Most students are unaware of their pronunciation issues and those that are have no idea where they can receive extra support. Focused practice is needed and monitoring and measuring of the results will help tremendously. Whether online or in a classroom, 2 to 3 hours per week of oral practice is just not enough. What steps can be taken to become more autonomous?
Being a musician, I know that the best way to critique oneself is by recording. Athletes use videotape to see each fluid movement in order to improve. Carefully and objectively reviewing every nuance of your performance afterwards can point out flaws that you weren’t aware of and highlight where improvement is needed. I figured out years ago a way to use technology for better pronunciation. As they say, “there’s an app for that”.
For pronunciation, I suggest downloading a speech-to-text app for your smartphone or pc. The idea is, voice recognition has come a long way. If the app can understand you perfectly by typing the correct word that you speak, then chances are you are saying it correctly. This method isn’t 100% foolproof, but it is extremely accurate. I have used Dragon Dictation with my students for years now, but there are many others available for free that work just as well. Take a text, a list of phrases or even a vocabulary list and speak in a normal voice and you can see the text appear on the screen. If the spelling of the word is correct, you are close if not perfect. If you say “Binational” and it types “be national” you are getting there. Keep practicing.
Now how do you get the proper pronunciation when outside of the classroom? Download a dictionary app. I use American English giant Merriam-Webster Dictionary because I feel it is the best out there, it’s from Massachusetts (like me) and I know the editor in chief (shout-out to Peter). The boys from across the pond recommend the equally great Collins COBUILD for British English reference. It has all the same features. We will talk more about dictionaries in later posts, but a quick tip: to hear the proper pronunciation when your teacher isn’t around, click on the speaker next to the word to hear the right way to say the word. You will hear the appropriate native correctly pronouncing the word and can repeat it as often as needed to improve and to refresh your accent. Google has this option too, but I am an old-school dictionary guy.
Want to go further? I also recommend a good quality digital recording app for recording your voice in order to review later. Smart Voice Recorder has worked well for me on Android. It is straightforward and easy to use as well as free. I use it myself for recording students and narrations. I also teach presentation skills and this is great for training your voice in any language. Of course you may also use your webcam and any type of movie camera too. I have found it invaluable to record students on their first day of class and when they say, “I haven’t improved at all”, which they usually do at the 3 month mark, I let them hear how they used to sound. Powerful free tool to maintain student retention and motivation.
For those who really are into tech, Audacity is a free program for your pc that is normally used by sound techs to edit and filter audio segments. It is a bit of overkill for the novice user though, but, I love this program because you actually see a visualization of your voice and this can help you to see and fix speech patterns and flaws. I have used this quite often to get rid of the “ahhhh” filler that some students use habitually without noticing it.
Editors notes: The links here are for Android users. Due to the holidays, this is a reprint from OLC from February 8th, 2015.
Rob Howard is the owner of Online Language Center. He is a teacher, tutor, trainer, material designer and author for English as a foreign language. He is also a consultant and has been a frequent speaker internationally regarding online retention as well as using technology in and out of the classroom. Originally from Boston, Massachusetts in the U.S., he is currently residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.