Top games for helping our Spanish-speaking students’ pronunciation (Part 2)

In my previous post, I mentioned 3 of the most problematic pronunciation areas for Spanish speakers and how to go around them in class by using games. Let me add 3 more to the list!

4. Vowel sounds. Spanish has 5 vowel sounds whereas English has more (depending on the accent, variety, country). For instance: short / long vowels (/i /, /i:/, bit / beat), or the distinction between /ʌ/, /æ/, /ɑː/ in hut / hat / heart, in Br English). This makes it difficult for Spanish speakers to both hear and produce the sounds that don’t exist in their language.

                                 RP vowel sounds (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Take a look at the monophthongs chart. Why are they organized this way? Correct! They represent the position of your tongue in your mouth.  Discuss this with your students in order to raise awareness of the different mouth positions (lips, tongue, jaw) for each sound.

Game: Guess the sound. Distribute the previous chart for each student. Read a list of words containing these vowels (eg, mean, bit, book, moon, met, better, world, more, bat, but, car, problem). First, students must write down the words next to the phoneme they think corresponds to that word and compare charts with a partner. Provide the answers and elicit other words that include those sounds. Second, in pairs, student A will choose one of those words and pronounce it silently, making sure they are moving their mouths correctly. Can student B guess 1) the sound 2) the word? They could also take pictures of their mouths when pronouncing the words (what about a creating a gif?). This should be fun, especially if you are working with teenagers.

This game will help your students with problematic sounds that they might not be able to distinguish easily when listening, but should be able to produce without too much effort.

Consider using this cool infographic to work with sounds other than vowels.                                        Source: https://tinyurl.com/yct82xwx

5. /v/ vs. /b/: whereas in English there’s a big difference in how you pronounce these two (/v/ voiced fricative using teeth and lip, /b/ plosive using both lips and with a slight aspiration), in Spanish, these two sounds are pronounced the same way (/b/ plosive without aspiration)

Game: BAM! Get the students in groups. For each group you will need: a normal dice (1-6) and a card deck with words starting with /b/ and /v/ sounds (eg voice, vice, boy, bar). [Tip: use words that your students normally mispronounce.] To play the game, one student will pick up a card (without letting the others see it) and roll the dice. On the board / screen, have this displayed: 1. Guess, 2. Describe, 3. Ask, 4. Answer, 5. BAM, 6. Use it in a sentence. Students will have to do whatever the number on their dice says. Eg. If my card says ‘very’ and when I roll the dice I get a 3, I will have to ask a question using that word (eg ‘what makes you feel very happy?’). Students keep the cards when they have completed each task. However, if they get number 5. BAM, they have to give their cards back. This way, the same words will go back to the pile and different students will come across the same word more than once, allowing for lots of practice.

6. Intonation. This is a very important part of pronunciation that can lead to misunderstandings or impede communication and that our students are not necessarily aware of. If you remember Gumperz’s study in 1980s, putting the wrong intonation on one simple word or question, might cause communication breakdowns resulting in serious discrimination issues.

Game: The emotional job interview. As intonation can reflect attitude/state, this game is great to learn to modulate your voice. I would suggest trying this game with upper-intermediate or above levels. Have the following card set available for each pair of students: sensitive, tipsy, mad, super happy, extremely nice, dull, standard. In pairs, students take the role of 1) the interviewer and 2) the job candidate. First, they will prepare the questions and answers (depending on their level, this will need more or less guidance). With their cards facing down, they start the interview. Whenever student 2 gives an answer, they’ll pick up one card and put it up on the table, trying to show that specific attitude/state in their answer. Have them record the interview. Then, they can get in groups of 4, play their recordings and have them guess their attitude / state. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss appropriacy of different kinds of intonation for different questions and situations.

                       Credit: Emotional Interview (based on Jimmy Fallon’s TV Tonight Show).

I hope you liked these games to improve your students’ pronunciation.

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About Elena Merino

Teacher Trainer for Pearson. I lived 1 year in Ireland and 3 years in the USA, where I fell in love with the English language. I've worked as a teacher for twelve years in different contexts and with different age groups. PhD in Communication and Multilingual Education, I'm concerned about meaningful real-world tasks that get students to communicate, in other words, how can teachers facilitate learning and engage students in the English classroom?

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