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The Importance of Phonetics when Teaching English

The Importance of Phonetics when Teaching English | ITTT | TEFL Blog

For the longest time, people have separated teaching English from linguistics, which tends to include all their subcategories. However, phonetics, in particular, plays an incredibly integral part of the teaching of the English language. Why is an understanding of phonetics important in aiding the teaching pronunciation, articulation, and intonation? Being able to demonstrate how one changes the shape of their mouth, or the placement of their tongue can be the difference between someone speaking correct English and sounding as close as possible to a native speaker. Without at least a basic knowledge of this concept, how can we as teachers properly explain and display the way our language sounds in comparison with students’ native languages, despite where they come from.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Joni B. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

Pronunciation for South Korean Students

Living in a country where English is not the native language, South Korea, the one thing I hear most from students of English is their desire to sound like a native speaker as much as possible. It almost holds a sense of pride for them to be able to say that they can do so and thus they love having as many conversations with me in English as is humanly conceivable. I currently tutor several upper intermediate and advanced students in their English pronunciation and intonation and having a background in Applied English Linguistics has made it much easier for me to show students how to change their pronunciation about how their native language sounds.

Amazingly, we live in a world that is so connected that we get the privilege to have a pre-prepared standard for how human language is connected. The IPA stands as the universal understanding of how we as humans create sounds and language in the same ways despite our background or mother tongue. Children specifically learn through imitation of sounds and creativity with language and thus IPA is not a need to know for younger ages. But, in adult L2 learning, mainly due to a loss of understanding as many individual sounds as children can, we tend to need more of a breakdown to get a clear picture of sounds. I have found that syllable deletion is one of the easiest ways to get someone to understand a difficult word more easily. For example, take a simple word like “control” in which the “r” in the center can be difficult for those of native Asian languages. But I find that breaking them down into even smaller words helps to clarify the sound. So, control first gets separated as “con” and “roll”, then “con” and “troll” and lastly, they combine the two to create the main word of focus.

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At the same time, and with no less importance, articulation also comes into effect with phonology by understanding where and with which speech organs are used to create the different phonemic sounds. As stated previously, sometimes being able to demonstrate or describe where someone should place or shape their tongue can make all the difference in their understanding of vocabulary. You can teach students of English where, when, and if they should feel the vibration in a particular word. Especially for upper-level students that want to refine their English, I like using programs such as PRAAT. It is a simple to use computer application that allows you to record your voice and view in real-time how your words sound and if you have the proper format, or resonant, frequencies.

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In conclusion, phonetics is an integral part of being able to teach and learn the English language. It contains within it a fundamentally basic understanding of how humans create and connect sounds in every language and is a skill that every teacher should possess.

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