Thursday, 17 February 2011

Guest post and review


There's no update this week I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean I've been slacking off. Head on over to, and you can read my review of Lindsay Clandfield and Macmillan's Global pre-intermediate coursebook.

While you're there you can also check out my guest piece on Alex Case's TEFLtastic blog. I have written about the 10 things you'll learn by doing a CELTA. I feel very pleased and privileged to have written on Alex's blog, as it one of my favourite TEFL blogs, and certainly one of the wittiest and most original.

As always your feedback and comments would be welcome.

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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Reflections on last weeks #ELTchat: Pronunciation

speak no evil

Last Thursday I participated in the ELTchat discussing pronunciation, and as usual there was a general consensus, in this case regarding the treatment of the subject, and the lack of time it is generally perceived as being given in the average class room.

The thing thing that struck me was that while there was the usual fertile and fascinating discussion, generally I found myself disagreeing with a considerable number of the tweets. I was surprised with the number of people who were advocating 100 % pronunciation focused activities and classes. They just didn’t seem to tally with my experience at all. Now I should state as a caveat that this opinion is based on my experience of teaching adults in Brazil and Korea and I accept that in other situations, such as with young learners and with other nationalities, it is entirely possible that the circumstances may be completely different.

My approach to pronunciation has always been more hands-off than hands-on because I have rarely, if ever, met a student who had such problems with pronunciation so that they could not be understood even though they had acquired the other skills required to express themselves. I have never thought that it required anything other than the occasional focus. 

That is not to say it should be forgotten about. The teacher should be aware of it and tackle issues if and when they arise, but having a ‘pronunciation class’ seems as anachronistic to me as having a ‘grammar class’. Yes, the students need to need to know how to pronounce “tough and bough and cough and dough” but only when those words appear in a natural context, and certainly not lined up together, their only connection being how irritatingly inconsistent they are.

Surely the primary objective of what we are trying to achieve in regard to pronunciation is comprehensibility. What other priority can there be? The specific needs of the student must, as always, be taken into account. When I was teaching Korean English teachers, their aim was to be become better at their jobs. Consequently, I didn’t spend any time teaching vocabulary related to business meetings or international politics because it wasn’t relevant to them. When it came to speaking, what they needed in regard to pronunciation was for them to be able to teach their kids with enough accuracy and confidence to do a good job. The time could be better spent on other areas where they needed more assistance.

It was stated in the #eltchat that:

“‘If you’re not teaching pronunciation, you’re not teaching English”.

I would prefer to say:

“If you’re teaching English, you’re teaching pronunciation (assuming that you’re teaching it well of course!)"

Every listening and speaking activity is a pronunciation practice. Just as reading can greatly improve a learner’s vocabulary, I believe that the simple act of listening to a variety of speakers can help the students improve their own pronunciation. This belief comes from my own experience with my students that I have taught for longer periods, particularly in one to one classes. They were exposed to an amount of authentic listening that I would make equivalent, in my own non-scientific way, with reading a novella or short story every week, and, over time, I could hear the improvements. Just as immigrants to a particular city eventually start to speak with that particular accent, my students would, less dramatically, become clearer in their speech.

As teachers it is our responsibility to make sure we help the students reach of level of intelligibility that will enable them to use their English as they require it. This isn’t about shirking my responsibilities, but rather it’s to do with simple pragmatism. In our attempts to rectify the perceived imbalance in the quantity of teaching time given over to pronunciation, we must be careful not to overstep the mark and move towards a prescribed, teacher-led array of activities that often have, in my view, a limited effect and an overambitious objective.
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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

How do they get time?

So I haven't updated this blog in a while. I didn't have much time to use twitter either, unfortunately, and my inbox's are full to bursting. The reason? Well, I had a cold, and I moved house, and my Internet connection was erratic, and there was Christmas and I did my back in and blah blah blah. Essentially, life got in the way. And that's fine, it happens from time to time.

At least, that what I tell myself. And even though I'm currently 'between jobs', I'm still struggling to make time to do all the things I want to do. There are so many blogs to read and comment on, #eltchats to participate in, tweets to catch up on, videos to watch, online conferences to attend and that's just on the Internet. There are books and journals to read too, and the small matter of finding a job. Of course, there are non-ELT related matters too. I have to go to the supermarket and do the housework and cook and all of things that everyone else does. Furthermore, there are things I want to do for pleasure like reading, watching TV and films, listening to music, playing video games and so on. Oh, and I really should get some exercise, but somehow that always manages to get pushed to one side.

So whenever I do manage to make time to participate in my profession learning network (PLN), mainly through Twitter and blogs, I am always astonished at the work load and commitment of the participants. How does Jason Renshaw blog everyday while teaching and running his website, all while having two small kids? How does Shelly Terrell blog, tweet, mediate #eltchat and #edchat, run 30 goals and all of the countless other activities that she participates in? There are countless other examples of people, some well known published authors and others who are regular teachers, whose ongoing contributions continue to amaze and inspire me. Every day I think I have to be more like them and that’s why I’m writing this, so at least I can begin to follow their example, and I would urge you to do the same. You can begin by having a look the links on the right, it’s a great way to start.

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