Starting off just after an initial qualification is exciting, and the thrill of being in the classroom is a great experience. For many teachers, the new insight into grammar and vocabulary continues to grow, but even for Diploma candidates, pronunciation often remains a challenge. Gerhard Erasmus reflects on how he came to terms with teaching pronunciation, and shares experiences to help you become a more comfortable pronunciation teacher.
When I started teaching, I found pronunciation teaching very frustrating. The coursebook activities didn’t always make sense to me, and often because my knowledge of pronunciation and related terminology was lacking. I felt it was fair more exciting to sit in the teachers’ room chatting about grammar and usage, or lexical chunks and skills development, than it was to chat about pronunciation. Pronunciation teaching only appeared on the radar again when I did the Cambridge DELTA, and even after completing the course, I still didn’t feel completely comfortable teaching pronunciation. But, I had a DELTA, and I felt much more comfortable in the class and the excitement returned. It took me about a year after finishing the DELTA to begin actively thinking about pronunciation if I’m honest, and I realised I didn’t know actually how to teach it! I mean I could do the activities, I could make things fun, but I wasn’t as comfortable with teaching pronunciation and discovered that I basically had no tools in my pronunciation tool box other than drilling or letting students listen to something and tell me what they have heard.
Making a plan
When I started teaching, I learned more about grammar just before and while teaching it than I did when I actually studied grammar. I decided to apply the same learning to pronunciation teaching and keep record in a diary. This means, every time there was a pronunciation activity in a course book, I found out what terminology described a specific pronunciation feature, then made notes with example sentences and the activity from the book. This means that over a period of about six months, my knowledge of terms had grown and I was much better able to describe phonology and pronunciation, but my teaching was still limited to drilling and course book activities.
Unfortunately, similar to grammar, declarative knowledge of something doesn’t necessarily mean that I could teach it effectively. It might sound very intelligent to talk about whether to use ‘who’ or ‘that’ after indefinite pronouns, or how ‘catenation’ affects linking in connected speech, but the main point of teaching is really for students to become more effective and accurate themselves.
The search online
Having learned the terminology, it was a lot easier to understand what I was looking for when I started looking for online worksheets and activities to help my students with pronunciation. I also started following groups and people online, including people like Mark Hancock, Adrian Underhill, and the IATEFL PronSIG (Pronunciation Special Interest Group). Half a year later, my pronunciation teaching had significantly improved. My diary notes allowed me to label and group certain worksheets and activities that I had found online together, meaning it was easier to find them again later. I would also add notes to activities in terms of what worked and what didn’t. Suddenly I found myself replacing coursebook activities with a whole range of pronunciation activities. And, in doing so, I felt much more comfortable with myself as a teacher.
Back to books
It was around this time when I started tutoring on the Trinity Certificate TESOL, so to make sure I was ready for the pronunciation component of the course, I read books that I hadn’t touched since my DELTA days. There are a number of articles and blogposts on which books to read and in which order, but I can say that there is a very big difference between reading a book the first time during a course, referring to it in academic writing and reading parts again a second time, and then reading it a third time because you have to teach from it.
Having done these steps, I felt much more comfortable walking into training sessions for the Trinity Certificate, TYLEC, or Trinity Diploma, especially as I understood my own journey. That made me a lot more confident helping other teachers develop their pronunciation teaching, because I am sure they might leave a course thinking ‘I don’t know how to teach pronunciation’ and as with everything teaching, it takes some time, planning, reading, experimenting, and record keeping.
If you are struggling with pronunciation teaching, or wrestling with whether it’s even worth teaching, I hope my journey offers some guidance in terms of how to get better at it. Learn, read, experiment, reflect, and all the things we learn on training courses. The key really is to be systematic, and that applies even if the area you want to get better at is not pronunciation. It is fine to say in 2021 ‘I don’t know how to teach pronunciation’ but looking forward to 2022 and beyond, hopefully that will change to you being very comfortable with teaching pronunciation in an effective and engaging manner.
Do let us know what pronunciation books you pick up and find useful, or even which websites you end up bookmarking as favourites in the comments below. We would love to know how you get on.