Tag Archives: Pronunciation

“Learning to teach listening: students’ and teachers’ perceptions” summary of Chiara Bruzzano’s talk

This is the second summary from the TESOL Italy 2016 talks that I saw. The first one was Henry Widdowson’s plenary ‘ELF and TESOL: a change of subject?’, and you can read it here.

Chiara’s talk starts off with a short video. Two people are having breakfast and chatting away. A third one arrives and joins the chat.

The language sounds vaguely familiar, but doesn’t seem to be making much sense. In fact, Chiara tells us after we’ve watched it that it’s made up of different lines from different song lyrics jumbled together.

And this is exactly how English might sound to our students’ ears. Difficult to understand. Confusing. The likely outcome is that they’ll feel frustrated. And perhaps this is one of the reasons why teaching listening is important. But not the only one, of course. Some other that Chiara lists are:

  • Low English proficiency of students in Italy
  • English is becoming more and more important in everyday life
  • It’s the Cinderella skill
  • Students’ perceptions need to be taken into account for curriculum development
  • Most of the time listening is tested rather than taught in class

The two most common theories which inform how we teach listening are bottom-up and top-down processing. However, rather than choosing between one or the other, it is important we adopt a more integrated approach; that is, helping our learners develop and use both top-down and bottom-up skills.

The rest of the talk is informed by a research Chiara carried out. The sample was made up of 121 Italian students of English aged 16 to 19 and 5 Italian English teachers. To gather data she used questionnaires, interviews with teachers and classroom observations.

The research focused on the appreciation of students for listening activities, the materials and sources used in the classroom, the importance of the skill and the students’ difficulties.

The two main findings that Chiara drew on to provide her practical suggestions were a general good level of appreciation of the students for listening skills and the problems that they highlighted. Most of them referred to perception and parsing problems as being prominent, and their teachers seemed to show a good level of awareness regarding this.

So, it seems that in this particular study students are motivated, enjoy listening and see it as important. The question is then, how can we capitalise on these positive perceptions to improve students’ listening?

First, we should stop just testing listening, and focus on teaching it. I wrote more about this in this post.

As far as bottom-up skills go, we can for example focus on connected speech, weak forms or variations in pronunciation of individual sounds.


Some ways in which we can attempt to help students improve top down skills are:

  • Inferring missing information
  • Continue listening despite difficulties
  • Predicting unfinished utterances.
  • Taking notes of content words.
  • Paying attention to discourse markers, visuals, body language.

In the next part of the talk we were provided with a very useful list of listening Dos and Don’ts.





Then, we had to put them into practice to assess the listening activity you can see below. What do you think is wrong with it and how could it be improved?


Some things that were wrong with it can be seen on this slide:


Finally, there are several ways in which we can try to make our listening lessons more interesting, and more focused on teaching rather than testing listening, which Chiara called listening with a twist:

  • Use a wordcloud as a prelistening: www.worditout.com
  • Students watch part of a TV series as an extensive listening and imagine how they would have acted in the situations shown
  • Instead of questions, students can be given a drawing, a map or a table to fill
  • Play chunks of language and ask students to identify how many words they can hear, and then which words
  • Let the students choose their favourite songs or video clips to listen to in class

You can find more tips for teaching listening in some of the previous posts from this blog as well as in the listening section here:

  1. Let’s bring back the TAPES
  2. Teaching listening: tweaking the CELTA approach
  3. Planning a listening lesson: 15 tips
  4. Teaching listening: example lesson plan and reflection
  5. The real deal – authentic materials or authentic tasks?

256331_3965102298242_285721285_o (1) [1661836]Chiara is an English teacher and translator based in Milan. She has taught English as a second language in England, Spain and Italy. She has a BA in Interpreting and Translation (University of Bologna) and an MA in TESOL and Translation Studies (Aston University, Birmingham). Her main interests in the TESOL field are pronunciation, comparative grammar, the teaching of listening skills and communicative language teaching applied to business contexts.

