Teaching Pronunciation (18)
Since there is much variation between spelling and pronunciation, it is better to teach these together. When a new sound is learned, give the various spellings of that sound. For example, the learners should recognize that the letter combinations kn, gn, mn, pn, in initial positions have the sound /n/ and that the spelling e has various sounds in different words.
Teach first the common usual spelling of the sound, then follow this with less common spellings, sight words and homophones in that order. Sight words are those words which have a pronunciation different from other words with a similar spelling (Paulston and Bruder 1976:104).
For example, look, took, book, shook, good, and wood all form a pattern which is not shared in words such as too, food and mood. These words need to be taught as sight words, as exceptions to the general pattern.
Homophones are words with different spellings which are pronounced the same (two/too/to, night/knight) (Paulston and Bruder 1976:105). Homographs are those words with the same or similar spellings with different pronunciation: conduct/conduct, present/present; simply/imply.
Fortunately for us, enterprising teachers of TESOL have published several insightful manuals to teach pronunciation of English which carefully grade the sound-symbol correspondences and provide hierarchically well-organized exercises. I highly commend Pronunciation Pairs by Baker and Goldstein (1990) to develop spelling-pronunciation correspondences. There are several books available which follow the “phonics” method linking sounds with letters. The characteristics of errors committed by the South Asian learners of English are listed in several publications. Professor B. Kachru's booklength treatment of the subject in the Current Trends in Linguistics, South Asian Languages volume, is a very significant milestone in this discipline.
It is important to avoid technical explanations. Instead, provide exercises using words which would be of immense practical value to the students in their day to day use of English. Rules of pronunciation should not be memorized, but taught through abundant practice so that the learners will internalize these rules and the exceptions in their own way, in an unconscious manner.
Remember that teaching correct and appropriate pronunciation of English to adult learners of English is indeed a very difficult task. Do not expect to eliminate all traces of their native language from their English utterances. The goal is to make them speak English in a manner that their speech, though with the accents of their language, will still be understood fairly well by the native speakers of English.