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With longer term or more intensive students I always give a fairly thorough introduction to the phonemes and Adrian Underhill’s Phonemic Chart. I try to do this as early in my time with a group as possible, and follow up with lessons that use the phonemic symbols incidentally but frequently. As there are only 44 phonemes (and 16 of those are quite easily recognisable to many students), unlike all the different elements of grammar and the endless number of new vocabulary items, they don’t take long to learn.
With shorter term classes I rarely teach a lesson in which I don’t include some use of the phonemic symbols. Even if students haven’t come across them before – and it’s unlikely in a mixed nationality class that no-one will have – when modelling and drilling a new item of vocabulary or phrase I’ll highlight any difficult sounds, introduce the relevant symbol for that sound, and explain that the symbol represents that sound.
Often this gentle introduction to the phonemic symbols then inspires students to go off and learn more about them. I had a German student earlier this year who when I began teaching him was extremely sceptical about learning and using the phonemic symbols. I persevered and gradually introduced them to every lesson, concentrating on sounds he had particular problems with. After a few lessons he had a ‘revelation’ moment when he realised that by reading a phonemic symbol I’d written on the whiteboard, he’d pronounced correctly a word he’d previously struggled with.
Another student, who I teach one to one pronunciation to, had never seen the phonemic chart before we met. We meet on a weekly basis and two months on his knowledge of the phonemes and the chart is almost akin to mine. He uses the symbols regularly with any new vocabulary without my even prompting him to.