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Pronunciation Clinic: Just What The EFL Doctor Ordered!

By John Owens

The first Pronunciation Clinic course at IH Vietnam started in Hanoi in 1999. There have been 30 courses in Hanoi and 21 in Ho Chi Minh City so far. Pron Clinic is made available not only for General English classes, but also corporate classes. So far the following corporate clients have signed on for this course at IH Ho Chi Minh City: CMA & CGM Shipping, the US Consulate, Blue Scope Steel, and PricewaterhouseCooper.

The course came about as a result of the ‘need of Vietnamese speakers to understand the system of pronunciation in English to better both their listening and speaking with both native English speakers and foreign speakers of English’. In addition, P.J. Honey (Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems, p238-251, Michael Swan & Bernard Smith, CUP), goes on to say ‘because their mother tongue has no inflections, differentiates words by tone, and makes great use of syntax and particles for grammatical purposes, Vietnamese find a language like English, which is so dissimilar to their own, very difficult to learn’. In other words, they need a dedicated EFL specialist with a course to back them up!

Though not a grammar or vocabulary-based course, students do need to incorporate the grammar and vocabulary they have already learned into every lesson. The course is aimed at intermediate level students who have either finished a pre-intermediate course or are placement tested at this level.

English Pronunciation in Use – Intermediate, Mark Hancock, CUP, serves as the primary book of instruction and students are given the CD to encourage self-study.

Pron Clinic is a 40-hour course divided into 10 components or weeks:

  1. course objectives, intro to the phonemic chart, initial
    diagnostics: in-class listening, written and oral (recorded)
    test
  2. long & short vowels, voiced & unvoiced sounds, sound &
    spelling relationships, word stress
  3. rhythm, basic sentence stress, tone
  4. consonant clusters, word endings (-ed/s/es), prep for
    presentation
  5. presentation, reductions, contractions
  6. linking, elision, assimilation
  7. intonation
  8. ending tones, checking information, contrasts & corrections
  9. tonic stress & meaning
  10. final diagnostics: in-class listening, written and oral test (recorded), learner autonomy, evaluations

The syllabus also includes an extensive array of primary and supplementary resources built in to enhance further pronunciation development. These include games, tongue twisters, poems, rhymes and tasteful limericks from Ogden Nash. These resources have either been made into easy-to-use worksheets or can be photocopied from the following sources:

Pronunciation Games, Mark Hancock, CUP
Test Your Pron,
Michael Vaughn-Rees, Penguin English
Sound Foundation: Living Phonology, Adrian Underhill, Macmillan Heinemann
Learner English: A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems, Michael Swan & Bernard Smith, CUP
The Language Teacher’s Voice, Alan Maley, Macmillan Heinemann
Speaking Clearly: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension for Learners of English, Pamela Rogerson & Judy B. Gilbert, OUP

A number of ‘pron songs’ have been harmonized into the Pron Clinic syllabus to draw more lyrical attention to aspects of phonology. These include Cheek to Cheek (Irving Berlin) for phoneme /i:/, Holiday (Madonna) for rhyme sounds and rhythm, Your Song (Elton John) and Thank You (Dido) for connected speech, Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison) for vowel rhyme phonemes.

A Pron Plus folder was created to complement the highly interactive website Can 8 Virtual Lab http://international.ouc.bc.ca/pronunciation. Created by the New Okanagan College, British Columbia, Canada, this site offers a treasure trove of additional insight and practice through video, dictation, listening activities and speech recording activities for further benefits.

As a result of the course, a web-based phonemic chart (www.phonemicchart.com) was created by the school. The web site includes help on understanding the phonemic chart with examples as well as downloadable flash cards of all 44 phonemes. It is not only vital for students but also for teachers.

A wide variety of English-speaking nationalities has taught the course and has made the following comments:

Lesley Dunn, Leeds, England:
‘Generally I think the pron clinic is a good idea. The students seemed to enjoy the course. I believe the students gain knowledge from the course, but will struggle to implement these skills, but being aware of intonation, weak sounds, stress etc. will help with their listening skills.’

Morris Sokoloff, New York, New York, USA
‘The course definitely makes students aware of the issues, specifically the gulf between written and spoken English. But assimilation is another question. The course makes them further aware that language tends to fuse and mutate as it is spoken.’

Peter Willes, Sydney, Australia
‘The pron course is far from perfect and in its 10-week duration doesn’t solve all the problems, but certainly raises students’ awareness of how English is spoken and gives them tools to keep working on pron long after the course finishes.’

Overall, the different nationalities who teach the course do not seem to have any major issues with the RP nature of the Pron Clinic course or its recourses. They themselves understand the diversity in pronunciation amongst native speakers and can easily convey it to their students.

The course has also raised awareness amongst the teachers themselves of the aspects of phonology of their own mother tongue. One immediate result of teaching the course is that pronunciation practice has become a new feature in their teaching style. There is a consensus that though students may not be able to acquire full native-speaker like production as a result of this single course, they have developed their pronunciation for better intelligibility when engaging in communicative discourse. In addition, they have been made more conscious of many aspects of phonology that they would not be able to pick up on their own. Furthermore, that students have been introduced to a wide range of tools they can exploit themselves after the course is over.

Author’s Bio:
John has worked at IH schools in Lisbon, Portugal, Heliopolis, Egypt and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Until recently he was the YL Academic Coordinator at IH-Ho Chi Minh City, where he worked for 3 years.

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