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Pronunciation in action: Stories from the classroom

Nicola Meldrum and Mark McKinnon have been teacher trainers with Oxford TEFL for more than 10 years as Course Director and tutor on the Trinity DipTESOL and Teaching Pronunciation courses. Not only do they have this in common, they are both Scottish, have lived in Barcelona for more than 15 years, been in ELT for more than 20 years and there’s one more thing – they write a blog about teaching pronunciation.

Teaching PronunciationIn their talk at IATEFL this month they are going to share some stories from the classroom. They have been team teaching this year to explore how we can integrate pronunciation effectively into teaching English. The results will be explained in full at their talk but in this post we will look at why they chose to take this approach and what they found out.

Why did you decide to team teach?

Well, as teacher trainers we felt that it was time to practice what we preach and to confirm and develop our ideas about teaching pronunciation. It’s a big part of the Trinity DipTESOL course we run and it’s something we both enjoy so we thought it would be fun to share a classroom filled with pron. We also wanted to challenge some of the things we had heard teachers say over the years.

What were they saying?

One thing they said was that the suprasegmental features of pronunciation, such as sentence stress and connected speech were suitable for higher-level learners and less useful or relevant to lower levels. We both felt this was wrong so we taught an A1 group and explored ways of teaching all aspects of pronunciation.

Teaching Pronunciation

What did you find out?

We found out it is 100% relevant to teach these aspects of pronunciation to beginners. In fact, it is essential. Most teachers approach beginner classes with a phrase book approach – survival English – and rightly so. But if we don’t teach them how these phrases sound, how can they recognise them? We proved this in class when our beginner learners struggled to understand us when we said some simple phrases or gave instructions, but as soon as they saw the language written down, they got it! We need to teach sound as well as meaning and form to allow them to make a connection.

What other things did you discover team teaching? Can you give us an example?

Yes. We also discovered some of the most productive moments were unplanned teaching moments. This led us to consolidate and develop the idea of planning lessons with feedback in mind. We reflected on the importance of considering what kinds of things might come up from an activity and being ready to address them in feedback. It wasn’t planned input but more a preparedness to address pronunciation errors after students had completed a task. We found ourselves taking lots of photos of our board and making videos of each doing this off-the-cuff teaching. It helped us realise that we could make more of this in our teacher training and better equip our teachers to deal with language as it emerges – both with techniques and task types and also generally by making feedback more prominent in our minds when planning lessons. This is maybe a general point and not just relevant to pron, but we think most learners make lots of mistakes with pron that are corrected quite superficially at the time and not really dealt with properly. We now have a better idea of how to help teachers really address pronunciation issues when they come up.

So, what are some of the take-aways for you as teacher trainers?

There’s so much that has already changed in how we are thinking about training on the Diploma and on the pronunciation teacher development course we teach. As well as rethinking how we deliver our online teacher training courses, we are now going to reshape how we run the development on the face-to-face section of the Trinity Dip TESOL. We are going to develop some new ways to workshop lesson planning and teaching techniques to really build our teachers’ skills and overall confidence to make pron a more integral, natural part of their teaching. So much of it has to do with confidence and feeling prepared to teach when you go into an assessed lesson observation. That’s all being discussed at the moment and we will be putting the changes into effect this summer.

So, what will you be focusing on in your talk next week at IATEFL?

We are going to pull things together into three areas to really push some key points that everyone can take away and use to underpin their lesson planning, teaching and professional development, whether they are teachers, teacher trainers or material writers. As always there will be some fun with Mark teaching everyone some Scottish English and we will also share some feedback from learners to show the audience what they thought of our teaching. If you want to join us we are talking at 11.05 on Thursday 12th April in the Duke room.

If you would like to find out more about how Nicola or Mark can help you develop your teaching skills during the Trinity DipTESOL or Teaching Pronunciation courses, contact us, join them at their talk at IATEFL on April 12th or visit their blog.

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