How Much Time? Some Thoughts On Pronunciation In EFL

clockwalker2000_1.jpgGiven the time constraints that exist in many EFL classes, I often wonder if pronunciation merits a focus of its own.

Of course, people need to be able to understand your students; there’s no question in my mind that learning how to say a word when you learn the meaning is important, and if students pronounce a word in such a way that it can’t be understood, then it should be clarified. But is it a good use of 20 minutes to practice word linkage or the schwa if it means skipping a vocabulary exercise? My call is often that it’s not.

This will depend on the group and country of course and the goals of individuals. Language learners of all languages need to be understood – and while the shift in EFL seems to be going away from people learning English to talk with Brits and Americans – it still makes sense to aim for at least some common pronunciation (Midwest US/suburban Chicago dialect gets the TEFL Logue’s official vote) so people can understand each other.

Pronunciation areas I notice most:

    “th” and “r” :
    Just kidding! Interestingly, these sounds, which seem to be the most unique to English just don’t pose the same problems as others, in my experience at least. However speakers of different languages will have different problems – I think distinguishing between the “l” and “r” sounds can be a problem for many learners in Asia.

    Contractions: even very advanced students avoid using contractions – this is a small thing but makes a big difference in their speech and the impression of fluency.

    That long and short i
    : Slip and sleep, ship and sheep, (yes there are more). It was in fact an issue even for me in Turkey – people literally did not understand me when I pronounced the name of a town with the wrong “I”. When the word is in context – in a sentence – the listener can usually guess, but this may lead to some funny mistakes.

    Word stress
    : this can also be important, though again, with a context it is often possible to figure it out.

How much attention do you usually give to pronunciation, and what are your favorite activities? Some of mine have – surprise! – appeared right here on the TEFL Logue…tongue twisters and pronunciation bingo.