To pronunciate or procrastinate…this is the question!

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Did you hear Chris Evans on his breakfast show this week and his ‘play on words’?  The challenge for his listeners was to rename film titles to include an item of food in the title.  There were some great contributions such as Planet of the Grapes, The Bread Poets Society, Braised Heart and, my personal favourite, Harry Trotter and the Giblets of Fire.   (My own, less imaginative contribution was The Lambshank Redemption).  So,  this got me thinking about how we can exploit this and introduce it to students as part of their learning experience.  On short courses, listening skills are often over-looked, taking second place to our desire to get the students speaking.  However, I think we are doing them a disservice  if we don’t help them develop their receptive skills.  (Don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about elision, assimilation, contractions, intrusion and all those complex pronunciation  issues that can be a conversation killer) – but let’s take The Bread Poets Society as an example.  My bet is, that if you were to ask students if they had seen this film, not one of them would respond with ‘there is no film of that name!’   This is because we unconsciously understand words from either the context or, being guided by the content words or even the intonation and stress.  I’m not suggesting this as a fact, rather throwing it out there for discussion.  In the same way that working on sentence stress and intonation can help students improve their communicative competence, so can working on other features such as connected speech.  The simple awareness of the existence of this can help enormously in enabling students to better understand the language they hear. The question is, how far do we take it on short courses where the focus is on productive skills rather than receptive. Some teachers take the view that these areas should not be taught because simply exposing students to the features of connected speech will  enable them to incorporate those features  into their own speech.

Take for example the sentence ‘it might rain’ and ‘that’s my train’ –  simple enough to understand yes?  But if our poor student is standing on a cloudy railway platform and engages in chatter with a stranger and that stranger says ‘oopps, gotta go, my train!’ …. our poor student may well respond with ‘no I think it will be sunny later J.   Or how about that same hapless student (particularly if he had a lesson on health and ailments the day before) suddenly hears ‘the neck strain will be arriving in five minutes’.  Yes, he may well wonder which planet he’s landed on!

These are of course, linguistic challenges that often appear with higher level students and at that level don’t we feel more motivated to teach the finer details of pronunciation?  I personally think that no matter how naturally we try to speak with our students, when they are lower level A2 or low B1 (which many of our summer students are) we unwittingly speak slower and articulate more than we do with fellow native English speakers.  We might even miss out a few contractions – feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong!

I’m writing this because it’s an area that we intend to focus on more this year at SUL Language Schools, we’ve challenged ourselves to throw in a little more pronunciation – to challenge both our students, our teachers and ultimately ourselves as the Academic Team.

So, when you go into the classroom next, ask your students if they’ve seen ‘Harry Trotter and the Giblets of Fire’ – let us know where it goes? And please feel free to inspire me as to how we can we introduce word play into our classrooms to help our students develop their receptive skills in a meaningful and fun way.

If you are working with SUL this year, and you want to understand more about the terminology in bold, get in touch – we are here to help.

Incidentally, ‘pronunciate’ is a word that is not listed in most dictionaries. does mention it but notes that ‘pronunciate’ is rarely used.  My opinion is that most people will think I meant to use ‘pronounce’ but screwed up.  Unless you think I’m the sort of gal who uses silly double negatives such as ‘irregardless’.