TEFL Book reviews

Sound foundations

Adrian Underhill (2005) - Macmillan Education

Reviewed by Dr. Stephen Louw

Sound foundations by Adrian Underhill (2005)

For many of our students, studying with a native speaker of English is attractive because of the possibility of learning how to sound ‘correct’. For many teachers, however, issues of pronunciation are often ignored because it just seems so incredibly complex and intangible. For instance, what exactly do you do when a student can’t say ‘It’s really irrelevant’, and how can I deal with students who can’t hear the difference between ‘How are you’ and ‘How old are you?’

Sounding right

It’s these complex questions of what pronunciation is and how to help our students with it in class that is the focus of Underhill’s book. In the twenty years since the book was first published, Sound Foundations has had a major impact on how teachers around the world understand phonology, connected speech, and the tools available for working with them in the classroom. Although already over 20 years old, the book is a must-have for teachers who want to do more than just skate lightly over issues of pronunciation in their classrooms.

What's in the book

Underhill divides the book into two parts. The first deals with the technical aspects of pronunciation: the vowels and consonants, sounds in individual words and word stress, pronunciation in sentences including connected speech such as elision and assimilation, and rhythm and intonation. This first part can get pretty technical, and includes some detailed analysis of sound formation and the phonemic chart. Most teachers don’t need this level of detail, but it’s worth being able to come back to when specific problems arise in the class, such as the r/l conundrum for our Asian learners (which is addressed on page 44, incidentally).

The second part of the book takes the theory and applies it to our classroom practice. This is presented as three ‘Classroom Toolkits’. The first toolkit tackles the teaching of individual sounds and the use of the IPA in the classroom. The second deals with pronunciation of words, such as word stress and it has a really fun section on ventriloquism. The final toolkit gives a range of ideas on activities for teaching connected speech. In this second section of the book, Underhill gives examples of classroom activities for teachers on specific elements of pronunciation, and the kinds of techniques that can help students overcome roadblocks to managing English pronunciation.

It's a serious read

Sound Foundations is not a quick read, nor a book you can dip into for quick classroom pronunciation games. However, for a teacher interested in addressing pronunciation seriously in the classroom, hævɪŋ ə ˈkɒpɪ ɒv saʊnd faʊnˈdeɪʃənz ɪz ə gʊd stɑːt. ?

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