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Is the ability to speak a language the "right way" governed by environment or developmental factors? Working with Chilean learners of English whose native language is Spanish, I have had first - hand introduction to the difficulties Chilean Spanish speaking learners experience in acquiring the receptive skill of listening and the productive skill of speaking English as a foreign language. According to Tench (1981) both abilities necessarily depend on pronunciation to a significant extent. The difficulties the learners encounter indicate that articulation and listening skills are determinant upon how a non-native speaker of English receives and produces the nuances of the language.
Undoubtedly, pronunciation plays one of the most important roles in Language teaching, However, Language educators have neglected this area, giving more prominence to other language skills. A focus on pronunciation during the process of teaching English, I consider, would significantly improve both listening and production skills of the non native speakers Read phonetically Dictionary - View detailed dictionary
This essay mainly will focus on the existing literature about pronunciation, taking into account the segmental (i.e., vowels and consonants) an suprasegmental feature of phonology (i.e. stress, rhythm and intonation); the key issues of pronunciation for Spanish learners of English and finally, the areas to prioritize to teach English pronunciation to Spanish Speakers
A review of existing literature
A review of the existing literature on the area reveals that the subject of pronunciation has exercised the minds of several researchers and a number of hypotheses have been derived, evaluated and different conclusions have been drawn. The consensus is that the articulation mores of the native language have an impact on the way vowels and consonants are perceived and produced by non-native speakers of English. It is noted by several researchers that the knowledge of "how L2 sentences ought to sound" increases "more rapidly than the ability to produce those sentences" (Flege, 1987: 285).
Further, the notion of "Phonetic norm" determines acoustic dimensions and non-native speakers of English try to understand frequencies of vowels and voice onset times on the basis of how much the sounds differ from the nearest sound in the native language. Cook (1999) assumes that language teaching can benefit from paying attention to L2 users rather than concentrating primarily on native speakers, because L2 speakers differ in the cognitive processes they use from L1 speakers.
Teachers must bring in L2 user situations using L1 teaching activities and create a positive image of L2 users to success in the process of teaching. She recommends that 'L2 users be viewed as multicompetent language users rather than as deficient native speakers and suggests how language teaching can recognise students as L2 users both in and out of the classroom' (Cook, 1999: 185). Thornbury (1993) regrets the fact that the teaching of pronunciation has been neglected in favour of teaching the language. He argues that current developments in teaching indicate that a segmental approach to pronunciation teaching is at 'odds with the paradigm of holistic language use' (Thornbury, 1993: 126) and it is important to sensitise learners to the importance of voice setting phonology.
Burns and Claire (2008) explored pronunciation "action" in the classroom. They concluded that English teaching methodologies still encourage learners to "approximate their speech as closely as possible to a native speaker (NS) model". Moreover syllabuses are "grounded in native speaker intuitions" even if the intuitions are "inaccurate" (Burns & Claire, 2008:6). All this creates negative effects on intelligibility for the L2 speakers; makes English language teaching difficult and unrealistic (Burns & Claire, 2008: 10). Jenkins (2002) agrees with the view and says that language teaching would be easier if teachers pay more attention to the L2 speakers' production and reception issues rather than the Native speakers'. The change in focus modifies the way pronunciation is taught. It promotes greater intelligibility; regional appropriateness; improves accommodation skills and create more teachable options. Jenner (1997) argues a case for an international norm (common core) for English that is a list of the essential features of English pronunciation for intelligibility wherever in the globe.
This common core is based on the fact that non native speakers of English far outnumber native speakers of the language and the proportion is likely to rise over the years. The expectation is that phonology will shift under weight of the influence and will move towards the norm of the largest number of speakers. Chela-Flores (2001) places stress on the importance of "suprasegmentals" in comprehension and production of language. It is noted that the "emphasis on suprasegmental features could apparently transfer learning to a spontaneous production" (Chela Flores, 2001: 85) and this was evident when a comparison was made with those who had been taught only segmental content.
