Teach English in Tanping Zhen - Chenzhou Shi

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Summative Task Topic Option #4 Phonetics and Phonology Summative Task Question: Should Chinese ESL Students Have Explicit Phonetic Instruction? During a nine year period of teaching English as a Second language I have discovered how important phonetics is in learning the correct pronunciation of the English language, and in fact, in any language. Derwing and Munro (2005) emphasize, “It is essential to have an accurate understanding of the target language phonological system in order to enhance the quality of pronunciation". We should look at some of the problems that L2 learners have when trying to produce accurate L1 language patterns. A vast majority of language books are aimed at L2 learners from all over the world and don’t necessarily cater for the “localized” needs of a particular country. These books usually have to be disseminated by the teacher in order to produce a lesson plan with which to teach the content. One problem may be the teacher. He/she may be able to correct an incorrect pronunciation problem a student has, but may not have an accurate understanding of the phonetic system itself and therein lack useful strategies to correctly teach phonetics. Morely 1991. This could have a negative effect on a student potentially causing a lack in confidence, thus not helping the student to self-correct any similar problems in the future. We also have to take into account the students. Other problems may include motivation, age, lack of understanding of their own L1 phonetic system, the amount of students per class. Any one of these problems would make the learning of an L2 phonetic system, particular English, much more difficult. Therefore pronunciation is probably one of the most neglected parts of English language teaching. Chinese students are very reluctant to speak in a classroom setting. In fact Xu Li Hua (1991) says: “The Chinese students are comparatively quiet and shy, which works to their disadvantage in speaking. They are afraid of making mistakes. They feel uncomfortable in their first attempt at speech in English and they are afraid of failure, laughter and ridicule”. This is absolutely the case, in my experience. Even students that attempt to speak or answer a question are not 100% confident in their speaking ability. In a personal reflection of one of my students, whom at the time was one of the top speakers in the class, became very nervous at speaking after I corrected a pronunciation mistake. So what pronunciation mistakes are most common? A student’s first language has a huge influence on the target language being learned. Many sounds that exist in the English language don’t exist in the Chinese phonetic system. So we can assume that one of the main reasons for Chinese learners to not speak in class, is fear of making a mistake and losing credibility among their peers. Two of the most common pronunciation problems are th /ð/ /θ/ voiced and unvoiced respectively and /r/. Both these sounds do not exist in the Chinese language. However, a student may be able to produce the /th/ sound, (dental in this example) with instruction. My own experience has shown that when the correct speech organ articulation is achieved, students make the sound very easily. The problem lies in maintaining the articulation during regular speech. A similar problem occurs with the /r/ sound. As the sound is an approximant palatal alveolar sound utilising the larynx and tongue, students find it difficult to form this shape in the mouth. Often /r/ is replaced by /l/ which can cause confusion and misunderstanding in conversation. The /r/ sound is an important one as words such as /rice/ become /lice/ and rust becomes /lust/. There are a number of other pronunciation and phonetic problems Chinese learners have like word stress, intonation, consonant clusters etc. which could be talked about but unfortunately I don’t have the space here to do. Just from the two examples briefly outlined above one can see just how important phonetics and pronunciation instruction is, in an ESL classroom. With the correct instruction it can lead to a better understanding of the complexities of the English language. It is therefore my opinion that Explicit Phonetic Instruction should play a major role in an ESL classroom. Whereas teachers needn’t become a linguistics expert, it is the responsibility of a teacher to school themselves in phonetics and how to teach it in an effective way. This course has given a wonderful model with which, we as teachers can incorporate that learning into any ESA lesson plan. As mentioned many factors contribute to how affective Phonetic Instruction might be, particularly the amount of students in anyone class. In Chinese public schools that number could be anywhere between 40-55 students! We cannot get to everyone. On further personal experience, I have many one-to-one students who have benefited greatly from Phonetic Instruction and overcome a lot of the common pronunciation problems found with Chinese speakers. This I feel further compounds my opinion that Phonetic Instruction can and does work and although the numbers are huge, if we can get one student to say “I like eating fried rice”. Instead of “I like eating flied lice.” Then your Phonetic Instruction has worked. References Joan Morley TESOL Quarterly Vol. 25, No. 3 (Autumn, 1991), pp. 481-520 Li Hua, Xu. (1991). Developing Student’s Confidence in Speaking English. Modern English Teacher (3): 74. Tracey M. Derwing and Murray J. Munro TESOL Quarterly Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 2005)