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Is pronunciation important?
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limig



Joined: 03 Jul 2003
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2003 11:59 am    Post subject: Is pronunciation important? Reply with quote

Hi,

I am new to the discussion list, and I am also new to teaching ESL/ESOL. I am a librarian with no literacy teaching background who is now teaching ESL/ESOL classes. Many of my students want to practice pronunciation. Other ESL/ESOL teachers believe students should not worry about pronunciation, but just focus on talking, talking, talking. I believe there is a difference between focusing on pronunciation while at the same time not worrying about accents. Does anyone have any experience or thoughts on this aspect of ESL/ESOL?

Thanks Smile
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EH



Joined: 17 Jan 2003
Posts: 174
Location: USA and/or Korea

PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2003 4:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

First of all, what is pronunciation? Most people would say it's a part of 'accent,' and that intonation would be the other part of accent.

I think teachers may focus on vocabulary and grammar rather than on pronunciation because they think that of these three, the latter is the least important part of improved communication skills. In many ways, they may be right about that.

But early pronunciation instruction is also important, for the following reasons:

1) improved pronunciation shows that students have become more native-like in their categorical perception of sounds. This means that they are more likely not only to sound like natives when they speak, but also to understand which sounds are in words that natives to them (i.e., improved listening comprehension). In addition, they are more likely to have improved phonetic spelling skills, and improved abilities to correctly sound out new words they read. Thus, more native-like speech sounds can lead to better listening skills, reading skills, and spelling skills.

2) pronunciation is generally much easier to learn at an early age. The longer a teacher ignores the subject, the less his/her students will ever be able to learn about it. Thus, ignoring pronunciation skills until grammar and vocabulary have improved will often mean ignoring pronunciation altogether.

3) ignoring pronunciation means that for the most part, students will always have a foreign sounding accent. Granted, understanding what students mean to communicate is much more important than the accent they use when communicating. However, the unfortunate fact is that when laypeople (non-language educators) listen to someone with a foreign accent speak, they tend to focus on HOW the message is expressed as much or even more than on WHAT is expressed. Communication suffers, because of the accent and the listeners' perceptions/prejudices about it. Studies have shown that, especially in the U.S. business world, professionals tend to judge unknown speakers with foreign accents to be less intelligent (!) than unknown speakers with local accents. Is this an insane situation? Yes. Is it a reality your students will face? Sadly, yes.

My own policy is to include about 20 minutes of pronunciation practice in every hour-long ESL session, and then refer back to the sounds we studied whenever they come up in new words, etc.

You decide which sounds to work on first. The 'short' vowel sounds (short because that's what we call them, not because they necessarily have to be said quickly) are often the most useful sounds to work on for reading and spelling improvement. Short vowels are the vowel sounds in these words: bat, bet, bit, bought, butt. However, they're also some of the most difficult to teach, because the tongue just hangs in the middle of the oral cavity without any easy reference points to touch. Sometimes front consonant sounds ( like /f, v, th, b, p, m/ or even /s, t, l, n, z, d/ are better to start with, so students can see what your tongue is doing.

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me if you need any ideas.
EH@speech-languagepathologist.org
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dduck



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 265

PostPosted: Thu Jul 03, 2003 5:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

EH wrote:
However, the unfortunate fact is that when laypeople (non-language educators) listen to someone with a foreign accent speak, they tend to focus on HOW the message is expressed as much or even more than on WHAT is expressed.


This is certainly true, it's called prejudice. The same is true of the clothes you wear, the length of your hair, your weight, body shape, age and colour of your skin.

In my travels I've encounter plenty of prejudice against my accent, which I have found either insulting, irritating, or just plain ignorant. As a native speaker, my accent is bound up with my identity, which I guard vigourously. So, I'm never going to be first in line to encourage non-native speakers to lose their native accent.

The question also arises: to whom does the non-native speaker need to communicate? The question of accent reduction has lesser importance when considering non-native speaker to non-native speaker communication.

Although, I am sensitive to the wishes of non-native speakers who live in an English speaking country to sound more authentic. In contrast, my current Mexican students never intend to live in the US, but they do need to interact with Americans. I seems to me ridiculous for any American to phone up a Mexican company and expect recipients not to have a Mexican accent.

