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Speak softly and aspirate!

Task 1
Try to guess the meanings of these common English proverbs:
1. A drowning man will clutch at a straw. ___
2. A bad workman always blames his tools. ___
3. You cant judge a book by its cover. ___
4. Dont cut off your nose to spite your face. ___
5. If you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. ___
6. Time and tide wait for no one. ___
7. A leopard cant change its spots. ___
8. Speak softly and carry a big stick. ___
9. People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones. ___
10. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. ___

Task 2
Now match the proverbs to the meanings. Write your answers next to the proverbs.
a. Dont base your opinions on external appearances.
b. Dont criticise other people for doing something that you do yourself.
c. Avoid situations that you know will be difficult for you to handle.
d. Life goes on whatever you do, so dont be late or put off doing things.
e. You only know whether something is any good by trying it.
f. When youre desperate, youll try anything, even if its unlikely to help.
g. Be tactful, but back up your words with action when necessary.
h. When people make mistakes or do something badly, they find excuses.
i. A persons character, particularly if it is bad, always stays the same.
j. Think before you react in a way that can harm yourself as well as the person
you want to harm.

Task 3
In each proverb, underline all the syllables where there is aspiration.
When the sounds /p/ /t/ and /k/ begin a stressed syllable followed by a vowel, there is a
/h/ sound before the vowel starts, for example part or return. This also happens when /p/
/t/ and /k/ are followed by /l/ /r/ /w/ or /j/ (which sound like vowels), for example clear or
tray.
If /p/ /t/ and /k/ begin unstressed syllables, like tomorrow or hockey, or are final, like bat,
there is no aspiration (or it is very weak). Also, if /p/ /t/ and /k/ follow /s/, for example
spin or start, there is no aspiration.

Task 4
In groups, discuss a situation from your experience where each proverb applies.

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Speak softly and aspirate!
Teaching notes

Level: upper-intermediate and above (B2+).


Focus: pronunciation aspiration.
Topic: proverbs.

Procedure

Lead-in
Write these minimal pairs on the board and invite students to say them:

A B
pin bin
pie buy
true drew
tear dear
Kate gate
came game

Elicit the differences in the initial sounds (plosives) in column A and column B. Students
will probably be able to say that the sounds in A are unvoiced and the ones in B are
voiced, but they may not be aware that:

column A sounds are pronounced more forcibly (fortis)


there is aspiration after the sounds in column A.

What is aspiration?
Explain aspiration (also explained on task 3 of the student sheet):

When the sounds /p/ /t/ and /k/ begin a stressed syllable followed by a vowel, there
is a /h/ sound before the vowel starts, for example part or return. This also happens
when /p/ /t/ and /k/ are followed by /l/ /r/ /w/ or /j/ (which sound like vowels), for
example clear or tray.
If /p/ /t/ and /k/ begin unstressed syllables, like tomorrow or hockey, or are final,
like bat, there is no aspiration (or it is very weak). Also, if /p/ /t/ and /k/ follow /s/,
for example spin or start, there is no aspiration.

It is useful for distinguishing two sorts of minimal pairs:


1. unvoiced /p/, /t/ and /k/ vs. voiced /b/, /d/ and /g/ (like the examples
above)
2. aspirated and non-aspirated pairs (e.g. pin vs. spin or tear vs. steer).
This is important for making speakers understood internationally despite their diverse
accents (i.e. for English as a Lingua Franca).

Then write some words on the board and get the students to underline the sounds which
are most aspirated, for example: train, party, potato, kind, occasion, appear.

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Speak softly and aspirate!
(More information, for yourself rather than for the students, can be found in a
pronunciation reference book such as: Alan Cruttenden, 2014, Gimsons pronunciation of
English, Routledge.)

Tasks 12
Ask the students what the proverb Too many cooks spoil the broth means (broth = soup):
when a lot of people get involved, it causes problems.

Ask the students what other proverbs they know in English.

They then predict the meanings of the proverbs in task 1 and match them to the
meanings in task 2. You could use the interactive version for whole-class feedback
(available online at www.teachitelt.com by searching for 23827 and clicking on the yellow
star icon).

Answers: 1f; 2h; 3a; 4j; 5c; 6d; 7i; 8g; 9b; 10e.

Task 3
Write the original example on the board and ask the students to underline the sounds
which are aspirated and explain why:

Too many cooks spoil the broth.

In Too and cooks the /t/ and /k/ begin one-syllable words, so they are stressed and
therefore aspirated.
In spoil the /p/ follows /s/, so there is no aspiration.

The students do the same for the proverbs in task 1.


Check the answers then drill all the proverbs.

Answers
1. A drowning man will clutch at a straw.
2. A poor workman always blames his tools.
3. You cant judge a book by its cover.
4. Dont cut off your nose to spite your face.
5. If you cant stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
6. Time and tide wait for no one.
7. A leopard cant change its spots.
8. Speak softly and carry a big stick.
9. People who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.
10. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Task 4
Tell the students an anecdote where one of the proverbs is relevant, for example: My
husband is always saying I should lose weight, but hes not so slim himself! (Answer:
people who live in glass houses shouldnt throw stones.)

In groups, the students go through the proverbs and apply them to their own experience.

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