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Why Learning Phonetics is Important

Why Learning Phonetics is Important | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Linguistics is the scientific study of the human language and its structure, and as any other science, it is divided into different branches or areas of analysis. One of these divisions examines the articulation of sounds and has a name that corresponds to its function: phonetics. Despite the crucial character it plays in its scientific field, the one it performs in teaching is considered roughly secondary. Nonetheless, a change in role assignment could improve the learning of the English language immensely.

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

Speaking as a skill

Speaking is frequently considered the hardest skill to develop when learning a foreign language, which includes aspects such as pronunciation and intonation. The main reason why students feel insecure to produce the new language orally is that they are frightened to make mistakes, being these last ones the biggest fear of every human alive. Fortunately, there is a solution to this issue: implementing phonetics as a must in ESL teaching. Listening to a sound is not enough for students to be able to reproduce it, especially if the making of it requires vocal movements never used before in their native language. Also, how to pronounce words and the rhythm of speech can only be learned by practice.

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What aspects should you teach?

Teaching this discipline involves all the different aspects of it, such as intonation, stress, the phonemic alphabet, phonemic symbols, and articulation. The first one, intonation, consists of the variation of volume and pitch in the production of a sentence. It bears its meaning and transmits purposes and emotions. Therefore, it is essential to teach students how to communicate what they want to say. Now, the second aspect that must be taught is stress, which is the strong part of the sentence that carries the main emphasis and along with it, the message one wants to emit. There are some general rules that, even though they are not absolute, can guide the students to develop correct pronunciation faster and more efficiently.

The instruction of the phonemic alphabet is the next must-teach aspect, which is constituted by phonemic symbols that represent all the sounds in the phonology of a language, English in this case. This is very useful for students when using a dictionary, so they know how a word is pronounced by the phonetic description at the beginning of each entry. Now, along with this comes the teaching of articulation, which can be considered the most important aspect of all, especially for students whose native language does not include sounds about the target language. This is key to the development of the skills mentioned before because pupils will gain knowledge not only about how the phonetic production should be, but how to produce it physically. Undoubtedly, this will fasten the development of the speaking ability of all ESL learners.

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The inclusion of phonetics in the English teaching programs all around the world will increment the capability of all students transcendentally, positioning them closer to a native speaker’s oral abilities. Also, it will increase their confidence and motivation, and finally, their overall linguistic capacity and execution.

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