The one thing you need to know: How you make the sounds in your own mouth

Teachers sometimes ask questions like: what is the single thing I could do that would get pronunciation more actively integrated in my classes? And actually I think there is a single thing, a single necessary and sufficient first step: find, see and know the sound or flow of sounds in your own mouth.  To expand on that I’d like to quote from another exchange with participants on the Oxford Distance Diploma Course that I mentioned last month, again with their kind agreement

Thomas Rewhorn wrote: Before I started my unit 2 project, pronunciation in my lessons consisted of me repeating the word or utterance to the student as error correction. As an end of lesson cooler I would write up words the students had difficulty with in the lesson, model them and get the students to repeat them. Occasionally I would use a tongue twister for a bit of fun. I would definitely say that pronunciation had a poor relation in my classes.

Now, the work I do on pronunciation is a little more integrated in my lessons. I am now trying to make my students more aware of sentence stress and I underline the stressed syllable on new vocabulary and occasionally use phonemic transcriptions when students find it difficult to pronounce a word. I’m more aware of students’ pronunciation and try to integrate some correction work into feedback slots after activities. However, apart from using the trick to notice voiced and voiceless consonants, I don’t really refer to where the sounds are produced in the mouth…..So, although I feel that I have become better at integrating pronunciation into my classes, I still feel there’s more that I could do.

Hi Tom. Sure there is more you can do, and since you see this and take an interest I’m pretty sure you will soon be doing it, and it is not very difficult. My experience is that to make the real difference you, the teacher, have to get close into sounds and find them in your own mouth and then you will be able to see/hear/know what (incorrect) sounds students are doing at the moment, and also what they need to do differently. And then it is a much simpler matter to help them. Most of our problem is because we don’t know what is going on in that dark slippy sloppy area called our own mouth, made of most unpromising organic living tissue…. And I don’t refer to whether we know cognitively what is going on, I mean that we don’t know physically. We don’t sense or feel what our muscles and movements are doing. We don’t accurately sense the very muscles that our students need to be contacting to make the difference they are after. And when we don’t know what is going on we are pretty helpless to help anyone at all. And it is that helplessness that students can quickly learn from their teacher. So step one: find all the sounds in your own mouth and muscles and breath (not merely in diagrams, theory or Latin/Greek names). There are many references to this activity in my posts on this blog, and that also is what my Story of Sounds episodes aim to encourage.

The main thing is to have FUN doing this, and to do it and learn it with and alongside your students. Don’t wait until you are ready before starting! And let us know how you get on….

 

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