Conventional wisdom in the ESL/EFL world holds that pronunciation should not be taught at the beginning level. It's just too technical, requiring complicated descriptions and explanations for which beginning students don't have the vocabulary.
But if there were a way to make the material accessible? Even beginners need to communicate clearly -- intelligible speech fosters successful academic, work, and social interactions, and that's got to be encouraging for the student! Judy Gilbert's well-planned approach makes clear pronunciation truly accessible to beginners. The book -- rightly so -- limits the pronunciation points to those that are most urgently needed for intelligibility. The principle areas covered are: (1) the alphabet: using letters to spell out loud for clarification, (2) decoding spelling/reading words: using simple spelling rules to predict the pronunciation of a word, (3) syllable number: developing awareness of the number of syllables in words and phrases, being sure not to add unnecessary syllables or to omit necessary ones, (4) syllable stress: lengthening stressed vowels and reducing unstressed ones, (5) word connections: linking words together (this improves both listening comprehension and the smoothness of the student's speech), (6) the music of English: the pitch contours and rhythm of the language, and (7) articulation: t/d, s/z, l/r/n, and th.
There are some very cool things in this book for pronunciation teachers and learners. For example, there are tongue shape drawings looking from the back of the tongue to the front and out the mouth. Can't picture it? You'll have to see it to believe it! Along with the traditional front and side views, this new perspective really helps you visualize what's going on inside your mouth to produce a specific sound. I only wish there were drawings for all the American English vowels and consonants!! (But then it wouldn't be a beginning textbook, would it?)
I also like the vowel pronunciation rules. Example: the letters 'ai' are pronounced like the first letter [a] in the combination. Think: straight, complaint. Then, in the appendix, a percentage is given for how often the rule works, in this case, 95% of the time. This will give the student the confidence to guess how a new word is pronounced, take 'restraint', for example, but not stress out when the rule doesn't work, as in 'plaid'.
There are many helpful graphics in the book. Two of my favorites are the extra-wide bolded letters for stressed vowels (I think you can visualize that) and the diminishing letters for continuant sounds (Thatsssokay. The storezzznearrrMain [the second and third s's, z's, and r's have decreasing font sizes]).
I've been looking for a book like this for a long time. Mostly, I do corporate accent and pronunciation training and executive speech coaching with foreign-born clients who have a high intermediate to advanced command of English. But occasionally, I am asked to train employees who have a lower level of English. This is definitely the book I'll choose for them! Trainees can apply the basic concepts they learn to company-specific vocabulary and technical terms.
I only wish all learners of North American English could start out with this book...