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Pronunciation Teaching Tips: Answers, not Questions

 
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revel



Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 532

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 8:29 am    Post subject: Pronunciation Teaching Tips: Answers, not Questions Reply with quote

Hey everyone.
A lot of people have questions about teaching (or learning) pronunciation. I don't have all of the answers, and pronunciation is pretty difficult to teach through a message board, but I did want to offer, especially to teachers, some notes concerning the implementation of pronunciation in the ESL classroom. The information is a bit long, so I will offer it up in two or three messages which I will place as responses to this message.

Firstly, I will discuss an abbreviated way of presenting the English Sound System to the student. This will include a brief analysis of consonant and vowel sounds, as well as a set of simple symbols that can be used when transcribing sounds for note-taking in class.

The second message will deal with liaison and reduction in sentence production. I will also touch generally on rhythm and intonation.

Finally, I will conclude with some additional considerations and suggestions for the use of pronunciation in the ESL classroom.

I hope this information will be useful to those who seek it, and hope that others with experience in the matter will make their contributions. I will only be giving a general outline of the matter and trust that details will be available either through the comments of other experienced teachers or in answer to questions that arise from having read this material.

peace,
revel.
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revel



Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 532

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 8:34 am    Post subject: A simple sound system Reply with quote

It must be noted that millions of people speak English every day and manage to understand and make themselves be understood. Not all of those English speakers are native speakers and among the native speakers there are thousands of ways of using the language. Any student of English should understand from the first day that his or her pronunciation of the language will be directly colored not only by his or her native language and its articulatory peculiarities, but also by his or her personality, vocal apparatus, and necessity to speak English, among another 500,000 factors. So, there is no "correct" way to pronounce English, though there is a way to get those combinations out of our mouths.

Pronunciation is a physical activity. Certainly the brain is involved, we are speaking about communicating our thoughts, but deaf people communicate through articulating with their hands and arms and fingers and faces, and must learn the choreography of such movement in order to be understood and understand. The student should be made aware of his vocal apparatus from the beginning. However, explanations should be kept simple, these are not voice lessons but rather complimentary work to the grammar, structure and vocabulary of the usual ESL class.
Thus we ask the students to identify what parts of their body they use when speaking. These are, in terms of sound production, the diaphragm, the lungs, the vocal chords, the lips tongue and teeth. The nose plays its part, as well as the bones of the sinuses, but we want to keep it simple, so concentrate on above the throat below the nose speech organs.

Consonants carry the meaning of our sentences. A sentence stripped of its vowels can yet be understood: th tchr hs brkfst t dnr n th mrnng (The teacher has breakfast at a diner in the morning). The correct articulation of consonant sounds is important in the correct conveyance of meaning in spoken language. Consonants fall into two general categories, the voiced (produced with an explosion or a friction or an obstruction accompanied by vibration of the vocal chords) and the unvoiced (produced by an explosion or friction without the vibration of the vocal chords). There are many pairs of articulations in which the articulation is the same while the sound is different based on if the vocal chords are engaged or only air is engaged. These basic pairs are: b/p; d/t; v/f; g/k; z/s; as well as the voiced/unvoiced sounds as in “judge/dish” and “then/thin”. There are also the three continuous sounds of l, m and n, as well as the sound represented by "ng" which without vocal chord participation, make no sound whatsoever in their articulation. These sounds are represented by a grand variety of letters and letter combinations in English: each new word would have to be learned upon its discovery in the material. For transcription use, the letters listed here are the best, the international phonetic alphabet is just too much extra information to pile onto the already complicated work of learning a new language. Each sound should be explained, drawn, pronounced, practiced a bit in this introductory class on the sounds of English. Students are not required to learn this material, it is rather an exposure to the material so that in the future we can make reference to it.

For example, in Spanish and English we can find the letter “d”. However, this letter is articulated in a different way in each language. Spanish people have to be reminded constantly not to stick out their tongue making a “th” sound, since in certain cases, pronouncing a th instead of a d will change dramatically the meaning of the word (minimal pair examples: they/day, there/dare, bath/bad). Also, for Spanish speakers the hard g sound at the end of a word causes them endless problems. Dog becomes something like doch (pronounced as in loch). In these cases it is best to encourage them to make the articulatory pair of the sound in question, in this case, the k sound, as dok is much closer to dog than doch.

