The Oxford TEFL Blog

Teaching pronunciation advice from Trinity DipTESOL guest tutor Adrian Underhill

Phonology and how we teach pronunciation is a key part of the Trinity DipTESOL course for many teachers. In fact, it is often the reason they choose the Trinity DipTESOL over the Cambridge DELTA. The Trinity DipTESOL assesses Phonology as a separate unit and also as part of the teaching practice. Needless to say, this means significant development and changes for how many teachers approach pronunciation.

Adrian Underhill

To help prepare teachers for the assessment we spend four weeks of the online phase of our course learning about phonology and asking teachers to try things out in their lessons and reflect on the role pronunciation plays in their teaching. The aim is to build their knowledge of phonology as a subject and to equip teachers to integrate pronunciation work into every lesson! As one of our tutors, Mark McKinnon says, “Can we really say we have taught a word if we don’t teach how it sounds?”

In these phonology modules teachers are quizzed on what they learn about phonology, practice transcribing in phonemic script and make videos explaining how they would teach a specific aspect of pronunciation to their learners. They also try things out in class and report back on how it went. They cover everything from connected speech to intonation to individual sounds and word stress.

As well as this, how better to help develop your pronunciation teaching than interacting with Adrian Underhill? I am sure many of you have seen his excellent videos on teaching pronunciation and maybe you follow his blog. Many of the posts from this blog originated on our Trinity DipTESOL course, where he is a regular guest, answering teacher’s questions about teaching pronunciation.

Below are some examples of answers he gave on his last appearance on the course.

Selecting sounds to work on

“You could teach pronunciation bit by bit or wait for an issue to arise an then tackle it. But you won’t have to wait to see a pronunciation issue. They’re under your nose every minute of the lesson. Pron needs attention as soon as someone starts to speak, You don’t PAUSE the lesson to work on pron, you ADD VALUE to the rest of the lesson by giving pron physical grounding in the mouth and in the breath. OK, you may select one or two sounds before a lesson, but I prefer to work with what happens in the lesson. Then I don’t break continuity, and I use the flow of energy already there. And this might be at the level of sounds, or words and word stress, including their component sounds, or connected speech including joining words, stress and intonation. Pron is not just sounds, it is the comfortable intelligibility of the whole utterance. Be ready to work with whatever is getting in the way. You are doing two things when you work on pron, 1) helping students to put the right words together in the right order which is what most of your lesson is about,  and 2) helping them get the words out of their heads through their mouths into easily comprehensible air waves … ie all the pron at the three levels I mentioned 1) sounds, 2) words and word stress and unstress, 3) connected speech with the feeling of meaning (intonation).

Pronunciation and advanced students

All levels need pronunciation. Challenge them with sounds, with speed, with slowing down, with joining words, with audibility, with joining words, with stress, and especially with unstress.  Don’t worry about looking for whole group mistakes, just work with an individual for a moment, making sure the whole class is attentive, then challenge the whole class to do the same thing , and it they do it well, don’t just rubber stamp it, but pick individuals up on something else they have just said that could be improved, In other words, don’t just correct one person on one thing, upgrade everyone on whatever presents itself. Upgrading is more fun, creative, and communal than correcting. This way the ball keeps moving round the class. Upgrades replace and include corrections. And all the time your are rehearsing the main language points of your lesson. So no time is wasted. In fact time is better used as you have a more intelligent kind of ‘repetition’.

What accent to teach?

Whether you are a Native or Non Native teacher, I recommend everyone to teach your own pronunciation, teach how you speak, and expose your students to lots of other variations of English as well. Get them to notice and enjoy the differences, to be playful and have fun with imitating other accents. Suddenly the whole of pron begins to make a little sense, become a little bit doable.

What do you think about Adrian’s advice in these three examples? Where do we start with selecting what to teach or address in class when it comes to pronunciation? And what about advanced learners? Does our job stop when they achieve intelligibility?

If you would like to discuss how the Trinity DipTESOL course at OxfordTEFL can help you integrate pronunciation more effectively into your teaching get in touch with us or download our Trinity DipTESOL infopack. You can also watch Nicola, course director speak about integrating pronunciation into lessons here or visit her blog here.

The next Trinity DipTESOL course starts on February 2nd 2018. Don’t miss out by enrolling here.

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