The phonemic alphabet: Learning to use the symbols

Most dictionaries use phonemic symbols to indicate the pronunciation of a word, so understanding how sounds are represented with symbols will help the student to know immediately how to pronounce the word even without hearing it.

Learning the 40+ symbols used in English is actually easier than it may seem. For starters, many of the symbols look just like the letters which represent them most frequently, so they are learned quickly through natural repetition. The word “best”, for example, is represented phonetically as /best/. Secondly, many of the symbols represent sounds that also exist in the student’s native language, so recognizing them as something already understood makes learning them much easier. For example, the first sound in the English word “shave” /ʃeĭv/ is the same as the first sound in the French word cher” /ʃɛʀ/.

After that, there may only be a dozen or so new symbols left to learn. Studying them one or two at a time (rather than all at once) can make the remainder of this seemingly arduous task much more manageable. For instance, it would be pointless to ask a French person to begin by using nothing but the symbols to pronounce a phrase like /ðæt θɜːd hʌŋk/ (“that third hunk”) impeccably on the first try, but by isolating one of the sounds, perhaps /θ/, in words whose other sounds are familiar, such as theme”, “theft”, “teeth“, or “bath“, the student can master each sound individually and gradually collect all of the sounds of the language.

There’s more to say about phonemic symbols; scroll down to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

Advertisements

Student tips: Practicing between lessons

Riding a bicycle, playing tennis, learning to cook, learning a language: the development of any skill requires practice. For languages, there are many ways to practice. Today I’ll talk about a few that every student can do, and should do. And as with anything, “practice makes perfect” – the more you practice, the faster your skills will develop!

First, allocate some time in your daily schedule to devote to practicing your language. I’ll talk more about this in a future post, but it’s very important to dedicate some specific time every day to this skill and not to allow anything interfere with it or distract from it.

Start by reviewing and rereading the material from the lesson. If you have a textbook or received some photocopies, read the pages that were covered in your last lesson. (Don’t hesitate to look at previous lessons, too.) Also reread your notes. This should be done immediately after the lesson, to ensure that everything you wrote down makes sense to you, and will continue to make sense to you when you go back and read it later. Keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it at the beginning of the next lesson. (I always start lessons by asking the student if he has any questions; this is your chance!)

Next, take the information covered in the pages and notes you just read, and reproduce it. If, for example, the lesson explored using conditional structures (e.g. “If I won the lottery, I would buy a big house”), then write some sentences using that structure. The important thing here is to make those sentences relevant to your own life. Connecting grammatical structures or vocabulary words to your own personal experiences will help you to retain them better and recall them more quickly when you speak or write.

Finally, practice your speaking. A great way to do this is to read aloud. I usually recommend 15 to 30 minutes per day for language students, and at least 60 minutes per day for diction students. It doesn’t matter what you read: news articles, plays, history books, novels…anything. Just read. And again, keep a list of anything you don’t understand, and ask your teacher about it.

Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page for more tips on how to be a good student!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris

Student tips: Learning how you learn

Different people learn in different ways, some teaching methods are more effective with certain people than with others, and each student has his own way of understanding, retaining, and organizing information. One of the most important questions a student can answer is, how do I learn most effectively?

As a language teacher, I have explored a number of different methods and had mixed results with each. A key part of my job is finding the right method to go with each student, and to adapt the method if necessary to fit each individual’s most effective way of learning. It’s also important for you, the student, to understand this about yourself; knowing your strengths can help you to define your needs more clearly. For example, if you learn best by seeing a word written before hearing it said, then you should start by writing new words in a notebook. However, balance is a key part of the student’s job: after writing the word in your notebook, say it several times; write some sentences using the word, and then read them aloud several times. This helps to balance your written/visual skills with your oral/aural skills, so you can both write and speak the language successfully.

More student tips to come! Go to “Follow AD” at the bottom of this page to get all posts!

Jeremy Coffman, English teacher & diction coach, Paris