sábado, 26 de septiembre de 2015

Pronunciation Integration #1: Classroom Language & Routines

My greatest concern as a teacher trainer at the moment is to find ways to help teachers overcome the general lack of integration of pronunciation work into the ELT lesson. There appears to be a widespread indifference to the fact that “efficient communication involving any skill area, or any combination of skills, depends on the speaker’s ability to integrate knowledge of the English sound system with knowledge of grammar and lexicon.” Celce-Murcia et al (1996: 221). I sometimes wonder if we are not just teaching English for writing purposes when I see classroom plans. Why is it that we teach grammar and vocabulary and we don't teach the accompanying, or rather, constitutive, features of pronunciation with these topics? After all, if we expect our students to use these structures in their speech, they should at least know how to pronounce them!

An interesting anecdote, first. Many years ago, during my first years learning Phonetics at College, I got to informally spend a coffee break with an English lady who was in Argentina as a Cambridge Examiner. She told me that she was really pleasantly surprised at the overall level of English she found in Argentinian teenagers taking their FCE exam, but she thought they sounded pretty contrastive all the time. I asked why, and based on the examples she gave me, I realised she was talking about the prominence given to weak form words by these students: "THERE ARE some children playing in the picture". She said she felt like replying "Well, no one said there wasn't!?".

This is an example of many of the things we do as teachers when we focus on grammar, we are so intent on getting our students to produce the right auxiliaries and forms that we perhaps forget about the spoken side of things. Of course, the issue of weak forms is certainly a feature of debate when it comes to English for Global Communication -as weak forms are out of the Lingua Franca Core-, but I am just reporting on the reaction a native speaker had after hearing students accenting, or using strong vowels on elements which are generally reduced in English. You will decide on the relevance of this comment based on the reality of your teaching context, and your teaching goals.

This new set of posts is supposed to introduce ways of integrating pronunciation work to the teaching of grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening. Today's contribution will relate to one of the first set of items we teach beginners: school objects/supplies, school subjects, and classroom routines.


Among the criteria we may use when deciding on what to teach, we may consider frequency of occurrence of a certain feature. If we scrutinise our school syllabus, we may find that a certain sound or intonation feature appears to be recurrent on our vocabulary list, or on our grammar "must-teach" selection.
In this case, a quick look over a list of school objects (just Google "school objects" and a huge number of picture dictionaries, textbook captures, worksheets and even vids will come up!), already establishes a set of tendencies regarding the pronunciation features that make up these linguistic structures. Plus, the teaching of these items ensures perpetual practice and recycling, since classroom objects and routines are part of our lessons every day!

So, without furher ado, find below a few pronunciation areas you may connect to these vocabulary topics:

Plosive attack!

/b/ appears on a number of frequent words: (black)board, (text/copy/note)book, rubber (is this word still used in BrE?),  backpack, bag, binder, briefcase, Biology, bin, (pencil)box, paintbrush.... Though it is not a particularly difficult sound for Spanish speakers, the presentation of these items is a good opportunity to help students turn their Spanish fricatives (or approximants, in some cases!) into bilabial plosives.
Similarly, we may focus on /d/ and /g/: desk, glue, globe, diary, CD player, dustbin, dictionary, garden

Aspiration: there are many school items that are pronounced with aspirated fortis plosives: text(book), table, pen, pencil(case), paper, keyboard, calculator, calendar, hole puncher, tablet, coloured pencils....
Closely associated to this, you may get cases of approximant devoicing: class(room), clip, projector, computer, crayon, screen, stapler, clock, diploma, CD/DVD player, playground

Compound Objects

School objects may also introduce patterns of word stress, particularly compound words. Slippery as compound word rules are, beginning with the debatable CD/DVD player -worth another discussion, since it appears to be changing...do you say 'C\D player, \CD player... I've heard both! EPD and LPD endorse the first-, there are always things we can teach, albeit just lexically or as fixed collocations:

  • NOUN 1 + NOUN 2-er/-or N1 acts like an object to the verb embedded in N2: \pencil sharperner
  • ADJ+ NOUN long-established compounds vs ADJ + NOUN collocations: \blackboard vs 'black \board  ; 'spiral \notebook, me'chanical \pencil
  • NOUN1 + NOUN2 "type of", "place for" combinations: \ink bottle, \rubbish bin
 (For further rules and theory on Word Stress patterns, check Ortiz Lira, (2000))

Stress-ful(l) School Subjects

The teaching of the names of different school subjects and sciences can be a good excuse for the introduction of stress-shifting suffixes (Cruttenden, 2014; Teschner and Whitley, 2010) and  the rule of alternation for the placement of secondary stresses (underlined below), whenever applicable.

