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Topic 37 - Pronunciation Problems in italy Introduction italians like almost all those learning english as a second language have a natural tendency to transfer the intonation, phonological processes and pronunciation rules from their primary language italian, into english. Linguists refer to this as ‘interference' . It results in heavily accented english. This is important because heavily accented english may result in miscommunication. This could be a source of frustration, embarrassment or inconvenience. In practical terms this can see people speaking with strong accents excluded from job opportunities, no matter how well they might read and write english. US labor law for example permits employers to discriminate against people on the basis of their accent if could interfere with their work . Eliminating a strong accent can be very difficult. Some academics believe it is practically impossible to eliminate accent, at least is exposure to english language comes after puberty . However, with focus and dedication a heavy accent can be significantly improved. For example actress Charlize Theron speaks english as a second language but does so without trace of her native accent. Similarly, some native english speaking actors (such as Portia de Rossi, Anthony La Paglia, Russell Crowe and Anna Paquin) from english speaking countries other than the united states have worked hard to successfully learn to speak with a US accent. While it is acknowledged that they are hardly speaking english as a second language, it does show that accent can be modified. Why is there a difference? There appear to be six reasons why speakers of one language commonly experience difficulty pronouncing a second language. The combined effect of these six factors determines an individual's capacity to learn to vocalize a second language like a native speaker. The factors are: Neurological plasticity Essentially this means that the more basic intelligence an individual has the more able they are likely to be to vocalize a second language with a native speaker accent. Cognitive development Younger people are less indoctrinated with the rules which govern the pronunciation of their native tongue. If they are exposed to a second language at a younger age (typically less than seven, and perhaps as old as the end of puberty) they have a better chance of developing the ability to speak a second language without a foreign accent. Motivation The more motivated an individual is and the harder he or she is prepared to work at learning to speak without an accent, the more likely it is that he or she will succeed. Psychological conditions Someone who is psychologically impaired, suffering from depression, or from some learning difficulty such as dyslexia is less likely to learn a second language without a foreign accent. Formal instruction The more someone is taught to vocalize a second language without a foreign language, the more likely it I that they will succeed. Language learning aptitude Some people simply absorb rhythms and sound patterns and so forth better than others, and are therefore more likely to be able to learn a second language without accent. What are the differences between italian and english impacting on pronunciation? Martin Russell conducted a study on how italian children pronounce english . Based on that study the following tend to feature in italians' pronunciation of english: italians replace the english /?/ and /?/ (e.g. will and put) with /i:/ and /u:/ (as in feel and fool). This is perhaps because italian does not have either of these sounds and /i:/ and /u:/ are the nearest equivalents. italians often extend the vocalization of the ‘g' component of the ng (/?/) making it /?g/, or sometime by eliminating the ‘g' sound entirely. Thus english might become ‘Eng-glish' or more like ‘Enlish'. Words beginning with sm, sn or sl are sometimes pronounced by italians as zm, zn, or zl. So, ‘smile' becomes ‘zmile', ‘snap' becomes ‘znap' and ‘slip' becomes ‘zlip'. italians often add an ‘h' at the beginning of words starting with a vowel. Thus ‘animal' might be pronounced ‘hanimal'. italians will often replace /?/ as in ‘mother' with [a] because italian does not have the vowel /?/. Thus ‘mother' might become ‘mather' (or ‘mader'). Because italian does not have dental fricatives /ð/ is often replaced by [d?] and /?/ may be replaced with [t?] or [f]. Thus, ‘that' becomes ‘dat' and ‘think' might become ‘tink'. italians can replace the /æ/ sound as in ‘hag' with [?] as in ‘egg', so ‘hag' becomes ‘heg'. Tendency to pronounce p t and k without aspiration. italian words almost all exhibit a strong syllable while some english words do not. italians therefore can over emphasize some words which in english have limited or no weight. Thus lemon becomes lemon, and ‘sugar' becomes ‘sugar'. italian speakers may also add extra stress on the final consonants of word like ‘dog' or ‘mat'. This sounds like an extra ‘e' so ‘dog' becomes ‘dog-e' and mat becomes ‘mat-e'. italians tend to roll their ‘r's . italians tend to pronounce words as they are spelled. Thus ‘ed' at the end of for example simple past tenses is pronounced fully '?d'. How does a teacher address these common problems? teachers can help correct these common tendencies by: Use simple diagrams of the tongue and lip positions used when pronouncing certain sounds or words. Have students practice certain sounds by imitating you. Consider getting students to use a mirror so they can see the position of the mouth they need to adopt to get the sound right. Perhaps play a short monologue and have the students count the number of times certain sounds are used. Teach students the International Phonetic Alphabet and perhaps leave charts of the symbols used in it hanging on the classroom walls. Use a feather to show how to produce aspirated consonants like p, t and k. Ask students to touch their throats when pronouncing unaspirated sounds like b, v, g and z. They should be able to feel the vibration when they say the sounds correctly. You could use a rubber band of a piece of elastic to signal how long a vowel is in a word. For a long vowel stretch it right out, and for shorter ones slacken it off. Use flash cards to demonstrate the difference between words closely vocally aligned. For example, hold up a flash card with a ship on it and have the class say ‘ship' and then hold up a card with a sheep on it and have them say ‘sheep'.