Sometimes students come up with great ideas for learning! When I taught a couple of pronunciation classes at our local community college a few years ago, I was struck by the students’ use of their phones in class – not so much as a distraction or a deterrent to learning, but as an aid to help them produce accurate speech. The primary advantages I observed are that the phone can provide individual feedback at the touch of a button and that it is available for practice outside the classroom as well.
I noticed that when working on particular sounds or words, students would practice with the group in class exercises and pair exercises and then check their individual accuracy more objectively by speaking into a dictation app on their phones to see what word was ‘heard’ as it was spelled out. If the intended word pat came up as bat (or as pot or something else), they had immediate feedback on how accurate their pronunciation was. I was pleased to see this simple, effective use of a ready tool.
Learning to pronounce sounds in words is good, but even better in the context of a longer piece of language, such as a phrase or clause. The use of an intelligent personal assistant app (e.g. Siri or Cortana) allows students to check pronunciation in class and practice as much as they wish outside the classroom without exhausting anyone’s patience. For example, I recently read of this smart phone idea: using a voice prompt to look for images (Wingo, 2016). It works particularly effectively when practicing words that have exact or partial minimal pairs. The command Show me images of bells will either generate the expected result, or produce images of bulls, balls, bills, belts, gills, gulls, gals, or something else. Students will have feedback not only on whether they articulated the word correctly or not, but also, if it was mispronounced, will have a pointer to what part of their pronunciation was misunderstood.
And what about oral translation apps? Admittedly, they can be detrimental if used solely to excuse the student from working on comprehension. However, there are potential beneficial functions as well, including students using such an app to check their pronunciation by seeing if the correct back translation appears in their first language(s). This function can be used for individual words or for larger units of language.
Either dictation or translation type programs can also be used to focus on pronunciation aspects beyond the basic consonant and vowel sounds: aspects such as pausing, linking, and intonation in connected speech or reading. Even mispronunciation due to incorrect word stress may be highlighted. Students will have a visual reminder of the importance of these suprasegmental aspects of pronunciation when they see that they can make the difference in whether a message is communicated effectively or not.
We can take advantage of devices students already have and use to aid in pronunciation lessons. Dictation, voice assistance, and translation smart phone apps can be both helpful and fun!
Do your students use their phones productively in class? Will you suggest or incorporate use of any of the apps mentioned above? Have you noticed other ways students have used their phones to help with their pronunciation? Please share your feedback below.
Wingo, K. (2016, August 10). 5 minimal pairs activities for your ESL pronunciation class. Retrieved from http://kriswingo.com/index.php/2016/08/10/minimal-pairs-activities-esl-pronunciation-class/
Beare, K. (2017). Using a smartphone in class. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/using-a-smartphone-in-class-1211775
Carol Blake graduated with a Masters degree in Linguistics and a TESL certificate from the University of Toronto in 1982. For the last 35+ years, she has been involved in teaching various aspects of English and language learning in first language, second language, and foreign language situations. Currently, she lives and teaches in Kitchener.