Pronunciation Of A Foreign Language English Language Essay

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Mastering the pronunciation of a foreign language is an insuperably difficult and complex task. Complete success in this matter depends on numerous internal and external factors that all may contribute to or hinder the learning process. Thus, attention should be paid to every single element of this procedure so as to avoid potential problems or prepare an efficacious solution to them. The intent of this research paper is to define and describe the most relevant facets of pronunciation teaching and learning and to discover effective ways of integrating this component of language with different skills.

The first constituent of this paper aims at presenting the place of pronunciation in teaching a foreign language, the role of the learner and the teacher and various factors that may affect pronunciation learning. The second chapter deals with the importance of phonetic transcription and ways of introducing it in the secondary school environment. Furthermore, the problem of intelligibility and its different dimensions is also a subject of this section of the thesis. The third chapter is concerned with the significance of proper teaching of suprasegmental features and specificity of connected speech and their impact on the quality of every utterance. The last section of the theoretical part treats of methods of incorporating pronunciation work into a standard English teaching.

The fifth chapter of this paper is devoted to practical exemplification of methods of integrating pronunciation with other language skills. The whole study is build upon and conducted with aid of 18 students of a secondary school aged seventeen to eighteen. The entire research is based on observation of learners dealing with pronunciation tasks that are embedded in other activities. The intent of this research is to put to the test the assumption that it is possible to teach pronunciation by means of circuitous methods.

Pronunciation certainly deserves strong attention in modern classrooms. This component of language ought to be treated as an integral part of learning and teaching English as the success of communication depends to a considerable degree on the quality of pronunciation.

This paper is supposed to verify the following thesis:

The mot successful pronunciation teaching and learning can be achieved in the process of mastering other linguistic skills

Chapter 1

Teaching and Learning Pronunciation

In analysing the process of teaching and learning pronunciation, it is of importance to define what in fact these complex and broad notions denote. According to Brown (1994, p.7) teaching is "guiding and facilitating learning, enabling the learner to learn, setting the conditions for learning". Later in his book, Brown (1994,pp.7-8) emphasises the importance of understanding the process of learning and the learner as he writes these words directly to the teacher: "your understanding of how the learner learns will determine your philosophy of education, your teaching style, your approach, methods and classroom techniques". Whereas the learning process is described by him as "acquiring or getting knowledge of a subject or a skill by study, experience or instruction". [1] This chapter includes brief overview of various aspects of the aforementioned processes in the context of pronunciation instruction and the character of this very interdependent partnership.

The place of pronunciation in teaching a foreign language

It is frequently experienced by learners of a foreign language that even though they produce their utterances according to grammar rules and use proper vocabulary, they are not understood due to mispronouncing certain words. Despite the fact that most of the learners attach great importance to pronunciation, it is still widely neglected by teachers. According to the figures presented by Nunan (1995) 62 percent of Polish learners of English gave the pronunciation the highest priority. Komorowska (2001) points out that the most common reason why learners are misunderstood while attempting to communicate is because of improper intonation and articulation, not grammar mistakes, as they never interrupt in the information transfer. In other words,

the process of attaining good pronunciation is a very multifaceted one. Hence, it requires a constant, systematic effort which will contribute enormously to developing other skills. Another factor of great significance that has been noticed by Jones and Evans (1995,p.245) is that realization of particular phonemes and that suprasegmentals work together " to create a constellation of phonological characteristics that, although complex, is immediately recognizable to native speakers as signalling a specific meaning, mood, or attitude towards the listener or topic". It is clear therefore that it is valuable, if not indispensable, to make the learners aware of the different aspects of pronunciation that may facilitate their language acquisition

Historical perspective on teaching pronunciation

The theory concerning teaching pronunciation to learners of a second language has experienced a number of alterations during the last decades. Paralleling the direction of language teaching theory itself, pronunciation instructions have moved from more controlled to rather communicative approach.

Pronunciation teaching started to be considered as important factor in learning a foreign language in 1950's and 1960's .The Audio-Lingual Method, proposed a variety of activities that assisted learners in discriminating different sounds by means of numerous types of drills such as minimal pair exercise (Celce - Murcia, 1996).

