DELTA Book Review: Teaching English Pronunciation

Only 2 weeks until my DELTA starts, getting nervous but also raring to begin. Here’s my third book review.

Why a picture with ‘listen’? Read on to find out… 

Book details
Teaching English Pronunciation – Joanne Kenworthy – published by Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers Series 1987. Photo by ky_olsen.

What the book’s about?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what ‘Teaching English Pronunciation’ is about, but what exactly does it focus on? The six chapters follow on from each other so it’s best to read it from start to finish not like a reference book. At the start Joanne talks about teacher and student roles and why we should teach pronunciation. Then she goes on to say how intelligibility is important from our students, not perfect RP. After that she gives useful activities to build awareness on the following:

  • Word stress
  • Rhythm
  • Sentence stress
  • Weal forms
  • Intonation
  • Sounds
  • Linkage
The next chapters give more detailed activities and reasons for teaching the above points. There’s also a section on sounds and spellings and a chapter on integrating pronunciation in your lessons.

How has my teaching changed?
It’s funny, but it wasn’t until my sixth year into teaching that I realised the importance of pronunciation. It all came after a talk from our director where he said that an external examiner had mentioned how particularly bad some of our students pronounced. I started to listen more to my students. I understood them, but would anyone who wasn’t an English teacher? Probably not a lot of the time. So I started to correct pronunciation more and try to integrate it into my lessons. The great thing about ‘Teaching English Pronunciation’ is that it explains the importance of teaching pronunciation, but also give a lot of activities to make students aware of how important it is too. 
In my first lesson back in Seville after reading this book I taught a bunch of adults students the way that ‘you’ has a strong and weak form. Some of those students had spent 20 years pronouncing you in strong form as in ʝʊː ‘Where are ʝʊː from?’ but in fact more often than not we pronounce ‘you’ as ʝə as in ‘Where are ʝə from?’ It took them a while to believe me, but it just goes to show how we need to make our students aware of how native speakers really talk.

Best new classroom activities
Teaching English Pronunciation has a load of activities, but here are a couple of my favourites:
  • At the start of term give students an ‘Importance of Pronunciation Questionnaire’ which focusses on making students aware of how they feel when a foreigner speaks poorly in their language and why they should make an effort pronouncing well. Questions can include: What do you do if you are speaking to a foreigner and you can’t understand them? How do/would you feel when a foreigner pronounces your name wrong? How do you feel when a foreigner speaks your language with a good accent?
  • Elicit a variety of famous people’s names, important places, and landmarks, and get the students to mark the stress of the words; to highlight the differences from their language.
  • Shifting stress: Good for beginners and young learners. Two speakers ask the same questions in turn but change the stress accordingly. For example: ‘Where are you from?’ ‘I’m from Spain, where are you from?’
  • Strong and weak forms. Once you have taught various words which have a weak and strong form (list of words with weak and strong form) pick any song and get the students to predict which words will be weak or strong. This can be done with a lot of listening scripts from your text books too.
  • Minimal pair practise for sounds. Prepare a list of words which have a similar sound, e.g. /θ/ and /ð/ (think, the) and students have to circle, run up to the board and hit, stand up or sit down, depending on which one they think they heard. There’s lots more in the book so buy it: Teaching Pronunciation .

Would I recommend it?
Err, well, if you’re actually bothered about your students improving their pronunciation then yes. I think what I’ve started to realise is that as my students become more aware of the real way native speakers pronounce their words, use weak and strong forms, link up a lot of words together, use intonation to express meaning, then not only will they become better speakers, but better listeners. I think one of the reasons why students have so many problems listening is because they can’t recognise the sounds we use. How many times have you heard “Profe, they speak very quicker,” or “I don’t understand nothing”? Maybe if they knew more about pronunciation then their listening skills would increase too.

To conclude: buy the book, or at least read it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *