Accent is linked to particular ways in which individual sounds, syllables and words are produced, which are commonly subsumed under the pronunciation label. Comprehensibility — which is by far the more important concept for achieving successful oral communication — is linked to grammar and vocabulary.
The instructor can intervene and help the learners improve their pronunciation through skill-building exercises. This article offers a few suggestions to ESL instructors for teaching pronunciation using mainly interactive conversational activities.
Activity 1: Minimal pairs are given; the change in one sound in the word changes the meaning — big/pig or better/butter.
- patch batch
- mop mob
- staple stable
- cap cab
Activity 2: Listening discrimination: The students circle the word they hear.
1. Did the doctor give you a (bill)(pill)?
2. Sue's husband gave her a (ruby)(rupee) for her birthday.
3. Lend me your (robe)(rope) I can't find mine.
Now the students say the sentences and the teacher tries to figure out which word each student says. Students may also form pairs and work through the exercise.
The most obvious way to teach listening/speaking is through questions and answers. A variety of question types have been categorized by researchers as follows.
- Display question: The teacher already knows the answer and wants the student to respond. "What time is it now?"
- Referential question: The teacher does not know the answer. "What did you have for lunch today?"
- Comprehension check: This question is just to see if the student understands. "Did you understand the assignment?"
- Confirmation question: This asks the listener to verify what is said. "You said you want to leave at 8:00?"
- Clarification question: This variation on the confirmation question gives the listener a choice. "You said you want to leave at 8:00 or 9:00?"
Language serves a variety of functions, one of which is to promote harmonious interaction among speakers. This interactional use is not really meant to convey information as much as to maintain social relationships. Topics that are safe such as the weather and the content are not really as important as the social function. Grammar may be reduced, and the focus is on chunks of language.
Here is an example of a conversation that is mostly interactional:
Jack: Hi. What's up?
Jane: Not much.
Jack: Are you headed to the bookstore?
Jane: Yes. Have to buy my art course supplies.
Jack: Oh, good! Glad I ran into you! What do we have to buy?
Jane: Colored chalk, ah, sketch pad. Hmmm, charcoal sticks.
Activity 3: Role play the questions and answers, then make up your own:
Fred: Hello, what new?
Rosa: I have to go shopping
Fred: Headed to the supermarket?
Rosa: Yes, I ...
Talking is an interactive practice. Competence results when students master these practices. According to Kyoko Masuda:
"Interactional competence is bottom-up, local and situated. Participants learn 'interactive practices' through a cumulative process of interaction with other more experienced during which they employ resources acquired in similar instances of situated discursive practices."
Authentic speaking activities involving interaction are part of the language-acquisition process. Students interact with each other and the teacher in a socialization process that is meaningful and relevant as noted in acquisition research. According to Joshua J. Thoms:
"Therefore, from a sociocultural perspective, acquisition is inextricably tied to the social and linguistic opportunities that are present in the classroom context, in so much as these opportunities are perceived by learning as meaningful, valuable and relevant. As such, teachers play an important role in shaping classroom discourse and affording students with opportunities for meaningful interaction."
These activities lead to a more natural approach than just working through repetitions.