The Importance of Pronunciation | TEFL Jobs London

The Importance of Pronunciation

by Donna Hutchinson
Newly-qualified TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

Pronunciation is one of the key skills we teach in EFL and is, I must say, one of my favourite things to teach because it is an area I find fascinating (nerd alert!). I think it is a fundamental area of English but, only for certain reasons. I don’t think it is vital that students speak with a British accent.

An area where pronunciation definitely plays an essential role is when incorrect pronunciation changes the meaning of a word; something which does not happen in many languages. For instance, the difference between long and short vowel sounds can mean the difference between feet and fit; beach and bitch; sheet and sh – well, you get the idea.

The next is when incorrect pronunciation means that something becomes a word that isn’t real. A problem many students incur is with the ‘-ed’ endings on past simple verbs such as dropped; learned; etc. This also links in with students learning that by adding an ‘e’ in spelling or doubling the consonant in a word changes how it sounds, the difference between ‘bit’, ‘bite’ and ‘bitten’ (as opposed to ‘biten’ – not a word).  Pronunciation here is important to make sure students don’t sound stupid, for lack of a better word. These points are about accuracy.

I also believe it is important to make students aware of the way we speak and, as I like to put it, squish words together. To be technical, weak forms and connected speech. Students often hear just one word when we’ve actually said many. Listening tasks which ask students to identify the number of words in one sentence or the number of words missing from a sentence can often demonstrate this.

This in mind though, I don’t think it is necessarily important that students speak this way. They should be aware that this is an inherent quality of a British accent but, must they also speak this way? The more fluent and competent a student becomes, the more fluidity their speech will have but I don’t believe they need to sound British. Why should they, if their English is accurate in every other way? I don’t even know how many British people have an RP accent. I certainly don’t, as I am from the North West. My accent is not strong and it has changed since I began teaching but, it is not RP.

I think accents are intrinsically linked to identity and whilst I understand whole-heartedly the want and need to be correct and accurate, I don’t see the need to sound a certain way. If someone speaks and I can tell where they are from, be that from an English-speaking country or not, I do not find their language incorrect. I find this to be more diverse, appealing and at a stretch a little less imperialistic.

All of this is my point of view of course and I’m not sure how students feel about this but, I must say that with pronunciation, I certainly feel that accuracy should be better defined.

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