Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Teaching English sounds

Priorities for phonology in the pronunciation class

Here are some of the main criteria:

  1. Comprehensible: are learners able to identify the sounds and are their articulations understood by native speakers?
  2. Social Acceptability: are learners producing sounds that are aesthetically acceptable to the ears of native speakers?
  3. Ease of Production: do learners have a good chance of successfully learning to produce the sounds?
  4. Number of familiar words (functional load): do the sounds occur frequently in essential &/or very useful words?
  5. Likely to be a bad habit affecting other sounds: are errors getting in the way of other important targets?

Functional load, frequency and meaning

Confusing / θ / and / ð / will rarely lead to misunderstanding, but confusing /s/ and / θ / , / ð / or /z/ can. This is likely to affect learners of English from French, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese or Russian language backgrounds. Speakers of these languages do not have separate phonemes for these English consonant sound contrasts.

The consonant contrasts affect many common English words, so poor production of these sounds will be noticeable. Teaching should focus on both recognition and production. Difficulty of production should not be too great, because the above consonant sounds are produced at the front of the mouth i.e. this motor skill is not too difficult to learn.

How much phonetics and phonology do teachers and learners of English language need to know and use?

Language is a means of communication. Differences in sound systems have a phonological basis: they depend on variation in speech organ positions or breath control. Teachers must understand the physical aspects of sound production.

Teachers will not necessarily teach these to students, but this knowledge will provide a basis for teachers to identify the physical reasons for inaccurate approximations of foreign language sounds, enabling them to give precise instructions which will help students correct faulty pronunciation. Unless teachers understand how students are using their speech organs in producing a native language sound and what they should be doing to reproduce the foreign language sound acceptably, teachers will not be able to help students beyond a certain stage of earnest but inaccurate imitation. Incorrectly articulated consonants will affect the production of vowels, as vowels will affect consonants. Students therefore require steady practice and muscle training. Pronunciation is a motor skill that needs practice.

Phonology lessons will centre on:

  1. Hearing: physical demonstration. Discrimination exercises e.g. ship or sheep? / ɪ / or / i: / ?
    Which vowel sounds occur in: "it", "bit", "eat", "fit", "feet", "seat", "sit" ?
  2. Production. Physically making sounds.
  3. Expanded contexts. Phrases and sentences as well as phonemes between closed consonants.

Click HERE for lists of COMMON ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION MISTAKES BY LANGUAGE BACKGROUND and suggestions for learners and teachers.

Recommended materials for English phonology practice

cover cover cover cover cover

[L1]-[L2] Tree or Three? : Student Book (2nd Edition) and 3 audio CDs - by Ann Baker, Leslie Marshall [****]
[L2]-[L4] Ship or Sheep? Student Book (third edition) and 4 audio CDs - by Ann Baker [*****]
[L2]-[L4] English Pronunciation in Use Elementary Book with Answers, 5 Audio CDs & CD-ROM by Sylvie Donna and Jonathan Mark
[L3]-[L5] English Pronunciation Illustrated: Student Book John Trim, Peter Kneebone [*****][excellent collection of minimal pairs]
[L3]-[L5] English Pronunciation Illustrated: Cassette
[L3]-[L5] English Pronunciation in Use Intermediate Book with Answers, Audio CDs and CD-ROM by Mark Hancock
[L3]-[L5] Elements of Pronunciation Colin Mortimer [*****] [covers consonant clusters, link up, contractions, weak forms, stress patterns]
[L3]-[L5] Elements of Pronunciation Set of 4 Cassettes
[L4]-[L6] English Pronunciation in Use Advanced Book with Answers, 5 Audio CDs and CD-ROM by Martin Hewings

