TESOL Tips for Spoken English from Edward


TESOL Tips for Spoken English from Edward


TESOL Introduction:

In this essay we shall examine the problem of teaching correct pronunciation to non-native speakers first identifying the problem and looking for the causes of them and then look at strategies we can use to help learners improve their spoken English.

TESOL Re-mediating Spoken English

Pronunciation is key to being understood when speaking English and has ramifications on the learners ability to comprehend English when being spoken too. It is all too common to come across a non-native English speaker whose English meets some qualification level such as IELTS yet that speaker cannot make themselves be understood, commonly known as Chinglish.

This is often caused by teaching methods that do not place a strong emphasis on phonological voicing preferring to listen and repeatof whole word learning as favoured by the kind of courses one may take when going on holiday to a foreign country. Courses that are geared to specific communication situations such as at the airport or in the shop buying sunscreen.

While these courses are designed for a specific purpose when teaching English to learners who need a strong communication ability with native speakers much more attention needs to be given to the way sounds are made.

For example in a bi-lingual school the students are taught in both English and Chinese from grade 1 and by grade 10 they are expected to be working at a standard close to native speakers given that the texts they use and exams they will take are in English for native speakers. If by grade 10 a learner still cannot pronounce the vowel sounds, they will be greatly disadvantaged when doing discussions and group work communication tasks. Unfortunately, the longer a learner is allowed to mispronounce words the harder it becomes to un-trainthem of their old habits.

To diagnose a learner with untrained vowel-control a fun strategy is to write on the board vowels vertically and then say words using those vowels quickly, as a native speaker might say them. For example, bed, bid, bod, bud, badThe learner then writes down what they hear. Repeat this test with each of the vowel sounds to gather diagnostic information about the learners needs. Then ask each learner to read out a single word and let them compare with the other learnersanswers. Once this exercise has been completed for all the vowels the teacher can begin the process of fixing pronunciation.

Many times, the learner cannot hear the difference between some pairs of vowels, often iand eare misheard and consequently are not voiced correctly. Going around the group (so as not to single out any one person) ask them to repeat the vowel sound the teacher makes. Changing the vowel sounds for each learner but trying to use the problem sounds more with those having the problem. By not singling out learners we create a fun and safe environment.

By increasing the rate at which vowels are delivered focussed the learner on paying more attention to the sounds and then trying to repeat them fast. Skehan (1998) identifies that speaking needs to be automatic and this method teaches learners to be automatic with the correct sounds so that when extra letters are added to the vowels the learner can focus on the consonant sounds (as the words at the correction level are likely to be CVC words) with less thought given to the newly corrected vowel sounds.

At this point some learners will not be able to make the correct sound and a specific strategy is to use a voice-recorder such as is on most mobile phones and then play the game again, only this time recording the voices. Playing this back to the class helps learners identify how and why they are not making the correct sounds as they are hearing the sound they are making while not focused on making the sound at the same time.

A note of caution though, I have come across two learners with specific speech problems. One learner could not say shand another cannot say g. One way to identify if this is a language or a speech problem is to ask them to say a word that uses the same sounds in their own language (if possible). In the case of the two Chinese speakers above the first could not say shias in yes, but always said siand the latter would say der derfor ge ge(brother) in Chinese indicating that the problem is deeper than a simple mispronunciation.

TESOL Conclusion

Every time you go out in a foreign country you will find speakers who have a level of English for which they should be quite conversant yet cannot be understood. This is a failing in the way English is taught at the fundamental foundational level. Remedial work is often difficult due to the embedded nature of the errors.

While we have looked only at the five base vowels in English similar problems also occur with the ten other vowel sounds made from digraphs, but similar strategies can be used to help these learners pronounce English correctly.


Skehan (1998) A cognitive approach to language learning


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