In 1970 's, direct teaching of pronunciation became not so frequently practised since linguists debated over learners' ability to acquire native-like pronunciation. During this period pronunciation lost its unquestioned role as an imperative constituent in the curriculum as grammar and vocabulary were at this time viewed as more attainable and creditable.

Renewed interest in the role of pronunciation as a way of enhancing the quality of communication was connected with the rise and consequently, the dominance of the communicative approach in 1980's. It was a generally accepted view that pronunciation is an essential component of language competence and that it plays vital role in Communicative Language Teaching. The emphasis of pronunciation teaching altered from drills and exercises based on rote learning to activities based on meaningful interaction. (Seidlhofer, 2001). Segmental issues such as the accurate production of individual sounds receded in significance as teachers' and material developers' milieu realised that training language learners in correct using of suprasegmental features resulted in swift improvements in communication. As Brown (2001) implies, the current handling with pronunciation contrasts starkly with the early approaches as it gives the highest priority to stress, rhythm and intonation. Instead of teaching only the role articulation within the words, or at best, phrases, the emphasis is put on a whole stream of discourse.

1.3 Aims of teaching and learning pronunciation

Every learning process develops in the first place from determining the reasons why it has to be performed and what are its objectives. Acquiring pronunciation is no different in this matter. In the past, the only aim of learning and teaching pronunciation was attaining native-like quality of speech, even so it would be possible only for some learners. The present trends in this area imply that the majority of the learners have a practical purpose for learning English and will derive no particular benefit from acquiring very accurate pronunciation (Kenworthy, 1994).

It is the teacher who ought to investigate the aims of learning a second language by his or her students and adjust the learning criteria to their needs. According to Gimson (2001) a foreign learner who requires an adequate performance in the language for practical purposes of everyday communication will not need to master all the variants and nuances of sounds production. But later in his book also Gimson (2001,p.296) states that " unless a learner expects to deal with English only in its written form, there is no escape from acquisition of at least the rudimentary elements of English pronunciation".

The indications are therefore that in any course of a foreign language a realistic amount of time has to be devoted to practice in its spoken form as frequent divergences in pronunciation may lead to communication breakdown.

1.4 Teacher's and Learner's role

In analysing the procedure of teaching and learning pronunciation, it is of significance to closely examine the role of the teacher. One of the most important functions of the teacher is providing his or her learners with opportunities for practice, exploration or even experimentation. It is possible by means of exercises devised and adjusted to a specific group of learners and their preferences.

Another basal task of the instructor while teaching pronunciation is training the learners in discriminating between the sounds of their mother tongue and the target language. Teachers' role is to help students hear the specific sounds and then assist them in the correct production (Kenworthy, 1994).

Learning pronunciation is a very complex and multifaceted operation. Hence, the plan for action and specific objectives have to be established by the teacher. It is the teacher's responsibility to decide what to focus on so that the learners can produce intelligible speech accepted to native speakers' ears. Monitoring progress and providing constant feedback are also indispensable in that the information concerning the performance is very often the decisive factor in sustaining involvement and motivation for learning.

It has to be mentioned that in a study of current and future trends and directions of teaching pronunciation, Seidlhofer (2001) found that the recent advantages in technology have increased the potential for learner self-access and autonomy. Such rich variety of input therefore affects teacher's role, with a potential shift from acting as an informant to being instructor or "speech coach" [2] . This necessitates making apt choices from all options available and employing appropriate methodology responsive to the needs of specific learners.

Having discussed different aspects of the teacher's functions in attaining good pronunciation it is clearly visible that not only the teacher but also the learner has to put some effort and involvement in this complex process. According to Kenworthy (1994) the main task of the learners is to respond to the teacher's feedback and instructions and to take the responsibility for their actions. Even though it is the teacher who indicates the mispronunciations and assists in efficacious ways of eradicating them the learners have to react and try to monitor their own efforts themselves. Thus, the nature of teacher's and learner's role could be concluded by an old Chinese proverb, which states:

The teacher can only open the doors for you,

You have to enter by yourself

1.6 Factors affecting pronunciation learning

It is evident that the success in achieving clear and comprehensible pronunciation is influenced by a mixture of constituents which may assist or complicate the process of learning. It is imperative to discover possible problem areas and to prepare an effective remedy for such difficulties, thus the attention should be paid to each and every element affecting the pronunciation mastery.

