“I never use the phonetic alphabet when doing pronunciation work with my students. Am I doing something wrong?”

No, you’re not doing anything wrong. Most TEFL courses still include it as part of their module on teaching pronunciation, but in my view, it serves very little purpose. Firstly, students have to learn the 40+ symbols and the sounds they represent to be able to make use of it – and some students might still be getting to grips just with the Latin alphabet. But even when students know what the symbols mean, it still doesn’t explain how the sounds they represent are actually produced – where a student should place their tongue or what shape their lips should make, for instance. Nor does it help students decide how to spell new words they hear or pronounce new words they read – other than entries in a bi-lingual dictionary.  That said, you may find it useful to teach your students the symbols for a couple of notoriously tricky/important sounds in English such as ‘th’ and the ubiquitous ‘schwa’ and use them for correction purposes in class. And in any case, there are plenty of much more accessible online tools.

Fran Mackereth has degrees in Law with French from the Universities of Leicester and Strasbourg, and in Business with Economics from the Open University, from which she graduated with First Class Honours. During the seventeen years between the two, she taught EFL in the UK, Germany and South-East Asia, having gained her CELTA back when it was called the Preparatory Certificate in TEFL (and dinosaurs sill roamed the earth). She has taught all levels and all ages, both in groups and 1:1, but her primary area of interest has always been Business English, both in-company and in-class. Following a fifteen-year break from teaching, during which time she ran an award-winning blacksmith’s forge with her husband (yes, you read that right), she moved to Italy and returned to teaching. Since her return to the classroom, she has also qualified as an interlocutor for Language Cert oral exams, gained a Certificate in Online Teaching, delivered teacher training courses and written ESP materials. She is currently participating in a Creative Writing course through the University of Cambridge.

Categories: Sounds