I wish I had started learning pronunciation sooner!
I hear this regularly from my pronunciation clients. They tend to be advanced speakers of English who are approaching pronunciation in a structured way for the first time.
After a few sessions, my clients start getting answers to long-standing pronunciation mysteries and enjoying improvement and confidence. At this point, they often wonder why they didn’t learn pronunciation years ago.
This is an understandable frustration. But would it really be helpful to focus on pronunciation earlier in the language learning process?
Starting pronunciation training earlier
An obvious benefit of introducing pronunciation early is that pronunciation is learned alongside new words and phrases, so it’s ‘correct’ from the start. Learners would reduce the chance of ingrained pronunciation errors.
Sounds great! However, reality hits in the shape of time and priorities. In the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classroom, there are a million important learning points, particularly at the elementary stages. When basic structures and vocabulary items are still in process, it’s natural for teachers to put pronunciation far down the to-do list.
Teachers may worry that insisting on pronunciation points can waste time or even damage a learner’s confidence. Valid concerns.
Leaving it until later
An advantage of leaving pronunciation training until later is the freedom to concentrate on pronunciation only. Once grammar, vocabulary and fluency are in place, it frees up headspace for pronunciation. Also instructions are easier to follow.
The flip side is that pronunciation habits are likely to have been ingrained over many years. When you’re a fluent and spontaneous speaker, words just flow and it can be challenging to introduce new habits. This is often what leads my clients to express frustration that they didn’t learn pronunciation in more detail earlier. They feel that they’ve been ‘getting it wrong’ for years.
Recently, in a rather unique case for me, I started working with an elementary learner of English who is very keen on including pronunciation in this early stage of their journey.
For me as a teacher, it’s been a refreshing challenge. I make pronunciation points simple, laser focused and as related to spelling as possible – not always easy with English. Instructions must be crystal clear and concise, with lots of demonstration and repetition.
Sometimes I worry it’s a bit too much at this stage. There are indeed other priorities for this learner. But then I see it happen: my client producing new items of vocabulary with clear pronunciation right from the start, and I think: this is different.
Like with any client, we’ll keep revisiting and redefining objectives as the journey goes on. For now, it works.
What really matters...
Many EFL teachers do include level-appropriate pronunciation teaching. I remember plentiful materials and activities from my own Business English days. I also remember that pronunciation would often get pushed aside or treated as an afterthought.
At elementary level, it would be inappropriate and time-wasting to insist on accent-specific features that just don’t matter for intelligibility.
Yet things like seat vs sit, scream vs screen and stressing the right syllable in deVElop can be hugely important to smooth interactions and confidence in the language.
And that’s what it’s all about, right?
To kick-start your journey towards super clear English pronunciation, book your free, 20-minute Clarity Call today.