-ology: BiOlogy, SociOlogy, AnthropOlogy, EcOlogy...
-ography: GeOgraphy, CinematOgraphy, PhotOgraphy...

Brita Haycraft's "English Aloud" (which I discovered thanks to my colleagues Prof. Terluk and Prof. Iannicelli), has a lovely set of songs for word stress practice, one of which includes a number of school subjects and sciences. Really worth a look!

Rollercoastery Classroom Requests and Offers

Because of its frequency of use in the classroom, some classroom routines can become a great form of "drilling" intonation. Students produce a number of requests and  offers in the lesson, and the use of the fall-rise tone (the "rollercoaster tone", as I like to call it) in those routines in English may be introduced, and practised, through classroom formulaic language.
(I personally recall my first days as a teacher, when I would not allow my 5th graders to go to the toilet unless they applied their English intonation on the question....boy, they learned fast! So cruel of me! --- BTW, Argentinian students of English are very likely to employ rise-falling heads and rise-fall nuclei on these questions, as Prof. Zabala (2011) rightly points out.)

'Can I go to the \/toilet, please?
'Could you ex'plain it a\/gain, please?
'Can you re\/peat that, please?
'Can you 'lend me a \/pencil, please?

You can also teach the accentuation of "I" (i.e. the personal pronoun as nucleus) in those cases students volunteer to do something (provided the rest of the question is Given information, of course):

Can \/I clean the board, please?
Can \/I read, please?

You can always use these questions as reference when you want to introduce intonation in other linguistic structures and combinations.

This brief post, the first of many, I hope, intends to show ways in which we can integrate the teaching of lexis, grammar, and language skills to pronunciation work.

In this particular case, we linked our classroom objects, school subjects and sciences, and classroom routines to some basic pronunciation and intonation features.

You will decide, in your own context, whether you want to teach these features explicitly, using these language exponents as examples, or whether to present them as constitutive of these items, collocation-like, without further reference to the theory. Whatever the case, once you have presented these pronunciation topics, students will start becoming more aware, and perhaps even concerned, with the way they should treat new vocabulary topics and speaking routines! It can be the beginning of a very interesting pronunciation journey!

Extra tip: there are many videos, websites and activity repositories you can consult online to teach these school subjects/objects/routines lists. However, many of the audio dictionaries, and even videos that teach the topic, have either synthetic voices or provide an oblique reading of the lexical items and formulae presented. So please be cautious in your selection.


  • Celce-Murcia, M., D. Brinton and J Goodwin (1996). Teaching Pronunciation: A Refernce for Teachers of English to Speakers of Oteher Languages. New York: Cambridge
  • Cruttenden, A (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English. Eighth edition. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Ortiz Lira, H. (2000). Word Stress and Sentence Accent. Monografías Temáticas. Chile.
  • Teschner, R. and S Whitley (2010). Pronouncing English. A Stressed-Based Approach with CD Rom. Washington: Georgetown University Press.
  • Zabala, F. (2011) . El acento tonal circunflejo (L*HL%) en el español rioplatense. En Bombelli, G y Soler, L (compiladoras) Oralidad: Miradas plurilingües desde la fonética y la fonología. Córdoba: UNC.

3 comentarios:

  1. me encantaron tus tips aunque no adhiero a tus métodos tan extremos de no dejarlos ir al baño si no utilizaban la entonacion adecuada.. más de un padre hoy iria a quejarse a la dirección.. al menos en la escuela púbica :)


    1. Well, first of all, "extreme" would be a very tricky word to use, especially when you don't know what the experience was like, and the rapport with the students, it does make it sound quite authoritarian when it fact it was not, it was part of a game. Not to mention that legally students were not allowed to leave the classroom at all, not even for toilet breaks, at least according to institutional regulations....and regrettably, no one complained about those, which were, to my mind, inhuman.

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