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The power of pronunciation in Business English

Business English pronunciation ESLELT teacher, teacher trainer and course book author, John Hughes, shares some classroom ideas for teaching pronunciation in your business English classes ahead of his webinar on 19th February. Register now.

Is there any essential difference between teaching pronunciation in business English and teaching pronunciation on a general English course? In many ways the answer is ‘no’. After all, in any type of ELT classroom we need to work on pronunciation in two ways: firstly, to help students with receptive pronunciation; in other words, to help them recognise features of pronunciation which affect their ability to listen and understand. And secondly, to help students improve their productive or spoken pronunciation; this doesn’t mean that they need to sound like a native speaker but that they are intelligible to a wide range of other people when communicating in English.

However, when we teach pronunciation in business English I do think our approach should be tailored to learners’ business needs and that they should have plenty of time to practice pronunciation for specific events. In addition, your business students can also use pronunciation to make their communication skills more effective. Let’s take a closer look.

Tailored pronunciation

Typically on a business English course (especially with one-to-one or small groups) we ask students about their needs for using English. Part of this will include asking them who they need to communicate with in English. If they answer, ‘colleagues working in our China offices’ then we already know that the students will need to listen to recordings of Chinese speakers in class. If, on the other hand, my students make phone-calls to the United Kingdom, then I might spend time focussing on the features of different accents within the UK.

Prepared pronunciation

In business English we also have to prepare a student for speaking at particular events; for example, if your student has a meeting in English coming up soon then you can predict the type of language he/she will need to use. You can practice using that language and identify any pronunciation problems that may affect the student’s intelligibility for the other participants. One useful technique is to role play the upcoming situation with the student and record the conversation. Then listen back to the recording and then pick out potential pronunciation difficulties.

Powerful pronunciation

Many effective presenters and speakers in the world of business also use pronunciation to make their message more powerful. So in my presentation skills classes I help students to work on stressing certain words and adding pauses for emphasis. Take this example which shows an extract from a presentation in which the stressed words are underlined and the / indicates short pauses between words and phrases. Try reading it aloud as you think the presenter said it:

Now I’d like to present the figures / for our most recent quarter / and / I’d like us to consider / the implications / for the rest of our financial year.

The speaker stresses the content words in the presentation and adds short pauses to break the sentences down. In particular, the separation and stressing of the word ‘and’ in the middle emphasises that the presenter has two distinct aims to the presentation. Having students mark transcripts of their own presentations like this can really add power to their communication.

To consider more of the issues behind teaching pronunciation in business English and to get more classroom ideas for teaching pronunciation in your business English classes, join me for my webinar on 19th February. Register now.

John Hughes is a teacher trainer and course book writer. For Oxford University Press he has co-authored on the Business Result series and the video courses Successful Meetings and Successful Presentations.


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#EFLproblems – Phonetics and Pronunciation

Talking in someone's earWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. We’ve received some queries about phonetics and pronunciation, specifically how to make pronunciation apps part of the class.

Talk to your students

There are many apps and the first thing a teacher should do is ask their students if they’ve got a pronunciation app and how they use it. Being aware of students who have a pronunciation app will help the teacher integrate it into the class. Then, it is also important to talk to the students about how they use their app. This discussion will also generate some ideas. The discussion may also make some students curious about a pronunciation app and how they could use it.

So, let’s now explore how to integrate the use of the app into the classroom.

Let’s consider first the sounds chart.

Be a resource for students

As the teacher, you can help your students understand certain concepts. For example, voiced and unvoiced sounds. Having a brief discussion on this in class will help students use their app better. They will see that /p/ in “parrot” is unvoiced and that /b/ in “be” is voiced.

Activity:

Ask students to find 3 sounds on their app that they find difficult. Tell them to write the sample words and the sample sentences from the app. Then, tell them to find 5 other words they know for each sound.  Ask them to write a short sentence with each sound, as in the app.  Finally, ask them to record the words and sentences, and to play it back. How do they sound?

As the teacher you may want to confirm that the words a student has chosen do represent the sound they have difficulty with. You can also ask students to compare their pronunciation of the voiced/unvoiced pair.

Chart your Progress

If you can, provide students with a small sounds chart. They can probably find one on the internet. Ask them to indicate with a small arrow the 3 sounds they find difficult. Then, as they progress and feel comfortable with the sound, they should put a tick next to it, and add another sound to their list.

Work with others

Encourage students to share their experience with other students in the class. When students find they have difficulty with the same sound, they can help each other, comparing their list of words and sentences. Then, they could also record each others’ words and sentences, comparing their pronunciation with each other as well as the example in the app.

If pronunciation is important for your students, have a sounds chart in the classroom. This will reinforce their work with the app. It is important that they notice not only the sounds they have difficulty with, but also to be aware of the sounds they find easy.