Phonetics and phonology: resources for teacher development

Learner English Michael Swan (Ed.), Bernard Smith (Ed.) [*****] [covers common phonological & grammatical errors by language background]
Learner English: Audio Cassette
Learner English: Audio CD
Phonetics for Learners of English Pronunciation (book and audio CD) by Marianne Jordan
Longman Pronunciation Dictionary by J. C. Wells [*****] [by an expert in the field] [published 2000]
Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary (17th Edition) with CD-ROM by Daniel Jones, Peter Roach, James Hartman and Jane Setter [*****]
The Communicative Value of Intonation in English David Brazil (Ed.) et al [Brazil's system for describing how intonation works]
Teaching English Pronunciation Joanne Kenworthy [ Good for language teachers embarking on the theory and practice ]
English Phonetics and Phonology Peter Roach [A Practical Course: good for higher level learners as well as teachers. Accompanying audio recording also available ]
A Course in Phonetics by Peter Ladefoget [ 9th August 2000 ]
This book [ originally published in 1975 ] has also been through several editions and is still acknowledged as the best course for university undergraduates seriously interested in articulatory phonetics. Like the above title, it is offered as a "course", though it sufficienty comprehensive to satisfy the needs of students of linguistics. "Phonetics" focuses on "the production of sounds", while "Phonology" extends to the "study of sounds within a language system". Students whose practical and linguistic interests relate directly to the English language, should consider an easy practice book from the section above or the next title in this section by A. C. Gimson.
Gimson's Pronunciation of English [ 2nd March, 2001 ]
Originally published in 1962 as "An introduction to the pronunciation of English", there has been nothing to better this course, which covers the production of speech, sounds in a language, the English vowel sounds and the English consonant sounds as well as social (e.g. Received Pronunciation), geographical (e.g. Regional Variations) and historical perspectives.
English Accents and Dialects: An Introduction To Social And Regional Varieties Of English In The British Isles by Arthur Hughes and Peter Trudgill
This book is most suited to students of sociolinguistics who wish to sample variations from "received pronunciation" within the geographical regions specified in the title. The level of analysis is for people with a background in linguistics. However, an actor or actress wishing to perfect their Lowland Scots, Devon or Dublin accent and to pick up some of the lexical items in a particular dialect, may find this a valuable source. There is an accompanying audio cassette.
International English: A Guide to Varieties of Standard English by Peter Trudgill and Jean Hannah
This study takes English beyond the British Isles. Here the analysis focuses on variations from "received pronunciation" across Continents. "International English" covers the distinctive features of English in England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales, the USA, Canada, Ireland, the West Indies, West Africa and India. Again, the work is probably most likely to appeal to students of sociolinguistics (language and society) at university level. However, this and the previous title make excellent background reading for any student undertaking stylistic analysis of any regional, social or occupational variety of English. Sixth formers in UK Secondary Schools are now continuously assessed on project work, which may include a study of the language of journalism (news reports), advertising, pop music, fashion, teenagers or other social groups. These projects are usually functionally based and adequate attention is usually given to language function and lexis. Further consideration could probably be extended to how phonetic & phonological features help to recognise the functions of professional and/or social registers. Some background in phonetics or phonology is really needed to get the most out of these works.

Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet
The headquarters of IPA is in University College London, which has been graced by the presence of many of the UK's best linguists, especially those specialising in phonetics and phonology. If you are looking towards a recognised qualification in both the practice and theory of phonetics, then the handbook will allow you to see the IPA Chart and will give you some idea of the number of sounds you will have to cover, including the bilabial click (a kissing sound which exists in several African languages, though not in English!). Likely candidates for the recognised public examination include linguists who are expected to be able to transcribe speech or speech therapists who are expected to have a thorough knowledge of speech organs and the methods of articulation. Linguists such as David Crystal have made valuable contributions both to language teaching theory and to description of language disability. There are careers for good phoneticians both in education and the health service at levels ranging from classroom teacher or practical therapist to senior researcher.

Academic research

Educational resources for phonetics and phonology from University College London.

People from various fields (higher education, language disability, drama) who wish to pursue an interest in phonology (e.g. for doctoral research) should take this link for a description of the MA in Phonology offered at University College London - the home of the International Phonetic Alphabet.

If you want to sample a text book for the study of speech pathology and audiology (which you may well use on a UCL course), take the link to a Speech Science Primer: Physiology, Acoustics, and Perception of Speech

Thursday, May 8, 2008