A useful little app

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One thing I’m sure every ESL teacher and student sees in their classroom is the  ubiquitous phonetic chart. If we are able to work with a group of learners over a period of time, we have the ability to integrate its use into lessons. However, for many teachers and learners, short courses and new learners appearing in your class every week, can prevent effective use.

Certainly in my own situation, I have new learners in every class that I teach who may only be studying short term. This means they don’t always have the time to study or get to know the phonetic chart. However, they do need to focus on pronunciation both in and outside of the classroom. This led me to start recommending the Macmillan phonetic app to my students. Published by Macmillan, who published the famous Sound Foundations by Adrian Underhill, it is available for Android and Apple and comes in two versions.

The first free version provides a phonetic chart, which when each letter is pressed produces an  individual sound. The paid for version, goes further and is able to produce words, which learners are able to listen to, then record themselves and compare pronunciation.

This is an app which works well with dictionary work, especially if learners can be encouraged to use dictionaries with phonetic spelling. The recording aspect also provides an interactive aspect to the app, which learners seem to like. In addition, there are also features to test knowledge, instructional videos and language learning tips.

As far as downsides go, well there is only so much this app can do. It leans towards the Segmental aspects of pronunciation, concentrating on single sounds, with no elements of the Suprasegmental, such as sentence stress, connected speech or intonation. In addition it currently has approximately 650 words it is able to pronounce, which all things considered is not a particularly large amount.

So would I recommend this app? Well, yes. I actually like it and think it serves it’s purpose. Ok, it’s probably not for advanced language learners, but it’s great for learners to check pronunciation of new words and it’s a good way of introducing the phonetic chart. I also think it’s a very handy way of teachers learning the phonetic chart, but keep that one to yourselves!

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5 thoughts on “A useful little app”

  1. I found this app useful in sprucing up on my knowledge of phonemic script before the phonetics and phonology part of the PLL exam. I tried encouraging my students to learn the phonetic symbols to help them with pronunciation but generally I found them to be reluctant. Most preferred clicking on the speaker symbol of online dictionaries to just hear the pronunciation instead, but there were some keen students who did seem to like it.

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    1. I did exactly the same before the exam! I have found the same problems to be honest, some students are just not interested in learning the phonetic symbols. This was one of the reasons I started making use of the app, especially in classes with high turnovers or short programmes.

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    2. That’s exactly what I did too. In EFL classrooms, we see these phonetic chart posters hanging on the walls for the students to use, but I’m certain there are some students who have never noticed these posters hanging there. I’m specifically thinking about my students who are glued to their phones (even in the classroom). If we can convince them to download this app, it would be a great benefit.

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  2. I like the integration of recording in this app, as at the end of the day many learners are aiming to sound “natural”. I’ve been wondering this often as I look at more and more materials, but do you think there’s room for more accents beyond British and American? I’m thinking mainly of Australian, as I know a number of people who studied English there. The needs of those learners in particular just doesn’t seem to be catered to in mainstream materials.

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    1. I think it would be an excellent idea to incorporate Global Englishes into the app. After all the majority of L2 speakers of English will never meet or speak to a native speaker. I think it’s a very ‘colonial’ view of learning English isn’t it? We presume everyone must want to sound like a British or American speaker of English. What about Singapore English, or as you say Australian English? I wonder if it’s down to money that these aren’t provided in materials?

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