The Key issues of Pronunciation for Chilean Spanish learners of English
Spanish is a Romance language and belongs to the Indo-European language family. The language uses the Latin alphabet. The vowels can take an acute accent and there in an additional letter ñ. English has a larger vowel system than Spanish. It presents just five simple vowel phonemes (/a,e,i,o,u/), whereas English has twelve monophthongs , seven short (/I, e, æ, ÊŒ, É’, ÊŠ, É™/) and five long (/i: , a: , É”:, u:, Éœ:/) and In general, Chilean Spanish learners perceive the long monophthongs of the L2 language really challenging, for example, in the words cheese, card, work, short and cool, since their L1 does not have them, thus they are not biologically familiarized to distinguish among short and long sounds.
Another difficulty the Chilean Spanish learners of English face is the failure to distinguish between words with contrastive vowel sounds , such as /I/ in 'ship' versus /i:/ in 'Sheep', /e/ in 'bet' versus /æ/ in 'bat', /ÊŒ/ in 'cut' versus /a:/ in 'cart', / É’ / in 'cot' versus / É”: / in 'caught', / ÊŠ / in 'full' versus /u:/ in 'fool' and /a:/ in 'heart' versus /Éœ:/ in 'hurt'. This causes problems in the pronunciation in addition to perception of sentences as the distinction between these pairs is not practiced in the Spanish language.
Likewise, the Spanish speakers are not capable of articulating the short weak vowel sound schwa/ É™ / purely, seeing as this sound is missing from their first language and also receives not enough training in English language teaching. As example of this sound, consider the first syllable of the next words 'alone', 'above' and 'confront'.
Learners L1 also interfere in the pronunciation and perception of the English diphthongs (double sound). Spanish has 9 regular diphthongs (/ai,au,ei,eu, ia,iu,oi,ou,ui/) while English has 8 (ÉªÉ™, ÊŠÉ™, eÉ™, eÉª, É”Éª, aÉª, aÊŠ, É™ÊŠ).
Although most consonants are not problematic to Spanish speaker of English, they have difficulties with some of them. /k/, /ch/, /p/, and /t/ are some of the more frequently aspirated sounds of English but except in Spanish, thus when a Spanish speaker articulates 'pig' without a wisp of air on the /p/, the word may be perceived as 'big'. It also may cause difficulty in pronouncing the end consonant strongly and accurately as in 'part' resulting in the word sounding like pard. Moreover, Many Spanish speakers of English also have the inclination to prefix words starting with a consonant cluster on s- with a /e/ sound. So smart becomes esmart and stadium turns into estadium. Additionally, Spanish Speakers also suppress the sounds in other types of consonant clusters. For example test may be pronounced as tes and instead may be spoken as intead.
The suprasegemental phonology of a language as stress and intonation are two main characteristics of the production of English words and utterances. Roach (2000) points out that stress indicates prominence in pronunciation that is usually generated by 'loudness' of voice, 'length' of syllables, 'pitch' related to the rate of vibration of the vocal folds plus low/high tone and 'quality' of vowels functioning individually or in combination .
On the one hand, Spanish is timed by syllables that take approximately equal interval of time to pronounce. On the other hand, English is a stress-timed language where the stressed syllables are articulated at identical period of time, and unstressed syllables shorten to fit this rhythm (Richards et al. 1985). Roach (1991) states that the pitch of the voice has the most important role in intonation, when people speak the pitch of the voice is constantly changing from high to low or vice versa. Intonation of English is characterized for its rising tone: 'a movement from a lower pitch to a higher one', e.g. in questions; and a falling tone: 'one which descends from a higher to a lower pitch', e.g. exclamations (Roach, 1991:135). Intonation therefore indicates functions of the English language, which is so relevant for both languages. Many English speakers perceive Spanish as a 'monotone machine gun', while Spanish speakers may feel that English speakers utter 'a roller coaster of peaks and valleys in their speech' (Eddington, 2004:52). The tendency is that Spanish-English speakers transfer the intonation patterns of Spanish into English.
Additionally, Spanish speakers of English incorrectly stress compound words and adjective plus noun combinations. Since there are no weak forms in Spanish, the speakers even rhythm and stressed syllables are articulated with the same length and stress. The pitch range is also very low in Spanish and rise and fall is almost absent. Consequently the falling pitches may not be articulated low and the rise and fall may prove difficult for Spanish learner to grasp. Intonation makes the English of Spanish speakers sound peculiarly flat with no pitch, rhythm or stress and hardly intelligible to the native English speaker.
