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How to drill pronunciation like a pro

Updated: Feb 10

How to drill pronunciation like a pro
Drilling pronunciation can be broken down into 3 easy steps

Drilling simply means repeating things aloud. It's one of the simplest language teaching tools we have and it's one of the ones we've been using longest. When done correctly, a drill is fun and energising. When done poorly, it's awkward and maybe even embarrassing. So what are the ingredients of a good drill to think about on your CELTA course?

  1. Modelling: a good drill starts with a clear model. Students need to hear the word before they say it. It's essential that this model is clear, so that the students can make out the sounds. However, it's important not to fall into the trap of modelling a word so slowly that it becomes artificial. If I model a word like 'actually', I shouldn't sound it out - ACT - OOO - AAAH - LEE, because that's not how the word is said. Instead, I should model it AK - SHU - LEE, because that is how we pronounce it. Many textbooks will have recordings of new words so you can drill from a professionally recorded listening track, and that's fine if you're nervous about the accuracy of your own pronunciation, but if you can, drill the words yourself. That way, you can control the speed, volume, rhythm etc much more easily.

  2. Highlighting: before asking students to repeat, it can be a good idea to highlight features of pronunciation. How many syllables does a word have? Which syllable is stressed? Can I highlight this using gestures with my fingers or hands? You could also physically demonstrate how a sound is made with your tongue, lips, teeth or throat at this stage. You might also highlight particularly difficult sounds or silent letters or anything else that's likely to trip learners up at this stage.

  3. Repetition: this is the actual drill, when students repeat the words or phrases together. Drilling should be choral i.e. students should repeat altogether. This allows students to build up confidence and get their mouths around the sounds in a safe environment where no one is going to pick on them for getting the sounds wrong. Once you've done choral drilling, then it can be a good idea to move onto drilling in small groups or to asking individuals to say the word/sentence - this will allow you to pick up on any weak areas. You need to drill with oomph and ideally, a drill should be rhythmic. If we drill quietly and if a drill starts and stops, it can be awkward. Think of yourself as a sergeant major, drilling the troops on parade. Give it some welly! Finally, drilling should be corrective, so you should correct errors you hear students make, but it shouldn't be punitive i.e. if a student is having trouble getting their mouths around a new word, it's fine to draw their attention to that, but don't make someone repeat something again and again if they're clearly having trouble with it in front of the whole class.

Dr Connor O'Donoghue hails from Ireland and he started teaching English as a foreign language in Poland in 2003 and he became a CELTA trainer in 2008. He has taught and trained in Ireland, the UK, France, Italy, Slovenia, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Kazakhstan and Vietnam. Connor also holds a Masters and a PhD in Education from Trinity College in Dublin. He has previously managed large teacher training centres in Vietnam and in London before founding DC Teacher Training.


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