Pronunciation is an area of language teaching that is often overlooked. Many teachers lack the training of confidence to teach it, or don’t appreciate the importance of this area and choose not to spend much time focusing on phonology. Although, as Pennington and Richards say, it is often viewed as having ‘limited importance’ in communicative curricula (1986: 207), it is in fact often the main skills, in particular with features with features of connected speech.
While often neglected, pronunciation teaching is the one area of language teaching where technology has often played a key role, from the days of long-playing records that modeled native-speaker accents to the endless imitation drills on tapes in the golden age of the language lab in the 1970s. More recently, many tools and websites have been developed to help the teacher and learners with pronunciations.
This chapter deal with general pronunciations; including raising awareness of phonetics; and of common pronunciation errors; and more specific areas, such as word stress; features of connected speech; chunking; and minimal pairs.
There are activities that are designed to work on sensitization and ear training: skills for understanding speech that help learners identify and distinguish between different sounds, or help them with the decoding of connected speech. For these activities, we will use pronunciation resources found on video websites; talking pronunciation dictionaries; and phonemic charts and other fools found online.
As far as productive skills are concerned, technology for recording is so commonplace that it seems negligent not to take advantage of it in the classroom. For production, activities use computers with headsets or stand-alone microphones, mobile phones, podcasting websites, voice recognition software, and a teleprompter, i.e. the device used in television to show an actor the script line-by-line.
Recording learners can help in different ways. Learners become more aware of how they sound to others, and this can lead to their becoming more comprehensible when speaking. Although learners will need time to develop this awareness, intelligibility can arguable be improved by first listening to oneself.
When computers play a part in helping learners with pronunciation, this is usually referred to as computer-aided pronunciation (CAP), and although CAP can help by increasing learners’ awareness of their pronunciation performance, it is through recording that learners can more clearly understand other varieties of English and how they differ. Through the use of audio diaries, or creating speech samples for assessment, focus can be directed towards specific features of pronunciation, and these features can be more easily worked on in class.
Podcasting is one example of how technology can be used to support pronunciation, in and out of the classroom. Podcasts are easy-to-create audio files that can be subscribed to and downloaded from the Internet. Learners can also be encouraged to create audio files and upload them. Although it is not strictly necessary to upload the files, doing so provides learners with a sense that there is an audience (beyond the teacher) out there listening, and uploading learner audio can be motivating and lead to increased performance.
Some of the activities in this chapter make use of voice-recording software or voice recorders that are now normally found in every mobile phone. Introducing learners to this frequently overlooked tool can lead to their using it more often outside of the classroom, and this encourages learner autonomy.
I hope the activities here will help you rethink your own teaching and provide ideas on how to integrate technology into your classroom to help your learners with pronunciation.