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IATEFL 2017 from a Pronunciation Perspective


Nicola MeldrumNicola Meldrum is Course Director on our Trinity DipTESOL course and Teaching Pronunciation course and Mark McKinnon is one of our tutors. In April, they both attended the annual IATEFL conference in Glasgow and presented a talk and the closing plenary on Making Pronunciation an Integral Part of your Classroom Practice. In this blog post, Nicola reflects on the presence of pronunciation at the conference.


Pronunciation was very well represented at the Iatefl conference, both on the PronSIG day and in other talks focusing on pronunciation directly and indirectly. For example, Richard Cauldwell’s talk was a personal highlight for me as he showed us how pronunciation is key to developing listening skills with learners. More on that below, though. Myself and Mark also contributed to this pronunciation feast at IATEFL. 

Let’s take it one talk at a time!


So, first up was Adrian Underhill who originally helped us recognise the role that silence and hearing plays in teaching pronunciation. On Tuesday Adrian encouraged us to get physical and suggested that perhaps we spend too much time asking our students to think about what goes on in the mouth and not enough time on physicality; really getting them to discover and use their speech organs. He presented ‘embodied pronunciation’, which promoted reconnecting with the muscles that matter. By asking our students to come on a journey with us using their lips, tongue, jaw, and switching the voice off and on, we can help them explore their mouths and discover what English sounds they can make. Adrian encouraged us to grasp the idea of proprioception, which is the inner sensing of what the muscles are doing and how much pressure is being applied, and add this to our pronunciation practice toolkit.

It was also nice to hear from this talk and others this week that there is much more to pronunciation practice than just listen and repeat after the teacher. Adrian also presented six voices of amplification: 1. Inner ear 2. Inner speaking 3. Mouthing 4. Whispering 5. Private voice 6. Public voice. A model that suggests five steps before one actually speaks out loud. Other great ideas to come out of Adrian’s talk were: every lesson is a pron lesson, you can’t repeat your way out of a habit, and students need pron at the ‘point of purchase’ i.e. immediately. However, the core message was that we really should prepare ourselves to help our students explore their mouths and help them be aware of what is happening as they make sounds. Check out Adrian’s website here for more on this.

We were up on Tuesday afternoon. We looked at integrating pronunciation into your teaching and instead of us explaining what we spoke about you can watch the recording here!


Sarah Grech gave a fantastic talk on her work with adult learners training to use English for interpreting and how she used recordings of their speech to try and pinpoint what areas of pronunciation could help them take ownership of their language development to be successful in their goals. She brought in aspects of ELF and showed how expert speakers and interpreters identified intonation and other suprasegmental features of pronunciation as key factors in intelligibility. It was interesting and useful to see results from research done on ELF and what aspects of pronunciation were most important for these learners.

Laura Patsko wanted to break the mould of presenting ideas on how to teach pronunciation. Her talk presented practical ideas on how to respond to and give feedback on our students’ pronunciation. She gave us good practical ideas on how to give feedback including, focusing on our students’ particular problems and difficulties, showing them success, encouraging their effort, demonstrating progress, and correcting only what is relevant. Laura also presented us with a very practical model to help plan our feedback.

Before the activity we plan ahead to pinpoint what feedback will be relevant. Here we look at the language and predict what will be difficult for our students. We also consider what we expect our students to produce with the language we are practising. During the activity we take notes on what actually happened; who said what? This involves making notes on individual performance, allowing us to see individual difficulties, and also giving us the possibility to see difficulties common to groups of students. After the activity, Laura suggested taking notes on what action we took immediately and what we did later, therefore encouraging follow-up activities, and homework. We found these suggestions to be very helpful in terms of fully integrating pronunciation into all aspects of our language work. You can see more of her ideas on teaching pronunication here.

