Focus on patterns, not just exceptions

November 2, 2011

My advanced level students seemed surprised yesterday when I corrected their mispronunciation of the words figure and feature by referring to the pronunciation of bigger and teacher. Of course, negative transfer from the L1 means that Spanish speakers tend to pronounce words as they are written and thus pronounce the u in the final syllable of the two words mentioned above. Yet, the final syllable of words in English spelled er, re, or, our, ure, ar, tend to be pronounced in the same way – /ə(r)/.

It surprises me that this particular pronunciation pattern hadn’t been pointed out to my students’ before, as they worked their ways up to an advanced level.

Surely part of our jobs as language teachers is to work with, and exploit patterns and regularities (as well as the exceptions!) in English.

Another example of this kind of thing, with beginner level students, might be showing how regular English question patterns are – e.g. Can you..? / Do you..? Did you..? Are you..? and working with this pattern, rather than over-analyzing conjugations and subject and auxiliary inversion.

It would nice to hear other patterns that you think English teachers should exploit!