Help them improve

Students may sometimes need you to check on their progress. Be available to help. Maybe once a week, at the end of a lesson, ask about their progress with the pronunciation apps. Ask if they need any help. They may ask you to record a sample sentence. You could offer sample words that may be more helpful than those they have chosen. And, of course, they may have made some mistakes you can correct. Remember, you can help your students get the most from the pronunciation app.

So, you as their teacher can be a resource as well as a helper. In the first case, you can add to their knowledge. In the second case, you can facilitate their progress.

Play the game

Students will usually play the games that come with pronunciation apps. Encourage them to chart their progress.

1. Encourage them to keep a list of the sounds they got wrong

The app will give them immediate feedback on this, so students can simply write the word/sound before moving on to the next one. They can do this in a notebook or simply indicating the difficult sounds on a sounds chart.

2. Encourage them to play a game regularly

Suggest they play a game at least twice a week; once after the English class, and another time on a day when they don’t have English. Ask them to chart their scores for each time. Is there any difference? Students may discover that their scores after English class are generally higher than the others. This may indicate that a student does better when English is fresh in their minds. They may want to listen to English outside of class on a more regular basis. They could listen to music, or watch a movie or TV show without subtitles.

Playing the games will give them information about their learning which they can use to improve their learning of English.

These activities will link their English lessons with their use of their pronunciation app. This alone will help students focus. It will organise their use of the app and make it a useful tool in improving their pronunciation. Making the app part of the lessons will also bring another dimension into their learning, their experience outside the classroom. Finally, helping your students to use the app adds to your role as their teacher, the role of facilitator and resource.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about using pronunciation apps, so please comment on this post.

Please keep your challenges coming. The best way to let us know is by leaving a comment below or on the EFLproblems blog post. We will respond to your challenges in a blog every two weeks. Each blog is usually followed by a live Facebook chat to discuss the challenge answered in the blog. Be sure to Like our Facebook page to be reminded about the upcoming live chats.


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#EFLproblems – Cell phones in the adult classroom: interruption or resource?

Student with phone in classWe’re helping to solve your EFL teaching problems by answering your questions every two weeks. This week’s blog will respond to Pat Mattes Mazzei’s comment on Facebook about the challenge of adult students using cell phones in the classroom.

Although students using cell phones in the classroom can make you feel like you have lost control of the class, it’s important to find out what students are using their cell phones for. Calling or texting friends or family during lessons may not be the best use of class time, but more and more often students are using their cell phones – especially smartphones – for learning and organisational purposes. Being on the cell phone does not necessarily mean the students are ‘off task’.

Establishing phone use guidelines

Adult learners may have valid reasons for leaving their phones on. Business people, for example, may have a mandate to keep in touch even whilst in class, or parents may need to be available for calls related to children. At the beginning of term, it’s a good idea to negotiate rules for phone use with students. Discuss when, if ever, it is OK to use phones for calls or texting and establish cell phone etiquette for the classroom. This should be done with maximum student input so that the rules are agreed rather than imposed.

Some examples of acceptable use of cell phones in the class might include:

  • Using the calendar to schedule meetings with other students
  • Taking notes using a note app or recording function
  • Audio recording the lesson (with teacher’s permission)
  • Looking up unknown words
  • Adding peers to their contacts list
  • Photographing board work or homework assignments
  • Sharing photos when related to class content (for example, family photos on a family unit or holiday pictures on a holidays unit)
  • Doing web searches

Maximising cell phone use for learning

You also might begin to think of ways to exploit cell phones further. Some ideas are explored below.

1. Educational apps for phones have been developed to help students learn English. Encourage students to replace their digital translators with a good dictionary app. Students can look up new words themselves rather than relying on the teacher all the time. When doing activities in which students must guess the meaning of new words from context, simply ask them not to use dictionaries for the activity. To help with pronunciation, point students in the direction of a pronunciation app that they can use to hear the correct pronunciation and record themselves or each other. The Headway Phrase-a-day app could be an engaging way to begin the lesson with students trying to create a dialogue in which the phrase can be used naturally. (For ideas on how to use apps, see Gareth Davis’ blog ‘Translation Tool or Dictionary’ and Verissimo Toste’s blog ‘Enhanced Learning – Using an App in Class’)

2. If students (or at least one student per group) have smartphones, then they can easily go onto the internet to research questions they have related to course content. Encourage students to look up information to support an argument or to satisfy their curiosity about topics discussed in class. Get them to research a topic to report back on or ask them to find an image to illustrate a difficult vocabulary word. For example, in one of my classes, the word badger came up. Describing a badger is fairly difficult, but a student with a smartphone quickly looked it up and passed the image around to the rest of the class.