Other pronunciation issues that have been noted by Mc Donald, (in Bjarkman and Hammond, 1989) are:
Neutralization of fricatives by Spanish speakers (example: /s/ and /z/).
/Êƒ/ is replaced with /tÊƒ/
/dÊ’/ and /Ê’/ are replaced with /j/ or /tÊƒ/
Fluctuating degree of closure /j/ and /w/
Omission of all final consonants other than /s/, /n/, /r/, /l/ and /d/
Problems with the voiceless dental fricative /Î¸/ found in English and non existent in Spanish.
Merger of /Ã°/ and /d/ and /v/ and /b/ or pronunciation of both as voiced dental plosives.
Neutralization of nasal phonemes in coda-position such as the realization of [n] in the word final may result in the nasalization of the preceding vowel.
The Chilean Context.
While most of the Chilean students want to learn to speak English, they are handicapped in a number of ways. Most of them attend State Schools which are not very well equipped with teaching materials. The classes are also very large with 38-45 students per class. Teachers can, therefore, give very little attention to the learning needs of individual students. Teachers are also overworked as they have 44 hours per week and very little time to plan for their classes with the type of meticulousness that would ensure good results. Most of the students who attend school are categorized as "social risk" students and many of them avoid attending school at the least opportunity. Parents too, have no interest and do not support the students or the teachers in their efforts. Students who are keen to learn English and to speak it like a native speaker do not have the resources to travel far from the homeland and live in English speaking countries to get a firsthand experience of the English language culture.
All the points mentioned above, plus the disparity between L1 and L2 and the interference of the mother tongue with English show a complex scenario for Chilean English educators instruct Spanish learners to improve pronunciation of the target language.
My teaching experience within the Chilean context has led me to believe that in order the students develop articulation abilities segmental and suprasegmental features of pronunciation have to be taught. While segmental pronunciation (pronunciation of vowels and consonants) may help them overcome all the difficulties they experience in articulating individual English sounds that are not found in Spanish, suprasegmental learning (articulation of stresses, pitch movements and tones correctly)may help them appreciate language features found in connected speech. In time they may be able to graduate to an understanding of the spectral cues that are automatically familiar to the native English speaker.
In order to help the Spanish learners of English to defeat their pronunciation difficulties and enhance their listening skill, a number of factors have to be considered in the teaching process. First of all, the syllabus must deal with the phonetic and phonological points that the students need to train and encounter difficult, together with a sequence of teaching, according to the students' needs. Besides, the teachers have to process the phonetic and phonological knowledge as well as a good command of the foreign language. Also, the material provided has to be relevant to cover the problematic features of pronunciation. Plus different teaching methods have to be chosen with the aim of covering all learning styles.
Considering the peculiarities of the Chilean English learning situation, the "top down" approach suggested by Scarcella and Oxford (1994) seems to be the best option. According to Dalton and Seidlhofer (1994) this approach advises to teach pronunciation of segmental first, because this will consequently develop suprasegmental without instruction. Teaching should include training of speech organs such as ears, lips, alveolar ridge, palate, vocal folds, teeth and tongue so that reception and production of English by Spanish speakers of the language will force learners to focus on phonological patterns and discriminate more accurately the effects of suprasegmental aspects. Also the organic movements and positions must be taught to enable students comprehend the organic basis of articulation. This is a great help in acquiring the correct pronunciation of the language. Listening skills can be developed by making use of TV/Radio and other enthusiastically available audio-visual aids.
Prioritizing on areas for teaching English to Spanish Speakers
At the moment, English is regarded an international language (EIL), used in communication as a Lingua Franca that is the interaction in English among speakers who do not have the same mother tongue. Crystal (2003) states that the number of native speakers is less than the number of L2 speakers.
The first issue teachers have to take into account when teaching pronunciation is that there are different accent of English as a foreign language, consequently different models too. My experience teaching in the Chilean context has made me realized that the purpose of Chilean Spanish learners is to try to resemble as close as possible to a native speaker accents. Either British or American.
