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TEFL Masterclass – Who’s Afraid Of Pronunciation?

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Ania Kolbuszewska – Teacher Trainer, Mediator & Former Eaquals Board Member.

Ania have worked as a language teacher, trainer, manager and consultant, providing business and academic consultancy in mainstream and private education at primary, secondary, tertiary and further education level. She is also a mediator with a keen interest in conflict management theory and practice. She has been worked in Eaquals Accreditation and Consultancy Services as a former member and director. She was the Author for Eaquals Self-help Guide to Teacher Development, Eaquals management competency framework and Use of English materials for Pearson.

What you will learn

How often, after working with students on an aspect of pronunciation, did you feel exasperated and would complain to your fellow teachers “They just can’t hear the difference!”?

To make things even harder, teachers whose first language is not English often shy away from teaching pronunciation, because they claim they are not good models. Yet pronunciation teaching does not have to be based on you, the teacher, modelling correct pronunciation at sound, word or sentence level yourself.

In this practical workshop, I will talk about why pronunciation is as important as grammar or vocabulary and how to ensure that it becomes an integral part of teaching a foreign language. We will examine practical techniques which allow us to shift the focus of pronunciation teaching from one based on auditory stimuli to visual stimuli, and which enable us to move away from the teacher modelling good pronunciation.

Workshop Summary

Introduction to Pronunciation

Ania Kolbuszewska introduces the importance of teaching pronunciation, a sometimes challenging aspect of language learning. While there are various dictionary definitions of pronunciation, the essence of it spans four levels: sound, word, sentence, and text. Here, ‘text’ means extended sequences like stories or dialogues.

The Significance and Common Myths

There are misconceptions that undermine the role of pronunciation. Some believe pronunciation is negligible if the message is clear, which is misleading. Others think people can’t learn pronunciation if they can’t discern the sound difference, overlooking non-auditory methods of teaching. The idea that pronunciation isn’t taught but merely “picked up” is also flawed. While exposure helps, structured teaching is vital.

Standards and Classroom Activities

Given the many English accents worldwide, what’s considered “correct” pronunciation? If English serves as a communication tool, the “correctness” is about clarity and understanding. Classroom activities, such as chants, help underline pronunciation nuances and ensure effective communication.

Rhythm, Intonation, and English as a Lingua Franca

English, a stress-timed language, demands a balance between stressed units, contrasting with syllable-timed languages like Polish. Students whose native language is syllable-timed may find this challenging. Native-like pronunciation shouldn’t be the primary aim, but rather clarity for international communication. Key pronunciation elements for this are consonants (excluding ‘th’), vowel lengths, and stress. Traditional course elements like vowel reduction might not be as crucial for general understanding.

Emotional Aspects and Intonation

Intonation links to emotions. When overwhelmed with emotions, our emotional brain centre (the amygdala) can disrupt the transfer of information to the rational brain part, leading to outbursts. In language, vocabulary and grammar activate the rational part, but intonation affects the amygdala. Teaching the relation between intonation and meaning is therefore essential. Practical activities, such as interpreting the tone of a “thank you”, underscore the significance of intonation in conveying emotions.

Teaching Techniques and Introducing Pronunciation

Some educators underestimate pronunciation due to its perceived complexity or concerns about their native language affecting their English pronunciation. But with the goal often being to teach English for international communication, this isn’t necessarily detrimental. Techniques like ‘back chaining’ (starting from a word’s end) and physical representations of stress aid in teaching pronunciation. Visual stimuli can also enhance pronunciation lessons, highlighting stress patterns and shifting meanings based on stressed words.

Pronunciation’s Integral Role

Pronunciation is as vital as grammar or vocabulary. Teaching pronunciation enhances students’ listening skills and should be integrated when introducing new vocabulary or grammar. Recognising students’ linguistic backgrounds helps address pronunciation issues. Incorporating pronunciation into lessons not only enriches the learning experience but also makes it more engaging and effective for students.

Reflective Questions

Have a quick think about the reflective questions below in order to get the most out of the workshop:

  1. Do you think pronunciation can be taught or is it picked up?
  2. How often do you focus on pronunciation in your teaching? Do you feel confident to teach it?
  3. What level of pronunciation are we aiming at in teaching English as a foreign language?
  4. At what level should we start focusing on pronunciation?

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