1.6.1 The age factor

Language teachers and linguists have always wished to find the answer to query whether there is age-related limitation on reaching native-like pronunciation. Brown (1994, p.52), among others, implied that the problem of attaining a flawless sounds production after puberty sustains the notion of a critical period for language acquisition. Brown describes the critical period as " a biologically determined period of life when language can be acquired more easily and beyond which time language is increasingly difficult to acquire". The view that a critical point for a second language acquisition occurs around puberty, beyond which people seem to be incapable of mastering the pronunciation and any other aspect of a language, has led some to assume, incorrectly, that the possibility of successful second language learning is no longer valid. Research by Walsh and Diller [3] (1981, p.18) suggest that different aspects of a second language are attained at different periods of life as they stated that " lower-order processes such as pronunciation are dependent on early maturing and less adaptive macroneural circuits, which make foreign accents difficult to overcome after childhood. Higher-order language functions, such as semantic relations, are more dependent on late maturing neural circuits, which may explain why college students can learn many times the amount of grammar and vocabulary that elementary school students can learn in a given period"

As Nunan (1991) suggested, though the critical period hypothesis has been supported and refuted by several researches, the problems of acquiring the phonology of a second language present a formidable challenge to both theory and practice. Numerous researches conducted by many prominent scientists [4] are very intriguing, as the results of different individual investigations seem to be contradictory. Thus, it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the possible connection between age and the ability to pronounce the words of other language.

1.6.2 Innate phonetic ability

It is generally assumed that there are individuals that are more skilful at learning foreign language than the others. This phenomenon is often referred as auditory discrimination ability or phonetic coding ability and is easily noticeable when an individual is to find the difference between sounds. The teacher should be aware of the fact that in his or her classroom it is possible to find learners with bad and good innate phonetic ability. Therefore, a variety of activities ought to be used so as to satisfy the needs and preferences of all students. Komorowska (Komorowska, 2001) has drawn attention to the fact that while preparing tasks it has to be remembered that some of the learners may be auditory or visually oriented. Hence, different types of pronunciation tasks are to be employed in order to suit all the needs and abilities.

1.6.3 The mother tongue

Another factor that contributes to hindering the pronunciation learning progress is the learners' first language. Students encounter problems not only with the particular sounds but also with sounds clusters, rhythm and intonation. Cross (1992,p.214) states that "this is because they tend to hear and speak English via their mother tongue set of sounds". The same view is shared by Jones (Jones, 1984) who indicated that learners are prone to use their prior language experience and categorise foreign sounds in terms of the phonemic inventory and suprasegmental features of their mother tongue.

On this basis it may be inferred that learners from various first language backgrounds will experience different problems as their sounds platforms vary from one another. It is for this reason that the teacher ought to be aware of the phonetic and phonological features of the mother tongue of his or her students. The teacher whose students' first language belongs to Slav family such as Polish will not expect to encounter problems with word accentuation whereas the speakers of French or many Indian languages will do so. By contrasting the characteristics of the two languages the teacher will be able to anticipate the potential problems and devise proper drills and other activities (Gimson, 2001).

1.6.4 The exposure

The amount of exposure to the target language is another contributory factor in the mission of acquiring intelligible and accurate pronunciation. A perfect situation for receiving great quantity of contact with the language is living in a foreign country but in most of the cases it is not achievable for the learners. It was Kenworthy (1994,p.6) who said that " it is not merely exposure that matters, but how learners respond to the opportunities to listen to and use English". Her words, though written almost ten years ago, are still valid and relevant. English has become an international and most widespread language in the world, consequently it is commonly available for all learners in television, radio and the Internet. If it is not possible for the students to listen to the English in their surroundings the teacher should gradually make them familiar with its authentic form. The instructor ought to use recordings from the mass media to enable the learners to experience the variety of accents, intonation and word linking (Komorowska, 2001).