Rules of Phonetics and Phonology in ESL Teaching
In my experience tutoring students in English as a foreign language, the most overlooked learning points were undoubtedly phonetics, phonology, and their connection to pronunciation. Occasionally, there would be a few students who specifically asked for materials that would allow them to perfect or improve their English accent. Some students even requested to receive tutoring in different accents such as the Australian accent. No matter what the request was, it became clear to me over time that the missing link when teaching pronunciation was its connection to phonology and phonetics. From this point on, I became incredibly interested in this topic.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Umutesi R. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
My Course Research
Through this course, I got to learn more about how the phonetic alphabet is organized and how useful it can be when used in the classroom. Depending on the English level of a student, this alphabet can become incredibly empowering for them. This is because English spelling and pronunciation are sometimes seemingly unrelated to one another. Absorbing this information made me even more interested and eager to see how phonetics could help me empower and engage future students. It is one aspect of language that I believe can give English learners the most significant confidence boost.
Accent vs. Low Level of Education
In the United States, there is often an association between accents and poor English skills. Although this does not make any logical sense, jokes have been made about people who speak with a heavy Spanish or Chinese accent in movies and comedy routines. Having an accent is something that people are shy about in this country and it is seldom seen as a sign of courage. Because of the stigma that accents sometimes carry in the social and professional world, I predict that the emphasis on teaching students how to use phonetics to improve their pronunciation could make them feel more comfortable when they practice speaking.
Solving Anticipated Problems in the Beginning
Another reason why teachers need to put an emphasis on phonetics when they teach pronunciation is so that they thoroughly understand the science and information behind what makes a sound come out the way it does. Many teachers feel that the accents that students have are permanent and they ignore them and focus on grammar and vocabulary instead. This is not to say that all accents can be removed completely, however, it would be interesting to see how learning outcomes would change if more emphasis was put on the physical position of the tongue when pronouncing certain words. Perhaps students could grow up learning English in a way where they feel more capable and informed about how to study and learn new sounds.
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Ultimately, language is one of the central constructs in our social world. We use it to communicate, share ideas, and learn more about each other. At the same time, the way a person sounds can sometimes put them at a disadvantage because of how we judge and categorize one another. I want to use the information I learned about phonetics and phonology in this course to empower students to comfortably and confidently study pronunciation. I hope that in the future, a natural accent will be seen as something everyone can aspire to, instead of something that you need to be born with.
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