All of our students want to sound natural and have a ‘native-like’ accent. As a teacher it’s important to understand the reasons why our students struggle to produce the right sounds, so we can help them improve.
There are four reasons that students have trouble producing the correct sounds:
- They Can’t Pronounce
- They Don’t Pronounce
- Literary Interference
- Problems with Connected Speech
Let’s look at each one in turn and see how we can help our students overcome the problem.
They Can’t Pronounce
The Problem: there is no equivalent sound in the student’s own language.
A classic example for Chinese learners is the /th/ sound (as in ‘think’). Chinese learners typically pronounce is as /s/, leading to /think/ to sound like /sink/.
The Solution: raise the learners’ awareness of the sounds. Use the phonemic chart. Model how your lips move. Show them a diagram of the mouth and throat and show them where to place their tongue, lips, etc. A great resource: http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/
They Don’t Pronounce
The Problem: Students know how to produce the sounds but don’t.
There are a couple of reasons that this occurs:
- Sometimes the students are just being lazy (it can be quite an effort to contort your mouth into new shapes for a whole lesson!)
- Sometimes they’re afraid of sounding silly in front of classmates.
The Solution: if the students are afraid of sounding silly, then make it a game. Model yourself exaggerating the sounds and pulling silly faces in the process. Also remind them that if they keep their lazy pronunciation, they sound particularly silly in English!
If the students are being lazy, turn it into a game as well – and that students can lose points every time they mispronounce a target sound during a lesson. Non-verbal correction (i.e. tapping your pen) every time they make a pronunciation error with a target sound can be a great way to focus their attention.
The Problem: this happens when students mispronounce a word after reading it (and assuming it sounds how it is spelled)
The Solution: For younger learners, it could be an idea to brush up on their phonics if they display consistent errors with standard pronunciations. Otherwise, correct as and when they appear, when appropriate.
Problems with Connected Speech
The Problem: When learners sound like a robot, pronouncing every word fully in a sentence, rather than shortening them in ways a native speaker would.
The Solution: Raising awareness of connected speech (e.g. weak forms) and making sure that you’re teaching them http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/connected-speech.
Good luck and good teaching!