monica@rudapeachey.com
Ruda-Peachey Education Ltd

Classroom Pronunciation Practice: Endangered species or already extinct?

 

Has teaching pronunciation in a classroom environment become obsolete? This question has been on my mind for about a month now, from the moment I had a conversation that truly surprised me. I was happily discussing all sorts of random ELT-related stuff with a fellow teacher (and friend) I have known for years, when she suddenly tells me that teaching pronunciation has become a pointless task. I have always admired her for her dedication to her students, the creativity of her classroom activities and the quality of her lessons - surely she didn’t mean what she’d just said? I was confused. 

 

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I asked my teacher-friend to clarify her view. She explained that, in her experience, the vast majority of students have lost interest in ‘learning’ pronunciation in class. Who can blame them, though? There are so many apps that can make English pronunciation so much easier! She reassured me, saying  that she still teaches all the features of pronunciation, and so do all the teachers in her school, despite students’ lack of enthusiasm on the matter. 

 

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with English pronunciation for as long as I can remember, first as a learner, then as a teacher. It has taken me years to gain  enough knowledge to feel comfortable with teaching its various features...and there’s still so much more to learn! I also know that my teaching has become  more effective since I included pronunciation work in most of my lessons. Surely I hadn’t wasted my time working hard at something that could be easily replaced by an app?!? At this point, I needed to find out more.

 

Indeed, there are many English pronunciation apps out there, far more advanced than the traditional IPA chart! Each one has  its unique features: from visual voice representation to detailed pictures to show the correct movement and position of the tongue and jaw for every sound. Impressive, no doubt, but I’m not convinced that an app can be as valuable (or as effective) as the support from a teacher. Here’s why:

 

  • Personal interaction: Learning with a teacher and classmates (in-person or online) creates an immersive environment that provides memorable experiences which, in turn, enhances language retention. I’m pretty sure there’s no app that compares this sound /ɜː/ to a zombie sound!
  • Extra support: Learning from and with others provides real-time, bespoke help and feedback when stuck. A teacher can come up with a wide range of tips and ideas to practice and improve pronunciation.
  • Commitment: When you enter a virtual or real-life classroom, you know it means ‘business’: you’ve got your ‘learning cap’ on, you’re in the right frame of mind and there are limited chances of distraction. Slipping from your pronunciation app to your social media one is just a click away...

 

Despite what seems a personal campaign against them, I believe pronunciation apps do have a place in the language learning journey - I’ve downloaded one too! I think they’re a useful tool that complements, but doesn’t replace, a more interactive and personal way of learning.

 

A word of advice to those who, like me, are stressing about the future of pronunciation practice in the classroom: be more like a /ə/, it’s never stressed!