This week a friend of mine in Ancona, the mighty Margherita at IIK, sent me a link for this site which will make getting to grips with the phonemes a lot more fun.
And checking out the site will pretty much instantly make you a better equipped phonetics teacher. There's a really cool tool for making flash cards, an entry/exit test, an interactive phonemic chart.
All in all it's better than any thing else out there for the bog standard basics of the phonemic alphabet of poshy English. Phonetics Focus. 2008 has seen some great applications come out for phonetic alphabet teaching. If you've seen better call me. If phonetics is not a part of your class curriculum it can now be a part of their homework. The link is even easy enough to write on the board...
All this technological progress is being made on the back of a lot of compromise. The publishing houses have sponsored the teams who have put these resources together. They are all accepting the 44 phonemes found in English File. Which is not comprehensive or conclusive of anyone's English.
They have united behind a model accent which is difficult not nearly normal for most native English speakers. Doubtless it is not native to any of them. It's certainly not mine or my colleagues. But in teaching it and the differences between what the dictionary says and what I say, students are forced to become more aware of sounds. This awareness is the first step in improvement.
Learning the symbols is going to be a great leap forward in the ability to have discussions about phenomena such as linking, assimilation and everyone's best conversation topic: accents. That's where things get interesting because both students and teachers have personal experiences and stories.
I find it valuable to remember that students ultimately need teachers only to bring them to an awareness of what would constitute clear communication. Everything else just gets us tired and emotional.