Modern Foreign Languages - Purr-fect diction

4th May 2012 at 01:00
Start with the sounds and pronunciation will follow

"To speak a new language, become a new musical instrument," a Spanish teacher once told me. "Make new sounds."

Introducing pronunciation this way is fun: it involves pupils physically in the production of sound. They purr their way into French and growl their way into German. You can go step by step, without giving tricky explanations involving diaphragms and tongues. You are giving them phonics and anatomy, but they remember it as "French tummies".

Take the rolled "r". They must watch your mouth when you say "error" in English, then erreur in French. Your lips moved for the English "r", but not for the French "r". That sound came from your throat, as if you were purring.

Now make them purr at each other in pairs. If some still use their lips, tell them to growl or gargle quietly instead. Once they can do it, in plenary, tell them to put their hands on their waists and purr, growl or gargle a big "r" together. They should feel their sides and tummies expand briefly. Later, if the English "r" creeps back in, just say, "French tummies, please!"

Build on their awareness of facial movement, too. Make an "oo" mouth and then try to say "ee". What comes out is the French "u", as in "tu".

Give pupils a general pronunciation rule and let them exaggerate it. To sound French, stress the last syllable of a word. Take "Bizet", for example. Say "BEE-zay" and you sound English. Say "Bi-ZEH" and you sound French. In groups, pupils can devise a short scene in which characters exaggerate this rule.

Put pupils in pairs and give each pair a sound that occurs in the new language. They must find a way to remember how to reproduce it. The French word yaourt becomes a person dropping a giant yoghurt on someone's foot, with a cry of pain: "Ya-OURT!"

Sneaky rewards for correct pronunciation are fun. Tell the class that when a word sounds right, it makes the thing appear to the listener. Later, during group work, quietly put pieces of cheese on the desks of pupils who are correctly rolling their "r"s in fromage. The look on their faces when they see the cheese will be priceless.

Catherine Paver has taught French in England and English in Italy and South Africa

What else?

Try rhawkes' popular phonics and pronunciation resources to perfect every pupil's "r" or get them making up rhymes with homophones.

Check pupils' German pronunciation with a Jeopardy-style game show from suhop.

For something completely different, try the BBC's Chinese tone games.

In the forums

A teacher is seeking poems and tongue twisters to help French pronunciation.

Find all links and resources at


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