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Bringing Pronunciation into the Mainstream

Mark McKinnon PronunciationMark is a tutor on our Trinity DipTESOL and Teaching Pronunciation course. At this year’s InnovateELT conference he will present a half day workshop to help teachers develop a range of pronunciation teaching skills and feel much more confident about planning effective lessons which integrate pronunciation. In this blog post he explores ways to bring pronunciation to the mainstream.

If we asked you whether your learners need work on pronunciation and whether you think it should be a central part of learning English, you would probably say, Yes! When we speak to teachers about pronunciation the vast majority still feel unsure about how to do this, however. The reasons? A mix of things: A lack of confidence on how to work with pronunciation, not knowing where to start with it all, not being sure how to plan its inclusion in lessons, are some of the most common reasons we hear. As we say in our blurb for Friday workshops at the InnovateELT conference, not being able to deal effectively with pronunciation is still something teachers feel guilty and concerned about – it is still a little bit of a dirty secret in ELT that this is the case. There is something in the air, however, and we are seeing more and more focus on pronunciation at conferences, in ELT resources and in teacher conversations in staff rooms.

Teaching Pronunciation

During this event we are going to help build confidence and expertise in how we plan for, teach, and correct pronunciation. And, through our session we will help teachers to develop in all sorts of ways so they re-energise and boost their planning and teaching skills. As a materials and teacher’s book writer I also believe that having a good handle on teaching pronunciation is crucial for writing in ELT, so if you are interested in moving into that area, you might find this event useful.

Let’s start at the beginning by exploring the problem of not knowing where to start with pronunciation. This can come from one of two issues; either our learners have so many issues we don’t know which to work with first. Or maybe they are high level learners who already sound pretty good so we are not sure how to tweak the little issues they have with speaking or to help them with ongoing problems they have comprehending English. This mostly comes back to lesson planning and making sure that we consider the meaning, form and sound of the language we are teaching. Or that we are aware of what is causing issues with listening and know how what to do in lessons to help our learners.

To work on the former issue of having too many issues we need to relax and not feel we have to rush things: take things one at a time. As we say in this blog post if we identify and prioritise specific issues which affect intelligibility we can build a supportive cycle of tasks which integrate work on pronunciation so learners really hear, feel and see the improvement. A big part of this is working on the physicality of pronunciation so in this session we will put you in the learners shoes and get physical with pron! This supportive cycle can also be used to work on listening skills so learners start to be able to identify and understand common chunks of speech, and so not get as distracted when they listen to fast speech, where so often words run together to convert simple bits of language into incomprehensible streams of speech. This task cycle can help you develop an awareness of how to plan better in general, not just for pronunciation so you are really working with language and skills more thoroughly and effectively.

As well as good planning, we need to be able to respond to language and problems generated in lessons. In order to do this the first thing we need is time, then we need skills to react effectively to develop our learner’s language and communication. As with the previous point this comes back to planning and the idea that less is more! When we plan lessons we are often focused on the input we have to get through. This can lead to rushing learning and doing only superficial error correction and not really working with language which emerges. It can also lead to lots of teaching and explaining and not enough practice and use of the language or skills.

If we asked you whether you learn something better when it is at the point of need or when it is presented to you in a pre-planned way and is not an immediate need, you would say at the point of need, wouldn’t you? So, learning how to balance the focus on input and responding to output in lesson planning with Feedback Focused Planning (FFP) will help you to make space and time for this responding to learners’ needs as they arise.

After we make the space to respond to learners’ needs we need the tools to work on language. Teachers often shy away from things like drilling because it doesn’t fit with their teaching style or personality. This is perfectly understandable. However, there is more than one way to drill and in this event we will explore ways we can adjust our position in the class, hand over to the learners more and put them centre stage in pronunciation work. Mobile devices are an excellent way of increasing the repetition of language and we will look at how we can use technology to help learners develop their listening and speaking pronunciation skills. As well as drilling there are other tools we can use such as effective board work, the IPA and the phonemic chart. All together these build a much more diverse and effective toolkit we can draw on in lessons to confidently address pronunciation issues our learners have.

Feedback from our learners show that the majority of them pinpoint pronunciation as an area that they really want to improve. However, they willingly admit that they don’t really know what to do about it; they need teacher guidance. One way of addressing this need is to develop classroom activities that give the learners strategies that they can use outside the classroom throughout the school year and beyond. In this session we would also like to explore motivating ways to help them and you do this.  

Bringing pron out of the fringes and into the mainstream can help us develop a range of teaching skills and feel more confident and equipped to plan, deliver and reflect on lessons we teach and influence our learner’s development in more positive supportive ways.

For your chance to learn more from Mark McKinnon and Nicola Meldrum about how to integrate pronunciation into your classes, join us at the next InnovateELT conference this May 17th and 18th at Oxford TEFL Barcelona. Don’t miss your chance to be part of this amazing event! Tickets can be purchased here.

If you are looking for a course which will increase your level of knowledge and provide some practical activities to take into your classes, read more about our Teaching Pronunciation course here or apply here. This course is now available as an online individual, online group or face to face course! Enrol by April 1st 2019 to receive a special offer.

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