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    Teaching Pronunciation - Why?


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    Teaching Pronunciation - Why?

    Post by Admin on Thu Feb 19, 2009 12:34 pm

    Teaching Pronunciation - Why?

    Learning to pronounce a language is a very complex
    task, and the learning process can be facilitated if
    the learner is aware of exactly what is involved. It
    is obviously difficult for learners to do this for
    themselves. So the teacher's job is to help learners
    by dividing the language into its components, such as
    sounds, syllables, stress, and intonation. The learner
    needs to understand the functions of these components
    as well as their forms.

    Once learners are aware that English words have a
    stress pattern, that words can be pronounced in
    slightly different ways, and that the pitch of the
    voice can be used to convey meaning, they will know
    what to pay attention to and can build upon this basic
    awareness. Learners also need to develop an awareness
    of the way they pronounce words. Egyptian students
    face certain problems related to pronunciation. Some
    of these problems are related to stress, others are
    related to intonation. However, most of these problems
    can be attributed to the differences in pronunciation
    between English and Arabic.

    Myths and Facts about Learning and Teaching

    Many students and teachers have myths about what it
    means to learn and teach the pronunciation of English.
    These are four most commonly held ones:

    Myth #1:

    Learning the pronunciation of English means learning
    how to pronounce the individual vowel and consonant

    Fact #1:

    There is much more to the pronunciation of English
    than its individual sounds. How these sounds are
    organized plays a greater role in communication than
    the sounds themselves. Two major organizing structures
    are rhythm and intonation.

    Myth #2:

    It is difficult, if not impossible, for students to
    hear and pronounce some sounds, such as the difference
    between the vowel sound in ship and the vowel sound in
    sheep. Therefore, it is useless to spend time on

    Fact #2:

    Pronunciation is an integral part of language
    learning. The abandonment of pronunciation instruction
    has been based on the mistaken belief that
    pronunciation means only sounds, and on the failure of
    such a limited focus to affect learners' overall
    pronunciation. As I have tried to show here, the scope
    of pronunciation is much broader than an inventory and
    description of sounds. It embraces the elements of
    rhythm and intonation, which function in the
    communication process. Thus, any learner with a goal
    of learning English for communicative purposes needs
    to learn the rhythm and intonation of English.

    Myth #3:

    Pronunciation instruction is boring:

    Fact #3:

    Pronunciation teaching is not intrinsically boring.
    Perhaps pronunciation teaching has been boring because
    it has been done in a boring way. However,
    pronunciation teaching is not by nature boring.
    Teaching that does not involve the students'
    intelligence is boring. Teaching that employs material
    that is irrelevant to the students is boring. Practice
    that is monotonous and unvaried is boring. A teacher
    who believes pronunciation teaching is boring is


    Myth #4:

    Nonnative speakers of English cannot teach

    Fact #4:

    Nonnative speakers of English can teach pronunciation.
    Much of the concern about teaching pronunciation has
    centered around the exact pronunciation of vowel and
    consonant sounds. However, if the goal of teaching
    learners is to enable them to communicate in English,
    we can see that communicative effectiveness depends
    not only on the pronunciation of these vowel and
    consonant sounds but on being intelligible speakers.
    Being able to use the rhythm and intonation of English
    will enable speakers to be much more intelligible than
    being able to pronounce vowels and consonants


    It is important for students to know which words of a
    sentence are stressed and which are not. English words
    can be divided into two groups:

    a) Content words: These express independent meaning.
    Content words include nouns, main verbs, adverbs,
    adjectives, question words, and demonstratives.
    Content words are usually stressed.

    b) Function words: These have little or no meaning in
    themselves, but they express grammatical
    relationships. Function words include articles,
    prepositions, auxiliaries, pronouns, conjunctions, and
    relative pronouns. Function words are usually
    unstressed unless they are to be given special

    While all content words receive major word stress, one
    content word within a particular sentence will receive
    greater stress than all the others. This type of
    emphasis is referred to as the major sentence stress.
    In most cases, the major sentence stress falls on the
    last content word within a sentence.

    In English there is a special relationship between the
    different parts of a word. In an English word of two
    or more syllables, one of these will have a stress. If
    the learner does not stress one syllable more than
    another, or stresses the wrong syllable, it may be
    very difficult for the listener to identify the word.
    The stress pattern of a word is an important part of
    its identity for the native speaker and may affect

    Generally speaking, stressed words are different in
    three ways:

     They are louder.

    They are spoken with a different pitch.

    They are usually lengthened.

    Stress is also used to emphasize information in a
    sentence. Usually the words that are stressed are the
    ones that give new information to the listener,
    information that the listener does not really know. In
    the following statement, the speaker is introducing
    the subject: "I went to the movies last night" (no
    change in pitch). But if it is an answer to the
    question "Where did you go last night?" the answer
    should stress "the movies." If the question is "Who
    went to the movies last night?" the answer should
    stress "I," and so on.

    When using someone's name, we separate the name a bit
    from the rest of the sentence. The pitch is often
    different from the rest of the sentence, and the name
    is stressed. Look at this example:

    "Ali, I'd like you to meet Carol."

    This is an introduction. "Ali" is slightly separated
    from the rest of the sentence and it is stressed. The
    teacher can use countless examples to show students
    how stress affects the meaning.


    Speech is like music in that it uses changes in pitch.
    Speakers can change the pitch of their voice, making
    it higher or lower at will. So speech has a melody
    called intonation. The two melodies are rising and
    falling. These can be very sudden or gradual and can
    be put together in various combinations
    (rise-fall-rise, fall-rise-fall, etc.).

