Pronunciation is one of the hardest things to master while learning a language. You can comprehend basic grammar rules and understand and memorise the vocabulary, but pronunciation is trickier because it is a physical skill. Pronunciation involves motor skills and muscles.
The role of direct instruction becomes even more important in teaching pronunciation. In the English language, there are multiple ways of pronouncing the same word in different countries. Teaching neutral and accurate pronunciation is your best bet. But this can be tricky when you are teaching ESL students.
The online mode of teaching can offer some unique advantages for teaching pronunciation. Since teaching pronunciation is all about listening and speaking, various multimedia tools offer many exciting possibilities for teaching pronunciation and checking the pronunciation knowledge of the students.
Sound is the most crucial component of pronunciation. In a classroom environment, the clarity of the sounds produced by the teacher might not be 100 percent effective in reaching all students. However, in the audio and video format, the medium of technology lends a greater degree of clarity and precision.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that you can leverage the online medium to teach pronunciation effectively.
1. Pay attention to tongue positions and the mouth movements
Correct pronunciation is all about the right mouth movements. That’s why lip-syncing is such a powerful art form. In online teaching, you can leverage the power of the digital medium to make students focus on your tongue positions and mouth movements.
In conventional classroom teaching, only those sitting in the front row can get a clear view of the teacher’s mouth movements while learning pronunciation. But in online teaching, all your students can get a close-up view. So you must tap into the benefits of online technology accordingly. Control the video settings in a way that the learners can get a clear view of your mouth movements.
You can also supplement your live teaching with pre-recorded videos where you can use a combination of different camera angles to give the best view to the learner. In a pre-recorded video, the sound quality can be excellent as well since you can use a high-quality podcast microphone for recording.
2. Practise beforehand
Prior practice is a must for online teaching.
The camera magnifies every gesture, every hand movement, and every mouth movement of yours. So you must practise before teaching the students live. You could practise in front of the mirror or by making selfie videos. Pay special attention to your mouth movements while demonstrating complex sounds.
Also, you must be careful of your hand movements. Many teachers have a habit of using too many hand gestures while teaching. In a classroom environment, it’s ok. But remember that, in online teaching, the video frame is rather tight. So if you use too many hand gestures, it will prevent the students from having a clear view of your facial and mouth movements.
A bit of practice in the selfie mode will sort out these issues.
3. Keep it direct
While doing an online pronunciation class, do not spend too much time sharing slides and other material. Keep all that stuff for later. You could e-mail your students the material in advance, but you should keep the live sessions for direct teaching.
A live teaching session shouldn’t be any longer than 30-40 minutes; otherwise, it becomes a drag. It’s important that during this time, your students get ample time to ask questions and interact. Your teaching session should be ideally divided into three sections – demonstration of some word pronunciations, addressing questions asked by students & clarifying their doubts, and making students pronounce the words themselves.
Sharing too much audio-visual material with your students during a class can confuse them. Keep it simple. Make the best use of your video camera and audio to teach them pronunciation directly.
Also, pay attention the students’ individual needs. Remember that students from different backgrounds will have different pronunciation issues. Here’s a guide to helping Chinese students.
4. Use podcasts
Podcasts are an effective way of teaching pronunciation online. Students learn as much by hearing sounds as they do by observing the teacher’s mouth movements. The two strategies go hand in hand and both should be explored.
Whether you want to focus on specific words or improve the general pronunciation of your students, podcasts are handy. You could create podcasts highlighting the pronunciation of specific words or record one narrating some general text. You could use elements of storytelling and music to make your podcasts more engaging. Podcasts narrating short stories of famous authors or short excerpts from their novels can be very interesting for students. Students would get absorbed in the material and hone their general pronunciation skills effortlessly.
You could create some podcasts yourself or provide your students access to a few great podcasts available online. Listening is important for improving pronunciation; a podcast lets you do just that. Too many visual elements can distract the learner, and they lose track of the sound. Therefore, one of the best online tools for teaching pronunciation is podcasts.
Here’s a list of other speaking activities you might want to try in your lessons.
5. Use the mute button
When you are taking an online pronunciation class through Zoom or Google Meet, always ask your students to mute their microphones when you are teaching them important pronunciation. Background noises can vastly compromise the sound quality, even if they are not speaking. Therefore, this is a practical feature you must make use of.
It can also be handy in giving students the freedom to practise their pronunciation without the fear of others hearing their wrong pronunciation and mocking them. May students have this secret fear of ridicule, and they get conscious that other people can hear their pronunciation while they are practising. You can simply ask them to unmute when they are ready and test their pronunciation skills.
6. Give your students access to online tools for teaching pronunciation
You must give your students access to various online pronunciation tools that they can use for practice in their spare time. Many dictionary apps have in-built pronunciation features that can be useful for them while practising.
Many online pronunciation apps use AI-powered speech recognition features to analyse human speech. They allow readers to practise their pronunciation skills by reading the phrases onscreen and then giving accurate feedback on their performance. These apps let readers know which word they mispronounced and also give them tips on general pronunciation and intonation.
Many fun tools are available online to help your students practice their pronunciation skills. But you must carefully select these keeping in mind their specific requirements and the level of their skills. If you just tell them to go on the internet and explore for themselves, your students could get confused.
7. Have them record videos to practise pronunciation
When students are learning something online, they also need exciting avenues for self-expression. That gives them an added incentive to perform better.
Have your students record videos to express their pronunciation skills. It is a great technique for improving their general pronunciation skills. Have them record an impromptu video on any topic of their choice. They could also practise in advance, but it should be largely impromptu. Then, you can evaluate those videos and give them individual feedback for improving their pronunciation skills.
This technique is useful because we mostly make pronunciation errors when we are speaking spontaneously. If we have thoroughly rehearsed a speech, we pay attention to the words and work hard on our pronunciation. But in an impromptu speech, our general pronunciation errors come out. So this is a great strategy to let students have some fun while they learn pronunciation online.
For further reference, here is a list of 5 pronunciation exercises. These are intended for students learning by themselves at home but they can be incorporated easily into lessons.