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Top Ways to Integrate the Phonemic Chart into your Classes

Scared to use the phonemic chart in your classroom? Can’t find a way to integrate it into the class? You might be holding your students back without the necessary pronunciation work, and using the phonemic chart can help present pronunciation in visual way, linking each sound to a symbol. Here Teaching Pronunciation course graduate, Patricia Ramoz Vizoso, gives her top ways to integrate the phonemic chart in class. So don’t be shy, give it a go!

phonemic chart
Adrian Underhill’s Phonemic chart

Pronunciation as a whole

Considering that pronunciation is part of the language we’re teaching, it must be taught as a whole. Phonology and grammar are related, they both convey meaning. The way we pronounce or organize a sentence matter in how we are understood or misunderstood.

The chart as a tool and reference in class

As Adrian Underhill has put it, using the chart not only helps us do existing pronunciation activities with more insight, but it also enables a range of other activities that are not possible without the chart. The Phonemic chart is another tool in the language classroom, therefore it should be used when necessary. The best way to work on pronunciation is ‘little and often’. Mark Hancock suggested it needs to be presented in small doses. But in order to use the IPA effectively the teachers must be committed to using it regularly in class.  It should be a permanent reference; students should use symbols as memory hooks. Once they have the sound it is easy to link it to the symbol.

Contrast sounds in English and Student’s mother tongue

It helps us make contrasts among sounds and especially highlight the ones that don’t exist in L1. New speech habits require a great deal of practice. The performance of a new contrast, once it can be heard, involves a new orientation of the motor control centre in the brain to produce unfamiliar muscular movements. The sounds a student produces may not be exactly what a native speaker would produce, but fine tuning of the actual sounds can be done gradually. But it’s not enough for the students to produce the contrast satisfactorily once or twice. They must be brought to the point where, at any rate in classroom/real life conditions, they can do it every time.

Pronunciation makes physical

It also helps us make pronunciation physical. Students stop thinking about pronunciation as something abstract. If we, the teachers, engage them to sense and notice what their muscles do when pronouncing a word and how the movements of those muscles affect what they hear, then students become aware of their own process and their own development and therefore improvement. So, in addition to hearing sounds with our ears, we can see movements with our eyes and also feel movements through the internal sensation of muscles.

Pronunciation in 3 levels

It helps students to practise individual sounds, but then we, the teachers, have to make sure they join the sounds up into words, and join the words up into connected pieces of speech. Stress, rhythm and intonation convey meaning too and perhaps more than the exact sounds themselves. It is important to bear this in mind when we deal with oral English in the classroom. That’s to say that pronunciation should be worked at three levels: the first level involves work with individual sounds. At the second level we string the sounds together into words, adding the word stress. At the third level we string words into connected speech, adding intonation, as well as the various simplifications of connected speech.

Autonomous learning

And last but not least, students being familiar with the chart brings about autonomous learning. They can use the chart together with a dictionary or the app to check pronunciation of new words outside the classroom. Students can be encouraged to record the pronunciation of the new words, listen to them. They can become really active in their learning process. But this should be encouraged inside the classroom.

Have fun

After everything that you have read above, do you think pronunciation should be part of your lesson? Absolutely! There are various things we can do in order to raise students’ awareness of the English pronunciation but it doesn’t have to be necessarily the ‘boring drilling’: 1. Dictations of random lists of words with similar sounds that you know students may find difficult to grasp. E.g: /tʃ//dʒ/, /ʃ/, /ʒ/, etc.; discrimination of minimal pairs; running dictations; games with words stress; shadowing for stress, rhythm and intonation; tongue-twisters; whiteboard competitions. Students have to come up with words with the same sound suggested at the beginning; using songs/jazz chants; making up stories with certain words that have the practiced sounds.

So here are some examples of how pronunciation can be integrated into the classroom in a fun and active way. Don’t be afraid! By using this chart, you and your students will have fun and they will improve their pronunciation along the way.

If you would like to learn more about teaching pronunciation in your classes, read more about our online Teaching Pronunciation course or apply here.

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