Sounds: The Pronunciation App

iPhone-chart

Sounds: The Pronunciation App is an application that has been produced by Macmillan Publishers that can be used by teachers and students as a pronunciation aid. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices. The application is free, however, the free version has limited features compared to the premium version which costs $6.99. The free version includes an interactive phonemic chart (available in British and American English) where each phonetic symbol can be tapped to hear the sound that symbol makes. If the user taps and holds the symbol, a word can be heard that uses that phonetic sound. It also includes practice and quiz tasters (which give the user a glimpse of the practice and quiz features available with the premium version). There is an ‘Instruction’ section which explains how to use the app and a six-minute YouTube video that gives a guided tour of the chart. The premium version includes many more features such as a vocabulary word list (with over 650 words), phonemic transcriptions and audio, ability to record the users’ pronunciation, practice activities (Listen, Read and Write), quizzes, and tips for students and teachers.

Does Sounds: The Pronunciation App deserve a place in my ESL classroom?

I could see introducing the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to my students as a tool that could aid students’ pronunciation of words. According to Laura Elias, Pronunciation Coach:

“Knowing the Long-vowel sounds and Short-vowel sounds of English can help you be better at pronouncing new words and deciphering spelling patterns, but it also helps to be aware of the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbols for the vowels. Some people learn IPA symbols when they first begin to learn English, but others have never seen these symbols before. Either way, it can be useful to refer to them for some aspects of English pronunciation.”

Pronouncing words in an understandable way is one way students can expand their personal language repertoire that allows students to achieve one of the three main characteristics of MELS’ (Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport) Core ESL in Secondary II: Interacts orally in English (C1). If students were to have the Sounds app, they would be able to use it as a resource for pronunciation. Further, an understanding of the IPA allows students to gain an understanding of pronunciation (not just in English but any language) and when faced with a word they do not know how to pronounce, they will be able to implement the strategy, use of resources, to take responsibility for their own learning by looking up the word in the dictionary and then using the app to help with the pronunciation of that word (based on its phonetic spelling). By teaching students how to find out on their own, the pronunciation of an unknown word, students are being taught to solve problems and improve their learning. Also, it is beneficial a student be able to find out the correct pronunciation of a word in English, particularly when the teacher may not know the pronunciation or may be teaching students the incorrect pronunciation themselves (depending on the teacher’s competency in the language they are teaching). I have often been told by ESL students that for years they had been pronouncing a word in a certain way because it was how they were taught by their ESL teacher.

Adrian Underhill, an editor of the Macmillan Books for Teachers, author of Sound Foundations: Learning and Teaching Pronunciation and an advisor in the development of Macmillan English Dictionary, identifies an important aspect in regards to language learning and pronunciation:

“Language learners may know how a word should sound, they may hear it correctly in their head, perhaps even in their own inner voice. However, what they know about the language differs from what they can do with that language because they don’t yet know or haven’t yet mastered how to use their muscles to produce the correct sounds. Using the phonemic chart, as Adrian suggests, we can help learners to reconnect with the muscles used for the physical actions of producing sounds, and by doing so enable them to better engage these muscles to manipulate the sounds.”

Everything considered, I think that the premium app offers a lot more benefits for both students and teachers for long-term use in the ESL classroom. There is one feature, in particular, I think is extremely useful for a language learner; the voice recorder where the user can record his/her voice to compare pronunciation. As mentioned in by Tomasz P. Szynalski and Michal Ryszard Wojcik  :

“This technique helps many learners see where their pronunciation is different from the original and lets them gradually make it more native-like.”

This could be very valuable for students to hear the difference and self-correct their pronunciation. However, the free app also offers positive potential benefits that could be used as a language resource for students and teachers. In this respect, teachers would be helping students to develop language strategies which are key in MELS’ ESL strategies. The app in this case, would be used on an individual basis as a language resource. It is a useful tool for students to learn about and that they could use in any language course.

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