’ve been using English Central as an add-on in class, one element, a kind of supplemental homework for students for the last 2 years. A quick look through the textbook list again, and I realized. I can make English Central my new textbook.


It covers listening comprehension, but excels at pronunciation practice. I find that students find most pronunciation software too difficult or frustrating, where mine now find English Central a challenge. Part of this is linking it to video, but it also has something to do with how the software and evaluation are set up (win points!).

The vocabulary section of English Central provides a nice example structure on how to work with new vocabulary and re-encounter it in new situations. The different curricula within English Central helps with this. 


Questions I can work on in class, on my own. Can’t let English Central do all the work. But storytelling is also a good fit to English Central, where students can get hundreds of examples of good short “stories”. I can even construct a course by selecting the videos I want. Perfect.

Add to that the many different ways I can monitor student practice, and you have something you can build a course around with a lab sessions, with a gradebook, which all add up to a lot more than a textbook. For about the same price.

I will let you know how it is going once I get started in April.

Tech for Teach

There is still a need to Speak Correctly

Speak Correctly English Spanish

Recently I reviewed Rosetta Stone’s new mobile app, and questioned some of the philosophy behind its operational design. You can read that review here. In relation to my criticism, I thought I would take a moment to comment on where I think we should be with regard to language learning software, and identify what appears to be an unnecessary gap in our current CALL, or as it would be MALL, environment.

Being that we currently have built into most smartphone OS a text-to-speech (TTS) application programming interface (API), it seems to me using this technology for language learning should be a given, but unfortunately it is not.  As my recent disappointment with Rosetta Stone detailed, even major players do not seem to be taking advantage of this amazing technology.

Continue reading “There is still a need to Speak Correctly”