How do you do it? This is surely the no 1 question!…… yet my next thought is: Is it misleading to think of us motivating our students, as if motivation is something we do to them while they just sit there. Ok I’m splitting hairs, but a slightly different starting point could be: What are the conditions that are likely to lead them to become self-engaged, in this case by activities involving pronunciation? Nevertheless, the question is good insofar as it indicates that the teacher needs to make the first move.
Insight V correctness
Speaking for the learner in myself, my need is first to become aware that there is something there to study, a new field to explore. So I need the teacher to put that new thing into circulation somehow (eg a new concept, structure, linguistic setting etc) and draw my attention to it in the form of a puzzle of some sort. Then I need to feel the awakening of my own curiosity towards it, so I need the teacher to present a challenge that is the right size for me (a ‘wedge shaped’ challenge so everyone finds the thickness that suits them). And then I need the teacher to facilitate and encourage my curiosity and insight as well as my correctness.
New tools for a new job
My observation of classes and my reading of teacher discourse suggests that we are more preoccupied with learners’ correctness than with their insight, and that this can skew the psychological atmosphere of our classes. And this is even more important when it comes to a new field of study like pronunciation where different or new teaching and learning tools may be required, for example: Physical tools concerning “How do I find those pron muscles and get them to do something different” Listening tools concerning “How do I know when they have done something different? And thinking tools concerning “How do I conceptualise this stuff called pron and what actually is it and what’s it for and anyway how much is there of it?”
Pronunciation is a different challenge to grammar and vocabulary in that, like dance, it cannot be learnt in a primarily cognitive way, though seemingly we persist using old tools for the new job. For example, we know what concept questions are for grammar and meaning, but what are the concept questions for pronunciation (or dance)? How do you check understanding of a physical activity? How do you monitor, give feedback, intervene? See what I mean about old and new tools?
My (tentative) answer ….
So, for what it is worth here is my answer to the question at the top of this posting. I offer this for others to push against and improve. My answer is holistic in that it tries to take account of the need for mind, body and feeling in learning. There is more, but this is a start.
which I think takes account of: mobilizing the learners own motivation (para 1), insight versus correctness (para 2) and new tools for a new job (para 3).
New thinking tool: pron chart as mental map
– offers a cognitive/mental understanding of the territory and the journey
– presents the whole thing in one gestalt, showing the relationship of the parts to each other and to the whole.
– offers a learners’ worktable, the equivalent of a white or blackboard for pron, on which sounds can be worked out, exercised, compared, played with, recognised, confused, put into words, taken apart again.
– makes pronunciation concrete rather than ethereal or elusive.
– brings pron effortlessly into every aspect of every lesson without need for materials or interruption, (I maintain that almost every aspect of language is linked to pronunciation, we can’t even think without evoking it)
– has a geography, a layout that is meaningful and tells you HOW and WHERE the sounds are made. This only applies to the Sound Foundations chart used on this website (it is copied wholly or partly almost everywhere, but charts without the geography are just lists, not maps).
New physical tool: pron as physical activity
My first task with any new learners (teachers of students, native or non-native speakers) is to help them connect with the muscles that make the pronunciation difference, to locate the internal buttons that trigger the muscle movements. From this arises super-motivation as students discover a new field to explore, AND see that they can quickly get the hang of it, and that this may well lead to success. In the first hour or two I help them find just FOUR buttons which enable them to get around the mouth and find new positions of articulation. These are:
1. Tongue (forward and back)
2. Lips (spread/back and rounded/forward)
3. Jaw + tongue (up and down)
4. Voice (on or off)
If you would like insight into these two tools, and if you have a moment, visit the demonstrations on these two sites:
• For a guided tour of the chart and introduction to the physicality go here and go to the 2010 archive section about halfway down the page.
• For illustrations from my practical pronunciation workshop with teachers go here: www.youtube.com/macmillanelt
New psychological tool: the conducive psychological atmosphere
Well, this is not revolutionary, though if we actually did it the world would probably turn upside down. The teacher behaviour that fires up my curiosity as a learner is when:
1. The teacher too is learning. Is not doing an ‘old trick’ but is facing this new situation fresh, as a learning adventure, for the first time.
2. The teachers ‘learningful attitude’ evokes mine
3. The teacher is learning me, watching the movement of my insight, my blind spots, my exploration, like a parent watching a child in an adventure playground….
4. BUT the teacher too is in the adventure playground, and though she may understand the topic, she does not know what to do next unless she watches and interacts with me.
5. She is striving to make my subtle moves of learning visible. Only by intervening does she find how to intervene.
6. All this means too that acceptance replaces judgment, the time it takes replaces hurry (which is quicker anyway), fun replaces stress, and feedback replaces praise.
7. The teacher has the tools that are the right size for this job, and in the case of pron I have found that physicality and a chart are the starting points.
How do you try to make pron more motivating?
All of this is just talk, What counts is what we do and the impact it has. It would be useful to know what you do and what impact it has and the ways you are trying to make your pron teaching more motivating.
If you would like to explore these approaches further, and to read practical ideas and techniques to try in your class, take a look at the links in the sidebar on the right of the screen.