Teaching prononciation

How do you prepare to teach pronunciation?

The most important first step in teaching pronunciation is for the teacher to develop their own understanding of the sound and writing system of the language so that they can model authentic sounding speech and build up these skills in their students.

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:
Teachers who are familiar with the sound system of the target language are able to predict which sounds the students will manage easily and which ones they are likely to find tricky to master. Those are the sounds to keep in mind when teaching pronunciation.

What are some strategies for teaching pronunciation?

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:
At Menindee Central school, the teachers convert the students' names into the sound system of Paakantyi. This activity is based on the teacher's knowledge of sound patterns in Paakantyi:
  1. Words must end in a vowel.
  2. 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.
  3. Words cannot begin with a vowel, so use Ng- instead.
  4. All words are pronounced with a heavy stress on the first syllable.
  5. At the beginning of a word, the consonants p, k, t will usually sound more like b, g, d and
  6. All vowels are pronounced in Paakantyi.
Following these rules the boy's name Blake becomes Paliiki, Andrew becomes Nganthurru, Anthony becomes Ngaanthani and Jessica becomes Tyithika. You can see a demonstration of this process in a lesson given by Kayleen Kirwin and Robert Lindsay.

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.

This page was first published on November 25, 2013 and was last updated on January 24, 2022. All material is copyright to the individual authors unless indicated otherwise.