Teaching English overseas comes with the challenge of instilling proper pronunciation in non-native speakers. This is very similar to the challenges we face in American classrooms when we teach English language learners (ELL kids). English is hard enough to learn - English as a second language (ESL) is even tougher!
Here's a question I received from a reader in Algeria.
English is the third language for my students. They need help with proper pronunciation.
English is the second language after French. Arabic is the mother tongue.
My learners are between eleven and fourteen and are in middle school. They start studying English at the age of eleven. It's very difficult for them to pronounce English easily. What can I do to help them? Especially for the beginners.
Thank you very much.
~ Soriya, Oran, Algeria
Common objects and everyday events provide great opportunities for teaching pronunciation.
I think your name is beautiful.
I have thought a lot about this and I have some suggestions. Every year I have kids in my room who have recently immigrated from other countries. Russians and Eastern Europeans are very common in my city. This year I have been helping a girl who recently came from Myanmar (Burma) who had very little English at the beginning of the year.
These children do have an advantage over your students since they are immersed in English all day long rather than taking it as a class. But, what I have learned from working with them may help you a little bit.
The key to learning English as a second language (or third!) is practice, which you already know. Over and over again, having the children repeat words correctly is the only way they can form the proper habits of pronunciation. But it helps for the children to do MORE than just repeat words. If you can combine that with handling objects, writing, etc. then they will retain the information better.
So here's an idea. Use American childrens TV shows to form a basis for practicing proper pronunciation. The show Mr. Rogers is aimed at young children, but it talks about very simple concepts and and common items and he speaks slowly and clearly.
See this example from YouTube. (You can ignore the silly songs...but then again, your kids might like to sing along with them!)
Millions of American children watch shows like this every day, talking and singing just like the actors and learning how to say new words.
In this episode, you see that he starts by talking about batteries and counting them and explaining how they work. This is very simple English about simple things.
You could create lessons based on each show. So using this example of the show about batteries:
The students watch a part of the show
You list several words and sentences from the show that they must practice saying while handling actual batteries. For example, in student pairs they could practice counting the batteries and explaining the types of batteries to each other.
The students then write the words and sentences to help reinforce what they have been saying.
They then watch the episode again while you pause it and have them repeat sentences such as when he is counting the batteries...he counts them out, you pause the video and your students count them out. You rewind and repeat until they sound as close to Mr. Rogers' pronunciation as possible.
So by the end of the class, they have:
This process uses different parts of their brains to teach the same thing, and using more than one sense (sight, hearing, touch) is the best way to make new information stick in their heads.
To get started, look for episodes on YouTube by typing in "Mr. Rogers episodes."
Then create your lesson plan around whatever he is doing. If he draws a picture, have your students draw a picture and label the parts. If he is talking about smells, bring in something that smells (soap, candles, spices) and have your students describe it. If he is cooking, bring food to class and have them taste it while using English words to explain how it tastes.
When you connect new knowledge to the everyday experiences of your students (drawing, eating, sports, holidays) it will have a lot more meaning for them...AND they will be able to go home and immediately use their new English words with their families.
If you are not able to play these TV episodes for your students while they are in school, then you can still base you lessons on these things. Watch the show for yourself, then build a lesson plan around what Mr. Rogers is talking about.
So instead of your students watching Mr. Rogers talk about batteries, they watch and hear you talking very slowly about them. Then they do the other activities.
After awhile, you could assign students to bring common items from home, whatever they want. So if a student comes in with shoes, or pots and pans, or eyeglasses, you act just like Mr. Rogers and explain in very simple English what they are and how they are used. Very frequently, you stop and have the students repeat what you say.
Don't be afraid to get out of the classroom. Learn the English words for soccer (football) and how to say cheers in English ("Go team," "Kick hard," "Stop the ball"). Then split the class and have some play while others cheer, then switch. You act as the referee and use only English words to explain penalties and so forth.
Or go on a bug collecting walk around the school. Name and collect beetles, ants, caterpillars, etc. Do a plant collecting walk. Or take digital photos of different parts of your school building and print and label the pictures when they get back to the classroom.
Again, tie your English lessons to the things they experience every day and they will learn much faster.
I hope this gives you some ideas of different ways to work on pronunciation. I would love to hear what you come up with and how you apply it in your classroom.
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