At the birthday party of my good friend’s six-year-old, it was difficult not to notice the lavish buffet, the expensive gifts and the three-tiered cake that looked too beautiful to cut up and eat. Amidst it all, the beaming parents watched as their precious darling brought a board game and announced, “Now we will all play the potty game!” All the guests present laughed out loud and the birthday boy’s parents started to look like deflating balloons when the hero of the day, confused, burst into tears and refused to come out of his room for the rest of the evening. What had happened was the boy had mispronounced ‘party’ to sound like ’potty’, much to the amusement of the guests! What bothered me so much was the fact that the boy’s parents had not taken care to correct the little child’s pronunciation the first time he had erred. The result being, the boy made a poor show of himself that day. Mispronunciation can be a bane and throw a wet blanket on all the hard work that goes into making an impression. Worse, it can cause your child to be misunderstood.
Good pronunciation focusses on three keys which your child will need to grasp well. Understanding these keys is essential for correct pronunciation.
- Sounds: Vowels, diphthongs and consonants
- Stress: Accent placed on syllables
- Intonation: Rising and falling of one’s voice
Apart from this, volume, pitch, pause, pace and other aspects of voice dynamics also come into play in getting pronunciation right.
To help your child get his pronunciation right, regardless of his age, the following practices may be useful.
1. Tongue-twisters are a great way to introduce your child to the different consonant sounds and are especially useful to teach preschoolers in a way that’s fun and make the sounds easy to remember. A very common tongue-twister that’s been in vogue for a few decades is, “She sells sea shells on the sea shore.” You can search for more from online sites or come up with your own.
2. Songs have a way of making your child learn correct pronunciation unconsciously. Right from primary school to the teen years, children can be drawn towards songs. So, make him listen to songs and sing on his own as well. Sing along with him if he is shy about belting out the numbers! You can even go in for action songs for some fun.
3. Rhymes are all about similar words and sounds. Your toddler and preschooler will benefit especially from learning nursery rhymes. The musical accompaniment will encourage her to get accustomed to the proper timing of words, using stress and exercising intonation. There is an added bonus, she gets to increase her vocabulary too!
4. Repetition for reinforcement is already an established way for your child to add correct spelling to her memory bank. The same holds true for her pronunciation too, regardless of her age. Asking her to repeat the right pronunciation of a word makes it a more permanent deposit in her memory. Repeating the word a few times ensures that she will say it correctly the next time she uses it.
5. Minimal pairs are substitution and addition exercises that will help your child wrap his mind around the ‘formulae’ of pronunciation. For example, he can understand better when you show him how removing the ‘e’ from ‘pen’ substituting it with an ‘i’ makes the word ‘pin’. So, he can go on and practice saying ‘pin, pen’ several times. The same formula is applicable to the words ‘ten’ and den’. Also, adding an ‘e’ to ‘dim’ makes it ‘dime’. The same holds true for ‘din’, ‘shin’ and ‘fin’. You can also have minimal pair practice by replacing consonants – pin-bin, tin-thin, crate-grate, and so on. This is especially useful for children in preschool and primary school.
6. Record and replay his speech so that he can listen to his pronunciation and correct himself. This step in self-learning and self-correction will boost his confidence specifically if he is between the ages of nine and fifteen.
7. Looking in the mirror helps her to see how she mouths words. Watching the movement of the lips and tongue will help your child understand the place of articulation and the nature of articulation of various sounds. This understanding will help her pronounce words correctly. For example, the differences in the pronunciation of ‘tin’ and ‘din’, ‘bull’ and ‘pull’, etc., are easier to learn with an understanding of the position and movement of the tongue and the lips.
8. Auditory discrimination exercises will help your child distinguish between sounds. Once she is able to differentiate between the sounds, she will be able to pronounce words accurately. These exercises could include identifying particular sounds from word pairs and groups such as chair-share, main-mine, or bay-boy-buy. You could also use sentences featuring sounds from a word pair for this exercise. For example, 'The large/lodge doors are open.'
9. Chants are a guaranteed way to help your teen or preteen grasp how intonations differ in statements, questions and exclamations. A good understanding of intonation will help her express herself more meaningfully and leave little room for misunderstanding. Say a sentence and ask her to repeat it with exactly the same intonation. This format can help you get started.
- It’s your turn. (a falling tone to denote statements)
- Is it your turn? (a rising tone to denote most questions)
- It’s your turn? (a fall-rise tone to suggest uncertainty)
10. Easy and relevant vocabulary is the call of the hour, especially if your child is in primary school. While introducing new words to your child, teach her to pronounce them right. Stick to familiar contexts, so that she is able to understand the meaning and use it appropriately. Keep it as simple as possible so that her learning is a fun and not a tiring experience.
11. Connected speech can be tough for her to assign a formula to, even if she is a teen. For example, she mustn’t say ‘black coffee’ with two separate /k/ sounds. The correct pronunciation is ‘black-offee’. Strange but true! Correct pronunciation in connected speech comes with practising the language and listening to native speakers. She will acquire it subconsciously rather than learning it intentionally. Open as many avenues as possible for her to be exposed to correctly pronounced sentences in the form of good broadcasts and telecasts.
When your child is ready, introduce him to the phonetic alphabet and vocabulary charts present in any good dictionary. All the while, keep in mind that you don’t make learning a difficult process by cramming in too much information. Also, although correct pronunciation will make his audience sit up and listen to him, aim for appropriate instead of accurate pronunciation. This will be sufficient and, at the same time, be less demanding on him.
Hannah S Mathew is a freelance teacher, trainer and certified diagnostic counsellor
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