Each Australian language, like all languages, has a set of sounds, although there is a high degree of similarity of sound systems in languages across the continent. If the target language has a published dictionary or grammar, information about the sound and writing system can often be found in the early sections of the book. The sounds are often explained and may have diagrams to show how and where in the mouth each sound is made. Explanations also usually have example words in which each sound is used, just as young/beginner learners of English learn the sounds a as in apple, b as in ball, c as in cat, and so on.
Teachers who are familiar with the sound system of their language, can be clear about which sounds in the target language are:
- similar to English, e.g. m, n, w and y sounds are produced in the same way in Australian languages as in English.
- different from English, e.g. Australian languages can have up to three r sounds - an r as in how the word run is generally pronounced in Australian English, an r which is rolled as in a Scottish English pronunciation of the word run, and an r which is known as a tap/flap sound, as in the language name Maori.
- similar to English but occur in different positions in a word, e.g. the ng sound can occur in the middle and at the end of words in English such as singer, laughing. In Australian languages this sound can also occur at the beginning of a word, e.g. the word ngali which means you and I in many Australian languages.
Pronunciation is best learned by listening to the sounds of the language in the context of words, phrases, sentences and texts. However, it is also possible to take time to teach individual sounds, especially if the students seem to need assistance with pronouncing the sounds that are unfamiliar to them. This can be done:
- using a sound chart,
- with the students looking closely at the teacher explicitly modelling how to make particular sounds,
- using a class set of hand-held small mirrors, so that the students can check for themselves how and where they are making the sounds.
- Words must end in a vowel.
- There are fewer consonant blends in Paakantyi than in English and so most consonant blends in English words need to be separated by a vowel in Paakantyi, e.g. the bl- in Blake has to be made into a syllable pal-, the -ndr- in Andrew has to be separated into -nt- and -r-, with a vowel between them.
- Words cannot begin with a vowel, so use Ng- instead.
- All words are pronounced with a heavy stress on the first syllable.
- At the beginning of a word, the consonants p, k, t will usually sound more like b, g, d and
- All vowels are pronounced in Paakantyi.
Along with sounds, it's important to teach stress in words. Stress patterns in Australian languages are different from English. For example words in Australian languages often have stress on the first syllable and every second syllable after that, e.g. in the Wiradjuri word gagamin (younger brother) stress falls on the first and third syllables. Alternatively stress can fall on syllables which have a long vowel, e.g. in the Wiradjuri word babiin (father) stress falls on the long vowel in the second syllable. Teachers often use clapping and stepping games, e.g. practise saying new words out loud and at the same time clap loudly on stressed syllables and softly on the unstressed syllables; or take a big step on the stressed syllables and a small step on the unstressed syllables. In this way students learn to pronounce words accurately and stress the correct syllables when they are learning new vocabulary items.
Chanting games are a good way of practising the sounds and stress rhythms of the target language. They are also helpful for rehearsing grammatical patterns through repetition and rhythm. For example in English some well-known chants and tongue twisters are:
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
The big fat cat sat on the mat.
She sells sea shells by the sea shore.
While in Western Arrernte there is:
Kwerrkwerre kweke kakeke kaltye (Little owl knows big brother).
Anyone can make up a chant. Choose the sounds, stress pattern or the grammar structure you think your students need help with, and create a short sentence in the target language that they can say over and over again.
Pronunciation is a micro-skill. It is just one part of teaching the macro-skill of speaking.