By Tarun Patel
Activities to improve pronunciation in young learners of English
Key Words: Young learners, games, activities, pronunciation
Learner English Level: Pre-beginner, beginner
Learner Maturity Level: Young learner
Preparation Time: 5 minutes or less
Activity Time: Usually from 10-30 minutes
Materials: The card game Uno!
The activities presented herein are hoped to help young Japanese learners of English (JLE) understand and recognize the differences in pronunciation of /b/ vs. /v/, and /l/ vs. /r/, which are possibly the most distinctively recognizable of any English consonants when mispronounced by Japanese students of English, because so many words in English have different meanings when these sounds are not pronounced correctly (Avery & Ehrlich, pp.134-138). They make the difference between hearing, “Would you like some more lice?” vs. “Would you like some more rice?” And, in my case, the name is Dave, not Debu – fatso in Japanese (Ockert, 2006).
Given time, the activities presented will do something to alleviate this nagging problem. By including the proper pronunciation of these sounds in a simple word-list activity (the popular card game Uno), then moving up to a statement activity (Concentration), and on to a simple question & answer game (Go Fish!), teachers may also find other advantages to using these activities. Accordingly, the students will learn how to pronounce the sounds first in a word (blue, yellow, five, seven, have), then in a statement (It’s a blue seven.), then in a question form (Do you have a yellow five?). All of the these spoken forms place an emphasis on suprasegmentals, therefore, helping the students develop proper pitch, intonation, and word stress, especially when a native speaker’s role is emphasized as a model for speech patterns. For example, the teacher can help the students develop proper word stress by asking such questions as “Did you say a yellow seven?” when asked, “Do you have a yellow seven?” with emphasis on the word yellow.
Activity 1: Uno
Here I will explain a little about each activity, beginning with the popular card game Uno. As many readers may be familiar with how to play the game Uno, and the rules are contained in the game, I shall simply continue with the speech acts necessary to carry out the game.
Step 1: Practice the following phrases and clarify understanding.
Whose turn is it?
Is it my turn?
It’s your turn.
(yellow / blue / red / green).
Yellow / blue / red / green Draw two.
Yellow / blue / red / green Reverse.
Yellow / blue / red / green Skip.
Yellow / blue / red/ green Wild.
These are the various color and number combinations:
Yellow / blue / red / green zero.
Yellow / blue / red / green one.
Yellow / blue / red / green two.
Yellow / blue / red / green three.
Yellow / blue / red / green four.
Yellow / blue / red / green five.
Yellow / blue / red / green six.
Yellow / blue / red / green seven.
Yellow / blue / red / green eight.
Yellow / blue / red / green nine.
Step 2: Play the game. The game can be played with from two to as many as six or more players. Obviously, the fewer the students in number, the more opportunities to speak arise.
Activity 2: Concentration
Another activity that can be played using the same cards is Concentration. Because of the number of possible combinations of pairs (36 pairs for a total of 72 cards), and the desired goal of focusing speaking time on the sounds /l/ and /v/. Educators may wish to use the following card pairs for this activity in order to focus on these sound differences:
Yellow one, yellow three, yellow five, yellow six, yellow seven, yellow eight, blue two, blue four, blue five, blue seven, blue eight, blue nine, green five, green seven, red five, and red seven.
These are a total of sixteen pairs, each number from one to nine is present, all of the colors, and a majority of yellow and blue cards for /l/ practice, as well as four ‘five’ pair combinations and four ‘seven’ pair combinations for /v/ practice.
Step 1: The game is played by first shuffling the cards.
Step 2: Arrange the cards face down on a table or the floor.
Step 3: Play the game as follows: A student takes a turn by turning over one card and stating its color and number, for example yellow seven. Then they continue the turn by turning over another card in an attempt to find a match. The student again states the card color and number, for example blue nine. Since this is not a match, the student returns these cards to their original position, face down, and the game continues with the next student. If the student’s upturned cards should match, the turn continues until two cards that do not match are revealed. The game is finished when all of the possible pair combinations are matched, and the winner is the student who has the most pairs.
Activity 3: Go Fish!
The last activity is Go Fish! For this game, the card pairs identified above can once again be used. However, for a large number of students I often use the entire thirty-six pairs. To play the game, first shuffle the card pairs and deal out seven cards to each student. For younger learners, who have smaller hands and difficulty holding onto their cards, use fewer cards to start. If a student should be lucky enough to have a matching pair of cards (both color and number), they can set them down.
Step 1: The game begins by choosing someone to start and an order of turns. In Japan, this is commonly done using the game rock, paper, and scissors. A student takes a turn by asking one of the other players if they have a certain card, for example:
Do you have a blue five?
A student can answer either positively with: Yes, I do. Here you are.
Or negatively with: No, I don’t. Go fish!
The types of questions and statements above are all that are necessary to play the game, but students should also know:
Is it my turn?
Whose turn is it?
It’s your turn.
Step 2: If the student responds positively, he hands over the card and the person whose turn it is makes a pair and sets it on the table. He continues until he does not get a card from another player, whereupon he is told to Go fish! and draws a card from the pile in the center of the table and adds it to his hand. If, however, the player should be fortunate to draw the exact same card as he just asked another player for, his turn continues. If a different card is drawn from the deck, the turn passes to the next player.
Avery, P. & Ehrlich, S. (1992). Teaching American English pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Ockert, D. (2006b). Excuse me? Was that /l/ as in ‘Larry’? And /v/ as in ‘Virginia’? In M. Swanson, K. Bradford-Watts (Eds.) JALT Applied Materials: Classroom Resources, (pp. 76-78). Tokyo: JALT.
ELT Activities , ELT Articles , ELT Newsletter