How a drag queen lip-sync competition has helped me to create pronunciation exercises
(For Portuguese, click here)
It all started when I was watching a reality tv show (one of my guilty pleasures) called Ru Paul's Drag Race, which features artistic lip-sync presentations of drag queens. I was really impressed at how their facial movements create the illusion that they are actually singing, so I thought:
"Wow, this has the potential to really help students improve their English!"
Here's what I've come up with:
One thing that makes English difficult to pronounce is the difference between its sounds and students' first languages. Unsurprisingly, learners tend to decode and, consequently, reproduce sounds as close as possible to whatever combinations they have already been exposed to in their mother tongue. That explains, for instance, why English speakers say SHREE Lanka instead of Sri; because no word in English starts with an /SR/ sound, the country's name has been approximated to a combination that does exist, namely, the /SHR/. Now think about someone who is starting to learning English: there might be quite a few sounds that are literally foreign to them and which they have never been prepared to hear or imitate before.
We, teachers, often emphasize the combo listen-and-repeat, without actually showing students which movements they should be performing with their lips/tongue, without sensitizing them to the fact they might need to exercise in order to perfect their pronunciation. Unfortunately, a lot of us forget pronunciation has to do with how we use the muscles of our face and our tongue just as much as it is related to our vocal chords.
But how does the lip-sync contest come into place? - You may ask.
Well, lip-sync provides us a simple guides that shows what your lips should look like when pronouncing specific sounds in English (which might not exactly have to do with spelling, btw).
A suggestion for practice is, when having students learn pronunciation, tell them to get a make-up mirror and look at what their lips and tongue are doing in front of a it while they talk, like Snow White's stepmother. This creates awareness to what you are doing that might be different from what you need to do in relation to the what the teacher has modeled, much like what happens at a dance class: