Pronunciation is the most important part of teaching a language.
Yes, vocabulary is important. Of course words are necessary, but one MUST know how to pronounce them correctly. Grammar is also important, but it doesn’t matter how much grammar is learned if, when a person starts to speak, no-one can understand them.
Pronunciation is the thing that must be learned FIRST – before vocabulary and before grammar. If a person gets into the habit of saying something in the wrong way (even in their mind), that habit will never change.
Good pronunciation is, quite simply, necessary.
But don’t worry – accent and pronunciation are not the same thing!
You needn’t bother too much about your accent. A person will always have their own accent, but if they pronounce the words correctly then they are half way there…
If for example, a person can say “I am learning to speak English”, it won’t matter whether it is said with a French, Spanish, German, Malaysian, Chinese or Hawaiian accent – as long as the pronunciation of the syllables is correct. Don’t forget, native English speakers already have a variety of accents: English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian, to name but a few.
However, an EFL speaker (English as a foreign language), must have clearer and more distinct pronunciation than a native speaker. This is because they are used to pronouncing words in their own language, and therefore their speech is already noticeably different.
Students who have learned good pronunciation will be understood, even though they might get the grammar wrong. Grammatical mistakes will be forgiven as long as the listener comprehends what is being said. Similarly, if they need to ask someone a question and they don’t have much vocabulary, that person will probably still be able to understand them.
Some years ago, I was teaching English in Italy, and I had a student who had been learning English for several years. When reading a passage of text in English, she was able to tell me exactly what it meant, yet when she read it aloud, (unless I was following the text) I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. This was not her fault – she had never been taught pronunciation…
First teach PHONETICS
This is something that you need to do right at the beginning.
Remember – English, is NOT spoken in the way that it is written.
Teaching phonetics will seriously help your students’ pronunciation. Every word in the dictionary has its own phonetic spelling in parentheses (brackets) right after it.
Check out HowjSay – a free on-line talking dictionary of English (U.K. pronunciation).
NOTE: A lot of the pronunciation online is American English. If you would prefer to speak the English from Great Britain, then you could also try the BBC – (British Broadcasting Corporation).
Songs are quite useful. Not because the pronunciation is good, but because the music will help your students to remember what they hear. Also, children’s story books are great, as they are nice and simple, and can be read aloud.
Remember – teach the pronunciation FIRST – otherwise your students will pick up bad habits that are difficult to get rid of, and nobody will understand them when they speak.
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