Application of Music Training techniques to Teaching Proper Phonetics Pronunciation instruction is perhaps


Pronunciation instruction is perhaps the most difficult aspect of English teaching. There are no simple answers as to how, when, or how long, it should be taught. However, this article hopes to present a different way of teaching the phonetics of English. My undergraduate work was not in English or even general education, but the performance of music. I learned from experts in the production and education of sound, and I feel the techniques they used may be applied to the instruction of English phonetics. By utilizing techniques used in college level music performance education, it is hoped a teacher may improve the effectiveness of phonetic instruction in their English class.

While a student in one of the leading tuba studios in the country, my teachers utilized one underlying philosophy. This philosophy was very similar to the theory of observational learning proposed by Albert Bandura. Both theories focus on learning as a result of observing, retaining, and reproducing a behavior. In this case, sound production. Most of humanity simply does not have sufficient conscious control over their bodies to achieve the subtle variations in sound that are required in both music and language. However, humanity does have sufficient subconscious control. Because of this ideology, the bulk of the instruction was built around the teaching of sounds rather than techniques.

In teaching sounds, the use of positive examples is imperative. In music this takes the form of the teacher playing examples either on their instrument or through recordings. Constant exposure to positive examples is imperative for teaching sounds. Certainly this has obvious applications at low levels of instruction, i.e.: the pronunciation of individual syllables. However, proper listening examples can also be used to build an instinctive grasp of stress and intonation in students, although these are more complex skills and require proportionally more time and study to acquire. The main requirement is the frequency of exposure.

An important part to providing positive examples is to ensure they are presented in ways the students can easily take in. My old teacher often juxtaposed good and bad examples to help me identify the correct sounds. Not only would the examples be juxtaposed, but the sounds made as exaggeratedly different as possible. In application for English sounds, to improve the pronunciation of the '' (as in then) sound, the teacher may pair such the sound with the '' (as in thin) sound. A good way to differentiate the two sufficiently for clear understanding is to ''spit'' the unvoiced '' sound. Granted this is not the normal way of pronouncing the sound, but the idea is to build an accurate memory of the '' sound.

When dealing with the more complicated issues of stress and intonation, a good way to approach the problem is by experimenting with the variations. In music, it is often beneficial to try out different interpretations of a passage, by stressing certain notes rather than others, or changing the musical line (comparable to intonation in language) of the statement. This same method can be utilized when teaching stress and intonation in English. Expose the students to each possible variation, and allow them to experiment themselves. Only after they have heard and produced all the possible variations should the matter of meaning be addressed. Doing so ensures that the students remain attentive to the sounds of each variation, so that less time will need to be spent reinforcing the material.

In conclusion, the basic premise behind music instruction is to stress the memorization of sound, rather than the production of it. It is accepted that the best results are achieved by focusing on the desired sound, rather than the mechanics of producing it. To this end, extensive study of the sound through listening examples is stressed. This is tempered by speaking practice, but the stress must remain on internalizing the appropriate sound. From my experience, these techniques are among the most effective at teaching musical sounds. However, there is an inherent difference between the study of music and language. It is up to the individual teacher to decide how appropriate these techniques are for their students.