Elements of TEFL – Sound

Updated 07-Jun-2024

Teaching English as a Foreign Language, one would think that the most simplistic formulations of what teaching is, devoid of real content, are the actual work of the teacher. Any belief to the contrary contradicts pretty much all of the standard TEFL, CELTA, and TESOL certificate courses. Yes, these courses do teach something, but that something has more to do with a minimum of performance in a classroom, and the preparation of handouts and homework. Not really thrilling for anyone, but better than nothing.

Why is this the actual standard? Because it is largely corrupt drunken boors who have run things until now.

What would be better, and actually from the beginning, would be some better understanding of one's native language, and the actual differences between that language and the native language of the second language learner. The most despicable and dispensable concept in a TEFL classroom is that the teacher need not know anything about the native language of the second language learner. Only imperialist and racist empires could come up with such obvious falsehoods, and pass them off as truth, even now, well into the second decade of the twenty first century.

It is long past time to do away with these kinds of drunken expat fantasies of muddling through and making a living. We need to see that this is really more like fraud than training, especially when the trappings of respectability are brought out to justify the unholy alliance of greed and sloth.

Once we get past the proven idiocy that ignorance of a students' native language is irrelevant, it seems obvious that the difference between the languages is what needs to be taught. Now, for the teacher, fluency in the students native language is not needed, but some level of familiarity is. And it is indeed the familiarity of the differences between the languages. These include:

  • Differences in listening
  • Differences in speaking
  • Differences in reading
  • Differences in writing

These seem obvious enough, but what are the differences in listening? First, that two languages generally have a Venn diagram between them in the sounds used, including consonant, vowel, and tones:

  • Consonant sounds not present in the native language of the second language learner
  • Consonant sounds not present in the second language being learned
  • Vowel sounds not present in the native language of the second language learner
  • Vowel sounds not present in the second language being learned
  • Tones not present, or with different rules, in the native language of the second language learner
  • Tones not present, or with different rules, in the second language being learned

For teaching as dictated by TEFL and CELTA courses, the simplistic grammar lessons and handouts have little to say about these fundamental aspects of sound, that are so very important, fundamental, really.

Ears that are not accustomed to listening for certain sounds, will not hear them. Mouths that are not accustomed to producing certain sounds, will not form them properly. All the grammar lessons in the world won't help with this, which is so very important.

What can be done, instead, is to focus very much on sound production and recognition. Since this is largely ignored by most so-called language teachers, it should be the first thing to focus on for the new generation of teachers who will emerge within the next decade.

Elements of focus:

  • Minimal pairs
  • Consonant clusters
  • Sammy diagrams
  • Tone recognition