Difficulties in teaching pronunciation

August 15th, 20116:45 am


Difficulties in teaching pronunciation

Difficulties in teaching pronunciation:

1. The first difficulty is concerned with ear. The need for training the ear to observe and analyze will be clearly perceived when it is realized that accurate imitation is impossible so long as accurate hearing is not achieved. Accurate hearing is the fundamental condition for accurate imitation. The only effective method for training the ear consists in systematic practice in listening to authentic speech.

2. The second difficulty is concerned with the matter of learning to make the English speech sounds with your own organs of speech. You will achieve this with the greatest accuracy and in the shortest possible time if you know precisely what to do with your tongue, lips, etc. If you know what positions the organs of speech must take up and what actions they must perform in order to produce desired results. Some of the positions and some of the actions will no doubt be quite unfamiliar ones; you may have difficulty in performing the required actions even when you know just what you ought to do, and, of course, you will always be hampered by the speech habits of your mother tongue. The way to overcome this particular difficulty is — firstly, to study the theory of speech sounds (phonetic theory), and secondly, to do when necessary suitable exercises based on that theory. These will break down the old habits and help to form new ones.

3. The third difficulty is entirely different: it is that of knowing and remembering the distribution of the speech sounds. In other words, which phonemes are the right ones to employ for any given word or sentence, and in what order they occur. We are accustomed to look to the conventional spelling of a language for information concerning the appropriate sequence of sounds to be used. If English spelling were consistent, it would, of course, give us that information. Unfortunately, it is very far from being consistent, as a few examples will show:

One letter often stands for different sounds in different words – the a’s in many, mast, waste, watch, wall: the o’s in love, stove, snow, or those in done, bone gone; the e’s in meat, great, head, heart, heard, bear; compare also the spelling ough in thought, though, through, trough, enough

Conversely, one sound is often spelt in a number of different ways; thus the following words all have the same vowel sound: be, meet, meat, siege, seize, key, quay; so have talk, warm, sawn, sauce, course, coarse, force, broad, door, thought.

Many letters are not pronounced at all; the following words, for example, have one or more mute letters: know, debt, autumn, salmon, etc. There are two reasons for all this:

1. English spelling was fixed a great many years ago, whereas the pronunciation has continued to develop and has progressed very far since the day, when people wrote as they pronounced;

2. At various times, changes in the spelling were deliberately introduced by people who thought the spelling of words ought to indicate their origin, — incidentally they were often mistaken in the origin they attributed to them. These changes naturally did not correspond with the pronunciation. By making use of a phonetic transcription the foreign learner can avoid all those mispronunciations which come from relying solely on the ordinary spelling.

4. The third difficulty is concerned with a question of learning the correct usage in the matter of the length of the speech sounds, their stress (i.e. the amount of energy or breath-force expended upon them), and the intonation of the language, which means the musical rise and fall of the voice in connected speech.

5. The fourth difficulty is concerned with fluency, that is, the ability to pronounce whole sequences of sounds (sound groups) easily and quickly, without stopping and stumbling. The remedy is quite simple: it consists in continual repetition of sound-groups that presents difficulty slowly at first and then with gradually increasing speed.

The necessary facility will surely come, but you must set about acquiring it quite deliberately and systematically. It is not generally realized that in ordinary conversation people normally speak at a rate of some 300 syllables to the minute or five syllables per second. You should aim at this ideal when practising fluency exercises, and time yourself frequently to see how near you can get to it.

To sum it up, pronunciation represents a complete unity of acoustic, motor and sense-differentiating factors that are specific for every language. The acquisition of correct pronunciation largely depends on the ability of learners to master skills in discrimination of speech sounds, their proper articulation, and integration into coherent speech units, prosodic organization and fluency. In other words, phonetics proceeds from observation by way of analysis to classification, description and practice. Practical realization of communicative strategy in teaching pronunciation covers the issues of the content and media of instruction, classification of pronunciation exercises that lead to formation of habits and skills realized in real-life communication.