Vowel sounds tend to convey the emotions of our communications. A sentence stripped of its consonants is not easily understood, nay, is not understood at all; yet through the singing of those vowel sounds we can communicate what we feel about our communication. Though I was taught in university that there are some 48 vowel sounds in English, I have always found it easy to reduce them to a few, since I was also taught that in continued speech 40% of those vowel sounds are reduced to some neutral sound usually represented by a schwa. Thus, I teach the good old long and short vowel sounds, through minimal pairs: bait/bat; beat/bet; bite/bit; boat/body; boot/but. I take advantage of these words to point out the odd spelling patterns in English and how they can not be counted on to pronounce an English word well . “oo” may be a long “u” in boot, but is not in “book”, for example. One can point out the silent “e” rule with the example of bite/bit. In the transcription of these sounds I take advantage of the speakers own alphabet. Some sounds are not representable in Spanish, which only has 5 vowel sounds to play with. So the short “a” sound is represented with a little smile drawn over it, and think, to make a good old American short “a” one has to smile a bit. Finally, the "r" sound, which I usually teach as a vowel sound, is treated in a special discussion at the end of this series of articles.

Again, it is important to stress to your students that they are not expected to remember this information at all. They will not be tested on it; it will remain as a bank of information to be referred to in the future when they are faced with trying to pronounce sentences or new words. Remind them that there are thousands of English accents, from the dialects spoken in London or New York, to the production of English from Chinese speakers, Indian speakers, Hillbillies and California girls. Their goal should be to get as close as comfortable to pronouncing well, and then get on with using that pronunciation to improvise their thoughts to others.

peace,
revel.
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revel



Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 532

PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 8:38 am    Post subject: Reduction, Liaison and Rhythm Reply with quote

Here we get into the nitty-gritty of pronunciation.

Let’s first remember that communication is usually not done with individual words. If I enter a room and say “Hello”, yes, I am communicating. The same would be true of “Goodbye”. Words like “yes” or “no” or “you” or “me” also serve as complete utterances. However, if I were to enter a room and suddenly say “table”, everyone would wonder just what I was talking about. Naturally, they might all understand the word I had just uttered, but they would have not idea what I was wanting to say: is the table dirty? Is it too small for our needs? Is it new, old, broken?

Thus, pronunciation is not a science of individual words in the ESL classroom, but rather an effort to string long chains of sounds together in order to communicate. Here, then, we get into liaison and reduction, as well as rhythm and intonation.

Liaison is the building of bridges between syllables. An example, again from Spanish. Spanish is an open language, that is, the grand majority of syllables in Spanish end in a vowel sound. Few are closed with consonants. On the contrary, English is a more closed language, so many of our syllables are closed with so many consonants or clusters. This causes great difficulty for Spanish speakers who try to pronounce each word clearly and concisely. The thing is, no native speaker bothers to pronounce all of his or her words perfectly. We blend sounds from word to word, we speak openly though the word is written in a closed fashion.

Let’s take a simple sentence as an example. “It’s an apple.” If we break this sentence down into syllables pronounced, we might have [it sa na pl]. The “s” in “it’s” slides over to the “a” in “an”, while the “n” in “an” slides over to the “a” in apple. This happens all of the time. What’s more, the a/an phenomena en English is a clear example of the liaison natural to our language. We don’t like to pronounce two vowel sounds together, so we stick an “n” in the middle to make the pronunciation more fluid. Any sentence that a student is having difficulty pronouncing can be broken down in this way, encourage the student to bridge from one word to the next, English is not a phonetic language and the way we write it has little to do with the way we say it.

Yet, there are occasions when two vowel sounds are next to one another, how do we make a bridge? Let’s remember that the five long vowel sounds are not simple sounds but rather diphthongs: ay-ee, ee-ee, ah-ee, oh-oo and ee-oo. Here we can note that these diphthongs end either in ee or oo. Once we have made the ee sound, our articulatory apparatus is in place to make a “y” sound. Arthur Lessac called it the “y-buzz” in his voice training book. Once we have made a “oo” sound, the lips will have to be pulled back to make the next vowel sound, and that movement produces a “w”. So, the liaison between vowels would be either a “y” or a “w” depending on the first vowel sound. A couple of examples: Yes, he is [eeye see yis]; No he isn’t [no-oo wee yi snt]. (It might be noted that I don’t include the aspirated “h” in these transcriptions, that’s because I teach Spanish people who tend to exaggerate the “h” because in Spanish the “h” is mute. Say “Yes, he is” rapidly and you’ll find that you also don’t bother to pronounce the “h”)

Reduction is the removal of repetitive consonant sounds. It is clearly seen through examples:
--Miss Smith [mi smith] (if you pronounce both the “s”, you end up saying “Mrs Smith” and she is not married.
--Bad dog [ba dog]
Reduction also occurs among the pairs of voiced/unvoiced articulations:
--Bad time [ba taeem]
--Big cat [bi kat]
If you doubt this, say these pairs of words pronouncing clearly the end of the first before the beginning of the second. When an ESL student tries to say every word clearly, he or she ends up putting his or her tongue to double work. The comprehension problems are discussed in the last of this series of articles.