‘I don’t have talent’ and other language learning myths

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All The TEFL Show podcasts can be found in this playlist on Soundcloud and in the iTunes Store here. You can subscribe to the show there, download the podcasts to listen to later and share them on social media.

In this episode of The TEFL Show we use our own language learning experience to debunk some of the most common myths and misconceptions about learning languages, such as that you need talent or a very long time to get to a high level. We also give several tips that will hopefully boost your language learning progress.

What has your language learning experience been like? Do you have any other tips? Have you found the ones we’ve given useful? Let us know in the comments section below.

If you’re interested in learning languages, you might find this section of the blog useful. All the previous podcasts can be found here on the blog.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

Which language model should we teach?

logo new #2Listen to and download these podcasts from the iTunes Store here, our Soundcloud channel here or from this section of the blog.

In this The TEFL Show podcast we look at the various pronunciation models that teachers offer to students, with a particular focus on our experiences in Asia and some thoughts on linguistic imperialism and English as Lingua Franca.

We hope you enjoy it.

If you enjoyed this podcast, you can find the previous ones here.

The podcast music theme is under Creative Commons ShareAlike 3.0 International License and was downloaded from this website.

TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘NEST or NNEST: does it matter in pronunciation teaching?’ by Marla Yoshida

This was by far the best session I attended. Not just because of the topic, which I’m really interested in (see the work I’ve been doing with TEFL Equity Advocates), but primarily because of the way in which it was delivered. Active. Funny. Engaging. And above all – you could see that the speaker was very passionate about the topic.

Originally, the session was to be given by Marla Yoshida, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to make it. So her colleague, Roger Dupuy gave the workshop in her place:

2015-03-27 11.30.47

The terms NEST and NNEST are used throughout as following:

  • NEST: Native English Speaking Teacher
  • NNEST: non-Native English Speaking Teacher

We started the session with some discussion where we had to answer the question posed in the title of the session. The two points that were raised by the participants were:

  • most students should focus on intelligibility rather than obtaining a native-like accent
  • some students walk in with a bias not only for a NEST, but more specifically for a blond blue-eyed NEST

So what does the research tell us about NESTs and NNESTs:

  • 80% of teachers are NNESTs
  • most teach in countries where English is not in general use
  • NESTs and NNESTs differ in their teaching style
  • each group has their strengths and weaknesses, BUT
  • both can be skillful and effective teachers

While as far as linguistics is concerned, the native speaker fallacy – i.e. the belief in inherent linguistic superiority of a native speaker – has long been dead, it is still to a great extent deeply ingrained in ELT (see this post for more information).  And what about teaching pronunciation? Does it matter whether the teacher is a native speaker? And more importantly – what skills, knowledge and qualities are needed for successful pronunciation teaching?

Some points raised in the workshop are that good pronunciation teachers should:

  • be able to produce the sound
  • be able to show how to make the sound
  • teach suprasegmentals: intonation, sentence stress, etc.

So what are the potential strengths NESTs have when teaching pronunciation? First, they might be a good pronunciation model. Also, they’ll have an intuitive feeling for the language.

However, typically a NEST will have no conscious knowledge of the phonetic system. Additionally, they might not be empathetic since they don’t really know what the student is going through. Finally, NESTs might have unrealistically high expectations. Roger summarised very nicely this section by saying that: ‘just because you have good teeth, doesn’t mean you should be allowed to be a dentist’.

