The importance of Phonetics in English teaching

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The world during all its History has made use of certain languages as a mean of communication between people of all countries and cultures. Living nowadays in a world were information travels almost at the speed of light, everybody is directly affected by occurrences all around the globe, therefore there is a great need of a language to serve as link between the nations.

Just like Latin was the language meant to gather people as the Roman Empire went on its row of conquests all over Europe and later, during the Enlightenment Period, it was French, at this moment English has this function.

However, as English has become more and more popular, people of all cultures learn and speak the language around the whole world. We should ask ourselves, then, how much English language is influenced by other languages and how much of this influence is acceptable.

Even being English the most spoken language in the world, its pronunciation is many times considered less important than grammar or written comprehension.

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But it must be remembered that the four main abilities of a language -reading, writing, listening and speaking- have all the same importance. Or even, as history recalls: Register came only after oral communication.

Concerning the teaching of English in Brazil, it is very important to take some significant points in consideration:

– Basic notions of intonation should be taught to English learners: Brazilian students have great difficulties to get accustomed to the fact that in English, differently than in Portuguese, not every word has the same stress.

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If the students are taught intonation at the same time that they learn vocabulary or grammar, like it happens when they learn their mother language, it would be easier for them to learn to speak the language naturally. Of course, there are some theoretical explanations that are not necessary for English language learners – like what head, pre-head or foot are- but some basic definitions of function and content words would be very helpful to the improvement of pronunciation once there is the tendency among Brazilian students to give an unnecessary emphasis to function words which, when correctly pronounced, are attached to the previews content word in the utterance, like in : //Give him the money//, where the words “him” and “the” should be attached to the word “Give”. Brazilian learners of English have also the tendency to emphasize the pronounce of the tail in an utterance, which is a mistake (taking out the exceptional cases where its pronounce can be strengthened to emphasize an idea, like in //You should go ‘now//), the tail is constantly pronounced as a content word, for instance, we can easily hear students saying: // I think ‘so// instead of // I ‘think so//.

The importance of intonation is better understood if we think that an utterance like //The /car’s on the /road// can be erroneously interpret by an unprepared listener as //The /car zone /road//.

– The teacher needs to have phonological and phonetic knowledge: Interference happens when an unknown sound of English – especially ‘th’ sound -is substituted for a similar sound from the students’ mother tongue, like the sound // for a /d/ sound as in “they”, // for a /f/ sound as in “both” and even // for /s/ in “think”.

This aspect is extremely important because by changing one of the phonemes in a word, we can change completely its meaning. A common mistake is the mispronunciation of the words [man] and [men] using the same sounds instead of the correct forms: [mæn] for /man/ and [men] for /men/.

To overcome this problem, teachers must have a phonetic basis to teach the students how to articulate these “foreign” sounds using repetition exercises of conflictive sounds and listening which should help students to identify the pronounce problem and correct it. They must also be ready to teach the students about the transfer process, where the same sound can be used in both languages without much troubles in meaning, to help them understand that not all the sounds in English are necessarily different form their own language.

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The importance of Phonetics in English teaching. (2016, Jul 15). Retrieved from

The importance of Phonetics in English teaching
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