Category Archives: Phonetics

Most Common Pronunciation Mistakes Heard in Oral Exams

Even for the most confident students  taking an oral exam can be quite stressful. Twice a year, in June and September,  I  assess students’ speaking abilities acting  as both an interlocutor asking questions and interacting with students, or an assessor listening to students’ performance.

It was while acting as an assessor that I  decided to write down the most common pronunciation  mistakes students make  with the intention of  going over them ,with my own students, at the very beginning of the course.

I  have created a quiz with, what I hope, will be the last I see of these pronunciation mistakes. I hope you find it useful!

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Phonetizer: an online free tool to help you improve pronunciation

One of the most difficult things about learning a language is its phonetics. Unlike other languages that have pronunciation rules, the English language has very few pronunciation rules and lots of exceptions. Knowing the International Phonetic Alphabet can help you pronounce words correctly.
Phonetizer is a little tool that transcribes English texts into the International Phonetic Alphabet. Phonetizer is very easy to use. It has two panels: in the first one, you write or paste the text and  then click “Transcribe” and in the second panel you will get the transcription. In this second panel you can also select a word or a phrase and click “Speak” for the software to read your selected words or phrases.

 

Wanna have a laugh? Try to guess the answers to these jokes. They are written with phonetic symbols using the International Phonetic Alphabet. (answers below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Nothing. It just waved!

2. Because he had no body to go with.

3. Because it had a virus.

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Introducing Question Tags Using What you Know about your Students

Introducing, Understanding and Using Question Tags

I don’t know about you, but I have like 15-20 students per class. This number suits me fine as it allows me to do plenty of activities which require group work without students feeling the class is too crowded to interfere with academic success. At the same time, this number of students also gives me the chance  to get to know  my students quite well, even know some personal details about them, which are going to prove useful to  introduce question tags in an easy way.

Aim: Introducing , Understanding and Using Questions Tags with a Falling Intonation

Level : B2

STEP1. Introducing. Surprise your students by producing some statements about their lives. Make sure your intonation is falling as we are just checking something we already know.

  • Esther, you are a nurse, aren’t you?
  • Felix, you have been to  France several times, haven’t you?
  • Isabel, you spent your childhood in France, didn’t you?
  • Laura, you aren’t married, are you?
  • Carlos, you don’t work in a bank, do you?

At this stage, students are on tenterhooks waiting for you to say something about each of them so you have all their undivided attention. While I would say the first sentences  containing the tags in a normal way, for the last ones I would emphasize the question tag so that they realise something is going on.

Step 2.  Understanding. Focus on meaning/form/pronunciation.  At this point , some students would have probably  asked the question  “When do you use them? “Tell them you use  question tags with a falling intonation when we are sure of the answer, so the question tag here is not a real question (meaning). With the students‘ help , write some of the previous sentences  on the board for students to infer the rules (form). Focus on intonation now, making sure all the students have had a chance to do enough practice before we move on to the next step (pronunciation).

Step 3. Using Question Tags

♥Controlled Practice. Now ask students how much they know about you and ask them, in pairs, to write some facts they think they know about you. Students tend to write positive sentences, so encourage them to write negative ones, too. Once they have written their sentences about you, point to the board where hopefully the rules will still be displayed and  ask them to write  the question tag  .

Stundents take it in turns to  read  their sentences aloud asking for confirmation (gently correct if necessary) and the teacher answers accordingly.

  • Cristina, you worked in EOI La Felguera some years ago, didn’t you?  Yes, I did.
  • Cristina, you don’t eat meat, do you? No, I don’t. I’m a pescatarian.

At this stage, it is important to teach students how you answer to a question Tag.

If you answer  Yes, do not use contracted forms.

If you use No, contracted forms are possible.

  • Yes, he is.
  • No, he is not./ No, he isn’t/ No, he‘s not

♥Freer Practice. Students, individually now, write five facts they think they know about their partner using question tags.  Allow 5 minutes  for this step helping students with vocabulary and questions tags. Students carry out the speaking task in pairs. The teacher monitors, promts and corrects gently.

Question Tags Grammar Handout here. (black and white version here)

Six Wonderful Sites to Help you Write, Speak and Sound Better

I’m not a native speaker. Even though I read, write, work and I would almost dare say live  and dream in  English, I haven’t learned the language from birth and sometimes have moments of self-doubt. These websites I am going to share in this post have been an invaluable help.

