Schmitt claims that within the workings of spoken discourse, there is another level at which we can analyse speaking. It is called pronunciation. Pronunciation is a term used to encompass all aspects of how we employ sounds for communicating. The role "Pronunciation" plays in getting our meaning across, both transactionally and interactionally is also analysed and explained in this article.
Morley (1998) stated that pronunciation plays an important role in overall communicative competence. Yong (2004) suggest that from the traditional ways of learning English, students in the past neglected the basic knowledge of speaking. This may have been enough to meet the demands of English in the yesteryears when we had less communication with foreign countries. However, vocal communication is becoming more global and important in this century especially with development of communication technology. Pronunciation becomes key in ensuring the speaker gets his/her message across to his/her audience accurately. Yong (2004) also asserted that written comprehension would no longer be sufficient in today's dynamic economy and that vocal communication either face to face or through various mediums of communication needed to be precise to ensure both parties understand one another effectively. This is where accurate pronunciation becomes important.
Most standardized tests of speaking proficiency today recognize the importance of pronunciation, although the variety of ways they asses it indicates that its difficult to be conclusive to any single method of assessment. Assessing pronunciation in speaking tests requires a distinction between various linguistic features, communication effects, as well as indentifying key markers. Most commonly found tests today focus specifically on linguistic features that are involved in pronunciation. The Test of Spoken English (TSE) and its institutional counterpart SPEAK originally had a feature called pronunciation based on 'consistent phonemic errors and foreign stress and intonation patterns' (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996: 347). The speaking portions of the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) and related tests still use pronunciation as a rated category, with specific mention made to stress, rhythm, intonation and individual sounds. The CPE, however, defines pronunciation's role ultimately by its effects upon communication. It 'refers to the candidate's ability to produce comprehensible utterances to fulfill the task requirements' (Ffrench, 2003: 470).
Hughes (2006) presented some ideas about pronunciation accuracy. According to Huges, Pronunciation accuracy is potentially a very attractive criterion for spoken language assessment (p. 248). Hughes (2006:249) also suggested some of the difficulties in using pronunciation accuracy in an oral assessment:
Accuracy is always a relative term;
Accuracy assumes a standard against which errors can be measured;
Pronunciation accuracy may be quantifiable, but the effect of deviation is not.
Smith and Nelson (1985) defined intelligibility as a word/ utterance recognition; a word/utterance is considered to be unintelligible when the listener is unable to make sense out of it. Morley (1991) states that the goal of pronunciation should be changed from the attainment of the perfect pronunciation to the more realistic goals of developing functional intelligibility, communicability, increased self-confidence, the development of speech monitoring abilities and speech modification strategies for use beyond the classroom. Abercrombie (1991) defined comfortable intelligibility as pronunciation which can be understood with little or no conscious effort on the part of listener. Morley (1991) also states that the overall aim is for learner to develop spoken English that is easy to understand, serves the learner's individual needs and at the same time projects a positive image as a speaker of a foreign language.
Pronunciation is clearly a key factor in determining the learners' success in making themselves heard and understood (Elson, 1992). Morley (1991) also states that intelligible pronunciation is an essential component of communication competency that teachers should include in courses and at the same time making it compulsory for learners to do well. The ability to employ stress, intonation, and articulation in ways that support comprehension is a skill that learners from non-English speaking backgrounds will have to acquire gradually. Elson (1992) urged learners to immerse themselves in the target language (in this case English) and to persist in spite of the difficulties faced as its part of the language-learning process. The gap between being unintelligible or intelligible will grow wider in time as a result of the learner's sensitivity to correctly pronounced vocals and also gradual recognition of the need to communicate effectively in the target language. The speaker's self image and sense of accomplishment is closely bound to understanding and being understood among his/her peers. The result can be either a sense of sweet victory or a high degree of frustration for the speaker or listener who might see each moment of incomprehension as a personal fault and responsibility. Klyhn (1986) observes that learners should be made aware that every message they utter needs to be understood.
Pronunciation is part of another common construction called fluency, found in most assessments of spoken language. Like intelligibility, fluency appears to have a psychological reality. Barnwell (1989) says that non-expert raters used fluency to describe the speech of L2 speakers, even though they were unable to specify exactly what they meant by the term. Fluency, according to Koponen and Riggenbach (2000), can be difficult to differentiate from pronunciation, suggesting that both categories overlap to some extent.
Fluency, like intelligibility, is often ill-defined. Fluency scales have always been hard to operationalize, and even when they are specified, it is not certain that the parts add up to the whole (Fulcher, 1996). Like a former US Supreme Court Justice's quote about pornography, most people think they know fluency when they see (or hear) it, despite not being able to define it. This difficulty occurs partly because fluency has two related but different meanings.
The first definition of fluency focuses on smooth transmission of the words spoken by the speaker. Lennon (2000) calls this 'the rapid, smooth, accurate, lucid, and efficient translation of thought into language' in real time (p.26). A second definition of fluency is akin to overall spoken proficiency, and remains influential in the rating scales of most standardized tests. One description (Koponen and Riggenbach, 2000: 9) of this way that non-native speakers who have reached a high level of proficiency and can speak ' smoothly', without the noticeable effort evident in hesitations and a 'groping for words', are often considered fluent in the language.