For me, the most important issue regarding pronunciation is: being able to be understood, and to understand other accents - irrespective of whichever neck of the woods the person happens to come from.
Iain
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Anne



Joined: 04 Jul 2003
Posts: 1

PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2003 1:20 am    Post subject: pronunciation Reply with quote

I am interested in this topic because I haven't started teaching ESL yet but am preparing to teach in the fall. However, I am a former French teacher and in teaching French, it has always been stressed that pronunciation is most important for beginning speakers of French or advanced speakers. Does anyone agree that this might also be true for speakers of English?
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sita



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 261
Location: Germany

PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2003 2:54 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I am Welsh.
I have a middle class Mancunian accent.

I use tapes with US, Australian, Canadian, Scottish and Irish accents to show my students

HOW different we all speak Smile

The main point is:
If you are a German anywhere in the world
People will understand you!

Siān Cool
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Celeste



Joined: 20 Jan 2003
Posts: 74
Location: Fukuoka City, Japan

PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2003 7:23 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Pronunciation instruction is especially important if students' native language is particularly dissimilar to English. For example, in Japanese there are only 5vowel sounds. In English, we have 5 long vowels, 5 short vowels, and a number of blended sounds. If a Japanese student has no pronunciation training, they might pronounce words totally wrong or sometimes just incomprehensibly. (Bus, bass, and bath are all pronounced as the same word by Japanese speakers of English if they are using their own language to make sense of English.) For languages that are closer to English such as French, German, Italian, and Spanish, I suppose that pronunciation instruction is not as critical, but it is still very helpfull.
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sita



Joined: 21 Jan 2003
Posts: 261
Location: Germany

PostPosted: Fri Jul 04, 2003 7:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Celeste of course!

I only teach adults. The Asian students in Germany, I teach are only here to get their PhD at uni.

Siān
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EH



Joined: 17 Jan 2003
Posts: 174
Location: USA and/or Korea

PostPosted: Fri Jul 11, 2003 6:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dduck, I really enjoyed reading your post. You raised some important issues.

Changing one's accent is such a touchy topic. Many people, perhaps most, if they thought about it would say that their accent is an important part of who they are. Does accent modification change an integral part of a speaker's identity? Or does it merely add a certain varnish that smooths out communication difficulties?

I'm something of an accent chameleon myself, so I'd be inclined to believe the latter. But I can see how others would disagree. I definitely agree with you, though, that being understood and understanding those speaking to you are the most important things. What do other people on this board think?

-EH
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dduck



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 265

PostPosted: Sat Jul 12, 2003 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Here's an article you might find interesting:

http://www.developingteachers.com/articles_tchtraining/pronmodel1_robin.htm

Iain
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costas



Joined: 14 Jul 2003
Posts: 19

PostPosted: Mon Jul 14, 2003 10:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello all,

I've read this topic and I think it is interesting. I also read the article by Prof. Walker and there are things that she is right and other thing she is not. The problem of the author is basically if the teachers have to teach with a RP or General American accent or teach using local foreign accents.

In my opinion, I don't think that neither of two situation is the solution of the problem. What the learners need is a high exposure of a huge range of accents - American, Australian, Irish, NZ, RP, Macunian, Ghanian and so on - and it means we have to get a lot of materials in order to listen these accents. Therefore, the task of the teacher is not to teach a special accent in particular, but to motivate and help the learners to use CD's and audiotapes where there are speakers with a different accents. Thus, the learner would acquire an appropiate pronunciation without caring about their own accent.

Moreover, the function of a L2 or L3 language should not be united to the identity of the learner, since it is sometimes difficult to pin it down. For example, I am Spaniard, but I was born in Catalonia. My parents are Andalucians, and hence they speak with an Andalucian accent. What do you think that my accent is? Catalan? Andalucian? No. In fact, my accent is Castilian. Then is the Castilian accent part of my identity? I don't know.

The Prof. Walker says
Quote:
" In fact, at a far less serious level, having travelled for 20 years with Spanish companions, I understand perfectly why they should not wish to be taken for British when they are abroad. They are not British, they are Spanish, and quite rightly are very proud to be so and to be recognised as such through their accents. Accents, it is all too easy to forget, are a fundamental part of identity"


She is right, except that she forgets that there are British who are English, but also others who are Scottish, and therefore they don't consider themselves English. On the other hand in Spain there are Galicians and they don't consider themselves Catalans. And we all altogheter are Europeans. Who are we actually?

Overall, I think that a EFL teacher should devote herself/himself to teaching English so that the learners are undestood, whatever accent they use, and should not get bogged down in the identity of their students. It is sometimes a tricky issue actually.