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Howjsay  and Forvo: The world’s largest dictionaries of English Pronunciation

How often have you come across a proper name you had no clue how to pronounce and you desperately needed to know the  correct standard  pronunciation of or perhaps  a variant pronunciation of this word?  Let’s say you want to know the pronunciation of the word “selion”. You go to the most important online dictionaries offering pronunciation, but the word you’re looking up is not there and you suddenly begin to panic. At this stage you can do three things: panic, pretend you know how to pronounce it ( you just know how to sound British, no problem there) or look up the word in any of these two amazing sites that have saved my skin countless times.

Linguee

We all know how difficult it is to write, even more in a foreign language. More often than not we look up words in dictionaries only to find that it offers so many possibilities for the translation of the word that  we don’t know which one to choose for the context we need. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t help us at all but makes things more complicated as we don’t know which word to use to mean what we want to express and we end up completely frustrated. Here, Linguee can help us as it is a bilingual dictionary but  in context

Phraseup

Sometimes we know what we want to write, the sentence is phrased in our mind, but we can’t figure out some of the words we need. This is where phraseup*comes in. It assists you with writing, by suggesting possible combinations to fill-in the words you can’t remember. Each suggestion is accompanied by definitions, synonyms and translations to other languages.
Imagine you know there is an expression containing the words ” take” and “granted” but you have forgotten what goes in the middle, PhraseUp can help you here, too. Just type the words that you remember and put an asterisk * where you want the application to insert something. Very useful, isn’t it?

Or maybe  you want to use the verb+preposition combination “cope with” but you are just not sure which words it collocates with, just type it in PhraseUp and options will be provided.

Ozdic.com

I have been using ozdic.com for years and this is a dictionary I cannot live without. It is not any dictionary, it also help you to sound more natural when speaking or writing in English. Let’s  say you don’t know the preposition that collocates with the verb “insist”, or which adverbs sound  more natural with this verb; let’s imagine you need to use the word “idea” but you have no clue what adjective to use  apart from the overused “good “. Go to the dictionary now, this is just a sample of what you’ll find : bright, brilliant, clever, excellent,, marvellous | valuable, worthwhile | exciting, inspirational, interesting, stimulating | constructive, positive | absurd, bad, mistaken, ridiculous | , crazy, mad, outlandish, wild | half-baked | ambitious, big, grand.

The dictionary contains over 150,000 collocations for nearly 9,000 headwords and it is based on the 100 million word British National Corpus.

Text2Phonetics 

It is a wonderful tool that can save a lot of time if you need to transcribe something. I have tried it with small texts (two or three lines) and it’s incredible! You will be able to  pronounce a whole text perfectly .
Just paste the text you want to transcribe and click the Transcribe Button to get the transcription.

Pronunciation of some adjectives ending in -ed

If you were one of my students, you would know that one of my favourite words to use in class in EASY- sometimes I say easy peasy, but I guess it sounds the same to them. In fact, I only realized I said it so often when I saw my students  looking at each other with  half a  smile on their faces  and it got me thinking. I put two and two together and realized  that, carried away by my enthusiasm, I might have been overusing the word a bit. Well, nobody is perfect! The truth is that English grammar is easy to teach and easy to understand, but pronunciation is quite another matter.

Pronunciation!!! You can only sympathise with students when after years of teaching them how to pronounce the -ed ending of regular verbs, they suddenly find words such as naked,  which  they   automatically  pronounce /neikt/. You might not believe me, but  almost feel like I need to apologize and this is one of the few times when I need to say … Ok, this  is not that easy!!

The thing is that some adjectives ending in -ed have a special pronunciation and the -ed is not pronounced /t/ or /d/  but /id/. Let’s have a look at them

To make matters worse, aged is pronounced | eɪdʒd | when it means years old ( my grandmother, aged 93, is a very smart person) or when it is a verb but, when it is an adejctive it is pronounced  | eɪdʒid |

♥ All the young men went to fight in the war; and only the aged | eɪdʒid | and infirm remained behind.

