Minimal pairs are one of the most helpful tools for any pronunciation teacher. They have been proven to help significantly with the perception of unfamiliar phonemes. And since perception of a phoneme is required before production can occur, minimal pairs can also help students when they are ready to speak.
Before you dive into minimal pair training, you should have first done some kind of needs analysis of your students. This could be a done with diagnostic test, or something as informal as listening to the phonemes that your students mispronounce. It’s also possible to predict what types of phonemes your students will have problems with based on their native language – Arabic speakers will often have difficulty with the /p/ phoneme, Japanese speakers will often struggle with /l/ and /r/, etc.
Once you’ve identified phonemes that you want to practice with your class, then you’ll want to either create or find lists of minimal pairs. Here are a few different sources:
This time, I’m looking at Fluent Forever, a book by Gabriel Wyner, who was an opera singer before he became a polyglot and language hacker.
Like the first two I reviewed, this book is aimed at adults who are thinking about learning a foreign language. And again, I’m going to be reversing the point of view and looking at how it can be applied to teaching English as a foreign language.
So let’s take a look at the aspects of this book that are useful for ESL teachers.
Picture this: You and your friend meet someone for the first time and have a conversation with her. She speaks a little differently from you and your friend.
Now imagine scenario 1: When you finish the conversation and the woman leaves, your friend says this to you:
Where do you think she’s from?
Now scenario 2: the woman leaves and your friend says:
What was she saying? I couldn’t understand most of it.
To me, this is the difference between accent (scenario 1) and pronunciation (scenario 2).
If you’re a language teacher, you should focus on improving your students’ pronunciation, even if they say they want to speak with an American/British/Australian/whatever accent. Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll be able to convince your students to focus on improving their pronunciation and accept, maybe even embrace, their accent.
I recently finished Fluent in 3 Months by Benny Lewis. As a teacher of language, I’m interested in books that claim to have tips, tricks, and yes, even “language hacks” that can help people learn a language quickly.
This book, on the surface, looks quite different than the last book I reviewed. Becoming Fluent was written by a Foreign Service Officer in the US Department of State and a professor of psychology at a major university. What are Benny Lewis’s credentials? Well, just take a look:
Pretty impressive, right? So, what are his methods?
Actually, what he writes in Fluent in 3 Months isn’t too different from some of the content in Becoming Fluent, with some basic language learning/teaching tips thrown in.
And while I believe that it really is possible to become very good (“fluent” is tricky to define) in just three months, I don’t think we language teachers are in danger of losing our jobs due to a sudden rise in language autodidacticism.
When I start my pronunciation unit on the “th” sounds, half of my class sounds like snakes and bees.
That’s because many languages don’t have theta (/θ/) or eth (/ð/) sounds, so those sounds come out as /s/ and /z/ respectively. If you do a speaking exercise with a lot of words with “th”, you’re going to hear “sssss” and “zzzzz” until you start helping certain students improve their pronunciation.
Since both of these sounds are represented with a “th” in English writing, you can teach your students the symbols – θ for unvoiced, and ð for voiced (these are real letters, just not in English. You’ll find θ in modern Greek and ð in modern Icelandic – pretty cool!)
For Arabic speakers learning English, this will make sense to them since they have two different letters for these two sounds:
ث = θ (unvoiced) and ذ = ð (voiced)
Arabic speakers will have no problem pronouncing these sounds since they have them in their language. But they might have trouble choosing which sound to use when they see a “th” in writing, so they can still get something out of a lesson on these two sounds.
Let’s consider a few more things when you’re teaching the “th” sounds.