Rhythm is a very important aspect of English pronunciation. Words are not accented in a regular fashion in English; indeed, changing the accentuation of a word can change it from noun to verb or change its meaning entirely, as any ESL teacher already knows without examples. The emphasis in English is in the sentence and usually in words that can be substituted to make a new sentence. Thus, an earlier example serves here:
The teacher has breakfast at a diner in the morning.
Any of those words in bold can be replaced with another, and thus require emphasis to make sure they are understood. Let’s strip the sentence of the smaller words: teacher breakfast diner morning. Let’s just list those other words: the has at a in the. These last are words we use millions of times, they are important but as seen in my example, do not convey particular meaning without the other words included. English is not a march, nor is it a waltz, but using a good old “one/two” or “one/two/three” rhythm while practicing a sentence often makes it easier for the student to spit it out and make it flow, at least during practice.

Finally, intonation. Well, do we always raise our voices at the end of a question? No, for if we use a falling intonation, we may be communicating that our question must be responded to with a “yes”. Intonation is very communicative, changes the intention of our sentences dramatically, and is often a question to be left to more advanced classes where misinterpretation can occur once the speaker has a level to be indulging in deep subjects of conversation.

peace,
revel
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revel



Joined: 06 Jan 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 06, 2004 8:42 am    Post subject: Transition from theory to practice Reply with quote

Here we have the end of the theory and a transition to the practice.

My name is not revel. I have an odd name that is particularly difficult for Spanish people to pronounce. Instead of saying “nice to meet you”, I usually hear “oh, that’s a difficult name to say, does it have a translation to Spanish?” Naturally, Spanish being a language that is represented phonetically in writing, Spanish speakers would prefer to say my name as it is spelled rather than as it should be pronounced. I use my name as the first example of the importance of getting close to good pronunciation.

Several years ago, in Madrid, I allowed my friends to say my name as it is spelled. This caused no problem when we were all together, I tried to get the habit of answering when a Spanish friend said “xxx” instead of the correct sound that is my name. Yet, one day, returning home after the weekly shopping, my attention was half caught by someone behind me shouting “xxx! Xxx!” again and again. I ignored the shouting and went up to my flat. Several minutes later, a friend buzzed my door, saying “xxx! What’s the matter with you! I was shouting your name for three blocks and you ignored me!” The problem was, he was not shouting my name at all, he was pronouncing it as it is spelled. On the other hand, my name sounds a lot like the sound sheep make, and one night, sleeping in a barn before an excursion, I was constantly awakened to sheep saying my name over and over again in response to all those strange people sleeping over their heads.

My example needs some explanation. If a non-native says something in English with a poor or even exaggeratedly correct pronunciation, and believes that his or her way of saying it is correct, when a native says the same thing either correctly or naturally, the non-native will not have a clear reference to fall back on for understanding. Thus the complaint that natives speak so quickly. It’s not that we speak quickly, it’s that we don’t speak slowly, pronouncing each and every word with a nice clear pause between them. So, even excellent individual word pronunciation will become an interference if it is not combined with liaison and reduction. I did not turn and greet my friend on the street because I did not identify his “xxx” with a greeting made with my name…it was not my name even if he thought it was and I did not respond in the way he expected. A native might understand the halting speech of a non-native, but the non-native is hard put to understand the continued speech of the native until he or she begins to produce the same type of speech.

I hope this material has been of use to you all. I hope others contribute their ideas and experiences. I hope some healthy debate arises from these affirmations that I have made. These things work for me because of who I am and the type of teacher I have become over the past 22 years. I recognize that not all could face the task of teaching pronunciation as a basis for language learning, but do hope that they can find a way to include it in their curriculum.

peace,
revel.
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revel



Joined: 06 Jan 2004
Posts: 532

PostPosted: Sat Oct 09, 2004 6:11 am    Post subject: To the top Reply with quote

Hey everyone.

Was just curious what my first posts at Dave's were, and here they are. Rereading them I naturally find that they are still valid, but that's because I've been thinking this way for over twenty years.

I also find that some of my comments, although directed through the filter of pronunciation, are valid in relation to other threads that have caught our attention recently. Soooo, I have included this little note so that this thread pops up on your "posts since my last visit" screen for those of you who use that function to abreviate your visits to Dave's forums.

At the time I wrote these no one bothered to comment. Perhaps my comments don't warrent comment. Perhaps the posts were too long. Doesn't matter, since anything said is always welcome. Perhaps in bringing this thread up to date I'm just serving my own ego, but I think, instead, I am trying to reply to such things as "at" vs "in" or if my birthday "was" or "is" without offending!

peace,
revel.
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