54.  Correcting pronunciation without embarrassing the student. How can it be done?

I agree very strongly that there is NEVER any reason that justifies embarrassing a student who does not know how to say words correctly or for any other reason.

One technique that works very well for me is simply to admit that I am having trouble hearing everything that the students say: Definitely, I am "old," or very quickly getting there! Thus, instead of telling the student: "You do not say that," or any other comment that places the blame for miscommunication on the student, I prefer to simply say: "Sorry, I could not hear you. Did you say "(correctly modeling whatever word or phrase was mispronounced)."

It may take a few interventions like that before the student actually hears the mispronounced word or phrase. And, indeed, that is the problem: Pronunciation errors are mostly due to the fact that students who do not speak English do not hear the English sounds in words and/or phrases. Teachers must help students HEAR sounds. HOW?

The Audio Lingual Method of teaching languages recommends the use of "minimal pairs." Students who do not hear sounds need to begin by hearing similarities and differences in sounds. For example: teachers can do fast-paced, brief or short activities throughout their lessons in which two similar words are provided. The teacher says:

"chair / chair" Students respond: "Same"

"chair / share" Students respond: "Different"

"sheep / ship" Students respond: "Different"

"ship / ship" Students respond: "Same"

Teachers may be surprised to discover how difficult fast-paced, short minimal pair activities can be for non-English speaking students. However, once students recognize sound differences, they can begin to improve their pronunciation. They can hear and recognize, through minimal pairs, the sounds they could not "hear" before.

Teachers can add more words to minimal pair activities: Teacher can say two, three, four, or more words, and students can determine which one is different. For example, the teacher says: "shin / chin / shin / shin." Students respond signaling "2" with their fingers: the second word was different from the rest of the words. It is important that teachers do some of these activities covering their mouth. Teachers can place a sheet of paper in front of their mouth and do the minimal pair activities. This way, the teacher has evidence that students are indeed listening to the sounds, rather than looking at the teacher’s mouth and trying to decide –through the movements of the lips, tongue or the position of the teeth--, how the teacher is pronouncing the sounds.

After students can recognize, through minimal pairs, different words in English, then –as students try to say the words or phrases—the teachers needs to provide lots of modeling.

The teacher also needs to be aware of how English sounds are produced. What part of the mouth is involved in producing the sound? Is the nose involved in producing the sound? How is the air released from the lungs to produce the sound? Does the air flow freely, without interference? Is the air released after obstruction by the lips or the tongue? Do the vocal cords vibrate as the air is released? Teachers must understand how English sounds are produced, where can they occur in a word –initial, medial or final position—and whether certain sounds are always produced after other sounds. All of these are critical features of English sounds, and need to be communicated to students as they try to speak English.

I have found that having small, hand-held mirrors in the class is a very effective way to help students imitate the pronunciation of English sounds in words and phrases. They can perceive, see, what they are doing as they say the sound. They can confirm that their way of imitating the sounds the teacher makes is, indeed, the way to produce the sounds.

The cultural background of students may sometimes interfere with the pronunciation of English sounds. For example, a number of Cambodian young ladies were referred to the speech and language specialist because, apparently, they could not pronounce words like

"THIS, THAT, THOSE," etc. After working very hard with these students the specialist discovered that they could indeed pronounce the words. They just could not do so because, in their culture, it is very disrespectful to show one’s tongue, especially to the teacher. When the speech and language specialist, informed the students that it was OK to show their tongues, the students readily said "this, that, those," etc. correctly.



For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


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