Improve Your Pronunciation & Listen To English Varieties

/ Lesson tips, Listening training, New to ELT, Teachers

Students often struggle with listening because of their pronunciation. Since they mispronounce words, they expect a different pronunciation and cannot recognize words because they are pronounced differently. It is not unusual that they don’t recognize words because the speaker’s pronunciation is different from the one they are used to (usually the teacher’s pronunciation). Students very often prefer one variety of the English language, e.g. British, only because they have had British teachers in English. However, English has many varieties.
So, it’s essential that you approach pronunciation and varieties from the first lesson at A1 level.

Here are some tips you could consider when preparing your next lesson:

To improve pronunciation, drilling can work very well at lower levels. Students often segment sentences and break them down into shorter phrases. However, in natural speech, words are pronounced with a particular stress and sentences have their own intonation. So practice both of them with your students. 

After introducing a new word, ask your students to repeat it to you, first in chorus, then individually, at least two-three of two students. Do the same with sentences, above all, if they are fixed phrases or often used utterances. Make them repeat them in chorus a couple of times and then pick one or two students. This way they connect what they need to hear with the way they can pronounce it.

Apart from the monotonous repeating task, you can drill in many different ways. Find some really good tips on how to drill pronunciation in THIS BRITISH COUNCIL ARTICLE.

Teaching different varieties of pronouncing the same word should be introduced at the beginning (just think of the well-known potato/tomato pronunciation patters: British vs. American). Exposing your students to different varieties of English becomes essential from level B1/B1+. At higher levels, your students will need to be able to understand any (native or non-native) English speakers and it doesn’t only include British vs. American English, but all the other varieties from New Zealand over the Republic of South Africa to Jamaica.

So, the first thing to do is to make your students familiar with these different varieties at word level. FORVO is an excellent website to do this. 
Once on the website, you can type in any word you want to show to your students and you will see a list of speakers who registered on this site and taped their pronunciation for the given word. Next to their username you also see their nationality. Let you students play with words they know or are curious about.

At A2 level, the emphasis moves from word level (word stress) to sentence level (intonation), which means that you need to expose your students to different authentic audio/video materials. On NETFLIX, for example, you will find excellent examples of American pronunciation in sitcoms or films (like MODERN FAMILY), Australian variety in documentaries (like ASK YOUR DOCTOR) and British pronunciation in soap operas (like THE CROWN). Make them watch something regularly in your lessons or set for homework (with, later without subtitles) to get familiar with the different ways of pronouncing frequent words and utterances.
If you watch sitcoms and films regularly, you will soon have your list of bests for every level. You can also prepare your quiz questions to the scene you want to use in your lesson. Otherwise, you can check out the ESL VIDEO website, where you will find scenes from films and series, TED-talks, etc. with some comprehension questions.
Before listening, provide the background story and let them watch the short videos twice. Check their answers to the quiz questions and finally, ask them to summarize the story together in open class.
The ESL VIDEO site does not provide subtitles, but the pictures help to reconstruct the story.  You can consider giving your students the transcript you have made in advance or turn the listening task into an activity to type the dialogues up in the lesson: students can watch&listen and write down what they hear in pairs. After some peer-check, they can read it out loud to the class, imitating the pronunciation of the original video.
You might want to try and repeat the scene muted and ask your students to improvise their version of the dialogues.

Make your students realize that their brain adapts quickly to a new pronunciation pattern and is able to decode messages even in an unfamiliar variety, independently from their own pronunciation habit. Practice makes perfect: through consistent repeating pronunciation will improve and through consistent listening comprehension will improve.


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