Review by Scott Shelton
English Pronunciation in Use Elementary
English Pronunciation in Use Advanced
If you were to ask one hundred students of English what they would like to improve upon the most, or what area of English gave them the most reason for concern, experience tells me that English pronunciation would more than likely top their list - or it would certainly have a well worn place in the top three.
Add to this suggestion the idea that if a similar survey were taken among 100 teachers, pronunciation has a very good chance of coming high up on the list of areas in which they felt somewhat less prepared to teach, or an area in which they feel there is a lack of straightforward, accessible and easy to use material, available for both teachers and students.
If this is anywhere near the mark, then Jonathan Marks, Martin Hewings and Cambridge University Press have done us all a very big favour.
In these two volumes of the just-out-on-the-market, English Pronunciation in Use (CUP 2007), Marks is responsible for the book aimed at elementary students, while Hewings delivers the advanced level material. Both have a similar layout and are designed for both self-study and classroom use and include not only five audio CDs which model and expose the language to the learner, but also include a CD-ROM which in itself contains 'hundreds of additional interactive activities to accompany the book'.
Both volumes are organized in a similar fashion and the authors have both provided a general guide and tips for working through the material. There are five sections in each, totalling fifty units of work for the elementary learner and sixty for the advanced learner. Section five functions as an annex, containing further work on key areas for each level as well as a handy reference unit.
The advanced reference focuses mainly on two levels; providing further work on consonant clusters and word stress and contains a glossary, while the elementary reference provides more. Among other things, it includes a very useful guide for 'speakers of specific languages' which lists the units of work most likely to be of special importance for speakers of a variety of mother tongues. It also contains specific practice exercises in pronouncing numbers, the alphabet, geographical names, and further work on sound pairs and homophones - all of which have links to the audio CD. Both provide practice with the phonetic alphabet, although the authors point out that previous knowledge of it is not essential in order to work through the book, as example words and audio models are given throughout.
The principal differences are found in the contents offered at each level and the focus on primarily sounds and spelling, word stress and sentence stress, connected speech, strong and weak forms and intonation at the elementary level, while the advanced material tends to emphasize not only on work on these areas, but very importantly provides exercises aimed at raising the advanced learners' awareness of different varieties and accents of English, rhythm, intonation and prominence, pronunciation in formal settings, which will prove to be very useful for anyone involved in learning or teaching professional English, and many of the finer points of articulation, ellipsis, elision, linking, pitch, volume and range.
What makes these books so good is the systematic approach they take, and the clear, easy to use and exploitable layout offered. Like the hugely popular English Grammar in Use (Murphy, R. CUP 1989) which has aided generations of both students and teachers in teaching and learning in that area of the language, these books present the material to be worked on in each unit on the left hand page, while the right hand side offers specific practice or awareness exercises to further develop each point. This makes them easy to use and exploit for either individual self-study or classroom use. The elementary presentations and explanations include articulation diagrams which many learners will find useful, and both employ contrast, when appropriate, as a way to both raise awareness and provide practice in such diverse areas as contrasting phonemes, strong and weak forms, changing word stress and affixes, given and new information intonation patterns, contradictions, attitudes and comparisons.
But what really sets the material apart in these two volumes and what provides an invaluable aid to both learners and teachers - especially for those teachers whose first language may not be English - are the exceptional audio recordings, upon which all of the exercises and models are based. These serve both as a model for the learners, and as listening exercises, which serve as input for interpretation and understanding. In the examples given as a model, a standard British accent is used, while across the other recordings a wide variety of accents can be heard including both native-speaker varieties from around the globe and non-native accents as well. So if you subscribe to the idea that good listeners make better speakers, then your learners are likely to get much more out of using the material provided than simply improved pronunciation.
While the elementary material naturally focuses more on clear modelling, listening and understanding, the advanced material includes ideas for further production work after each of the units. It should not be very difficult, however, to come up with fun and simple production exercises for elementary students based on the receptive work provided. The CD-ROM, which is included with both, provides further opportunities for learning and practice, offering interactive exercises which follow on from those in the book, games, tests, and an audio and visual model of the phonemic chart and articulation positions. Both in the book and with the CD-ROM, students are encouraged to record their own voices in order to compare their progress against the models provided.
All in all, these two very complete packages provide a wealth of learning, teaching and testing opportunities which can be used either with a whole class, or individually by students who are sufficiently self-motivated to use them on their own. Any teacher or learner who finds improving pronunciation a worthy goal, and as a part of the process improve listening skills (leading to improved speaking abilities), will undoubtedly find these new offerings from Cambridge University Press a welcome addition to their school or home library.