I often get emails from teachers worried that online tools and resources are going to replace them.
My opinion is that this won’t happen anytime soon. Additionally, we shouldn’t see these resources as competition but, instead, as potentially useful tools to help us better help our learners.
And in this post, I want to look at three resources that you can use to improve your pronunciation lessons. I will focus on how I use them to help my students with English sounds but, as I mention later, they can be used for all areas of speaking.
Firstly, I want to go into how I approach this area of English as this will give you an insight into why these tools are so useful.
A Quick Summary of How I Teach English Sounds
One of the biggest problems English learners have is being able to pronounce sounds correctly. One reason for this is that there are 14-21 vowel phonemes in English (depending on the variant), many of them not present in other languages.
Therefore, learners will default to sounds in their own language if they can’t produce it correctly.
When working with a learner who has a problem in this area, I go through a three-step process:
- Show them what they need to do with their mouth to make the sound
- Create/give drills for them to build muscle memory
- Give feedback throughout the process
Online tools make this much easier and allow you to work asynchronously with your learner. Let’s look at step one of this process and the relevant tool.
Sounds of Speech App: How to Make Different Sounds
This handy app has an animation of what happens inside the mouth when different sounds are made.
Here is what it looks like:
This, along with any explanation, allows your learner to see what’s going on inside the mouth so that they can then experiment with their tongue, lips etc. to mimic the speaker.
I’ve found that this comes more naturally for certain students but, with enough practice, everyone will finally get there.
Outside of class, encourage your learners to play around with this app. If they struggle with certain sounds, then suggest that they start with those.
In addition to the visual representation, there is also a video showing a real person saying the relevant sound. This made all the difference for my Spanish-speaking student and his ability to correctly say the ‘w’ sound. I told him to watch the video, repeat after the speaker while looking in a mirror, and then to compare the two, and this solved the problem for him.
Let’s move on to stage two.
Audacity and File Sharing Apps for Drilling
In order for your learner to get this right over the long-term, they are going to need practice.
I prefer to make drills relevant to each student and, when I’m teaching one-to-one, I send over personalized audio based on the lesson/conversation we’ve just had.
This isn’t difficult to do. You just need 5-10 minutes, Audacity (or any sound recording app), and a file sharing application. To record the relevant drills, I go through my lesson notes and record sentences. I ensure that the sounds that we have been working on are included in these sentences, and will also add some specific pronunciation drills where needed.
Once I have recorded those sentences, I simply drag them into the relevant folder on my computer. This is linked to the DropBox folder that I share with my learner.
The student then downloads the audio and – in theory, at least! – repeats each sentence out loud during the week. This builds muscle memory inside the mouth.
If you create sentences, this not only helps learners with English sounds, but also with the different areas of pronunciation like stress, rhythm, intonation, and so on.
I also send learners to the drills over at the Mimic Method website where there are some really useful comparisons.
Using SoundCloud/Google Drive/DropBox to Give Feedback
There are two ways to give feedback: live in class or asynchronously. I’m going to focus on the latter here.
I’ve used a variety of different tools to give feedback asynchronously. SoundCloud is my first choice as you can leave comments at specific points during the audio.
In addition to pronunciation, I’ve used it to give feedback on IELTS speaking questions and on presentations.
Working asynchronously has a couple of benefits: firstly, it allows you to be more flexible with your schedule and, secondly, you can take your time with the feedback and listen more closely.
Over to You
In addition to teaching sounds, I also use this method and the relevant tools to help my learners with connected speech, intonation, rhythm, stress, other parts of pronunciation, and speaking in general.
I have used this both in one-to-one lessons, group lessons, and in my online courses.
If you have used other tools to help your learners with their pronunciation, please share them below. Thanks for reading!