Elocution is the skill of clearly articulating spoken language. While good elocution comes naturally to many native speakers, people learning English as a second language or suffering from hearing impairment often struggle to be understood due to poor pronunciation.
Practice Vowel Sounds in Sets
A constant difficulty for pupils with hearing deficiencies and learners of English as a second language is differentiating English's many vowel sounds. Arabic-speaking students, for example, only rely on eight distinct vowel sounds in their native tongue, while English uses 22 different vowel sounds. A good way to practice is to have students repeat several words using the same vowel sound. To practice pronouncing the long "a" sound, for example, ask students to read a list of words like "bat," "cat," and "splat." This helps them form muscle memory so they can make the sound effortlessly in the future.
Singing songs in class can help students improve elocution because rhyme schemes and rhythms of songs require correct pronunciation. Additionally, songs create a strong mental imprint that will help students remember correct pronunciations in the future. If they ever forget the correct vowel sound in "boat," for example, they need only hum a few bars of "row, row, row your boat" to remember. For extra practice, ask students to sing with exaggerated diction. Overpronouncing words will help them develop muscle memory.
Use Tongue Twisters
Tongue twisters are excellent elocution teaching tools for more advanced students. Beginning students will struggle too much with difficult tongue twisters to make them useful, but once students can manage basic conversational English, they are ready for trickier practice sessions. Shorter phrases like "a proper copper coffee pot" are useful for introducing elocution practice. Later, students can work on longer rhymes like "how much wood would a woodchuck chuck?" These exercises can be difficult even for native English speakers, so make sure students understand you don't expect perfection.
Be a Stickler
Ultimately, good elocution is a product of relentless practice. If proper pronunciation is the goal, make it an essential part of every class session. Once students gain a sufficient foothold with the language, don't tolerate poor diction. A useful technique is to ring a bell every time a student mispronounces a word. This constant reminder will encourage students to work hard to correct their elocution. But be wary of disheartening students by demanding perfect elocution too early.
Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.