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Lecture 6. The importance of teaching pronunciation in FLT

The first impact of any, language comes from the spoken word. The basis of all languages is sound. Words are merely combinations of sounds. It is in these sound

sequences that the ideas are contained. Listening is the first experience; the attempt to understand accompanies it. The acquisition of good pronunciation depends to a great extent on the learners ability of listening with care and discrimination. One of the tasks of language teaching consists in devising ways to help the learner listening the unfamiliar sounds. The hearing of a given word calls forth the acoustic image of that word from which a meaning is obtained. Therefore teaching pronunciation is of great importance in the developing of pupils hearing and speaking habits and skills.

Teaching pronunciation is of no less importance in the developing of reading and writing habits and skills, since writing (or what is written) is a graphic representation of sound sequences. In reading the visual images become acoustic images. These are combined with kinesthetic images, resulting in inner speech. Wrong pronunciation often leads to misunderstanding. For example, when a speaker or a reader replaces one phoneme with another he unintentionally uses quite a different word, in this way altering the sense of what he wanted to say. For example, white instead of wide, it instead of eat; pot instead of port, etc.

Every teacher must understand how important the teaching of correct pronunciation is.

The difficulties in English pronunciation usually experienced by pupils.Any language has its specific phonic system. This is true for English as well. The sounds of English are not the same as the sounds of Russian or Kazakh, though there are, of course, some sounds which occur both in English and in native language. There are many difficult sounds in English for pupils, [w], [ð], [θ], [r], [ə:], [ou], [εa] for example. To pupils the combination of sounds [θs], [ðz] which occurs in English at the end of a word (months, clothes) is strange and they find great difficulty in pronouncing a word with this sound combination. The same may be said about the sound [ŋ]. In English it comes in the middle or at the end of many words: English, think, song, sitting, longer and presents a lot of trouble to pupils to produce it correctly as there is no sound like this in the native language.

The .sounds of English may be arranged in three groups: vowels, double

vowels or diphthongs, and consonants. There are twelve vowel sounds in English: [i], [e], [æ], [o], [u], [٨] and [ə] may be considered as short, but their actual lengths vary to a limited extent in the same way as those of [i:], [a:], etc. For instance, the vowels of [bit] bit, [let] let, [fut] foot are shorter than those of [bid] bid, [led] led, lead, [wud] wood. There is a modern tendency in South-Eastern English to lengthen some or all of the traditionally short vowels [i], [e], [æ], [o], [u], and [٨] in many situations.

Words like fit and feet, cot and caught wood and wooed are, or may be, distinguished by vowel quality only, instead of by a complex of duration and quality. Long sounds are fully long only when final - far, sea saw, two, fur; when a

voiced consonant follows and the syllable is final in a sentence - feed, spoon, bird,

farm, pause, and when they are said by themselves. In other cases the traditionally

long vowels are pronounced short. D. Jones says that the length of vowels is determined in most cases by the phonetic context, and in few cases differences of length without accompanying differences of quality distinguish one word from another. Hence in teaching English vowels the quality of sounds should be emphasized and not their duration.

There are double vowels and diphthongs in English. Some of these diphthongs are strange to our pupils because they do not appear in their native language: [ou],[εa], [iə], [oə], [juə]. Pupils are tempted to substitute for them English monophthongs or sounds from their own language. The following vowel sounds have been found to be particularly difficult for our pupils: [æ] which is often confused with [e]; [a:]which is substituted by Russian [a]; [ə:] which is replaced by [o:].

English consonants also present some trouble to pupils, first because there are sounds which are quite strange to pupils, for example, [ð], [θ], [w], [h], then because their pronunciation changes depending on the position in the words. In final position voiceless consonants have strong articulation (white), voiced consonants weak articulation (wide). Therefore in teaching pupils how to pronounce consonants in final position the teacher should emphasize the strength of articulation and tensity of voiceless consonants and weak-riess of voiced consonants. For example, in Did you...? the second [d] differs from the first [d] in the weakness of articulation. The sound is hardly pronounced and heard.

