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This unit covers the topic of phonology and pronunciation. It gives a broad overview on some general rules for English pronunciation, that can be furthered by reading and practice.
Teaching pronunciation is important but often neglected by teachers, as they sometimes may lack the confidence and training to teach it. Besides, many native speakers find it themselves difficult to hear certain features, and thus consider it unimportant.
The unit explains stress, rhythm, intonation and International Phonetic Alphabet, how to use it to help students understand pronunciation. What’s often difficult for students to perceive are individual sounds, sounds in connected speech, stress within words and stress within whole utterances. In classroom teacher should dedicate time to pronunciation, stress and intonation practice so as to make students aware of the importance of accuracy and clarity in communication.
Intonation is variation in volume and pitch in a whole sentence, whereas stress is more concerned with individual words. Intonation carries the message in a sentence, and is particularly important in questioning, agreeing or disagreeing, or confirming statements, as well as fundamental in expression of emotions.
Normal intonation pattern in a statement is rise/fall intonation (when you finish what you want to say, the intonation falls). Second common intonation pattern is the fall/rise pattern, which indicates surprise and often disagreement, as well as looking for response or confirmation from the person one speaks to. It may also signal that the speaker hasn’t yet finished what he or she has to say.
Techniques that can be used to indicate intonation and stress are the following: nonsense words, gestures, humming or singing sentences, and making marks on the board.
Stressed word is the strong part of the sentence, the one that bears the principal emphasis. One word has only one stress, and only syllables can be stressed, not individual vowels or consonants.
Students should try and “feel” the music of the language to add the stress naturally.
Techniques for indicating and teaching stress are contrastive stress, by gesture such as clapping, clicking fingers etc., choral work, underlining on the board, or stress marks.
Four major ways in which English sounds are joined are linking, sound dropping, sound changing and extra lettering.
Most problematic area of pronunciation in the English language is that spelling of words and their pronunciation often differs. Dictionaries can be helpful as they also give a pronunciation of word, written in symbols of phonemic alphabet. Benefit of learning the phonemic alphabet is that those symbols represent the way in which native speakers put sounds together to form words, regardless of where they are from or which variety they speak.
Articulation part gives an overview of how to produce and voice sounds. It explains what speech organs are involved in making those sounds, places of articulation: different organs or areas that consequently produce different phonemes such as velars, palatals, alveolar, dentals, bilabials and glottal. Manner of articulation will produce plosives, fricatives, nasals, laterals, affricates and approximant. Peer dictation, your own mouth, visuals, phoneme symbols and tongue twisters are some helpful techniques when teaching individual sounds.
Though students’ pronunciation can affect the quality of his/her communication, teachers should be aware that they won’t succeed in getting 100% perfection in students’ pronunciation, so they must keep realistic and accept to teach intelligibility instead of perfection.