Teaching Pronunciation Differently – 1

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Professor Higgns teaches Eliza phonetics

Professor Higgins explaining some of the finer points of English phonetics to Eliza.
(from My Fair Lady, 1964)

If you’re a language teacher you’ve probably already seen diagrams of the inside of the mouth showing the position of tongue and lips when certain sounds are produced.

I’ve looked at them with interest but much in the same way that I look at cross-sections of car engines or volcanoes.

On the  12th of January, at the beginning of their EVO course Teaching Pronunciation Differently, Piers Messum, Arizio Sweeting and Roslyn Young presented us (the participants) with such a diagram but with a very significant difference. If you’ve already scrolled down, you’ll have noticed that the palate and tongue are missing. Our task was to print out the diagram and draw in the missing parts after exploring the inside of our mouths with our tongues.

It made a world of difference: I was no longer looking at a neat drawing but was feeling that warm, wet, squidgy thing in my mouth that I use all the time but usually pay so little attention to. I felt surprisingly unsure of what shape my tongue and palate were and felt a totally irrational urge to “google” for an answer. I didn’t give in to it and I only took a couple of minutes to print out the diagram and draw in the missing parts. I used a pencil in case I made “mistakes”. It’s amazing how early training in feeling ashamed of making mistakes remains half a century later in spite of all my efforts to overcome it.

In fact, my drawing was perfectly accurate.

Writing this three weeks later, I’ve again explored the inside of my mouth with my tongue and realise that without looking at the drawing again (I haven’t added it to this page yet) I think I could make a good stab at drawing my lips and teeth but not what happens where my tongue is attached to my throat. The bottom I can feel but not the top. I can’t even feel with my finger. I can control the tension in the back of my tongue and change form of the aperture where the air comes in (cold) and goes out (warm). But I have to rely on a drawing to know what exactly happens at the back of my mouth. I don’t have direct experience.

Though the title of the course is “Teaching Pronunciation” I didn’t have the impression of being “taught” but of exploring and learning on my own.

Side view of mounthI’ll be writing about other things I realised thanks to this course in my next posts.


Here ends my very first blog post. Oof!

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