Other adjectives ending in -ed   follow the rule for the pronunciation of the -ed ending, ie, pronounced /id/ only after /d/ ot /t/.

Keep posted!

Typing Phonetic Symbols

It’s six o’clock in the morning and already awake. Bugger! Today is the day I don’t have to teach first period but my mind doesn’t seem to know and has already decided it’s time I get down to some serious work so I’ve decided to turn on my computer and listen to the amazing voice of this guy ,James Arthur , apparently the winner of the XFaxtor. I am not a follower of this programme but the truth be told I think he’s got that kind of voice I could fall in love with and, to top it all, I have just heard his version of the song “I’m sexy and I Know it” originally sung by Lmfao and I can’t hardly believe it’s the same song. Well, I just wanted you to know.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you this tool that can come quite handy when working with phonetics .You can find it in a blog called Random Idea English, which is worth a visit. Here’s what it looks like ; you just need to type and copy/paste. Here’s the link .Easy peasy!

Here’s the song and the guy I was telling you about. By the way, he is also the one singing the latest hit “Impossible”

The World of Games : ESL Games

Yeahhh! Ok ! Sometimes students deserve a treat! It’s the end of the course and most of them have studied pretty hard for their exams and it’s only fair that you reward them with a class in the computer room playing games!

GAMES??? before you start thinking I’ve gone mad  allowing  teenegers to play games, iiiin the computer room and iiiiiiin the English class, let me tell you that the games are reasonably inside the scope of what even parents would agree with being academic stuff.

The site is called eslgamesworld.com and, even I, would be returning from time to time to play the games and have fun.

You can choose Grammar Games, Games for ESL Classroon Teaching ( you can play here The Wheel of Fortune, Who wants to be a  Millionaire …etc), Vocabulary Games and Pronunciation Games. Take your pick!

Aren’t you dying to try these games?

The Translator: a funny sketch

Have you ever wondered how we sound to speakers of other languages when we speak our native language? Some languages are easy to imitate, as for example the Italian language or the German one but I would never have guessed how a Spanish speaking native sounds to the rest of the world.

While I was in Malta ,and to introduce some intonation issues, we were shown this video. It was so funny that I ended up crying with laughter. At the end I was probably only paying attention to faces rather than to the mimicking of accents. I highly recommend you watch the video until the end as it only gets better.

In this video the British Sketch comedian, Katherine Tate, volunteers to translate into seven different languages. Hilarious! And I hope nobody takes offence.

[youtube]XY66ZJ0TFUI[youtube]

Voice Recognition Elevator- Eleven

Some time ago I went to Edinburgh to do a course for teachers. I spent about a fortnight enjoying the city and struggling to understand Scottish people.

I remember that on my last day there was a girl on Princess Street, which is Edinburgh’s main street, trying to sell flowers. She was shouting, like mad, two or three words. I stopped and decided not to move ‘till I could grasp what she was saying. It was important for me at that time.  I can’t tell you, without running the risk of lying, the time I spent staring at her mouth trying to see what my ears couldn’t hear but in the end, I convinced myself that she was saying something on the line of “three for a bunch” , but to be completely honest, I think I tricked myself into believing I could finally understand the Scottish accent!
Why is it so difficult to understand Scottish Pronunciation? To start with, English has 5 more vowels sounds. Scottish people don’t pronounce the schwa as English people do, for example, the pronunciation of the vowel in “the” is the same as the one in “sit”; they don’t make long /o/, for them, “cot” and “caught” are both pronounced with short /o/. What is more, the diphthong in “coat” is also pronounced as /kot/ and the vowel in “heard” is the same as the vowel in “bet”. There is no /æ/-/ɑː/ distinction so bath, trap, and palm have the same vowel
And finally /ɪ/ may be more open for certain speakers in some regions, so that it sounds more like [ɛ] Other speakers may pronounce it as [ɪ], just like in many other accents, or with a schwa ([ə]) quality. Others may pronounce it almost as [ʌ] in certain environments, particularly after /w/ and /hw/. ( from Wikipedia)

And now, after this boring explanation, watch this hilarious clip in which two Scottish guys get stuck in a lift which uses voice recognition for selecting the floor.

 

Should you have problems understanding the accent, read the transcript below.

Continue reading Voice Recognition Elevator- Eleven

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