Pronunciation Tips

I’m just about to finish a great course on phonetics and phonology and, being a teacher myself, I know I leave my term armed with lots of very helpful hints for my students.

One thing that helped me explaining things to student was the fact that, in English, we tend to stress the most important words in a sentence. So something like “Do you want to go to the movies?” when spoken naturally and fluently might be difficult for students to understand because they will try to understand every single word they hear, but I was able to tell some of them already that they only need to focus on the most important and prominent sounds, like “go” and “movies”, and then they will understand the idea behind the sentence.

Another thing is that students commonly have trouble speaking the word “world” correctly, the tip I got was to have them say “were old” and then slowly trying to speak them closer together. This has been helping a lot in getting students to understand this sound is constructed and how to do it themselves.

Also, we exchanged ideas on how to ask students to break down a word and focus on speaking each syllable at a time or each chunk at a time, to make it easier for them to figure out all the sounds that belong to a word and only after that go into practicing the complete word. In addition, it was great learning little things that might go unnoticed like the stress between adj+noun and compound nouns.

These tips can work as a great way to teach students more quickly and efficiently about pronunciation and I have already been using them, I hope I can learn new ones in the future.

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Pronunciation vs. Communication in the English Language

Much has been said about the pronunciation of the English language. Should students be worried about acquiring a native-like accent? Should they pay attention to very specific sounds and try to reproduce them just like an American or a British person does? I believe the answer is to focus on communication first, and polish their English as practice takes place.

As I did some research on the matter, I found some reading that said that native speakers might find speakers with a strong accent difficult to understand. This is an interesting point indeed, and I do believe students must be guided into a kind of pronunciation that is not heavily influenced by their mother tongue to facilitate communication.

However, another point must be taken into consideration: Globalization. English is definitely the language that most people around the world use to communication with one another, all of them have different linguistic backgrounds that will influence their pronunciation somehow. Should all of them try to have one single accent when speaking English to facilitate conversations with native speakers?

The answer might just lie in the middle. Students must work to achieve speaking skills in a way that is not so affected by their mother tongue, so not only native speakers, but also other English speakers can understand them more easily. At the same time, native speakers could also learn how to be more receptive to different types of pronunciation, especially if they must deal with foreigners on a frequent basis.

In essence, I don’t think it’s fair to ask students to adapt their pronunciation and accent entirely, as listeners might just as well learn to be more receptive. Both sides working together might lead to efficient communication, which should always be the main goal.

Using Movie Scripts to Enhance Learning.

Have you ever wondered how movie scripts help translate text to image? We all love and know films and understanding the language of screenplays can not only be fun, but educational as well. Here are the steps to enhance students’ learning using movie scripts.

First, there are a myriad of different characters that students can write about, who may have different backgrounds and come from different cultures so, to write about them, students would have to consider sociological aspects of their characters that would affect their behavior and speech, which would lead them to study about the world. This is a wonderful way for students to get used to doing research.

Second, students should be explained about how scripts work and the structure they should expect to find when reading one. Screenplays are not structured like novels, poems, short stories, news articles or any other way that would be more familiar to the students. The scene is set with short, abbreviated sentences and detailed description is avoided as only the necessary information for the scene is described. The teacher must show scenes to the students and present their scripts. Examples are paramount in this stage as students must be familiarized with the script structure before moving on.

Third, students must transform movie scenes into scripts. This is where they start producing their first material by following the structure previously discussed. Students will be shown some movie scenes and must write how they think the scene was scripted. This is where they will practice the script structure and become more comfortable with it, which will prepare them for the final step.

Finally, students must produce scene scripts from scratch, they should be allowed more time between classes so they can do research about different cultures and societies, as previously stated. Also, they must pay attention to use the correct script structure that they will have practiced. This is where this idea really comes together, as it gets students doing research and producing writing.

In addition, the students’ scenes may be used in a number of different ways afterwards, from acting out the scenes in front of the class to maybe a movie project with the school.

In conclusion, this is a fun process that gets students interested and engaged, while producing lots of writing with active interaction and learning about the world.

L1 in Class

The thought that using L1 (mother tongue) is usually shunned by English-teaching institutions around the world, who say that students should be in an environment with constant use of the target language, the goal is to provide the maximum immersion experience possible. However, even though I see the point in doing so, ignoring L1 in class provides for more disadvantages than advantages.

I do belief that if you’re in a class with students from many different countries, there is no other option because their mother tongues are too different and diverse and English would be the common ground for all. Most English classes around the world, however, are for people from the same city, all of which share similar backgrounds and culture, as well as their teacher. And sharing characteristics accounts for an advantage the teacher has over teachers of multi-language students.

First, L1 can be used for quick translations in situations where time can’t afford to be wasted, such as helping students carrying on a conversation they are very engaged in.

Second, there are common mistakes made by students precisely because their dependence on their mother tongue that need to be addressed, Brazilian teachers will understand this if I mention the mix-up their students make between “have” and “there be”. Situations like this are proof that L1 can’t be ignored in English classes when they will help students figure out things about their target language more easily.

Also, L1 is a fantastic tool for beginner levels. We must stop ignoring the fact that every person starts learning a new language by translating things in their heads, and translation can come as a great starting point if dealt with properly. It is a way for teachers to ensure that students grasped the correct idea behind using a particular structure and it helps in making sure students understand what they have to do.

