Webinar: Teaching English pronunciation for the real world (Laura Patsko)

This webinar from November 2018 is a good introduction to the concept of English as a Lingua Franca. The hour-long session gives an overview the following:

  • Why teach pronunciation?
  • Who uses English nowadays?
  • What should we prioritise for learners’ pronunciation?
  • What can we do in the classroom?

It’s certainly a tall order to cover all these areas in such a short session, but Patsko’s summary is clear and she provides plenty of links for further reading.

Patsko says we should teach pronunciation because…

She then shared some interesting facts about who speaks English nowadays… apparently 80% of spoken interaction in English happens with no native-English speaker present – sounds believable. Also, 80% of English language teachers are non-native speakers.

Intelligibility

Patsko mentioned comfortable intelligibility as a goal for effective pronunciation. She stressed that an older definition of this term suggests that pronunciation should be intelligible to a native speaker, but these days this is not as relevant. We can’t assume that the listener is a native speaker anymore – a vast majority of the world’s English speakers don’t have English as an L1. With this in mind…

‘Do we want to prepare learners for how we would prefer English to be, or how English really is?’ (Patsko)

Priorities

Patsko referred to the Jenkins’ Lingua Franca Core (LFC) to highlight priorities for ELF intelligibility.

Her overview of this was understandably brief, but the point was clear: we might be prioritising the wrong things when teaching pronunciation. The important thing to remember is that pronunciation priorities relate to intelligibility in an international English-speaking context. Use of the schwa, weak forms, and various aspects of connected speech could be detrimental to effective communication, so should we prioritise the teaching of these? Perhaps not, but prioritising some aspects doesn’t mean disregarding others – it’s still important to teach less-essential features for receptive purposes. Patsko also stated the importance of relating these findings to your own context.

In practice…

Patsko stressed that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to integrate findings from the LFC into the mix…

If you teach in an ELF setting then exploit it. If you teach shared-L1 classes then you can exploit common areas of challenge, and you need to find examples of other L2 voices. Raising awareness of learners’ own voices and the voices of others is important and useful.

The webinar ended with a few practical examples. Patsko demonstrated a discrimination activity, and also provided an example of how learners can borrow sounds from their L1 to help with pronunciation in English.

What I gained from the session

I enjoyed the overview and it was nice to hear Patsko talking on the topic – she commented on my recent post on ‘Pronunciation Priorities’ when I was trying to get my head around the LFC in practice.

I realise that my interpretation of vowel distinctions (long and short) may be too simplistic. Patsko mentioned that one priority when teaching vowels is to raise awareness of how vowel length can be dependent on the sound which follows (examples she gave included ‘back’ vs ‘bag’ and ‘hat’ vs ‘had’). This is something I can address with my learners for sure, so this was a good take home point and something I’ve failed to address previously (see here).

Overall, the webinar was an hour well spent, I’d recommend it.

(Slide shots copyright Macmillan)

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5 comments

  1. Have you seen Robin Walker’s Pronunciation Matters webinar? We showed some of it to our teachers yesterday – it’s 90 minutes, so with discussion we only managed half of it! I think it really shows the importance of pronunciation: https://elt.oup.com/teachers/professionaldevelopment/webinar-library/pronunciation_matters?cc=pl&selLanguage=pl This version is in the Oxford Teacher’s Club area, but that’s free to join and there’s loads of stuff in there. There are other versions of the talk around too if you prefer not to log in.

    Liked by 2 people

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