teachers end up wanting to avoid pronunciation altogether.
When teaching pronunciation teachers need to bear in minds that pronunciation in comparison with the other aspects of learning will be always marked with personal attitudes towards the target language, learner’s abilities and so on; therefore there can never be a one-to-one relationship between what is taught and what is learnt (Dalton and Seidlhofer 1994: 72). Faulty pronunciation; however, may cause serious misunderstandings or communication breakdowns (Tench 1996) and therefore should be an integral part of any teacher training program. Since pronunciation is a complex and important part of learning and teaching process, teachers need to set goals and aims they want to achieve with their students. As perfect accents are difficult if not impossible to achieve in foreign language (Ur 1984: 52) the goal of teachers need to be, to make their students be easily understandable when communicating with other people.
How to teach pronunciation is a subject of debate. In regards to whether formal instruction has an effect on pronunciation or not, studies have differed in their findings. For example, while the findings of some studies on accent indicated strong correlation between formal instruction and pronunciation (e.g., Moyer, 1999), some showed the opposite (e.g., Flege & Yeni-Komshiam, 1999) indicating the imprecise approaches towards the issue. Still, there is room for implementing such instruction because the results of these studies may have stemmed from different research designs, or many different variables involved in instruction process. Schmidt (2006) supports the researchers who believe formal instruction of pronunciation should be conducted, and claims that, teaching pronunciation explicitly will help language learning not only in speaking and comprehending, but also in decoding and spelling. Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin (1996) also suggest several techniques and practice materials on how to teach pronunciation:
1. Listen and imitate
2. Phonetic training
3. Minimal pair drills
4. Contextualized minimal pairs
5. Visual aids
6. Tongue twisters
7. Developmental approximation drills
8. Practice of vowel shifts and stress shifts related by affixation
9. Reading aloud/ recitation
10. Recordings of learners‟ production (pp. 8-10).
The teacher’s decision as to what kind of activities to use in any specific context will, of course, depend on an analysis of learner needs and variables such as learning purpose, learners’ age and setting (Schmitt,2002). Procedures range on a continuum from either fairly mechanical or analytic/cognitive exercises drawing attention to specifics of the language code on the one end to communication tasks on the others (p. 226). These procedures can be:
1. Elicited mechanical production
2. Ear training for sound contrasts
3. Sounds for meaning contrasts
4. Cognitive analysis
Teachers carry a huge responsibility in their classrooms too. They influence their learners either in a positive or negative way and their main goal is to create a friendly and supportive atmosphere. On the other hand, their practical proficiency is not sufficient since if the teacher can only exemplify pronunciation by his or her own speech performance, the learners are left to work out what is significant for them. Learners of a second language will not readily discern crucial phonological distinctions (Dalton and Seidlhofer 1994: 67). Kenworthy (1990: 1) offers several ways of teachers’ roles in pronunciation learning process:
1. Helping learners hear
2. Helping learners make sounds
3. Providing feedback
4. Pointing out what’s going on
5. Establishing priorities
6. Devising activities
7. Assessing progress
The above mentioned techniques and activities are commonly used by teachers. In a recent study by Jahan (2011), the most common difficulty identified by the teachers was that the students were influenced by their mother tongue to a great extent. The results of the study indicated that, most of the teachers helped students with their pronunciation by teaching them how to use dictionaries. In addition, the most frequently used activities by teachers were, „imitation of sounds and repetition drills while the most popular activity according to students was „tongue twisters‟ which was not often employed by teachers. Therefore, employing many different techniques in classes will be essential aids to teaching pronunciation. In conclusion, during the pronunciation teaching teachers not only serve as guides, but also they need to provide their students with appropriate exercises and relevant feedback. However, One of the most important points to consider is that teaching should not be conducted in segregated segments, but in context with meaningful units whatever the level of language proficiency is (e.g., Chela-Flores, 2001).
In addition to the teacher’s role, student’s role is the other side of the story. The primarily learners’ roles are not only to pay attention to what they are doing in the classes or to be active participants of the learning process but also they need to be able to observe their progress. In other words, what all learners need to do is respond (Kenworthy 1990: 2) to the teacher otherwise no progress or slight improvement will become evident. Kenworthy (1990) states that “there is no doubt that ultimately success in pronunciation will depend on how much effort the learner puts into it and whether the student is willing to take responsibility for his or her own learning” (p. 2). Learners’ willingness to be responsible for their own learning and to take action goes hand in hand with factors influencing learners’ pronunciation learning. These factors will be tackled in the following subchapter.
2.13. Factors influencing pronunciation learning
Teachers need to pay attention to factors that can have influence on a learning process of their students. It is usually the native language that is taken into consideration and others are overlooked. The pronunciation of any one learner might be affected by a combination of these factors. The key is to be aware of their existence so that they may be considered in creating realistic and effective pronunciation goals and development plans for the learners.
2.13.1 The role of the mother tongue
There are many factors affecting pronunciation learning (Kenworthy, 1987). First, he claims that native language plays an important role in learning English pronunciation. Many researches have tried to predict the troubles the learners could face in learning English pronunciation by comparing the sound systems of English and the learner’s native language. The results showed that the more differences the sound systems are, the more difficulties the learner will face. This means that learners’ native language shares some of the sound characteristics with the target language, which means that learners will probably have problems with pronunciation of those phonemes that are similar to those occurring in their mother tongue.
Kenworthy states that these characteristics are often obvious enough to make a person’s origins identifiable by untrained as well as trained people (1990: 4). Gilbert outlines several problems caused by the influence of the mother tongue. First, the inability to sound out letters, which occurs at the beginning stage of learning a new language, makes the learners impossible to pronounce sounds correctly. Another problem experienced by learners is wrong production of final consonants. In many languages sounding final consonants are restricted and therefore, non-native speakers can have intelligibility problems. Lastly, it is so called choppy speech, which is separating words with silence.
2.13.2. Age factor
The second factor affecting pronunciation learning is the age of learners when they started to learn English. Someone who have learned English since they were young tend to have better English pronunciation than others who have learned when they are old. It is believed that prepubescent children learning second language with adequate exposure to the target language can attain near native-like pronunciation. Kenworthy supports this assumption by claiming that if a person doesn’t begin to learn a second language until adulthood, they will never have a native-like accent even though other aspects of their language such as syntax or vocabulary may be indistinguishable from those of native speakers (1990: 4).
The debate over the impact of age on language acquisition and specifically pronunciation is varied. Some researchers argue that, after puberty, lateralization (the assigning of linguistic functions to the different brain hemispheres) is completed, and adults’ ability to distinguish and produce native-like sounds is more limited. Others refer to the existence of sensitive periods when various aspects of language acquisition occur, or to adults’ need to re-adjust existing neural networks to accommodate new sounds. The finding suggested by Hoefnagel-Höhle can be supported by Florez’s findings. She claims that adults find pronunciation more difficult than children do and that they probably will not achieve native-like pronunciation. Yet experiences with language learning and the ability to self monitor, which come with the age, can offset these limitations to some degree (1998: 2). Penfield, Roberts and Lenneberg agree with this by stating that there is a period (occurring around puberty) after which brain lateralization, or the assigning of certain functions to the different hemispheres of the brain, is completed (qtd. in Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin 1996: 15). In conclusion, attaining native-like pronunciation seems to be the only aspect of English language that can
teachers end up wanting to avoid pronunciation altogether.