by Jonah Hall
Many ESL teachers get frustrated when it comes to teaching pronunciation. It’s hard enough for most learners new to the language to remember strange words, the rules of singulars and plurals, and the esoteric rules of English grammar. Then of course, there are the exceptions to those grammar rules.
One of the reasons English is so complicated to new students is that it is an amalgamation of languages. It contains a mix of Latin, French, Germanic (Old/Middle English, Norse, and Dutch) and Greek. The spoken language is unique to each learner who comes with a unique language experience (spoken and written) before coming across English.
Teaching English is about understanding the spoken language (more than) the written language, but we can’t teach one without the other. The question becomes: how do we teach the spoken language? Slang: “What’s up?” Idiomatic phrases that make little rational sense: “Run some errands?” “Hit the jackpot?”
My class is comprised of roughly fifteen to twenty students, varying in age between 25 and 70. On a given day, the dominant language background of my students is: 40-60% Spanish speakers, 10-20% Mandarin and/or Cantonese speakers, 5-10% Arabic speakers, and individuals who speak Vietnamese, Cambodian and Samoan. I have worked with some of the students for longer than others, and many are new to the class (and still arriving), but there is a core group of regulars, and a rotating cast of students who are absent at least once a week, sometimes for several days in a row.