I was delighted to be able to share a few strategies to improve students' pronunciation in the Times Educational Supplement (TES) this Friday as I view good pronunciation as one of the most effective ways to boost students' confidence in their own ability as linguists. Indeed, if their accent in the foreign language is not at least understandable, performance in exams and in a real life context will be poor and lead to demotivation.
As mentioned in the article, practising pronunciation is a challenging activity for teenagers who often perceive it as a threat to their own British identity at a time of their lives when they are not too sure about their identity anyway. Using puppets or drama techniques like role-play can help but what else can be done to help students improve their pronunciation in the foreign language?
Phonics Phonics Phonics
Teach basic pronunciation rules through examples and regularly re-visit key sounds through starter activities. Use mirrors and discuss with students how some sounds come through their noses or from the back of their throats. Focus on how foreign language speakers stress certain words and do not pronounce specific letters e.g. “s” for plural in French or “nt” at the end of verbs. For Spanish and German, show how "regular" the sound patterns of language are and get students to decode and pronounce sophisticated words they have learnt in other subjects.
Practise Practise Practise
Provide opportunities for students to practise individually, in pairs and small groups. Tongue twisters and rhymes are great for starters, with students listening to a model and then practising in pairs to encourage self and peer correction.
Make practising pronunciation into a game. Play vocabulary games like noughts and crosses with two teams or in pairs and make accurate pronunciation one of the criteria for scoring points. Encourage students to correct each other’s pronunciation and step in if needed to clarify pronunciation rules. Some students could volunteer to be "pronunciation expert", in charge of reminding the class of a specific sound e.g. i always sounds "ee" in Spanish, "oi" always sounds "wa" in French...
Use poetry, riddles and rhymes to make students more sensitive to pronunciation patterns. A simple exercise where students have to match rhyming words can really get them to reflect on pronunciation patterns.
Music is a wonderful tool to get students to look at language in terms of sounds and rhythms. Get your students to sing difficult words, they will slow down and their pronunciation will improve instantaneously.
Songs and raps in the target language can be used effectively as pronunciation models. Students listen to the song or rap, the teacher identifies a repetitive structure as a model and students write their own lines and practise them. The raps or songs can then be peer-assessed with a focus on pronunciation.
Using Technology such as Voki, the speaking avatar site, can provide a good model in the target language through its text-to-speech facility. Students can also give their avatar a voice by recording themselves and get their pronunciation assessed by their peers verbally or through comments. Other sites like Blabberize can enable students to make a photo "speak" and will also motivate them to try different sounds and voices.
Get students to practise at home by recording speeches using Audacity, the free audio recording software, or listening to model answers and making notes about the pronunciation, like where silent letters are or which part of the word is stressed. Making them aware of inflection, the patterns of stress and intonation in a language, is the most difficult unless students are quite musical. Students could just demonstrate whether they think the intonation is going up or down.This can be very good to get them to realise that in Spanish, for instance, the penultimate syllable is often stressed whereas in French it tends to be the last syllable, which explains differences in how the language sounds.
Finally, getting students to improve their pronunciation will not only mean better exam results in languages but also students developing a more positive self-image as linguists. This should also lead to improved self-esteem and impact on their overall school achievements.
What strategies do you use in your classroom to make your students more aware how the language inflections, rhythm and specific sounds?