If you have taught English to Spanish speakers for a while, I’m sure you already have an idea of what the main pronunciation problems for them are. As a teacher of English and native speaker of Spanish, I have not only experienced those problems myself but also have always tried to help my students with effective and engaging techniques that I will be explaining in this post.
Below, you can find some of most problematic pronunciation areas for Spanish speakers (take a look at the Speakout Study Booster for Spanish speakers) and how to get around them in class by using games.
I won’t try to get myself into trouble by suggesting how much time you should devote to pronunciation in your lessons or how you need to integrate it (drilling or not drilling, making it part of your listening lessons or teaching pronunciation on its own, using or not using the chart and so on). The following are games that you can adapt, use or modify to your own teaching style.
1. Here are some sounds that have no real equivalent in Spanish and as a result can be a real pain for our students! /∫ / ð / ν / ʤ / ʒ / h/ ə/*
* /∫ // ə/ actually exist in Catalan and /∫ / in some Andalusian accents
How can we deal with these?
Game: Phoneme board game. Use six phonemes that you want to focus on and put them on a dice. Each square on the board will contain a word with one of those phonemes. Students work in groups. One student rolls the dice and moves their game piece to the first word containing that phoneme they’ve rolled. Then, students should pronounce that phoneme 1) in isolation, 2) in a word, 3) in a sentence. Can the rest of the students pronounce it too? Can they think of other words containing that same phoneme?
2. Consonant Clusters, such as –st at the end or beginning of a word (la-st, St-ephen). The problem here is that, in the first case, Spanish speakers tend to omit the last letter (‘t’ in last) or, in the second case, insert a vowel sound before /st/ and say something like ‘Estephen’.
Game (-st at the end): Backwards rhyme. Students will write a rhyming couplet, using the word with the consonant cluster you want to focus on at the end of the second sentence.
Example. Last September I went to Belfast and ate an Ulster Fry at long last
Then, students should break up “last” into the different sounds /l, a:, s, t/ and say it backwards /t,s,a:, l/ and then continue the beat going backwards, word by word “long lasts”, “at long last”, “Fry at long last” … until they reach the first word and say the complete sentence.
Tool for finding rhyming words: rhymezone
Have a few words already written on cards so that students make up rhyming couplets for those words. When they finish, display a few words on the board. Can they remember the rhymes they made up? Which is the deepest, funniest, most original couplet?
Game (-st at the beginning): this could be a game running through a whole lesson. Everytime your students spot a consonant cluster with -s at the beginning of a sentence (in the book, when a partner or you are speaking), they should raise their hands and pronounce the /s/ sound for 5 seconds before saying the word. Example: ssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssstudent and then say the word normally again (student).
How many words did they spot? You can make this a competition or have your students write the words on sticky notes and post them on the classroom walls.
3. Stress-time vs Syllable-time. Whereas in English stress is generally put on the tonic syllables of content words, a Spanish speaker would tend to pronounce all syllables equally. Take a look at the first two verses from this song by Eminem ft Ed Sheeran:
I’ve been a liar, been a thief / Been a lover, been a cheat / All my sins need holy water, feel it washing over me
Have a guess. Which words do you think were stressed? Exactly, we stress the words that carry meaning. It is important to notice here that some words we consider “function” words have been also stressed due to context (you can check your answers here)
Game: Guess the song. Use several extracts from different songs and different styles (students can help you out with this). Share the lyrics of the extracts and 1) have your students predict the stressed words, 2) have them listen to the extract and check their answers. When you finish listening to all extracts, in pairs students should choose one of them and hum the lyrics, making sure they stress the right words with the humming beat. Can the rest of the class guess the song?
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post in a few weeks with more games to help your students improve their pronunciation. Do you know any other pronunciation games?
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