Approximately two billion people speak English nowadays, so there are countless variations of the language. From country to country, region to region, and person to person. As teachers, we should be aware of how pronunciation in English is not uniform, and we should accommodate its variety at all times. The key? Being mindful of your pronunciation in your English yoga classes!
What do we mean by pronunciation in your English yoga classes
When we talk about pronunciation in English teaching, many English teachers and learners immediately think ‘North American or British’, which is problematic for many reasons. The famous Nigerian author Chinua Achebe once said that ‘the price a world language must be prepared to pay is submission to many different kinds of use’. We must acknowledge that, in many cases, English was spread by force through colonisation. Our focus on British or North American pronunciation is western-centric and ignores all the other numerous countries where English is spoken! To centre our English pronunciation around one standardised way is to devalue, and even oppress, all the other perfectly correct variations of pronunciation globally.
Think of Kenya, Nigeria and India, to name only a fraction of the places where English is an official and widespread language. We can’t isolate only one or two ways of pronouncing a word and label them ‘correct’. In a language as globalised as English, and in a multilingual and international environment, it isn’t a reflection of reality.
Our language use is also extremely personal. Many other factors influence pronunciation even before we think about how or where you learned English. Or, what kind of English you learn and use. The physical shape of your tongue, lips and jaw, your speech development, your education. But also the other languages you speak or have learned, where you’ve lived and even just your confidence and personality.
So, for the purpose of this blog…
Let’s open our minds and reframe ‘good pronunciation’.
Let’s consider it ‘mindful pronunciation for communication’. And particularly mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes. That means pronunciation that is accurate enough to be recognised and for communication to be maintained. Pronunciation is a flexible thing and needs to be listened to in a flexible way. Pronunciation can vary hugely and still be correct! So, when teaching anything in English, two things need to happen:
- Be mindful of your own pronunciation while speaking
- Be mindful of your students’ pronunciation while listening
Being mindful of your pronunciation while you’re speaking means knowing how you speak yourself. It also means making an effort to avoid anything that might be difficult for others who don’t speak like you. For example:
- Do you speak fast? Slow down!
- If you speak quietly, pronounce sounds more clearly and project more (without shouting)
- If you speak in a monotonous way, speak with more expressive intonation and use gestures
- Are there specific sounds or words that are challenging for you or your students? Notice them and take note to remember them so that you recognise them next time
- Know which accent, dialect and pronunciation features you have and identify which aspects might be new to your students; how will they be different from what your students know now?
How to be more mindful about your pronunciation in your English classes.
Mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes is something all English speakers need to do. The way we pronounce is so diverse that even native speakers within one place can need to think twice about what the other person is saying. For example, the letter ‘r’ is pronounced so differently in some regions of the UK that a Scottish person might need to remember that their English friend doesn’t pronounce it at all. Instead, they make the ‘schwa’ sound /ə/ which sounds a bit like the word ‘a’, but some people in Scotland will roll the ‘r’ strongly. So, when the English friend says the word ‘poor’ when talking about taxes, for example, the Scottish friend might hear ‘paw’! But they now need to assume, given that the context is people, not animals, that their friend means ‘poor’.
Don’t be scared to take your time. It’s ok to stop and think about the context to help you work out the meaning. Sometimes native speakers also depend on checking the context to understand individual words. Where you think pronunciation could cause confusion, you can also choose synonyms without the sounds that are tricky for you, or slow down when you use words that might be less familiar to your students. This involves planning your language when you plan your class.
Analyse your students’ needs and experience
Being mindful of your students’ pronunciation while listening is part of analysing your students’ needs and integrating that knowledge into your teaching and planning. There’s nothing worse for a student than finally finding the confidence to speak in class, then the teacher not understanding them. So, try to take on any responsibility you can when you’re leading a class, for example:
- If a student doesn’t understand, find new words to say the same thing; don’t just repeat the same thing again and again
- Know what kind of accents, pronunciation variations and dialects your students have and use. For example, if your students speak French or Portuguese, anticipate that their /r/ sound might vary from the sound you produce yourself as, say, a Spanish speaker
- Adapt your lessons to your students’ linguistic background where possible. For example, if your students speak a Latin language, integrate words rooted in Latin when they struggle to understand or use verbs i.e. use ‘move’ from Latin: movere, instead of ‘shift’ which is from Old English and linguistically more Norse and/or Germanic.*
Consider your tone of voice and grammar
The list goes on and on. Finding ways to let mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes help avoid confusion is something we can do as teachers by researching our students’ language use. Be aware of your own language use and plan your classes around these things. Remember that kindness is an essential part of nurturing your students and offering them something that’s really valuable. Taking into consideration all the points above, these are things we can do to teach in a mindful and kind way:
- Research your students’ other languages and the type of English they know, and note down their difficulties
- Plan your sequences and cues around their challenges
- Ask them questions that are appropriate for them as individuals and their confidence level
- Decide what you want to say before you speak: is it complex? Is it truly necessary for your students?
Students can sense kindness in your teaching, whether or not they fully understand every word you say, or vice versa!
Mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes is necessary for multilingual and/or international yoga teachers. Speaking in a language that isn’t your mother tongue is a challenging thing. The point is, in a yoga class in English with an international and multilingual community, there needs to be a bit of flexibility and responsibility taken on both sides. Consider it a team effort: inform yourself so that you can speak mindfully, listen mindfully, and be prepared to adapt to one another.
More about mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes!
Are you interested in finding out more about mindful pronunciation in your English yoga classes? In our 10 tips for multilingual yoga teachers: video series, we speak more about mindful pronunciation, language use and complex grammar. Register here.
*Online Etymology Dictionary: https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=shift