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Pronunciation Teaching: Key Aspects

Introduction

Pronunciation is one of the difficult facets of language in which to attain native competence teachers must find ways to assist learners overcome some of the most challenging aspects of pronunciation. Teachers must accord pronunciation teaching keen attention in classrooms as it contributes towards learner proficiency. The advancement in technology has enhanced application of specific learning technologies that support learning of pronunciation. This paper reviews literature on pronunciation teaching focusing on the: importance of pronunciation, using technology to teach pronunciation, and factors affecting pronunciation learning.

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A Review of Related Literature

Importance of Pronunciation

Pronunciation is an aspect of language that must be given attention by the teacher in a classroom (Ellis, 1994). Pronunciation contributes immensely towards the learners’ proficiency in spoken and written English. Clearly, all learners are aware that poor pronunciation represents considerable deterrence to their success in the English language. According to a research study of the attitudes of over 825 students from Thailand, Singapore, and India by Shaw (1981), 62% of Thais learners, 47% of Singaporeans, and 59% of Indians rated speaking as their worst English language skill. Nevertheless, over 88% of learners from Thailand, and over 715 of learners from Singapore and India ranked speaking as a skill they wanted to perform best (Shaw, 1981).

A large number of teachers and many learners tend to ignore the aspect of pronunciation in language learning. Overwhelming, many teachers are not aware of the significance of pronunciation (Benson, 2001). Harmer (2001) contends that majority of teachers emphasize on the role of grammar and vocabulary learning in the acquisition of foreign language. They concentrate more in assisting learners achieve competence in listening and reading. In addition, the majority of teachers feel that pronunciation teaching is hard and boring to young learners (Richardson, 1983). Kenworthy (1987) specifies a number of factors that would enable students to acquire pronunciation without assistance from the teacher. These factors include: learners phonetic abilities; integrative motivation; and achievement motivation. It also appears that a number of students who appreciate the importance of learning pronunciation are low (Richards, 2002).

Consequently, teachers ought to persuade learners of the need to learn pronunciation aggressively and also guide them to learn the correct way of pronouncing English sounds. English teachers should strive to deal with pronunciation in their first English lesson (Grauberg, 1997). Learners should get the opportunity to practice good pronunciation at the beginning of their learning to enhance their habits in a positive way. Otherwise the overall success of learning can be damaged if learners acquire words without pronunciation (Celce-Murcia, 1996).

Using Technology to Teach Pronunciation

There are a number of advantages in applying specific learning technologies to support learners. For instance, the use of web-based learning resources instead of lectures enhances the learner’s factual knowledge, which in turn improves their performance. Odisho (2005) gives guiding principles that can help teachers in moving beyond traditional teaching practices. These involves; applying methods other than mechanical rules, putting emphasis on musical aspects of pronunciation more than sounds, and teaching real speech patterns and offering students practice in efficient guessing of what discourse signals imply (P. 155).

Computer Software or Computer Technology

Technology can be integrated into pronunciation teaching as a research tool besides giving learners auditory and visual feedbacks. Tracking tools have been built into computer software and can serve simultaneously as a pedagogical tool, a data collector, and a testing instrument (Chun, 2000). For instance, the computer software for tracking offers a database for each speaker. Utterances produced by learners can be ordered chronologically and compared for evaluation over time (Carver, 2000). Computer software enables the design of research studies to evaluate a number of questions possible. According to Chun (2002), such questions may include: “what are the effects of providing only visual feedback?; What is the relationship between perception and production?; and what are the long term effects of pronunciation teaching using different types of feedback and using both perception and production exercises?” (p, 129).

In particular, materials that are computer based for teaching pronunciation might contain listening comprehension tests as well as tests that focus on listening acuity and perceptual accuracy. These tests focus on perception rather than production and could be computerized to track and assess learners’ performance. Computers provide automatic record keeping and scoring capability. This would allow branching and pacing of individual tests for more differentiated testing. This capability of the computer makes it possible for detailed tracking of the stages learners’ pass through in acquiring oral and listening skills, for instance, by measuring the gradual changes in learners’ perception of pronunciation contours and in their production of intonation contours over time. In sum, until when computer technology has widespread, teachers ought to first of all understand what intonation is all about that students need to learn.

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Internet

Audio and video conferencing is one development in language learning that has attracted increasing attention. Speaking with native speakers or even other students who are separated by large distances has long been described as an advantage of the internet technologies; nevertheless, with the exception of those institutions with large equipment and operating budgets, most interactions have been based on text means such as e-mail, and chat. A significant innovation affecting conferencing has been the spread of internet broadband, which permits transmission of very large amounts of information in a comparatively short amount of time. Null (2006) identifies “Digital subscriber Line (DSL) as one such technology. This technology uses a standard telephone line to send and receive data at a rate of as much as 40mbps, markedly faster than modems that allow a maximum of 56 kbps (p.658).

