English language pronunciation can be difficult. Little quirks that native speakers take for granted are a minefield for learners, from the three pronunciations that the “ed” verb ending can have to minimal pairs such as the vowel sounds in “ship” and “sheep.” To come close to native pronunciation, learners must engage in activities that allow them to both differentiate between the sounds and reproduce them. Repetition is key, so these types of exercises should be repeated liberally.
Learners can practice giving and receiving information as well as pronunciation in this minimal pairs activity. The goal is to exchange phone numbers, real or fake, using minimal pair words as code for numbers. Prepare a word-to-number list in advance and give each learner the code: ship equals zero, sheep equals one, bat equals two, bet equals three, etc., all the way to nine. Customize the word pairs to target the learners’ problem areas. Learners then mingle, reading their phone numbers to each other using the coded words, which boosts both pronunciation and listening skills.
Race to the Board
Learners who enjoying getting up and moving during class will benefit from a minimal pairs board race. Divide the class into two teams and have each stand in a single-file line perpendicular to the board. Give the first in each line something to slap the board with, such as a flyswatter, and write the sounds on the board, one set for each line. Call the sounds or words; the first learner to slap the correct sound gains a point for his or her team. To make the activity more difficult, have the learners repeat the sounds correctly for the point, or give them board markers instead of flyswatters and have them write the correct word or sound.
Without the correct spoken stress pattern, an English word can too easily become incomprehensible for the listener. A few rounds of syllable stress bingo can help learners identify and repeat stress patterns. Give each learner a bingo card filled with words that target a range of stress patterns. Read out different words that match stress patterns of the boards’ words; when the stress pattern of a spoken word matches that of a word on their boards, learners can cover it. After learners hit bingo, have them repeat the words correctly before they may receive prizes.
Silly Tongue Twisters
Sometimes the best language practice is the silliest, since learners can open up and practice without stressing about wrong or right answers. Tongue twisters work exceedingly well for this, and, as an added benefit, learners can easily practice them at home. Model both individual difficult words and the entire tongue twister for the learners, and then let them practice by taking turns listening to each other. If they experience substantial trouble, have everyone chant the sayings slowly in unison several times.
Melissa Harr is a writer and knitting pattern designer with a range of publication credits. Her latest work includes blogging for Smudge Yarns, judging fiction for Ink & Insights 2015 and creating patterns for I Like Knitting magazine. Harr holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a CELTA.