Consonants may vary in length. In this connection D. Jones writes that when

final they may be observed to be longer after short vowels than they are after long

vowels... The [n] in bent is much shorter than that in bend; the [l] in gulp is shorter

than that in bulb. The teacher of English should know this to be able to help his

pupils in pronouncing words as close to the pattern as possible.

The pronunciation of words is not only a matter of sounds, but also of stress or accent. Some words have the heavier stress on the first part of the word: sorry,

evening, morning, answer, and other words have the heavier stress on the second

part: begin, mistake, about, reduce, result, occur, effect. Stress is very important to

the assimilation of English pronunciation. Foreigners often find it difficult to understand an Englishman's speech and ask him to speak more slowly, because in

quick speech the accented syllables are so strong that they almost drown the others.

The pronunciation of sentence patterns includes also variations of musical

tones: rise and fall. English tone patterns differ from those of native language that is why pupils find it difficult to use adequate tone patterns in conversation or while

reading aloud. Sometimes people speaking English use wrong intonation because of the interference of the mother tongue. That often leads to misunderstanding and

impoliteness. For example, 'Will you 'wait for me `here? ( .) is not only a wrong tone-pattern, but is impolite in its form.

In teaching English pronunciation the teacher should bear in mind that the difficulties he will meet with - and they occur throughout the course - are sounds,

stress, and musical tones strange to our pupils. He should know what they are and

how to teach pupils to overcome these difficulties.

The content of teaching pronunciation

Pupils should study English literary pronunciation which constitutes received

pronunciation. This is the language of radio, TV, theatres, universities and schools. In our schools we teach pupils literary pronunciation which is characterized by: (a) clear stress in all the rhythmic groups, (b) clear pronunciation of the sounds, for example, give me and not gimme admitted by colloquial English; (c) typical abbreviations in auxiliary words: its, wont, doesnt, cant, shouldnt, etc.

Proceeding from the aims and objectives the foreign language syllabus sets out,

pupils must assimilate:

1. The sounds of the English language, its vowels and consonants. They should

be able to articulate these sounds both separately and in different phonetic


2. Some peculiarities of the English language in comparison with those of the

native language, such as: English vowels differ in quality and in length,

whereas, in the native language the length of vowels is of no importance; there

are no palatal consonants, and if some consonants may be pronounced slightly

palatalized, this does not change the meaning of the word. For instance, we

may pronounce the word like with dark [1] and light [1], i. e., slightly

palatalized, the meaning of the word remains the same. In the Russian

language there are palatalized and nonpalatalized consonants and palatalization

changes the meaning of the word: e. g., ; ;


3. Stress in a word and in a sentence, and melody (fall and rise). Pupils must be

able to divide a sentence into groups and intone it properly.

I 'don't 'know what his 'native `language is.

'Do you 'speak ΄English?

Only when pronunciation is correct, when all main phonic rules are strictly

followed, can one understand what one hears and clearly express one's thoughts in


The teacher, therefore, faces the following problems in teaching pupils English


the problem of discrimination; i. e., hearing the differences between

phonemes which are not distinguished or used in the native language and

between falling, rising, and level tones;

the problem of articulation, i. e., learning to make the motor movements

adequate to proper production of English sounds;

the problem of intonation, i. e., learning to make right stresses, pauses and

use appropriate patterns;

the problem of integration, i.e., learning to assemble the phonemes of a

connected discourse (talk) with the proper allophonic variations (members

of a phoneme) in the, months, hard times;

the problem of automaticy, i. e., making correct production so habitual that

it does not need to be attended to in the process of speaking.

Consequently, discrimination, articulation, intonation, integration, automaticy

are the items that should constitute the content of the teaching of pronunciation, i. e., pupils should be taught to discriminate or to distinguish English sounds from sounds of native language, long sounds from short ones; falling tone from rising tone; to articulate English sounds correctly, to use appropriate tone patterns; to integrate or to combine sounds into a whole and, finally, they should be taught to use all these while hearing and speaking the English language. Of course absolute correctness is impossible. We cannot expect more than approximate correctness, the correctness that ensures communication between people speaking the same language.