The increase in high-speed connections and browser–based conferencing technologies have made video and audio-conferencing more accessible than they were in the past, and many people now make use of them through standard desktop and even laptop computer (Null, 2006). These advances in technology have brought about a number of studies into both audio, notably in the field of distance learning. They have also been helpful in environments that seek to provide learners speaking opportunities outside of normal class hours. Learners are able to feel a sense of presence that is often missing in non-audio means. Additionally, it gives learners the opportunity to correct pronunciation immediately (Levy, 2006).

Factors Affecting Pronunciation Learning

There are numerous factors affecting the success of teaching pronunciation. These factors include; age of the learner, the attitude of the learner, native language, motivation, and personality. All these factors are important in having a balanced approach to pronunciation.

Age

There is overwhelming evidence to indicate that there is a relationship between the age at which a language is learned and the degree of foreign accent. Normally, if the learner begins to communicate in the second language between the ages of seven and 11, the learner is likely to have a slight accent (Flege, 1981). Those who began to speak after the age of 12 will always have an accent.

It is commonly held that it is not easy to learn a language effectively at old age. Children on the other hand are said to learn a second language faster and easily. Lenneberg (1967) contends tat relative ease of foreign language learning in childhood has been applied as evidence to prove there is a critical period of language learning. This period ends about the time of puberty. However, it is important to note that the relationship between age and accent does not invariably apply to everyone. Some few adult learners do gain native like pronunciation. Furthermore, there are numerous explanations that compete of the cause of the relationship. The physical explanation indicates that there are physical changes in the brain due to age that affect learning of new sounds and other aspects of the language. Intellectual explanation on the other hand, shows that learners have already learned the sound system of their first language and this increasingly disrupts their perception towards the second language. This perception is affected by age because the first language system becomes increasingly well-integrated and stable as learners get older. Psychological explanation contends that pronunciation is part of an individual’s personality and as he grows older he becomes more protective of his or her personality and unwilling to change it (Stevick, 1978).

Stevick (1978) contends that learners are able to easily copy new sounds; he also provides suggestions why they have problems. One, learners sound bad to themselves when they copy well. Individuals tend to be sensitive about their pronunciation because it makes others to predict their social background. Again, if a one’s foreign language pronunciation is exemplary; others may think they value foreign culture other than their own. For learners, pronunciation will improve when they feel at ease about the way they sound when they communicate in a foreign language. Additionally, they improve when they develop positive attitudes towards the native speakers. Two, learners may also experience problems when they become anxious about speaking. If the teacher puts off a student for not saying something correctly, the learner may become tense and nervous and unable to say it correctly (Hinkel, 2005). Therefore, teachers need to design ways of assisting learners discover their pronunciation without them getting worried about it. And three, learners tend to overlook some feature. In this case, teachers can assist in providing a suitable model which is easy for the level of learners by enabling learners to discover how near their pronunciation is to the set standard for the course.

The Aptitude and Personality of the Learner

Individually, learners carry varying attitudes to the classroom and this may affect pronunciation learning. Learners with negative attitude for the intended language community will be affected badly. Attitudinal effects are common in introvert or shy learners who avoid taking part in classroom activities. In essence these students don’t get the opportunity to do practice and apply phonetic activities. On the contrary, extrovert students often have more opportunities to improve their pronunciation. Learner attitude towards the new language plays an effective role in learning pronunciation. Positive attitude for target culture by learners makes them develop easily more accurate, similar native accents (Smith, 2005).

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The approach towards the language may seriously be affected if learners have some prejudice on the intended language and its society. The fear of eroding one’s culture may influence individuals from learning a second language. They may feel that learning the new language may influence negatively their cultural development. In this kind of scenario, it may not be prudent to teach these learners the second language. Attitudes and learners personal features are prerequisite in pronunciation learning (Clement, 2001).

The Factor of Native Language

Research studies and teachers’ experiences indicate that learner’s native language can have a major influence on pronunciation learning and teaching. The example of evidence of this is communicators of the same first language pronounce typically the second language the same way, providing similar substitutions and patterns of pronunciation. In addition, evidence indicates presence of a reasonable degree of predictability in the types of relationships between first language and the second language sounds and their relative difficulty for long term success for second language learners (Edwards, 2008).

Flege (1981) discovered that “most important interference from first language to second language happens at the level of phonetic implementation rather than at an abstract level of an organization based on feature” (p, 125). This shows that instead of a teacher providing attention to general features such as voicing or aspiration, they should provide attention to particular sounds where these difficulties occur. Teachers can put into consideration the influence of the learners’ first language by being familiar with the sound system of the learners’ first language and thus achieving some idea of the amount of effort and attention required to effect required change (Carter, 2001).

