Pronunciation is a motor skill. To be able to produce the sounds of a language correctly we need to work on the movements of the mouth (and so on). However, that’s not all pronunciation is. We still need to develop muscular memory and automaticity in order to achieve fluency.
ie. repeating things makes it easier for your mouth to make the right sounds when you need them, and having phrases that you can utter without thinking makes you more fluent.
Put even more simply, practice makes perfect and repetition helps with memorisation. This is a case for using drills, shadowing or other techniques. Although looking back at what I’ve just written, it’s more about improving fluency and memorisation than it is about pronunciation… Food for thought!
Making drilling more fun
Here I’m going to describe one choral drill that focuses on sentence stress, using a stamp of the foot on the stressed word (or words). Surprisingly I didn’t find it by “drill with stamping” or any similar name by googling, so perhaps it has another name? It’s also good as a Question-Answer drill which makes it more interactive and a bit of “substitution drilling” can be added in, as you’ll see later.
I’ve tried this with low-level, shy Vietnamese adults and tweens but I haven’t (yet) tried it with older teens. It’s a bit physical, gets students out of their seats and the students I’ve done it with have enjoyed it.
Choral drill with stamped stress
I’ll illustrate it with an example for ease:
A: “What time is it?”
B: “It’s __ o’clock”
Setup and Modelling
- Put the students standing up in two lines facing each other (not too close to each other or it would be a bit intimidating)
- Model the phrase and stamp your foot (stepping slightly forward as you do) to indicate the stress as you say it. “What TIME [stamp] is it?”
- Drill the whole class on the phrase, including the stamping on the stressed words.
- Model and drill various answers, eg. “It’s 4’o’clock”, “It’s 10’o’clock”, etc.
- Chorally drill half the class (ie. one line, let’s call it Line A) Ss on the question: “What time is it?”. The other students, Line B, remain silent.
- Drill the other students, B, on an answer or two: “It’s 4’o’clock”. Line A remain silent.
- Explain or model that when you count down 3, 2, 1, then A will say their line and B immediately answer with theirs.
- Call out a variable to change, eg “ten” and they say it for “ten o’clock”.
After a few drills with A asking B for the time, you then swap them round so Line B are now asking “What time is it?” and A answer. Top tip: I’d advise quickly re-drilling each group before you do a 3,2,1 to start it off.
- It can take a little while for students to get the timing right (ie. for students get that it’s 3,2,1 – speak).
- While there is drilling, after the initial setup, it’s more student-centred and less a case of “repeat after me” once you get onto the main stage of the drill.
- Considering a silent approach to pronunciation, you could probably remove the listen-and-repeat “What time is it?” drill with humming the rhythm: də–Də-də-də?. I think I have done this in the past (I first learnt this drill in 2012).
- I’ve also done a little bit of individual drilling and/or given feedback while students are stood in the line.
- Students do tend to find it quite fun. It’s potentially a drill to add to your repertoire, to use occasionally. It might help boost students’ confidence and fluency before doing a mingle or whatever you plan do next.
Over to you: What variations do you add so your drills aren’t just listen-and-repeat? Or do you avoid drills entirely? (If so, I’m curious why!)
PS. It’s hard explaining this online, and I may have missed something, so do ask if anything’s not clear!
- Don’t drill! Drill it! Drill it now! (The Portable TEFList)
- Controlled oral practice in ELT – what happened to drilling? (TEFL Reflections)