IATEFL 2017: Integrating pronunciation

I just watched a good talk from Mark McKinnon and Nicola Meldrum called ‘Making pronunciation an integral part of your classroom practice’. Here’s a link (I can’t embed the vid for some reason).

I’m a DipTESOL graduate so ‘pron’ is close to home for me. OxfordTEFL is also top of my list for places to work so I was excited about this one!

McKinnon and Meldrum started by mentioning the need to treat pronunciation as equal among language systems, and to integrate the teaching of ‘pron’ into our daily practice. ‘Sounds’ good to me.

They led with a video of one of their learners, Isabel, who was recorded completing a speaking task. As an audience we analysed some of the pronunciation problems she had. The point was to emphasise that analysing our learners’ pronunciation was important – once we know what the issues are then we can ‘begin to integrate relevant and useful pronunciation work’. True.

The presenters chose to isolate one issue that the speaker had – replacing /ð/ with /d/ in words like ‘the’ and ‘they’. It was an interesting choice. Firstly, they chose something segmental. Secondly, I remember something in Jenkins’ Lingua Franca Core (2000) about this sound being kind of replaceable. Basically the /ð/ vs /d/ thing doesn’t seem like a big deal – there are other mistakes the speaker made that would be more relevant to focus on (vowel sounds that actually hinder understanding in ‘bus’ /bɑ:s/, ‘received’ /rɪsaɪvd/, issues with –ed endings, issues with weak sounds, etc).

Anyway, that’s not a big deal. The point was, whether misplaced or not, to narrow your pronunciation focus down to specific areas. They moved on to how to deal these issues. Three initial steps were:

  • Can the speaker hear the sound [or feature]?
  • Why do they make the mistake? (could it be L1 influence?)
  • How can we address this in the classroom?

McKinnon and Meldrum mentioned some stages for dealing with pronunciation issues:

  1. Introduce/isolate/model (the sound in this instance)
  2. Allow time to hear (no pressure)
  3. Noticing tasks (the suggestion was forced choice tasks like minimal pair stuff)
  4. ‘Develop’
  5. Feedback and consolidation

The issue of feedback was highlighted as important – focused feedback on the target pronunciation.

The take-home points were McKinnon and Meldrum’s ‘6 Commandments of Phon’ – tips for teachers dealing with pronunciation in the classroom.

  • Listen and learn
  • Integrate don’t segregate (deal with the particular pronunciation issue in relation to lexical sets you might be introducing, not in an isolated way)
  • Deal with one thing at a time
  • Step out of your ‘Teacher shoes’ – we get comfortable with learners pronunciation so we are less demanding when it comes to errors. Be aware of this
  • Listening needs pronunciation – we focus too much on speaking, but pronunciation is important too for bottom up processing and decoding in listening
  • Consistency – good pron is learnt over a period of time

All useful points.

Overall

The talk was good, but I assumed a different focus. The 6 steps are a good reminder of how to approach integrating pronunciation. Personally, I would have taken one solid example of how to integrate a difficult pronunciation point related to connected speech (e.g. intonation, assimilation, etc) over the general points made, but of course you can’t expect that given the time frame.

A worthwhile watch. There was a link to their blog at the end, which will be updated every couple of weeks. Once it kicks on a bit I’m sure it will be worth a follow.

Reference:

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: OUP

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