Adam Scott’s talk was so jam-packed with great ideas, where do we begin? I think the main take away was integrating pronunciation more consistently into our lessons leads to happy, motivated students and opens to door to useful discussions about pronunciation as a part of all language learning. He pushes his students to speak up more when they are working with each other and pronunciation causes problems in communication. Let’s move away from the teacher as interpreter and move towards more interaction between learners, when there is a language breakdown. Ask students to repeat and ask for repetition more often and they will start to see the need for and benefit of pronunciation work. That was the background and main message of the talk.

He also spoke about the importance of focused feedback on tasks to make correction and upgrading of language more effective. Then, he shared some cool tools for teaching pronunciation. This included transcribing and breaking down phrases to show elements of connected speech clearly to students. And there was more! Check out Adam’s site here to get some great pronunciation teaching ideas and see the slides from this talk.

Louise Guyett inspired us to make a board game for pronunciation practice, which we are very proud of and will certainly use in the classroom. In her creative workshop Louise demonstrated that almost any popular board game can be adapted for pron practice.

The things we do in games can motivate students to produce sounds and language. Let’s think about that. We roll a dice and move forward, back, up or down; we read and tell, guess, describe, compete, ask and answer, and so on. The idea here is that if we want to get that little bit extra from our students or possibly want to bring something different and exciting to the pron practice, then adapting or creating a game can provide that spark. We had never created a game before, but by bringing the common rules of games together, we managed to produce a spelling game based on the card game rummy. They were good old back-to-basics ideas that encouraged us all to use cardboard, a laminator, and board pens to create easy-wipe game boards. Having established the rules, we could add any pron point to the game. We can then wipe it off, put the board away, and have it ready to use in a future lesson. Isn’t it great when you get ideas from a conference that you can use in your very next lesson? Check out Louise’s website here.     


Two talks stood out for us on our final day of the conference. John Fields and Richard Cauldwell.

John Fields, author of Listening in the Language Classroom (2009, CUP) questioned how listening activities and material are often taught. How is this relevant to pronunciation? Well, he showed how we need to help learners process the sounds that they hear and match them to the language they know. How language is written and how it sounds are often two very different things. He described heard language as a “set of squeaks and buzzes in the ear” which learners need to decipher onto the sound system of English in order to comprehend the message they are receiving. Pronunciation work helps them to do this.

He outlined some strategies and stages for helping learners to handle words they hear, including dividing connected speech into possible words, recognising spoken word forms and how words can sound different, depending on the surrounding sounds and rhythm. This talk helped to stress the importance of integrating pronunciation into listening lessons. You can read a review of his book here.

Richard Cauldwell told us about d’eth drops, B drops and foul play – all brilliant names for different features of pronunciation that affects a learner’s ability to hear and understand speech. It was the talk of the conference for Nicola. Not only is Richard a hugely engaging speaker, the content was valuable, convincing and fun. He referred back to the fog that John Fields spoke about earlier in the day and then proceeded to provide the audience with a deluge of ideas for helping learners to navigate their way through this fog. 

By using decoding strategies and tasks we can help them to improve their ability to recognise words in the sound substances that come their way. “All words have multiple sound shapes” was a key idea to start us off. We were then taken through lots of examples to demonstrate how we can teach the different sound shapes, the impact rhythm has on words, and the processes that create these sound shapes. The need to help learners by exposing them more to messy speech, was a key idea and we got plenty of examples to show why this is important and what we can do about it. You can see the slides from the talk here and visit his site here. Well worth it!

Looking forward to seeing more pronunciation sessions at IATEFL 2018! In the meantime, if you would like to find some top tips and activities for teaching pronunciation in your classes, take a look at our Teaching Pronunciation blog which Mark and I launched just last month! 

If you would like to develop your teaching pronunciation skills further, Nicola can help you reach your full potential, and prove that you don’t need to be scared of teaching pronunciation to your students, by enrolling in our 30-hour online Teaching Pronunciation course. As a graduate of this course, you will also be exempt from completing this module on the Trinity DipTESOL course. You can sign up to the Teaching Pronunciation course here.

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