” I have been using at my school the series PronPack with excellent results as the activities do not just shift the focus from the traditional teaching of grammar and vocabulary to phonology, but also the worksheets are fun, engaging and meaningful. And above all, students love them! “
(MA TESOL, PhD Applied Linguistics, ABD) is a teacher, teacher
trainer, researcher and school owner, promoting alternative and
innovative approaches to teaching and implementing them in her own
Stella: How did you get into teaching phonetics and pronunciation?
Mark: I was teaching at the Cultura Inglesa in Rio de Janeiro, and had a few administrative hours on my timetable. They asked me to produce some fun pronunciation materials for the school. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to make sense of the hidden patterns of phonology, and creating tasks and activities which would really engage the learners. I discovered that pronunciation is fascinating, perhaps because it is hybrid. It crosses the frontier between language systems (like grammar and lexis) and skills (like speaking and listening). It also has aspects which are cerebral on the one hand and physical on the other. In this respect, it is like no other aspect of language teaching. To me, language without pronunciation is somewhat two-dimensional. The spoken form lifts it off the page into a fully three-dimensional form. It brings the target language to life.
PronPack has been out and about this October. The month
began with a visit to Stirling in Scotland for the 40th Anniversary
event of SATEFL. I gave a talk on how pronunciation teaching needs to
assimilate the fact that English is a global Lingua Franca. The following week,
I spoke at the International House conference in Milan, Italy
about how different pronunciation activity types match up with different objectives.
Finally, at the end of the month PronPack had a display table at the English UK
South West conference in Somerset,
this event, I spoke about how to boost the attention given to pronunciation
when teaching with coursebooks. It’s been an exhilarating month!
Coursebooks are big on schwa. Is it because schwa is said to
be the most frequent sound in the English language? Is it because it’s an
“issue” for all students, no matter what their L1? Whatever the reason,
students get a lot of exposure to it, and sooner or later, someone is bound to
ask something to the effect, “How exactly is it pronounced?”
Cue the teacher making little grunting noises and talking
about how relaxed the mouth must be to make this sound. At this point, we are
on thin ice. When a student asks how schwa differs from the the vowel in duck, the thin ice cracks. Because no
matter how clearly the teacher demonstrates his/her version of the two phonemes,
the difference seems to be barely perceivable to the student.
Student thinking, “Surely such a small difference can’t be
Teacher thinking, “Aargh, get me out of here!”
Books sometimes present schwa as if it were just another
phoneme, equivalent to any other. Phonemic charts may encourage this
perception, with the occupants of each little cell seemingly equivalent to one
another, like chocolates in a chocolate box*. The chocolates are all the same
kind of thing, but just with slightly contrasting flavours. The schwa however
is not the same kind of thing – instead of contrasting
with other vowel phonemes, it may substitute
for them in unstressed syllables. It’s precise sound quality is not its
essential feature. When teaching it, we should focus on it’s role in
differentiating stressed and unstressed syllables rather than its exact sound
Attempting to demonstrate and drill the schwa sound is what takes us on to the thin ice mentioned above, because it is not sufficiently different from some other vowel sounds – the duck vowel in particular. Ironically, the distinction becomes even less clear the more we focus on it: all that attention causes us to place stress on the sound, which is precisely what it shouldn’t have. So to sum up: Don’t sweat the schwa!
* This is the reason why, in the PronPack Sound Chart, the schwa is given an exceptional position, to discourage the impression of equivalence with the other phonemes.
Everybody has an accent. Nobody is exempt, although many of us perhaps feel we are. That’s because we tend to perceive other people’s accents relative to our own, which we perceive as neutral and accentless.
An accent may come to be considered as ‘standard’, and again
this may be perceived as neutral and accentless by the people who speak it.
Hence the nonsense phrase, ‘getting rid of your accent’. On the face of it,
this is impossible – but clearly, what it means is developing an accent which
is more like the one which is considered ‘standard’.
Speaking with a ‘standard’ accent confers advantages –
opportunities may be denied to people ‘with an accent’. This is what lies
behind the one time popularity of elocution lessons – people seeking to improve
their life prospects by modifying their speech. However, we should remember
that ‘standard’ does not mean better: as Linguist John Wells puts it, ‘… a
standard accent is regarded as a standard … not because of any intrinsic
qualities it may possess, but because of an arbitrary attitude adopted towards
it by society…’ (Wells 1982 p34).
the accent long seen as standard is ‘Received Pronunciation’ (RP), where the
word ‘received’ is used in the sense of ‘accepted’. In elocution lessons, RP is
typically the target model, and ELT has followed the lead: pronunciation
teachers have been expected to present the RP model to their students. But can
RP be plausibly described as ‘standard’ in the sense of ‘widespread’ today?
Geoff Lindsey of University College, London,
argues that it can’t.
This article first appeared in English Teaching Professional Issue 22 May 2019
Pronunciation straddles two domains: it is part language – like grammar or vocabulary – and part skill – like speaking or listening. This unique position makes pronunciation teaching interestingly varied, and potentially very enjoyable too. It is so much more than the ‘listen-and-repeat’ stereotype that is sometimes attached to it, and can’t be reduced to one single thing in this way. In this article, I will suggest that we can, in fact, divide it into four general areas, and I will label these with a mnemonic of four words, each beginning with m: muscle, mind, meaning and memory.
Review of Geoff Lindsey (2019) English after RP: Standard British Pronunciation Today Palgrave
If you teach English pronunciation, you will know that most
text books present a model which claims to be either standard American or
standard British. The latter is often referred to as RP (Received
Pronunciation), and is usually represented by a set of phonetic symbols chosen
over half a century ago by A. C. Gimson. Geoff Lindsey makes the point that if
a person speaks in exactly the way that these symbols indicate, they will sound
comically old-fashioned. His new book English
after RP sets out to describe they ways in which standard British has
evolved away from RP. He suggests alternative phonetic symbols which would be
more appropriate for modern Standard Southern British English, but he also
recognises that the traditional set will not be changed overnight, given the
number of text books still using them. If we are to stick with the symbols
currently in use, we will need to avoid taking them at phonetic face value –
the symbols no longer accurately describe the facts.