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Teaching Spanish pronunciation
Teaching Spanish pronunciation

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7 The verbo-tonal method

Many approaches have been proved effective as ways of teaching pronunciation. Among these are some that privilege the link established between the perception (or non-perception) of sounds and their production. One of these is the verbo-tonal method, also known as the SUGAV method, which was first created for the rehabilitation of people with severe communication problems. It was developed in the 1950s by Professor Petar Guberina, a Yugoslav linguist who was particularly interested in speech perception. 

Guberina’s research found that people with hearing impairments were unable to produce certain sounds in their mother language, not because they lacked the physical ability to produce them – their phonatory organs were unaffected – but because they could not hear them. Guberina argued that these people were suffering from deafness in the same way a speaker of another language suffers from phonological deafness when confronted with the phonemic system of the target language.

For example, if an English speaker is confronted with the Spanish word pavo (turkey) – a word, let’s say, that the learner has never seen written down – and we ask the student to repeat it after the teacher, they will probably produce something like [ˈpavəʊ] or even [ˈpabəʊ] instead of [ˈpaβo]. The reason for this is that the English phonological system does not contain the sound [β] and has a tendency to diphthongise the phoneme /o/ in word-final position.  

The method is based on the conviction that language evolves from spoken language, so orthography is not taken into account, and that speech is a social event. Thus, the speaker is both a producer and perceiver of speech, which means that the auditory and visual information in students’ production reflects how they perceive speech. If their perception changes, their speech will also change. If their speech is corrected, their perception has also been corrected.

How does it work?

  • a.The teacher identifies the phonological origin of the student’s error and determines the cause of the mistake.
  • b.A mechanism of correction based on optimal pronunciation models is established.

In order to achieve correct pronunciation, the teacher will: 

  • build up the sentence gradually;
  • use nuanced pronunciation;
  • make use of allophones or coarticulation to find the best phonetic context for the acquisition of the given segment.

In nuanced pronunciation, the idea is to confront students with a model that is the opposite of the error, in other words, to offer a new “in-transition sound” that will gradually bring the students’ mistaken pronunciation towards the target sound.

For example, the Spanish phrase una botella de cava should be pronounced [ˈunaβoˈteʎaðeˈkaβa]. The learner will receive input where the sound [β] is not fully articulated; the articulation is relaxed by merely approaching the organs involved in its production to the place of articulation, but not fully articulating the sound. This is done in an attempt to make the learner “divest” the [b] or [v] sound of its English qualities, so that the realisation of this segment is brought towards a more native-like pronunciation.

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Audio _unit2.8.1 Audio: Una botella de cava
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