Finally, students are individual people with personal needs. Some of them need their mother tongue to feel more confident about their learning. They might use it to compare different ways that ideas are conveyed in L1 and L2, they may use it to learn vocabulary better, or in any other way they feel they learn more effectively.

In conclusion, teachers are always on the lookout for better techniques to help their students, and using L1 in class is an effective tool that can no longer continue to be ignored.

Of Tigers, Strippers and Communication

Once I asked a student to explain what a tiger is, I couldn’t help laughing when I heard “A tiger is a big car with strippers”. My poor student, let’s call him David, was only trying to say “stripes”, but he mixed-up the spelling and that was the result, followed by a funny explanation of what a stripper really is, which made the class laugh quite a lot. This memory is a good example of a student that is not afraid to speak and make mistakes, and this fearlessness is a key point when learning another language.

The fact above happened in 2006 in Brazil, and David had been my student for a little over two years then. He used to be very shy, afraid of speaking and making mistakes, which would drive him to avoid chances of expressing himself, as he would try to analyze everything he wanted to say in his head beforehand. A mistake like the one mentioned above would make him feel terrible. I have always told my students that it is important for them to speak their minds, to participate in speaking activities, regardless of mistakes made. Above all, they should focus on achieving communication, and if there are grammar errors, that is what I am there for, to polish their use of English as they make use of it. David had heard this speech many times before, but could never really grasp the concept that when students concentrate more on the message and less on grammar, it helps them produce more English and, therefore, feel more confident about doing so. However, in spite of my constant attempts to try and make him speak more freely, the results were unsatisfying and David’s progress was slow.

Salvation had come in November the year before; his boss asked him to go to Washington, the capital of the United States, to participate in a conference and people from all over the world would be there. Of course, David couldn’t say no to this chance and I encouraged him tremendously. I later learned that he was so nervous about not being able to rely on Portuguese, his mother tongue, to talk to people in the conference that he was shivering as he boarded the plane.

Now this is interesting… how afraid a person can be of making mistakes. David wasn’t nervous about going to a different country, thousands of kilometers away from home. He wasn’t nervous about reporting the conference data to his boss. He wasn’t nervous about dealing with different weather and culture. What made him shiver was the fact that he was going to have to speak English! That’s how much making mistakes affected him.

When he came back to class after his trip, he was a whole new person. He was speaking his thoughts as naturally as he did in his first language. It’s not that he had mastered the use of English in the fifteen days that he was in DC; he simply overcame his fear of speaking. The fact that he was forced to handle himself in English because of the conference is irrelevant. He still made grammar and vocabulary mistakes, but he did not fear them anymore, and that did wonders for his learning progress.

David later told us that he made mistakes when he was in Washington, but he had no choice, he had to speak to people. As the days went by, it dawned on him that he was communicating very well with other English speakers, and he began to relax about his conversation skills and stopped worrying about eventual grammar mistakes. He started learning, by himself, strategies for communicating or figuring out vocabulary, even if it meant making mistakes like saying tigers are giant cats with strippers. He learned not to dread his errors, but to see them as an opportunity to learn new things and, why not, have fun with them. David leveled up his English amazingly, simply because he was now focusing on getting his message across more than using good grammar, which improved naturally.

David’s story is the one I like to share with my students to help them realize what he did: That being unafraid of mistakes makes them happen less and less frequently. The “perfect” use of grammar that my students keep trying to reach will come naturally from all the practice they will get exercising how to exchange ideas. After all, studying any language is about, first and foremost, communicating.

Advantages of Being Bilingual

Learning a different language is a challenge many take on, but not all see through. Sure, it is a long process that requires a good amount of dedication, but it can be very rewarding as well. It is a process that can bring one amazing personal growth, let alone financial possibilities. I would like to discuss some advantages of being bilingual.

First, when I was young, I used to hear adults saying I should learn English because it would help me get a good job. Globalization was escalating very quickly back then and English was on its way to becoming the main form of communication around the world. They were right. Jair Felix, from National Geographic Learning, said that between one and two billion people speak English nowadays, and more than half of them are not native speakers. Negotiations are carried out throughout the world by a myriad of different nations and all in English, which leads to more job offers and career opportunities for those who speak this language.

Also, you can’t learn a different language without learning about a different culture, and that is always a wonderful improvement for the human spirit. The way we think and handle ourselves has a lot to do with the culture and society which we were brought up in, so we were given a set of directions on how to act when we face certain situations. Basically, we can say that as we grow up and mature, we receive a type of map that tells us how to behave. So, by learning and understanding a different culture, you will suddenly find yourself with a whole new set of maps, and therefore, with a broader variety of directions that will enable you to deal with the most diverse situations much more efficiently. You will become a more resourceful person.

These are only some of the reasons why learning a new language can be quite advantageous and prepare you to be a better, more open-minded, prepared citizen of the world.

Dear Maggie

Dear teacher Maggie,

This is the blog I have created to post my writing for TDC2. It shows some of my ideas and experiences teaching English and I hope it showcases improvemente in my writing skills. I believe I learned, or at least got better at, writing different types of essays. These new skills will also help in teaching better writing to my students, as well as providing more detailed feedback. Also, I have developed a taste for writing and got back my interest in continuing an old blog I had.

So thank you, teacher. I had fun and will still do.