Now, that’s OK with me. I’ve been talking like this for the past 49 years, and look where it’s gotten me? 🙂 I’m living in a beautiful country (Chile), married to a wonderful lady (my Gaby), and content as can be. 🙂 The way I speak English, my pronunciation, has worked out pretty well for me. So, I won’t make any changes.
Yet, I’m more than certain that I’m going to be asked about my techniques, my methods, and how the students’ pronunciation of English is coming along under my expert tutelage. You see, I’m a native speaker. I’m real English walking in the body of a man. 🙂
“OK”, I think to myself. “I’m gonna actually have to do something. What that will be, I don’t know, but I do know, it better be good.”
Coursebooks aren’t big on pronunciation. There’s the usual dialogues, repeat after me sections, choral drill, individual random selection drill, connected speech, weak forms, strong forms, where’s-the-stressed-syllable-drills, but that’s about it.
And if I start doing that, my students will get good at it, but they still won’t be able to speak English, to communicate. You know what I mean? So, what am I going to do?
That night, dreaming, I hear my brother saying to me when I was a child, a little boy child 🙂 following my idol around (him) “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?”
Incredibly, in my dreams still, I hear William Shakespeare answer my brother’s question, with a question: “To be, or not to be, that is the question”.
Now, this is getting really good, so I order a Big Mac, fries, a cola, and a strawberry milkshake (my favorite). Up comes Ronald MacDonald personally to serve me, and he says, “Have it your way”.
“Thanks Ronald”, I say, reaching for my order. I notice this huge smile on his face, and I look at the crew on shift, and they are all smiling too, big, ear to ear grins. Even the shift manager is smiling as the irate customer demands a Big Mac, right now, even though it’s still breakfast time.
And then, as if this dream isn’t already weird enough, in comes Michael and Michael. That’s Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson.
And they say to me: “E = MJ2.” That’s E equals MJ squared.
I don’t get it, so I say, “I don’t get it”.
So Michael Jordan says to me, “Just do it”. I notice his hands full of NBA championship rings and I figure there must be something to that. So, I nod my head, and give him a high five.
Then Michael Jackson starts to sing that Christmas song of his. I bet you know it. “We are the world, we are the children”, sings Michael Jackson, and I notice the cool white glove on his hand. I go to give him a high five but he starts to moonwalk away from me, and then he rises in the air and disappears, but not before I see the wings on his back.
“Yeah,” I whisper. “I knew he went to heaven. My God is a god of love, a powerful God with a pretty big heart. If Michael made it I know I’m going too.”
And then it’s gone.
I wake up, knowing that I’ve just had an incredibly meaningful dream, and reach for the pen and paper I keep by my bed to record my dreams when I wake up in the morning or to record important thoughts before I go to sleep at night.
“Pronunciation”, is what I had written before falling asleep last night.
To that I add:
1. Tongue Twisters
I know that I now have my pronunciation approach.
1. From time to time, I will use tongue twisters, focusing on various sounds, to give us huge volumes of practice, in an engaging way that isn’t drudgery.
2. I’ll add some drama to the mix, where it isn’t the words that are so important, but how you say the words. That will give me a chance to practice word stress, sentence stress, connected speech, intonation, and enunciation.
“Again”, I say.
The student responds, “To be or not to be, that is the question”.
“Again”, I say, “and this time make me believe you. Say it like you mean it.”
The student responds, this time with more credibility, “To be or not to be, that is the question”.
“Excellent”, I say. “That time you made me believe you were Hamlet, confused about what to do. Keep up the good work.”
The student smiles, the effort has brought its fruits. (Lots of volume in this pronunciation exercise, in which the student has to focus on the meaning they wish to convey).
3. Say it with a smile. People like people who smile. Put your heart into it, care about what you’re saying. Say it with a smile and watch the positive effects on the pronunciation of your students.
4. Be natural. Give a kid a basketball and he will play basketball. A good coach will stay in the background, observe the kids playing, and provide coaching on those elements where the players need help, both individually and collectively. No time will be wasted on areas where the players are already skilled.
As the pronunciation coach, give the kids something to talk about, and then step back. Help where help is needed, don’t waste time saying things where the kids are already skilled.
5. International English.
No one needs to talk like me, or like an Englishman, or anyone else for that matter. Be yourself, speak English so that anyone in the world can understand you. Like Michael Jackson says, “We are the World”.
It’s OK for a kid in Chile to speak English that is understandable, internationally the world over, and yet still retain vestiges of his cultural, Latin-American roots.
For example, as a filler, does the kid need to say, “um”, the way a Gringo from Gringolandia would do, or is it OK for the kid from Chile to say, “eh”, the way a Chilean would do?
In my pronunciation class, the “eh” is perfectly acceptable. Would you confuse his intent, if you were from Germany? China? Africa? Canada? I don’t think you would. After all, we are the world.
English now belongs to the world, and that means cultural heritage remnants in the spoken language, which do not interfere with understanding, not only should be accepted, but I would say, must be accepted. The myth of the native speaker has long been proven to be a myth, a fallacy, and not relevant to the development of student’s ownership of English.
Why? Don’t you see, English now belongs to the world…
I had a great year teaching pronunciation at my school. How great, you ask? Well, next year I’m going to be the Head of the English Department…
To be or not to be, that is the question… 🙂