Teachers sometimes wonder if students can benefit from using the IPA when learning a new language. Some think it’s too difficult or sophisticated. Others find it helpful. Personally, I haven’t tried to teach it formally, expecting students to memorize or be tested on it, because there usually just isn’t time for that. However, I do believe students can find it quite useful when used informally, no matter what level of learner they are.
In my blog on teaching in Latin America, you’ll find a post on how I used this IPA chart that I made showing the comparison between Spanish and English vowels. I used to to teach true beginners in a small fishing village in Mexico. Even though the students had very little formal education, they understood the concept of an international alphabet very easily.
They recognized from their own attempts at reading English that spelling was not very helpful in knowing how to pronounce a word, so the usefulness of a system that would show sounds was quickly accepted.
The chart illustrates why the two languages sound so very different. It seemed to me that having this information enhanced their confidence as well. Whereas, they might have felt that they were somehow at fault when they couldn’t pronounce something, seeing that English is clearly a bit crazy for vowels, took the pressure off.
We all know that some people learn more aurally and some more visually. Seeing a picture of how the vowels are in different places on the chart, helps the visual learners.They seem to “hear” better if they can see the different symbols associated with the sound.
Used in conjunction with a website that would allow them to play a recorded pronunciation as many times as they needed, some students were able to figure out on their own how to correct their pronunciation. If you want to make your own IPA materials, you can get download the fonts you need. If you use my handout or make one of your own, I’d love to hear about it.