    Speakers use pitch to send various messages. For
    example, if Ali had said "There isn't any salt on the
    table," Carol might have repeated the same words but
    with gradually rising pitch. This would have had the
    effect of sending a message such as "Are you sure? I
    am amazed. I was sure I put it there." Alternatively,
    Carol might want to send the message "There is salt
    somewhere, but not on the table," in which case she
    could do this by using a falling then rising pitch on
    the word "table."

    What does intonation do?

    1. Intonation is used to put certain words in the
    foreground. Speakers use pitch to give words stress.
    There are two ways in which pitch is used: a) the
    speaker can emphasize a word by jumping up in pitch,
    and (b) the speaker can use varying pitch, rising or
    falling sharply, to make a word stand out.

    2. Low pitch is used to put things in the background,
    to treat something as old,

    to show anger, or as shared information.

    3. Intonation is used to signal ends and beginnings in

    4. It is used to show whether a situation is open or
    closed. A high or rising pitch indicates an open
    situation, whereas a falling pitch indicates a closed

    5. Intonation is used to show expectations. Strong
    expectations are shown by low or falling pitch,
    whereas lack of expectations is shown by high or
    rising pitch. The best example here is the use of the
    question tag. With a falling pitch on the tag, this
    shows that we expect the answer to be "No." (He
    doesn't speak Russian, does he?)

    Some techniques and strategies for teaching pronunciation:

    There are several techniques and practice materials
    that are still being used to teach pronunciation

    Listen and imitate: In this technique students listen
    to a teacher-provided model and repeat or imitate it.
    This technique can be enhanced by the use of tape
    recorders, language labs and video recorders. (See
    Hello! 7, Unit 1, Exercise J, Page 5.

    Phonetic training: The teacher uses the phonetic
    alphabet. This may involve doing phonetic
    transcription as well as reading phonetically
    transcribed text. (See Hello! 8, Unit 8, Exercise I,
    Page 38 and Unit 12, Exercise J, Page 56


    Minimal pair drills: This helps students distinguish
    between similar and problematic sounds in the target
    language through listening discrimination and spoken
    practice. (See Hello! 8, Unit 7, Exercise J, Page 33.

    Visual aids: The aim here is to enhance the teacher's description of how sounds are produced by audiovisual
    aids such as charts, pictures, realia, etc.

    Tongue twisters: These can help students to pronounce
    the sounds accurately. (See Hello! 8, Unit 10,
    Exercise E, Page 45)

    Practice of vowel shifts and stress shifts: This
    technique is used with intermediate or advanced
    learners. The teacher points out vowel and stress
    shifts in words and sentences.

    e.g. Stress shift: PHOtograph phoTOGraphy

    Sentence context: I can tell from these photographs
    that you are very good at photography.

    (See Hello! 8, Unit 4, Exercise J, Page 20 )

    Reading aloud/recitation: Passages or scripts for
    learners to practise and then read aloud, focusing on
    stress, timing and intonation.

    Recordings of learners' production: Learners' spontaneous speeches and free conversations can be
    tape-recorded . Subsequent playback offers
    opportunities for feedback.

    Use of authentic materials in teaching pronunciation:
    Teachers can use commercially produced materials for
    teaching pronunciation. They can also use anecdotes,
    jokes, passages from literature and the like.
    Limericks are an excellent source of material for
    illustrating the segmental and suprasegmental features
    of English. Here is an example:

    There was an old man of Peru

    Who dreamed he was eating his shoe

    He awoke in the night

    In a terrible fright

    And found it was perfectly true.

    10- Using multimedia in the teaching of pronunciation:
    Multimedia learning aids such as videorecorders,
    computers and other electronic aids present a number
    of advantages, including:

    access to a wide variety of native-speaker speech

    Practice sessions in which the learners can take risks
    without stress and fear of error.

    Opportunity for self-pacing and self-monitoring of

    No need for a teacher's constant supervision.

    An entertaining game-like atmosphere for learning.

    Teaching pronunciation to Arabic-speaking students

    There is a difference in the comparative force of
    pronunciation of stressed and unstressed syllables in
    English and Arabic. In English there is a great
    difference in force: unstressed syllables can be
    pronounced very weakly; stressed syllables can be
    fully pronounced. In Arabic this difference is not
    nearly so extreme; unstressed syllables can have full
    vowels and be pronounced fairly clearly.

    Sentence stress in Arabic is similar to that in
    English. Content words are usually stressed, and
    function words are usually unstressed. However, there
    are two differences that can lead to problems:

    1. Function words in Arabic do not have two forms.
    Vowels in words in an unstressed position keep their
    "full" value, unlike vowels in unstressed words in
    English, which are reduced to "schwa."

    2. Verb phrases do not occur in Arabic. Therefore,
    teachers of English have to pay special attention to
    errors such as the use of full forms of auxiliary
    verbs when the weak form should be used ("I can /kan/
    do it" instead of "I can /k2n/ do it"). It will sound
    as if the speaker is protesting or denying a previous
    statement ("I can do it even though you say I can't "),
    when this meaning is not intended.

    The most noticeable difference between English and
    Arabic with regard to intonation is that Arabic tends
    to use a narrower range of falling pitch over the
    phrase or clause. To the English speaker's ear, this
    may be interpreted as a lack of the correct completion
    signals and may give an impression of

    Another difficulty that teachers of English to
    Arabic-speaking students usually encounter is the
    absence of certain English sounds in Arabic, like /p/
    and /v/. This makes it difficult for students to
    pronounce correctly words containing such sounds.


    Avery, P., and S. Ehrlich. 1992. Teaching American
    English pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University

    Kenworthy, J. 1987. Teaching English pronunciation.
    New York: Longman.

    1995. Speech Works. University of Maryland Baltimore
    County Computer Lab. Software Program.

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