Social Aspect

A social aspect of teaching pronunciation is realized in communication. The process of communication represents an exchange of ideas between collocutors. In real-life communication the learner perceives a general idea of his partner’s utterance and then interprets and specifies its meaning according to a speech situation within the context of communication. The exchange of opinions is governed by communicative intent and acoustic-articulatory laws of pronunciation.

Linguistic Aspect

A linguistic aspect also involves mastery at the level of morpheme, word and word-combination, phrase, sentence, and text. Speech patterns are widely practised because they are easily remembered owing to their frequency and communicative intent, referential to a specific communicative task. A critical study of pronunciation instruction has revealed some essential drawbacks: a phoneme or a combination of phonemes, a word or a combination of words, a phrase or a syntagm is the basic unit of instruction (i.e. the bottom-up approach is used).

The learners are instructed in correct articulation; drills, analytical and imitative exercises have to assure appropriate quality of pronunciation. Such approach to pronunciation can be conventionally defined as linguistic as it mostly deals with various elements of pronunciation system. Monotonous drills and exercises, low motivation lead to the loss of interest in FLL and degradation of established habits in pronunciation, if such should exist at advanced levels of instruction.

Psychological Aspect

Psychological development of learners as simultaneously carried out along the lines of development of cognitive spheres (intellect formation, development of conscience mechanisms, a factor or circumstance that induces a person to act in a particular way); psychological structure of activity (aims, means, motives and their relationships); personality (values, self-consciousness and self-appraisal, etc.).

Methodological Aspect

Phonetical and analytical method of teaching pronunciation involves analysis and imitation because, on the one hand, every learner is capable of imitation to a larger or smaller extent, on the other hand, teaching pronunciation cannot be based on imitation only, especially with adults. The adults, learning a foreign language, adopt analytical approach to language phenomena therefore it is important that their capacities be developed in view of heuristic approach to language teaching. A communicative approach to language teaching made the problem of pronunciation instruction at an elementary level even more conspicuous. Communication presupposes a high degree of similitude of teaching process to the process of communication. As it was already mentioned, communicative method is based on the provision that teaching process is a model of the process of communication. This statement holds that instruction in pronunciation should be conducted under the conditions of real communication or, at least, imitate them. In other words the learners should not get prepared to speak, as prescribed in the introductory course, but begin to communicate at once. Teaching pronunciation should not be supplemented to speaking, but serve as a basis for speaking. It should also be an integral part in teaching vocabulary and grammar.

Thus, in teaching pronunciation two approaches could be applied: bottom-up and top-down. The bottom-up approach suggests that we start with the smallest units of language, i.e. individual speech sounds and move through mastery of words and sentences to discourse level. The top-down view, on the other hand, suggests that we start with the larger chunks of language, which are embedded into meaningful contexts, and their knowledge makes it possible to comprehend and use correctly the smaller elements of language. Proponents of top-down view of language teaching suggest that, rather than teaching learners to make well-formed sentences and then putting these to use in discourse, we should encourage learners to take part in discourse and thereby help them to master sentences.

Traditional approaches to teaching pronunciation starts with phonemes and their peculiarities; but realization and generalization of the approximated pronunciation habits is aimed at their form but not at communicative impact.

The afore-said makes it possible to recommend the following techniques for the initial stage of pronunciation instruction:

1) inculcation in learners of the habits of rhythm;

2) formation of intonation and rhythmic “grid” of a foreign utterance which will facilitate listening comprehension;

3) formation of aural and motor images for English lexical and grammatical structures based on associations with their meanings (comprehension is achieved via mime, gestures, pictures, objects, etc.);

4) formation of pronunciation habits of lexical and grammatical structures (via inner speech, exercises on conscious imitation);

5) stimulation of speech acts by means of oral exercises in view of individuality aspect.

The suggested procedures involve all aspects of English pronunciation system and speech acts are brought to the level of skill.

Близнюк М.І. Курс лекцій з методики викладання англійської мови. – Чернівці: ЧДУ, 1999 – с.