Avery (1987) posits that students learning a new language speak the language in a different way; in some occasions slightly different and others highly varying than the native speakers’ do speak. This is determined to a larger extend by the learners native dialect, that is, mother tongue interference. Languages world over have different accents. In other words, the way learners speak forms part of their identity (Edwards, 2008).

Motivation

According to Doryei (2001), Gardner and Lambert summed the importance of motivation in teaching the second language when they stated: “it was our hunch that an integrative orientation would sustain better the long term motivation required for the very demanding task of pronunciation learning” (p. 363). In essence, the ability to learn a new language lies in the profile of abilities and aptitudes from one learner to the next. Factors that encourage language acquisition and motivational variable are associated to second language learning. Teachers are able to encourage learners using these factors to communicate with speakers of the second language. Learners of the new language are also able to get the necessary orientation towards the speakers of the target language (Levy, 2006).

According to Gardner and Lambert (1972), the desire to learn a language stems from the positive attitude towards a community of native speakers; and the desire to learn the language in order to get a certain career, pass exam, or financial gains. Therefore, if a teacher makes it known to learners the practical value of the second language proficiency, they will have a high drive to learn the new language. Highly motivated learners tend to have good pronunciation since they are able to develop interest for pronunciation, and are eager to participate in the activities and are keen to pay discriminate attention to sounds of the second language. As a result, they endeavor to produce better pronunciation. Brown (1991) explains as an inner drive, impulse, desire or emotion that moves an individual to a particular action (p. 133).

There are many factors which contribute to the formation of motivation in learners in learning pronunciation. These factors include; aptitude, intelligence, and self confidence. For instance, it is difficult to motivate individuals who are less intelligent than intelligent individual. Teachers must direct pronunciation teaching according to the needs, attitudes, expectations, intelligence and others of learners. For learners who have the drive to learn the second language, their instructors would need less time for pronunciation activities. In essence, teachers will spend less time trying to motivate students to learn how to pronounce foreign language (O’Donoghue, 2006).

Conclusion

Ultimately, the decision pronunciation teacher makes should be based on the factors that have been shown to influence intelligibility and comprehensibility (Edwards, 2008). The choice of focus by the teacher can make a significant difference to the overall efficacy of teaching because suprasegmental tend to have more impact than on overall intelligence and comprehension than segmental.

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Reference

Avery, P., & Ehrlich, (1987). Preliminary Considerations in the Teaching of Pronunciation. London: TESL Center.

Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and Researching. Harlow, England: Longman.

Brown, A. (1991). Pronunciation Models: Arts Link, Singapore: NUS Press

Dornyei, Z., & Schmidt, R. (2001). Motivation and Acquisition of the Second Language. London: Natl Foreign Lg Resource.

Carter, R., Nunan, D. (2001). The Cambridge Guide to Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carver, R. (2000). The Causes of High and Low Reading Achievement. London: Routledge.

Celce-Murcia., Brinton, D., & Goodwin, J. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clement, R., & Gardner, R. (2001). Second Language Mastery. Chichester, England: Wiley & Sons.

Chun, D. (2000). Discourse Intonation in L2. New York: John Benjamins.

Edwards, J., & Zampini, M. (2008). Phonology and Second Language. London: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Ellis, R. (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Flege, J. (1981). The Phonological Basis of Foreign Accent. TESOL Quarterly 15, 443-55

Grauberg, W. (1997). The Elements of A Foreign Language. London: Multilingual Matters.

Harmer, J. (2001). The Practice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman.

Hewings, M. (2004). Pronunciation Practice.Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hinkel, E. (2005). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning. London: Routledge.

Null, L., & Lobur, J. (2006). The Essentials of Computer Organization and Architecture. New York: Jones & Bartlett.

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. London: Longman.

Lenneberg, E. (1967). Biological Foundations of Language. New York: Routledge.

Levy, M., Stockwell, G. (2006). CALL Dimensions. London: Routledge.

Odisho, E. (2005). Techniques of Teaching Comparative Pronunciation in English. New Jersey: Gorgias Press LLC.

O’Donoghue, J. (2006). Technology Supported Learning and Teaching. London: Idea Group Inc (IGI).

Richards, J., & Renandya, W. (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richardson, G. (1983). Teaching Modern Languages. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Shaw, D. (1981). Asian Attitudes Towards English. London: Macmillan.

Smith, D., & Baber, E. (2005). Teaching English wwith Information Tecnology. London: Modern English Publishing.

Stevick, E. (1978). Teaching Foreign Languages in schools. Rowley, Mass: Newbury House.

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