About this site

Welcome to my blog. My aim is to post information and discussion that could help teachers and learners of English (though ultimately of any language) to explore and experiment with new and more successful ways of integrating the pronunciation of sounds, words and connected speech with the rest of language learning.

At the moment there are two primary tools, both of them new and outside traditional and ‘received’ teacher training:

The first is the Sound Foundations pronunciation chart which I designed in the 1970’s and first copyrighted in 1982. It and its descendants hang in classrooms all over the world.  The next step is to use them well, which is what this blog is about.

The second is proprioception, which refers to a kind of aware physicality, which (so far) I have found to be the most effective way of liberating learners from the ‘grip’ of mother tongue sound postures, in order to allow the different coordinations of tongue, lips, jaw and breath needed for the successful learning, use and enjoyment of the new language.

In summary, my aim is to work with interested teachers through various activities (eg this blog, my training courses, app, book, the Sound Foundations chart, videos on Youtube and at Macmillan English, etc) in order to make pronunciation the attractive and successful activity that it really is, that integrates with and inspires all other language work, and fires up natural human motivation in the classroom.

Blog topics covered include:

  1. Guided tours of the chart
  2. How to introduce the chart and the key learning information embedded within it
  3. Developing ‘aware physicality’ in prefer3nce to ‘unaware repetition’
  4. How to help learners find “the muscles that make the sounds”
  5. Techniques and tricks for using the chart
  6. Responding to learner problems ‘on the wing’
  7. Using the chart to integrate pronunciation into all language work
  8. Working with sounds, words, and connected speech
  9. Developing your confidence and insight into pronunciation

Explore the topics in the side bar. Leave your comments and questions. Expect to enjoy pron!

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Q: Why is pron so important? 

A: Because it infuses every bit of language,  including all 4 skills plus thinking plus remembering….

Clearly pronunciation is part of speaking. And when we start to learn a second or third language we may notice the ‘grip’ of mother tongue pronunciation, the learnt and automotised neuro-muscular connections of our L1 pronunciation. Pronunciation is also part of listening, and we quickly find that the discernment of sounds of the new language is strongly influenced by this grip of the mother tongue. And pronunciation is present in reading silently when we ‘hear’ the words internally. This is especially the case for learners. Pronunciation is also present when we are writing, as we first formulate word sequences internally. Pronunciation is present in short term memory, as for example when I read a phone number and then go to the phone and dial it, or read a sentence which I then transcribe in my notebook. In these cases I retain the information in a kind of internal phonological loop. Pronunciation is often involved in thinking, wherever that involves internal speaking in my head, and it is an integral part of the learning and retrieval  of vocabulary items.

Conclusion from this? That pronunciation is everywhere, in everything and is being reinforced or rehearsed all the time. Whatever we are doing in life, we are probably doing pronunciation as well, internally if not externally.

We bring two complications to the teaching and learning of pronunciation

Apparent complication 1: Pronunciation comes to be seen by the learner, perhaps the teacher too, as rather mysterious, endless, conceptually elusive. It lacks a thinking tool or map or sense making mechanism.

Solution 1: Use a properly constructed pronunciation chart. It provides a map, a thinking tool, a complete gestalt. It gives the cognitive mind what it needs by presenting it with a map that shows what has to be done, how sounds fit together and how they are made physically. The Sound Foundations chart offers such a map which brings all this together in one visual sweep. This map is not only a map to look at. it also constitutes the pronunciation whiteboard, on which problems solutions and experiments are tracked and worked on by students and teacher.

For more on this explore The chart and physicality under the Topics sidebar

Apparent complication 2: Pronunciation is cognitively taught (perhaps like a university phonetics course) when it should be physically taught. Or if physically taught it is usually by repetition, which in effect practises and rehearses the already embedded mother tongue grip, without helping the learner get free from that grip.

Solution 2: Teach pronunciation physically, like dance. Help learners to reconnect with the muscles that make the difference. Learning pronunciation is more like learning a dance than it is like learning grammar or vocabulary. Indeed, pronunciation is the physical aspect of language, it brings language into the world, otherwise language would remain stuck in our minds, unable to get out, unable to manifest in the world.

To liberate learners from the muscular grip of their mother tongue pronunciation think of yourself as a dance teacher, helping learners to discover a set of new movements beyond their normal habitual repertoire of movements. To teach pronunciation is to teach a subtle inner dance. I have found that the conscious rediscovery of as few as four ‘muscle buttons’ is enough to navigate almost anywhere amongst the new vowels and consonants:

  1. Tongue (moving forward and back)
    2. Lips (spreading and bringing back, or rounding and pushing forward)
    3. Jaw + tongue (moving them up and down)
    4. Voice (turning it on or off, to make voiced or unvoiced sounds)

To do this you the teacher have got to re-connect with these muscles in yourself, and to really get to know what you are doing when you make sounds and connect them together.  To help you do this I have written the Story of Sounds which puts you right in touch with what you are doing, and thereby enable you to help your students to change what they are doing whenever necessary. This applies equally whether you are a native or non native speak of English. It makes no difference.

For more on this explore The Story of Sounds and The chart and physicality under the Topics sidebar

 

 

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