Cheers[/quote]
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Norm Ryder



Joined: 29 Jan 2003
Posts: 118
Location: Canberra, Australia

PostPosted: Tue Jul 15, 2003 10:12 pm    Post subject: accents Reply with quote

Hi, all
I guess you have to find out just why your students are learning English and where they hope to practise it. What costas says probably applies especially to people who are learning it as a general skill, especially in Europe where people are constantly meeting English speakers from all over the world.
But if you are teaching adults in Korea or Japan they will probably have an idea about whether their business will be mostly with North Americans or Australians, and naturally that will help you to focus on those varieties.
A few years back there was a bit of publicity about Kiwis pushing their claim to teach English in southern China because their accent was closer to British English (closer to Hong Kong?) than the Australian variety Exclamation

Here, I'm teaching people English to live in Australia, and it's mainly a question of helping them to understand and be understood by speakers of the two main varieties of Australian speech. But, as dduck says, I have to recognise that many will not want to lose those elements of their accent that help them identify with people in their own ethnic community. In fact, in Australia some non-australian varieties of English have always retained a certain prestige. The Scots variety, for instance. One of our local librarians is from France, and a lot of people love the way his perfect command of English is iced with a French accent.

Thanks everyone, it's a great discussion, because the teaching of pronunciation calls for a lot of experimentation to suit both personalities and circumstances.
Norm.
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Norm Ryder



Joined: 29 Jan 2003
Posts: 118
Location: Canberra, Australia

PostPosted: Tue Jul 22, 2003 11:34 pm    Post subject: iced? Reply with quote

Hi everyone,
Something has told me that I should have used "frosted" rather than "iced" if I wanted to be understood by anyone outside Australia Embarassed
I've bought myself a "Teach Yourself American English" but it's pretty basic, and I doubt at my age that I'd ever gain native speaker proficiency anyway Exclamation
Cheers
Norm
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markphillips_helsinki



Joined: 10 Aug 2003
Posts: 6

PostPosted: Sun Aug 10, 2003 9:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi Everyone

Some good points being made on this thread. I think pronunciation is very important...not that I spend 20 minutes of every session on it though. I know some Finns (one actually Very Happy ) who speaks english with a lovely RP accent. Her voice is delicious and she's a very interesting person to talk to, but the RP does grate a little. It's just too perfect and too bloody upper class if I'm to be honest. Maybe I'm the only one to think that, but I fear not. Yet, I know students at the other end of the scale who find it hard to make themselves understood because they cannot use any other phonemes other than those in their native tongue, a problem if you only have eight vowel sounds in L1, three of which aren't found in English anyway..

When is an accent bad pronunciation? It's all so relative really, isn't it. Yet so much of language speaking is about speaker confidence, and if you can use pronunciation lessons to build up your students confidence in using the language, then this can only be good. 'Pronunciation' is more than just about accents, it's about word stress, intonation, contractions, comprehension etc... Some of these are crucial to grasp if students are to go beyond an intermediate understanding of the language. It might be that they grasp them passively in the course of hearing lots of english, but actually using them in class is useful i think, especially as they are a welcome distraction from the intensity of communicative production activities.
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Marta



Joined: 23 Aug 2003
Posts: 6
Location: Canada, Toronto

PostPosted: Sat Aug 23, 2003 7:06 pm    Post subject: is pronunciation important Reply with quote

In my travels I've encounter plenty of prejudice against my accent, which I have found either insulting, irritating, or just plain ignorant. As a native speaker, my accent is bound up with my identity, which I guard vigourously. So, I'm never going to be first in line to encourage non-native speakers to lose their native accent.

I totally agree with the above statement. I always tell my students that accent is linked to their identity and they seem to respond quite well to that. And yes I do think that pronunciation is important. Infact it is one of the most important factors in communication. You may know grammar ,reading and writing and if you have minimal pronunciation skills you will be misunderstood, or worse not understood. Remember students don't study pronunciation for themselves-they do it for their listener. Also, the better your pronunciation is the more effective you are to convey your message.

Marta
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Marta



Joined: 23 Aug 2003
Posts: 6
Location: Canada, Toronto

PostPosted: Sat Aug 23, 2003 7:12 pm    Post subject: Re: iced? Reply with quote

Norm Ryder wrote:
Hi everyone,
Something has told me that I should have used "frosted" rather than "iced" if I wanted to be understood by anyone outside Australia Embarassed
I've bought myself a "Teach Yourself American English" but it's pretty basic, and I doubt at my age that I'd ever gain native speaker proficiency anyway Exclamation
Cheers
Norm


Hi there Norm

please do not worry about such trivial things. In my opinion if people want to understand you they wil. so I wouldn't worry. Just be yourself. Stick to being understood and you will be fine


Marata
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