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The Teaching of Pronunciation to Learners of English as a Second Language at the University

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This research presents the methods used in the teaching of English Pronunciation to learners of English as a Second Language. Classroom observation aimed at finding out how these courses were taught was done and questionnaires were administered to both students and lecturers of these courses.

The findings proved that lecturers of these departments do not use ICT instruments to teach pronunciation, most of the students did not own dictionaries, the lecturers gave assignments to students and submit and the lecturers did not refer students to taped material where they could learn pronunciation. I will recommend that the data collected and analysed should serve as an instrument for reference to teachers of pronunciation.


General Introduction

Background of the Study

English is not the language with the largest number of native speakers but it is fast becoming a de facto language. Being one of the widest spoken languages because of its number of speakers, it also has a very rich lexicon. This lexicon is drawn from various sources (French, Greek and Latin) which cause a lot of disadvantages to that teaching pronunciation, especially on stress differences (Chenwi, D. 2010:74).

The learners’ first language colours their perception and production of English in many ways and pronunciation is one of the areas of language in which most experts will agree that first language transfer can play a major role (Marianne, Donna and Janet 1996:23-27). The concept of pronunciation may be said to include: segmental and prosodic phonology.

Segmental phonology deals with the consonant and vowel sounds and the complexity involved in classifying them but the research will consider twenty-four consonants and twenty-five vowel sounds. Prosodic phonology, on the other hand, deals with intonation, juncture, rhythm and stress (Ur, P 1984:48-49). Segmental phonology is perhaps the more obvious and clearly defined of the two.

However, this does not mean that the other aspect should be neglected: a learner may enunciate the sounds of English

Language perfectly well, but still sounds foreign because of unacceptable stress and intonation. Penny Ur, explains that in oriental tone, language intonation makes a difference to meaning. Statistics show that eighty per cent of the people who speak English as a Second Language do not pronounce well (Radford, A et al 2009:50).

Pronunciation in the teaching/leaming process is complex. This is because of the orthography or spelling of English. Most often, the spelling of one sound can vary. For example, /s/for -sh, -c and -s. oftentimes, most sounds do not give their symbols at all (Radford, A. et al 2009:27 and Bowers, R. and Brumfit, C. 1991:102-103).

For this reason, wrongly spelt words will most likely lead to poor pronunciation. Some of the words that cause great challenges in pronouncing them have not well-known consonants and/or vowels which might take the form of diphthongs or triphthongs in standard pronunciation of English words.

To cope with this, there are a number of skills that a good teacher should have: class management skills, sensitivity to the learners need and keeping up-to-date, and a mastery of the subject. Mastery of the subject here means that the teacher should have profound knowledge and pronunciation of all English sounds (Laver, J. 1995:26).

The teaching of pronunciation is not for learners to sound like native speakers of English as seen in Brown and Yule (1986:25-27) but that some learner-related errors can be avoided. The challenges pronunciation poses in the teaching/learning process especially in English as a Second Language context because the transfer has to be investigated.

A particular sound may not exist in the mother-tongue or first language of the teacher/leamer so much so that, they are not used to forming it and they will tend to substitute the closest equal in value or meaning they know. In essence, the substitution of /d/ for the English/6/ as in ‘then’ is a typical example.

More so, a sound might exist in the mother-tongue or first language but not as a separate phoneme: this is to say teachers/learners receive it as a definite sound that does bring about a difference in meaning. For example, /i/ and /i:/ for the English words sin and seen respectively.

The vowel sound in ‘come’ /km/ as in the first vowel sound in ‘public’ /pA bl iK/ as contrasted to that of the English words ‘saw’/s D:/ ‘God’ /gD d/ commonly pronounced the same (Bowers, R . and Brumfit, C. 1991:103 and Wells, J.C. 1990:684). Roach, P. (1991:41) explains that /D/ is mid-open, back and unrounded.

The one that is used depends very much only on the sounds that come or find themselves in a word and not on what the word actually means and when one is substituted for the other, a difference in meaning or perception becomes inevitable.

Differences in the phonological systems and phonetic inventories of languages have caused speakers, for example, to substitute rather predictably known sounds from their first language for new or unknown sounds in the English Language.

Research on Teaching of Pronunciation, however, indicates that prosodic or suprasegmental aspects of language contribute more to intelligibility (Me Nemey and Mendelsohn 1992). In examining the methods used by course facilitators to teach pronunciation certain factors are inevitable and their essence cannot be underestimated.

These include the instructors level of proficiency, type of prior knowledge to the target language, teaching style/previous to the pronunciation of the language or linguistic and cultural background of the teacher on the one hand, and learners attitude and motivation towards the learning in order to achieve intelligible speech patterns (Strevens, 1991:49).

Assessing the teaching of pronunciation calls for actual interaction with teachers/learners and also attending lectures to find out how it is being taught. This is to find out how much an average teacher can perform.

Marianne, Donna and Janet (1996:320) and Hedge, T. (2008:9-10 and 20) point out that the target language proficiency of learners, age, sex, language and socio-cultural, social and emotional needs or professional needs are variables that the teacher has no control over.

Nevertheless, they play an important role in the actual planning of a lesson. For instance, a pronunciation class for preliterate Form 4 and 5 students will have distinct objectives and might depend on radically different teaching materials and activities than that of a Practical Phonetics Course for university students who will sooner or later be specialists in the English Language.

This study will investigate the teaching methods which will draw the learners’ attention to individual sounds they are having problems with, word and phrase/sentence stress, and intonation and connected speech fluency because good pronunciation does not just mean saying individual words or even individual sounds correctly.

The sounds of words change when they come into contact with each other and this is something that we need to draw our students’ attention to in our pronunciation teaching (Harmer, J. 2006:197).

Description of the Courses

The Department of English offers the course entitled ENG 232: Practical English Phonetics, whereas the Department of Linguistics offers the course entitled LIN 202 Phonetic Transcription.

Each of these courses has a total of four hours a week. These courses are offered to three categories of learners who in either case are both Anglophones and Francophones. The main students of these Departments register the courses with the status as compulsory.

Students in the Department of Curriculum Studies and Teaching, though from another Faculty, take exceptionally ENG 232 as a compulsory course. Students in the Performing and Visual Arts unit and of the Departments of Journalism, law, and French can do these courses as Electives.

Statement of the Problem

It has been observed that for the past years, research has been done on other aspects of language in the Departments of English and Linguistics but, not on pronunciation which is equally taught in these Departments. This research, therefore, seeks to examine the way pronunciation is taught in these Departments.

Research Questions

This research is guided by the following questions.

  1. Do the teachers have a basic knowledge of the sound system of English Language?
  2. If the teachers are non-native speakers of English, does their pronunciation of English provide an adequate model for learners?
  3. Are the teachers versed with the methods of teaching Practical English Phonetics? 6. Should the teaching of pronunciation be concerned just with sounds or also with rules?

Objectives of the Study

This study deals with the following objectives:

  1. To identify the teaching methods used by the teachers of ENG 232 to teach pronunciation.
  2. To identify the teaching methods used by the teachers of LIN 202 to teach pronunciation.

The Teaching of Pronunciation to Learners of English as a Second Language at the University

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