Pronunciation is an essential component not only of learning a language but also of using that language. For this reason, the learning of proper pronunciation is a delicate area; students need to feel free to make mistakes and practice their pronunciation in order to increase their accuracy, but there are also times when pronunciation must be quickly corrected so that it does not impede the students’ ability to understand and be understood. Below we will look more closely at pronunciation and activities that can help students improve their pronunciation.
Pronunciation is an interesting area because when learning in a classroom context, pronunciation isn’t usually a major factor that influences comprehension however, it may be when the learner uses the SL in the community. The value of teaching pronunciation cannot be underestimated. Besides the difficulty of changing a `bad habit´, early pronunciation instruction helps students understand how to form sounds that are not found in their mother tongue, contributes to decoding ability and lowers the affective filter. Some researchers suggest that pronunciation does not need to be taught and will `take care of itself´ over time. Others suggest that teaching pronunciation is necessary.
It is very difficult to achieve native like pronunciation in any language. Some language societies have greater tolerance of `accents´ than others; some even find certain accents more appealing. For example, many Canadian documentaries are narrated by people with British accents. In some societies people may appear to not understand someone whose accent does not approximate the native speaker’s (e.g. Parisians or Muscovites). In some countries foreign accents are perfectly acceptable in informal conversations based on helping give directions or sharing simple small talk; however, in the same places the same accent may not be highly tolerated if the person is a paid employee who needs to offer service or advice.
In order to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with poor pronunciation it is important to hear as much of the target language (TL) as possible. This exposure to the TL can be from the teacher, from films or media clips, songs or audio clips, guest speakers and one’s peers. In general, realistic goals surrounding pronunciation are:
• Consistency: the pronunciation should become smooth and natural
• Intelligibility: the pronunciation should be understandable to the listeners
• Communicative efficiency: the pronunciation should help convey the meaning intended by the speaker
How can I help my students improve their pronunciation?
Good pronunciation comes from a lot of technical knowledge on the part of the teacher about placement of the mouth, etc. Most teachers in North America, unfortunately, don’t have this knowledge and therefore tend to pass it off as being unimportant but in fact, as you progress in your fluency, pronunciation becomes more and more important. Language learning needs a lot of practice and both mechanical and meaningful practice lead to improved pronunciation. Only through practice will a skill become automatic and drill-like activities are not always considered interesting. Nevertheless perception practice is a good way to help learners distinguish between certain sounds.