Pronunciation of words

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Part 1: Individual words

In English, words are rarely pronounced the way they are spelled. Here, an online teacher, Melanie (American), provides short video lessons, between 4 and 10 minutes each, contrasting and comparing words that many speakers of other languages find difficult in English.

    • Video 1: said, suit, clothes, recipe, mountain, famous, virus

Note: Most English words with “ch” are pronounced “tsh”: chief, charming, channel. However, in words with a Greek stem the sound is often “k” (archaeology, chasm, hierarchy) and in loanwords from modern Romance languages it’s “sh” (chute, cache, machete)

Part 2: Individual sounds

Now study sounds that many Germans in particular have trouble making. Getting “v” and “w” right is particularly important to avoid misunderstanding. Practice “minimal pairs”, or words that are the same except for that one sound. Also watch closely how a native speaker makes them, and mouth the sounds yourself, exaggerating the movements your mouth makes. The new sounds must become a habit. The more practice, the better. Watch the two embedded videos to get started.

    • Video 8: “hierarchy”: pronouncing the American rhotic r

Part 3: Phonemic chart


Learn to distinguish sounds using this chart, which is built around the geography of your mouth. Tools:

Note to teachers: It’s well worth watching Adrian Underhill‘s teacher training session – 1 hour

To teachers: I posted this on Moodle for self-study (see screenshot of the top part of the web page). For those of you using Moodle with college students and thinking about how to layout a page, here’s food for thought: Pages load far more slowly when videos are embedded in them, and wifi connections at universities may be slow. I make long pages rather than many short ones, since users prefer to scroll down to check how much there is, which means a lot of data is being loaded at once. So Not to try my students’ patience, I didn’t embed most of the videos, just provided a link. I actually only embedded them here and there, after I saw my (impatient and honest) husband just check the first couple of links, which go to very similar videos, so he missed the more entertaining ones in the second half.

So we might think about embedding one video to raise interest, adding that short intro and a reference to study time needed, and then just link to the following ones beneath. I’m also wondering in retrospect whether it was a good idea to start with Melanie’s videos, as good as they are, since talking heads are more eyecatching and engaging.

In this case, I didn’t add any tasks for practice. This is just reference to self-contained online lessons. I’ll use them as resources to follow-up our face-to-face teaching, or to have something there for the students who only come in to class periodically (this is an ongoing, supplementary, not-for-credit open learning environment for a group of 100 PhD students).

The sequence may seem backwards from an in-class  didactic point of view – Adrian Underhill starts with the phonemic chart – but since this is self-study, I thought starting with mispronounced words was less likely to alienate learners.



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