What about NNESTs then? Typically, NNESTs:

  • are good learner models
  • understand learners and predict problems
  • have more conscious knowledge
  • have more realistic expectations
  • lack intuitive knowledge

So when we take all of this into consideration, Roger recommends that NNESTs:

  • make good use of their strengths
  • be a good role model
  • develop understanding of how pronunciation works
  • work on improving their pronunciation

On the other hand, if you’re a NEST, you should:

  • remember that intuition isn’t enough AND
  • back it up with solid knowledge
  • build an ability to predict problems
  • know your own pronunciation
  • learn a new language

Finally, Roger gave some recommendations for everyone who’s teaching pronunciation:

  • never stop learning
  • share your experience
  • learn from others
  • build up an arsenal of ideas

He also challenged everyone to learn how to quickly draw a cross-section of the mouth to use with learners to indicate how different sounds are made:

2015-03-27 12.17.22

Before we concluded the session, Roger shared with us Marla Yoshida’s website, which is an absolute treasure trove of ideas. I highly recommend you visit it! We watched some really motivating videos about NNESTs who managed to overcome their initial fears and worries about teaching. You can watch them here. Some advice which they gave was:

  • ‘Get out of your comfort zone. Try. Be brave.’
  • ‘Don’t wait for a miracle. Pronunciation doesn’t happen because of wishful thinking.’

I’d also suggest reading some of the Teacher Success Stories posted regularly on TEFL Equity Advocates, and perhaps writing one yourself.
So to conclude, whether you’re a NEST or a NNEST does indeed matter for teaching pronunciation. Not in the way we traditionally used to think about this, though. It matters because we all have our strengths and weaknesses, which we will need to overcome. Both NESTs and NNESTs need to work hard to be effective pronunciation teachers.

But with enough dedication and preparation, we can all do it!

TESOL Convention 2015 – ‘Pronunciation through Practice: utilizing apps and the web’ by Amanda Yousuf-Little


One of the Electronic Village presentations I attended this morning focused on 3 apps and 2 websites we can use to help our students practise pronunciation in and outside the class. It was a 20 minutes hands-on practical talk that showed us the basic features and pros and cons of each of the apps and websites. Admittedly, I haven’t had a chance to play with these apps myself, so in writing this post I’m just relying on the notes that I took during the demo and on what I saw then. But if you have, please let me know what you think about these apps in the comments section.


All the apps are apparently only for Android devices. You can find them in the Google Play Store by clicking on the hyperlinks.

k&j app1. K&J app:

It shows you how to produce individual sounds, and gives example words with particular sounds and shows how to produce these. Some of the practice features are spotting the sound that the app says, or identifying the word that the app says

ep speak and listen2. EP Speak and Listen

This app is very good if your students are having trouble pronouncing words that they see written, which is not that uncommon if you think how terribly illogical English pronunciation is. So one of the features is that the student can type in a word they’re not sure how to say and the app will pronounce it for them. The student then can repeat the pronunciation and the app assesses the accuracy.

english pron3. English pronunciation

You can pick any sound you want to work on, and the app shows you the side view of the mouth, air flow, position of tongue, lips, etc.; taking you through the process of producing the sound. Unlike the other apps, you can choose between AmE and BE (when will apps, dictionary, course book writers and ELT in general start including Australian, Scottish, Irish and all the other native and non-native English accents??!!). You can listen to words and record your pronunciation to compare. Also, you can listen to a word and try to spell it phonetically (as you spell the app will pronounce each sound). Alternatively, the word is spelled alphabetically and you have to spell it phonetically.

pron training5. Pronunciation training

Apparently, the lessons are dull. However, the practice part is unique. You listen to a sentence and reproduce it. The app then evaluates you. It can track your accuracy and indicate where you went wrong in the sentence. There are 48 different sentences.

talk to eve6. Talk to Eve

Now this app sounds a bit scary. Basically, you interact with ‘Eve’ alias the app. You can say things to her (whatever you feel like at the moment I guess – leave it to your students’ imagination), and she’ll respond IF… Now here’s the tricky part. Eve will only respond if she understands your pronunciation. Unfortunately, the Internet was down, so we couldn’t really see how it works in practice, but apparently Eve can be quite witty in her responses too. So watch out!


Again, because of technical glitches, we weren’t able to see how the websites work, so if you’ve used them, please comment below.

http://www.lemoda.net/ – great for minimal pairs. The cool thing is it lists words by difficulty for students.

http://vocaroo.com/ – sts record themselves and send the recordings to you. These can be downloaded in different formats