The TEFL Centre Malaga 120 hour teacher training course content 1 General characteristics of the English Language

The TEFL Centre Malaga 120 hour teacher training course content 1: General characteristics of the English Language.

Teachers starting a TEFL training course usually appreciate that they need some grounding in grammar presentations (17, 18, 19, 20, 21) before they start teaching in the classroom. Unfortunately, most school curriculums in the UK give relatively little (if any) grounding in English grammar. To compound the problem, most other countries give their school children a pretty thorough training, meaning that when they come to learn a foreign language like English, they make use of their L1 (first language) grammar knowledge to understand English by transferring and comparing principles taken form their own language.

Besides the nitty-gritty of such things as adjectives, tenses, articles and so on, there are some general characteristics that are useful to know about English as a language which distinguish it from many other languages and will put a first-time TEFL teacher in better stead when understanding the way foreign speakers might perceive English.

Let’s start by considering sounds. English pronunciation can be pretty complicated! Here are a few considerations:

a.      Firstly, we have 20 vowel sounds (including diphthongs which are 2 vowel sounds merged together) and 24 consonant sounds, which is a lot for some speakers.

b.      Added to that, some of the consonant clusters (groups of consonants together) can cause a lot of difficulty. Try asking a Spanish speaker to say ‘crisps’ and you’ll normally get ‘crips’ as a result.

c.       Many languages, Spanish for example, are syllable-timed languages meaning each syllable takes nearly the same time to pronounce. However English is stress-timed language, meaning the time from one stressed part of a sentence to the next is nearly the same. This makes non native speakers sound disjointed and monotonous in their utterances and the emphasis sometimes doesn’t fall on the right part of the sentence, possibly obscuring meaning.

d.      Individual word stress is complicated for the learner too. Compare: photo, photographer.

e.      What throws many learners is the varying ways of pronouncing the same written letters:

Compare: though, tough, thought, through. (A learner’s nightmare!)

Some words are written the same and said differently e.g. ‘to tear’ vs ‘a tear’, and others have silent letters e.g. ‘island’.

Yet others sound the same but we write them in different ways (homonyms) e.g. pore, pour, poor and paw!

f.        It doesn’t matter what pitch you use to say a word in English, the meaning is conserved (this is called a non-tonal language), but in other languages, changing the pitch/tone changes the meaning e.g. in Mandarin, ‘MA’ said in different ways can mean either ‘scold’, ‘rough’, ‘horse’ or ‘mother’. You can say ‘MA’ how you like in English, but apart from being considered a bit weird, people will only understand the North American short form for ‘mother’.

g.      The pesky ‘s’. In Spanish, speakers tend to put a /e/ in front of words beginning with ‘s’. So they say ‘Espanish estudents eat spaghetti.’ (point out the city name of ‘Sevilla’ instead of ‘Esevilla’ to help them with this!)

h.      English speakers often omit some sounds, for example, ‘there is’ is normally said in the contracted form: there’s.

Well, plenty of points to keep the training TEFL teacher occupied with here, although how to go about dealing with these obstacles to learning English will be their main concern. T a large extent, the main tool for pronunciation correction is drilling. Here are some links to articles dealing with drilling approaches:


Posted on November 1st, 2017


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