Pronunciation involves far more than individual sounds. Word stress, sentence stress, intonation, and word linking all influence the sound of spoken English, not to mention the way we often slur words and phrases together in casual speech. 'What are you going to do?' becomes 'Whaddaya gonna do?' English pronunciation involves too many complexities for learners to strivefor a complete elimination of accent, but improving pronunciation will boost self esteem, facilitate communication, and possibly lead to a better job or a least more respect in the workplace. Effective communication is of greatest importance, so choose first to work on problems that significantly hinder communication and let the rest go. Remember that your students also need to learn strategies fordealing with misunderstandings, since native pronunciation is for most an unrealistic goal.
A student's first language often interferes with English pronunciation. For example, /p/ is aspirated in English but not in Spanish, so when a Spanish speaker pronounces 'pig' without a puff of air on the /p/, an American may hear 'big' instead. Sometimes the students will be able to identify specificproblem sounds and sometimes they won't. You can ask them for suggestions, but you will also need to observe them over time and make note of problem sounds. Another challenge resulting from differences in the first language is the inability to hear certain English sounds that the native language does not contain. Often these are vowels, as in 'ship' and 'sheep,' which many learners cannot distinguish.The Japanese are known for confusing /r/ and /l/, as their language contains neither of these but instead has one sound somewhere between the two. For problems such as these, listening is crucial because students can't produce a sound they can't hear. Descriptions of the sound and mouth position can help students increase their awareness of subtle sound differences.
Here are some ideas forfocusing on specific pronunciation features.
Voiced sounds will make the throat vibrate. For example, /g/ is a voiced sound while /k/ is not, even though the mouth is in the same position for both sounds. Have your students touch their throats while pronouncing voiced and voiceless sounds. They should feel vibration with the voiced sounds only.
Aspiration refers to a puff of airwhen a sound is produced. Many languages have far fewer aspirated sounds than English, and students may have trouble hearing the aspiration. The English /p/, /t/, /k/, and /ch/ are some of the more commonly aspirated sounds. Although these are not always aspirated, at the beginning of a word they usually are. To illustrate aspiration, have your students hold up a piece of facial tissue a fewinches away from their mouths and push it with a puff of air while pronouncing a word containing the target sound.
Draw simple diagrams of tongue and lip positions. Make sure all students can clearly see your mouth while you model sounds. Have students use a mirror to see their mouth, lips, and tongue while they imitate you.
Word or sentence intonation can be mimicked witha kazoo, or alternatively by humming. This will take the students' attention off of the meaning of a word or sentence and help them focus on the intonation.
We pronounce phrases and even whole sentences as one smooth sound instead of a series of separate words. 'Will Amy go away,' is rendered 'Willaymeegowaway.' To help learners link words, try starting at the end of a sentence and havethem repeat a phrase, adding more of the sentence as they can master it. For example, 'gowaway,' then 'aymeegowaway,' and finally 'Willaymeegowaway' without any pauses between words.
You can demonstrate varying vowel lengths within a word by stretching rubber bands on the longer vowels and letting them contract on shorter ones. Then let the students try it. For example, the word...