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!