In my view, the goal of pronunciation must be realistic, building practical intelligibility, in order to achieve communication. Morley (1991) states that an essential component of communicative competence is intelligible pronunciation.
Hence, any learner of English who aim to communicate intelligible to others in the foreign language have to know the segmental and suprasegmental phonology of the language, so until now pronunciation is not an elective feature for the English students.
The areas to prioritise in the teaching approach (top down) mentioned above would involve:
Specific vowel and consonant Sounds:
Voiced and voiceless contrast: For example, [v] versus [f]
Plosives /p/ /b/ /t/ /d/ /k/ /g/
Long and short vowels
Minimal pairs: for example Ship versus Sheep
Sounds nonexistent in Spanish, such as /Î¸/
Intonation of utterances that convey mood , emotions, etc. through recording and films
To be more specific the aim of teaching English pronunciation to my Chilean students is to help them filter L2 speech sounds and cues through their L1 language perception system and to acquaint them with how the L1 speech perception affects or interferes with their ability to infer the distribution of acoustic properties of L2 speech sounds. As a consequence the developmental structure will be as under:
Spanish learners of English would be first taught to perceptually distinguish between vowels.
Next they distinguish between them using duration signs.
Then they would use a mixture of duration and spectral cues.
Finally, they would use duration cues in L1-English like manner.
However, it must be noted here that segmentals have the advantage of being represented orthographically and despite the lack of consistency between sound and symbol, the basic relationship between sound and their letters can be made clear to students. Rhythm and intonation on the other hand depends on voice quality, tone of the speaker, stress and other related properties of speech that cannot be represented orthographically.
Teaching of suprasegmental features of English to Spanish speaking students is therefore a difficult proposition. Additionally with this is the students own poor awareness of language and the strategies they need to adopt in order to learn the language and articulate it in intelligible and acceptable ways.
Some strategies to teach pronunciation
Aiming to overcome communication barriers L1-Spanish L2-English learners may be benefited with strategies as paraphrasing, self repetition and writing spelling, volume adjustment and speaking slowly and clearly. It is evident that Students rely on pronunciation strategies that are less ideal and should be taught to identify suprasegmental features of language factors that influence comprehensibility. Language learning should therefore, include global strategies such as voice quality, stress, intonation, rhythm, body language, rate and volume in English learning classes.
Teaching L1-Spanish speakers English suprasegmental features is made more difficult by extensive gaps between theoretical investigations and pedagogical materials based on those investigations. There are also difficulties in teaching intonation and rhythm. So, perhaps it is necessary to establish a relation between what native speakers do and what L2 learners do while articulating in English.
Consequently, a prioritization in teaching suprasegmental features would involve:
Understanding the Chilean student's competence in receiving and producing English intonation and rhythm and determining a basic point for starting instruction.
Observing the narrow pitch range of Spanish L2-English learners and helping them overcome the monotonic quality of speech.
Raising the awareness of students by comparing a recording of native speakers to a recording of speech patterns of Spanish speakers in English.
Discussing pronunciation, rhythm, intonation and pitch differences.
Identifying high and low pitch movements
Noting that nuclear placement, pitch height, nuclear accent mobility and syllable length varied in accordance with the speaker's ability.
Drawing attention to interactions of features such as stress timing and weak forms that are crucial for intelligibility of the articulation.
Helping the student approximate the natural rhythm of connected speech productively as well as receptively.
Integrating the whole with reception related activities that sensitize, improve recognition and discriminate between different kinds of communication cues.
The ultimate challenge for EFL teachers, I think, lies in evaluating the effectiveness and scope of pronunciation instruction (segmental and suprasegmental) and providing assistance to students in developing strategies that help them communicate successfully and autonomously with the English speaking community, even if they do not have the possibility to be in contact with native Speakers. The questions raised at the beginning of the discussion tried to be answered, regarding the student difficulties within the Chilean teaching situation. Teachers must begin with the learners own perception of pronunciation difficulties; their observations on their control over accents and their response to communication breakdown. All this should be treated as clear indications of a mismatch between the teaching and learning of English by non English speakers of the language and efforts must be made to identify lacunae and fill it with appropriate instructions.Teachers should raise the learner's awareness of general strategies that help overcome their communication difficulties.