Imperfect or non-native-like pronunciation can often be a huge roadblock towards effective communication in a world language classroom. Many learners are highly aware of their accent and feel embarrassed by it even if they are otherwise motivated students. This pronunciation anxiety frequently leads them to reject opportunities to communicate in meaningful ways. It’s really a shame because very few of us learners ever develop a totally native-like accent despite our mastery of other aspects of the language, which has been called the “Joseph Conrad phenomenon” in some second language acquisition research (see #15 on the link).
Certainly, though, solid pronunciation is important! Once communication starts occurring with native speakers outside of the classroom, a noticeably non-native-like accent can lead to real negative consequences. Sadly, some people just won’t make time for you if your accent sounds too “heavy”, or they might think that you’re a lot less accomplished linguistically than you actually are. Of course, this is oftentimes very unfair, but that’s the reality.
So, working on pronunciation with our students is critical at all stages of development. Arriving at a native-like accent takes years and, therefore, practice in this regard is just as important at the early stages as it is in more advanced classes. Extempore is a perfect tool for helping your students–regardless of level–practice their pronunciation. Here are some practical recommendations that you can use on Extempore:
- Vocabulary practice: Before starting a lesson or vocabulary unit, create an audio prompt in which you pronounce a handful of the key words and ask your students to repeat them aloud at home on Extempore. This type of activity is probably best not to assign for a numerical grade. Completion credit is preferable as it’ll reduce any pronunciation anxiety. It also has the benefit of exposing your students early to the vocabulary and allowing the new terms to sink in.
- Tongue twisters: For a bit of fun, create a handful of audio prompts in which you say aloud some target language tongue twisters. This is a great in-class activity, too, but I find that as much fun as my students have doing them, not too many are brave enough to pronounce them solo in front of their peers. Doing it at home, though, will give them the necessary reps.
- Phonemes/sound clusters: Select a particular phoneme or sound cluster that your students are struggling with and give them a list of words featuring that sound. Model native or native-like pronunciation on the prompt and have them submit recordings of themselves.
- Intonation: After practicing with individual sounds, try tackling intonation and/or stress. This is rarely taught directly in the average classroom, but intonation dramatically affects how we non-native speakers are perceived. Maybe start with declarative vs. interrogative intonation by assigning pairs of utterances that can be expressed as either a statement or a question and ask your students to repeat each version. But don’t be afraid to get into other uses of intonation, such as exclamation, surprise, disgust, etc. It doesn’t take much to show your students the value of intonation and they’ll have lot of fun here and get really motivated to do their best (even if it is imperfect!).
- Dialectal variation: Use pronunciation practice as a way to explore dialectal variation in your language of study. As a teacher of Spanish, I wish I could dedicate more time to the unique sounds heard throughout the Spanish-speaking world, but there simply isn’t enough time in class. However, practicing different variations of the same word or phrase at home is another story! Students love learning these differences and they’ll be more apt to learn and remember them if they practice saying them aloud for homework.
- Periodic check-ins: Don’t feel like your students have to nail it the first time. Remember–developing a native-like accent doesn’t happen overnight. Expect imperfection, but keep at it by assigning pronunciation on a periodic basis throughout the course of your class. And, because Extempore saves everything for you right on the app, you can demonstrate growth to your students by reviewing submissions from early in the year and comparing them to the most recent assignments.
A final, blanket recommendation is to allow retries when setting up your assignments. Whichever way you choose to practice pronunciation, retries give students the opportunity (and responsibility!) to evaluate for themselves whether what they said is satisfactory or if they can do better. And plus, if they take advantage of these retries, they’ll be producing more speech, and, as we all know, practice makes perfect.
Lastly, don’t forget about Extempore’s audio feedback feature. Once you receive your students’ submissions, you can listen to their attempts on a mobile device and, with just a few taps, provide direct feedback that they can actually hear and incorporate into their next attempt! Good luck!