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INTEGRATING PRONUNCIATION INTO EFL LESSONS

by Manuel De Iacovo / manueldeiacovo@gmail.com

Integrating pronunciation work into EFL lessons can sometimes be a hard job: should students
learn phonemic symbols? Should we teach all the sounds or only those which hinder
intelligibility? Should we point out the correspondence between sounds and spelling? In this
session, we will tackle these issues taking into consideration various theoretical standpoints with
a view to tailoring EFL materials to our students’ needs.

to begin with, it is important to bring into attention that Argentine students, who are in the
process of learning English as a foreign language, deal with a certain number of challenges as
far as pronunciation is concerned. In fact, physical unfamiliarity is one of the most challenging
features that needs attention. Learners are likely to have difficulties perceiving and producing
certain sounds that require the use of particular organs of speech that differ from those used in
their mother tongue. As a matter of fact, students might find it hard to hear and produce some
vowels and consonants that are fairly frequent in English because those sounds are not
typically used in their River Plate variety of Spanish. For instance, students at primary school
may tend to pronounce the word “three” either /tri:/ or /fri:/ because the consonant /O/ is not
used by Spanish speakers in the River Plate region. Similarly, the pronunciation of the word
“fan” may also be misleading, since the Spanish vowel for letter “a” is noticeably different from
vowel number four, and more similar to vowel number ten. Therefore, native speakers would
tend to understand “fun”, instead.
In addition, learners also need training in the production of the combination of sounds that may
not be problematic for them in isolation. Indeed, four and five-year-olds in kindergarten could
have difficulties pronouncing clusters such as these: /ts/ and /ks/ which are of common
occurrence in English. To illustrate, young learners seem to find pronouncing “It’s” rather
awkward, because it is not a usual cluster in their first language, which they are still in the
process of acquiring. In any case, early years practitioners teaching English might need to
provide children with plenty of exposure to the target language in which these and other similar
sounds and clusters are present, as well as generate situations in the classroom so that they
can produce them.

This leads to the second bullet of this talk: when and how to teach pronunciation? When asked
this question, teacher trainers usually answer: ALWAYS, as pronunciation is obviously an
inseparable part of spoken language. However, it seems evident that schoolteachers cannot
teach pronunciation as the only aspect of the language. Rather, pronunciation work should be
integrated into the lessons in different ways:
These are some of the ways in which this integration could be carried out:
-Whole lessons,
-Discrete slots,
-Integrated phases,
-Opportunistic teaching.

If we are working with adults who are interested in improving their pronunciation, we may devote
an entire lesson to tackle a pronunciation issue of their interest or a common mistake that draws
our attention. This type of lesson is suitable for adults since younger learners may find it difficult
to concentrate on one skill or exercise during a whole class due to their shorter attention spam
and level of abstraction. What is more, teenagers might not find this appealing either, because
despite being able to focus their attention over longer periods of time, they get bored easily and
they appreciate variety in our lessons.

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Alternatively, separate pronunciation slots in the EFL class can prove to be useful and, at the
same time, they can provide a change of pace and activity that may appeal and engage
students at all levels. The teacher can choose the teaching point of the slot based on the needs
and difficulties of each group, or on some aspects proposed by the coursebook or reader which
is being used in class.

Also, pronunciation can be taught in integrated phases. In this way, specific issues are
discussed as an integral part of the lesson, hence pronunciation is tackled in a holistic way.
Many EFL materials in the market contain pronunciation practice of the sounds and intonation
patterns that can be associated with certain grammar points or units of vocabulary. In this
sense, demonstratives typically indicate the need for the drilling of /d/. In the same way, regular
plurals, the possessive case and the third person singular of the present simple tense serve as
springboards to introducing /z/. By the same token, /n/ could be easily associated with the
present participle in the present progressive tense.

Additionally, teachers can also resort to opportunistic teaching, since in the course of a lesson,
the teacher may stop the class and spend some time explaining how to produce a problematic
sound – such as /O/ in the word “three”, in the example mentioned before – clearing out doubts
regarding the way a word like “pot” is pronounced by both British and American speakers, or
teaching the use of the fall-rise tone in topicalised sentences.

As for the way in which pronunciation should be taught, there seems to be general agreement
that there are two essential stages to the teaching of sounds:
- Aural discrimination
- Production
The first refers to the students’ ability to identify the sounds of the target language and
differentiate them. This can be done by the presentation of minimal pairs since the opposition of
words that differ in one sound is easier and less abstract for learners to grasp than the
opposition of sounds in isolation.
Minimal pairs can be worked in word drills, in which case the use of images to the
corresponding words make it easier for students to see the difference. Then, once the students
are acquainted with the words and sounds, the teacher can perform sentence drills. These
could either be syntagmatic drills or paradigmatic ones. The first present contrast within a
sentence, whereas the latter show contrast across two sentences, as you can see in the slide.
The second stage for the teaching of pronunciation is production. Before having students
produce sounds, and after raising their awareness by means of minimal pairs, the teacher can
help learners realize the place and manner of articulation of sounds using various audiovisual
aids, such as sound-colour charts, Fidel wall charts, pictures, mirrors, relia, and so on. With
young children, teachers might associate emotions or adjectives to specific sounds, such as
“sad” with vowel number four, “haughty” with long “o”, fit with short “I”, fast with long “a”, ugly
with vowel number ten, and so on.
There are different activities and games for production. Among the most common ones are
tongue twisters that focus on a challenging sound. Moreover, books often have songs and
chants, which go over the vocabulary that will or has been introduced, therefore teachers can
use this material for the drilling of certain sounds. Teachers can also bring pop songs that
students are already familiar with, or they can have students create their own songs and chants
to put into practice any pronunciation topic that has been discussed. Plus, learners can be
asked to benefit from the repetition or dramatization of dialogues, passages, scripts, or poems
(such as limericks).

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Finally, it is important to point out that most of the coursebooks available in specialized
bookstores are targeted to an international market. In fact, the majority of the mainstream EFL
textbooks that are released by major publishing houses in Argentina cater for the needs of
speakers of various languages whose difficulties as regards pronunciation sometimes differ
from the ones shared by Argentine students. In particular, as plenty of the books nowadays
contain a pronunciation section in every unit that focuses on a specific issue, some of these
may be skipped due to the fact that they might not be significant or challenging for Argentine
students, whereas other pronunciation issues that are not present in the books could be
introduced by the teacher. For example, the teaching of the sound /z/ as in “casual”, or the
consonant /h/ as in “hot” (as you can see in this textbook for primary school children) may not
be significant for students at an elementary or intermediate level since the occurrence of this
sound does not hinder intelligibility. Therefore, the teacher can skip this section so that students
can benefit from the practice of other more problematic issues that need attention.

As a result, it is up to the teacher to select those pronunciation points in a textbook that are
likely to help learners do better bearing in mind their own needs and difficulties.

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