L1: Catalan/ Spanish
Isabel talks about illegal downloading
Watch Isabel talking about downloading. What features of Isabel’s speech might be difficult to understand for some listeners?
Watch the video again. Can you spot what is wrong with the way she pronounces these words?
What’s the problem for the listener?
Isabel does not pronounce the following consonant sounds correctly:
‘the’ / ðə/ ‘they’ / ðeɪ/ ‘this’ / ðɪs/ ‘there’ / ðeə(r)/. She substitutes /ð/ for /d/ therefore producing the following sounds / də/ / deɪ/ /dɪs/ / deə(r)/. However, she can produce /θ/ correctly, for example, think / θɪŋk/
/ t/ at the end of a word
An example of this is ‘about’ / əˈbaʊt/, which she pronounces as / əˈbaʊθ/
If you listen to ‘wedding’ / ˈwedɪŋ/, the / w/ is not clear. She does not seem confident with the sound, and she seems to make a sound close to / b/, but not quite.
Consonant clusters can cause problems for students as we can hear in the way Isabel pronounces ‘restaurant’ / ˈrest(ə)rɒnt/. She doesn’t make all of the necessary consonant sounds here and seems to glide over them, which makes the word unclear.
Mispronouncing just one phoneme can change meaning. We can see this in our example ‘they’ / ðeɪ/. Isabel pronounces it as / deɪ/ therefore changing ‘they’ to ‘day’. Another example of this is ‘there’ / ðeə(r)/ changing to ‘dare’ / deə(r)/. What is also curious for teachers is that Isabel has no problem with the unvoiced sound / θ/, but does have a problem with the similar voiced sound / ð/.
Strategies to help learners with consonant sounds
One consideration for teachers is whether the problem sound is present in the students’ L1. It may not be, and with this in mind we should consider whether the students can hear the sound or not. If it isn’t in the students’ bank of sounds, they may well not be able to distinguish between the target sound and another that they do have. There is normally a tendency for the student to make an approximate sound that they have in their own language, as we have seen in / d/ and / ð/ with Isabel. Another consideration is that a change in phoneme can cause a change in meaning, and by making this clear to the student, we can make the practice memorable.
This is a very simple, but effective strategy. It can also help develop the students’ interest in practising target sounds.
Give the students a list of known words in two columns something like this:
In this example there is only one difference in phoneme between the pairs of words, and the difference is / d/ and / ð/. These are called minimal pairs. You can adjust the level according to your group, but the important thing is that they are known words. Now read out one of the words in each line, for example ‘they’ (not ‘day’). The students listen and circle the word they hear each time.
This activity allows the teacher to see whether the students can hear the target sound and make decisions in terms of practice. It also allows the student to see that one change in phoneme creates an entirely different word, hopefully making this memorable for them.
Students may need help with the physical aspect of producing these sounds, especially if they are not present in their L1. To help students make the sounds / d/ and / ð/, we can focus on where the tongue is and the fact that both sounds are voiced. Here are some ways we can do this.
Using visual clues can really help learners see how to make a sound in English. Draw a side-on image of the mouth and show the tongue position for the sounds. Exaggerate this a little. Ask students to try and put their mouth into the same position. You can also use your hands to make a mouth and tongue. One hand is the mouth and lips and the index finger of the other hand is the tongue. Make the finger touch the top of the mouth behind the teeth for / d/ and put it between the teeth and lips for / ð/. You could ask them to look at each other and check each other’s position. They could also look in a mirror.
You can also show them the position by modelling it yourself. Stick your tongue out between your teeth to make / ð/. Exaggerate this at first. Drill the sound with the class and with individuals. Then, try silent drilling of the word pairs above- saying them in different order. Student look at your mouth and put up one finger for words with / ð/ and two fingers for words with / d/. They have to identify if you are saying dare or there, for example.
To help students make the sound we can also show them that / ð/ is a fricative. This is a long sound with a continuous stream of air. / d/ is a plosive. It is made with a short expulsion of air. To help them realise this ask them to practice saying the two sounds one after the other moving their tongue and exaggerating the position and length of the sounds.
Finally, voicing! Both these sounds are voiced. Ask students to put their hand on their throat and make the sounds. They should feel a vibration. If they are not sure how to do this ask them to pretend they are at the dentist and to say “Ahhhh”. They will feel the vibration.
To give them further practice on this they can work on voicing and unvoicing with / θ/ and / ð/. The mouth position is exactly the same for these sounds but / θ/ is not voiced. Ask them to switch their voice box on and off working in pairs to help each other make the sounds.