One of the best tools for improving pronunciation and fluency in speaking is right under your nose – and it’s free!
There are thousands of sites for practicing grammar, and hundreds more for reading and listening. Students can keep a journal or practice writing in their free time, but the one resource they ask me for the most is Speaking practice.
In some ways, Speaking can be the most difficult skill to master. Language learners have to juggle pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, formality, and of course their own message – all very quickly. If they are speaking directly to another person, they even have to worry about non-verbals like eye contact, gestures, proximity, giving and receiving feedback. Unlike writing, they cannot come back later and check for errors. And there is often no way that they can notice their own errors, unless someone points it out to them.
But it can be the most rewarding, too. Once students are able to express themselves in another language, doors start opening for them and they become increasingly motivated. They receive immediate positive feedback and can participate in social events, which are much more fun than solitary language study. The more comfortable they feel getting out and communicating, the more opportunities they will have to improve all of their language skills.
There is a growing number of sites that offer face-to-face classes online, but these can be expensive and depend on teacher availability. To supplement classroom instruction, at home or during free time in a computer lab, students can utilize a free resource that they already know – Google.
The first step is to make sure that students have a way to record their voice. On a phone or tablet, they can use the Google Translate site or app. On a computer, they will need a built-in camera, headset, or microphone. If using your institution’s computers, test different methods before introducing it to students.
Choose the text
Next, provide a text for students to practice. This can be something that they are covering in a skills or content class, or you can give them a paragraph focused on a specific sound or pattern that they need to focus on.
Use the following worksheets for practice for long and short vowels for high-beginner and intermediate students.
Also recommended are irregular past tense verbs, past tense -ed, or consonant clusters.
Record and check
Give students plenty of time to study the text, identify target sounds, and listen to unfamiliar words on an online dictionary. Then, let them use the dictation software to record themselves reading the text. After finishing, they can compare the original to what the computer heard. At this point, remind students that the software is working to understand their words based on the context of the sentence, just like a person does. Having perfect pronunciation is not as important as making sure that they can be understood clearly. If they want to practice specific words, they can dictate them outside of context to improve.
For individual or at-home practice, send students the link to the Student Guide, or print the student handout.
Speaking for grammar practice
Another way to use the dictation software is to give students prompt questions, such as ones that target classroom grammar focuses: past tense, conditionals, comparatives, etc. Ask them NOT to look at the screen while recording their answers, but dictate for 1-2 minutes in response to the questions. Then, they can look back at the transcripts for their own answers and check the grammar.