The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Monday, April 16, 2018

IATEFL2018: Laura Patsko on creating pronunciation materials

I approached this year's IATEFL conference with a number of personal aims, one of which was to explore the area of pronunciation. So I was pleased that on my very first day at the MaWSIG PCE, Laura Patsko was giving a session on Creating effective pronunciation materials.

As a novice teacher, I remember skipping over the pronunciation activities in the coursebook because I just had no idea what to do with them. Some 25 years on, it's still an area of language teaching that, rather to my shame, I tend to avoid. So when I was recently asked to include pronunciation activities in some materials I was writing, I was very pleased to have Laura to fall back on for feedback and advice. Her comments then proved invaluable and her MaWSIG talk inspired me with even more confidence to tackle pronunciation in the future.

Why teach pronunciation?
Laura started off by talking about why teaching pronunciation is important and explaining that beyond helping students with spoken intelligibility, a focus on pronunciation can help students with other skills too: listening, writing, spelling, etc. There's clearly a link between something like spelling and pronunciation, but even when it comes to grammar and vocabulary, she pointed out that students sometimes avoid producing certain words or structures simply because they find the pronunciation tricky. I know that's something I'm certainly guilty of in other languages I speak!

Market demands vs. market needs
As with other areas of language teaching, pronunciation can throw up a mismatch between what teachers (and students) say they want and what they might actually need. One key issue is the widespread desire from teachers to make their students sound more native-like. But as Laura pointed out that's simply not how most English users speak and it may not even be a desirable model. Whilst accent and intelligibility are linked, they are definitely NOT the same thing. In fact, monolingual native English speakers are often the least intelligible in an international, English as a lingua franca (ELF) context. She suggested that including a variety of voices in materials that are clear but demonstrate different accents would much better prepare students for the kind of English users they might actually encounter in the real world, as well as providing more achievable models. Always having only native speaker, RP models traps teachers and students in an ideological cycle, where it becomes what they expect and demand in their language lessons, regardless of whether it's actually useful. Persuading teachers and students to move away from this though is something of a leap of faith and needs to be backed up with good, solid, supportive teaching materials.

Principles for pronunciation materials
Laura made the following practical suggestions for writing pronunciation activities:
- identify appropriate priorities, especially for students in an ELF context
- identify which market you're writing for and if possible, take into account the L1 of the students as this has a huge influence on pronunciation
- distinguish between receptive and productive contexts and think about moving from reception (raising awareness of pronunciation features) onto production
- include a variety of authentic accents (don't get actors to put on accents!)
- think carefully about the wording of rubrics - instructions like "we say" can be divisive and are often just unnecessary
- make sure that pronunciation is given equal billing to other areas of language. Relegating it to little boxes at the bottom of the page or leaving it out of review sections can give the impression that it's less important and is somehow expendable!

Support for teachers
Many teachers, myself included, avoid pronunciation activities because they're not sure how to deal with them. Laura stressed the importance of providing sufficient support for teachers via teacher's notes. By giving teachers more guidance on how to evaluate pronunciation, what to listen for and give feedback on, and clear explanations of specific pronunciation features, they'll feel more confident about including it in their lessons.

In the final part of Laura's session, we worked through a number of practical activities to get us thinking about how to put together pron materials. I won't share these here because they're all in Laura's fantastic little ebook "How to Write Pronunciation Activities", so you can go and buy it for yourself ... I already have! Also check out her website ELF Pron for more ideas and resources.

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Blogger mura said...

hi Julie
thanks for the report, dunno if you know about this accent project https://makethegradeenglish.com/accents/?


1:52 pm  
Blogger The Toblerone Twins said...

Thanks, Mura. Will check that out ...

2:01 pm  

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