How to teach pronunciation

In teaching pronunciation there are at least two methodological problems the

teacher faces: (1) to determine the cases where conscious manipulation of the speech organs is required, and the cases where simple imitation can or must be used; (2) to decide on types of exercises and the techniques of using them.

Teaching English pronunciation in schools should be based on methodological

principles. This means to instruct pupils in a way that would lead them to conscious assimilation of the phonic aspect of a foreign language. The teacher instructs his pupils to pronounce sounds, words, word combinations, phrases and sentences in the English language. Pupils must become conscious of the differences between English sounds and those of the native language. This is possible provided the foreign sound is contrasted with the native phoneme which is substituted for it, e.g.: E. [t] - R. [T]; E. [n] - R. [H]; E. [h] - R. [X].

Each sound is also contrasted with the foreign phonemes which come close to

it and with which it is often confused. The contrast is brought out through such

minimal pairs as: it - eat; spot - sport-, wide - white, cut - cart, full - fool, boat -

bought. The experience of the sound contrast is reinforced audio-visually:

1. By showing the objects which the contrasting words represent. For example,

ship - sheep. The teacher makes quick simple drawings of a ship and a sheep on the

blackboard or shows pictures of these objects.

2. By showing actions. For example, He is riding. - He is writing. Situational

pictures may be helpful if the teacher cannot make a sketch on the blackboard.

3. By using sound symbols [æ] - [e]; [ð] - [θ]. Phonetic symbols do not teach

the foreign sounds. They emphasize the difference in sounds and in this respect they are a valuable help. To teach pupils how to pronounce a new language correctly in a conscious way means to ensure that the pupil learns to put his organs of speech into definite positions required for the production of the speech sounds of this language.

A person learning a foreign language unconsciously continues to use his

muscles in the old ways and substitutes the phonemes and the intonation of his native tongue, e. g., he pronounces zis instead of this, or veal instead of wheel; Do 'you 'speak ΄English? instead of 'Do you 'speak English? He does not even notice his mistake.

In learning pronunciation great use should also be made of imitation. Pupils

learn to pronounce a new language by imitating the pronunciation of the teacher.

Since young peoples ability to imitate is rather good it should be used in teaching

pronunciation as well. Indeed, there are sounds in the English language which are

difficult to explain, for example, vowels. The teacher is often at a loss how to show

his pupils the pronunciation of this or that vowel, because he cannot show them the

position of the organs of speech while producing the sound.

The description of a vowel requires the use of such words as ―the back (the

front) of the tongue‖, ―the soft (hard) palate‖ and others which, in their turn, present a lot of' trouble to pupils to understand. It is easier for them to pronounce a sound, a word, or a sentence in imitation of the teacher than to assimilate "what is what" in the mouth and apply the ―knowledge‖ to producing sounds or sound sequences.

Therefore pupils merely imitate the teacher. It should be said that the correct

pronunciation of some vowels often depends on the correct pronunciation of


As to intonation it should be taught mainly through imitation, though some

explanations and gestures in particular are helpful. For example, the teacher can showthe rise of the voice by moving his hand up and the fall by moving it down. He can also use the following symbols: ′ for stress, | for pause, for falling tone, ′ for rising tone, and teach pupils how to use them while listening to a text and reading it.

Consequently, teaching pronunciation in school must be carried out through

conscious approach to the problem and imitation of the teacher and speakers when

tape-recordings and records are used. Neither the first nor the second should be

underestimated. Since imitation can and must take place in foreign language teaching, the teacher's pronunciation should set the standard for the class, and the use of native speakers whose voices are recorded on records or tapes is quite indispensable.

Teaching a foreign language in schools begins with teaching pupils to hear and

to speak it, that is, with the oral introductory course or the oral approach. Since the

aural-oral and the oral approach should be used, the unit of teaching is the sentence.

We speak with sentences. Therefore pupils hear a long chain of sounds or a sound

sequence from the very beginning. The teacher's task is to determine which sounds

the pupils will find hard to pronounce, which sounds they can assimilate through

imitation, and which sounds require explanations of the position of the organs of

speech while producing them.


Date: 2014-12-22; view: 2273

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