3. Students can use their phones to practise speaking and telephoning skills. Speaking to someone without seeing them is more difficult and requires students to use clear pronunciation and phrases for clarification. This adds a layer of authenticity and can help students gain confidence. Give them a speaking or telephoning task to do with someone across the room where eye contact is difficult. Alternatively, ask them to leave a message that their partner has to respond to.

4. Cell phones can themselves be a springboard for discussion and a way to practise new language. Students could compare and contrast the functions of their phones, describe how an app works, argue for or against phone features, or even give instructions for how to play a game.

5. You might be interested in exploring more advanced uses of cell phones by investigating resources such as Wiffiti for sharing brainstorms or Poll Everywhere and SMS Poll for free ways to get immediate class feedback.

Cell phones play an increasing role in everyday life and can be seen as an integral part of students’ learning rather than as an interruption to it. When students do use phones in class, especially smartphones, don’t assume that they are doing something ‘off task’. Students may be using their phones for a number of educational purposes. Cell phones can be seen as a valuable learning tool and an aid to student autonomy.

Invitation to share your ideas

We are interested in hearing your ideas about using cell phones in class, so please comment on this post and take part in our live Facebook chat on Friday 25 October at 12pm GMT. Our next blog will address one of the other issues raised by you on this blog, on Twitter (using hashtag #EFLproblems), and on Facebook. Please keep your ideas coming.


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#qskills – What can I do to improve my students’ pronunciation and fluency?

Today’s question for the Q: Skills for Success authors: What can I do to improve my students’ pronunciation and fluency?

Tamara Jones responds.

We are no longer taking questions. Thank you to everyone who contacted us!

Look out for more responses by the Q authors in the coming weeks, or check out the answers that we’ve posted already in our Questions for Q authors playlist.

 


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Enhancing learning – Using an app in class

Girl using mobile phoneVerissimo Toste, an Oxford teacher trainer, looks at how technology can enhance a student’s ability to learn a language. 

I’m interested in how technology enhances a student’s ability to learn a language. Resources are plentiful, but incorporating them into the classroom is not always easy. So when I saw the “Headway Phrase-a-day” app by Oxford University Press, I became curious as to how it would help students enhance their learning.

Students get a phrase a day, such as “You’re pulling my leg”. To help them understand the phrase there is a picture, a sample sentence, and a similar expression that is easier, in this case, “You’re teasing me”. Students can search for a phrase, add certain phrases to their list of favourites, and play some games based on the phrases they have already learned.

All very well so far, but, how could a teacher use this to help their students learn more effectively? Here are a few ideas:

phrase a day

1. Sharing

Students come to each lesson with a new phrase. They must be able to use the phrase to communicate something about themselves. This should lead them to personalise their learning rather than simply memorising the phrases. The teacher can quickly go around the room with each student saying their sentence. Alternatively, students can write their sentence on a piece of paper and display it in class for everyone to see. By sharing their sentences with their classmates, students further strengthen their ability to use them meaningfully.

2. Favourites

Of course, some phrases will be easier than others. In order to focus on the phrases they find more difficult, students can move these into their “Favourites” folder. This will give them a list of those phrases they need to focus on.

To provide more work on these phrases, the teacher can provide some class time in which students discuss the phrases they have found difficult. The discussion alone may help many students overcome their difficulties. The discussion will also give students a chance to share their successful learning strategies with each other, giving students having difficulties alternative ways to improve.

As a phrase becomes easier, they can remove it from their favourites. In this way they can assess how well they are progressing. Their “Favourites” folder should never have more than 10 words.

headway phrase a day

3. Games

Every 15 phrases, a student will be able to open up one of the games. These games will help the student assess more closely how well they have learned the phrases.

Ask students to bring their digital devices to class. Tell them they are going to play the game at the “easy” level. This level gives them 3 minutes to match all the answers. Before they begin, ask them to establish a time they would consider successful. This gives them a personal goal to strive for.

Once they have played a game, ask them to register their times in a notebook. Get these times from them, and display the average in class. In this way, each student will then be able to compare their time with the class, increasing their confidence as they do well, or motivating them to do better.

The games can also be played at “medium” level, with 2 minutes to match all the answers, and at “hard” level, with 6 seconds for each phrase. Tell your students that their goal should be to do the “hard” level and match all the phrases. Any phrases they don’t match they should put into “Favourites” folder.

Summary

Using the phrase app as part of lessons gives students a structure to use it more effectively. It provides them with a space in which they can help each other. It provides the teacher with the opportunity to help them use it better.

The app enhances students’ ability to learn by giving them more contact with English outside the classroom. It allows each student to tailor their learning to their individual needs, taking a phrase and using it to communicate their own experiences and opinions.

The app also provides students with immediate feedback. They can quickly use this feedback to adjust their learning in order to make it more effective. Equally important, the app allows students to see their progress as they work through the different phrases, giving them a sense of achievement as they reach their goals.