Teach English in Xiaodian Zhen - Suqian Shi

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“Correction is the tool for creating better from worse. Make the best use of it!” says Israelmore Ayimore in his book, Become a Better You. One of the major roles of a teacher is to make corrections to students’ errors. For English, this has something to do with grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Corrections made to students’ grammar revolve around parts of speech. As for vocabulary, it goes with the level of formality, frequency, usage, collocation and country origin. Among the three skills, pronunciation seems to be the one given the least careful attention to when it comes to error correction. In order for teachers to correct students’ pronunciation appropriately, knowledge on “how, when and what” should be established first. Being able to speak English alone, acquired from the fact that English is a secondary language in one’s country or having learned it through exposure to the language, is never enough for someone to teach correct pronunciation. Teachers conducting lessons on English pronunciation must know “how” to do it. Before anything else, knowledge on phonetics or the study of the sounds made by the human voice in speech is of fundamental importance. When a learner of English, one who is oblivious to the difference between the English that he/she knows and the standard ones, either American or British, takes up lessons on pronunciation, they begin with basic English sounds. This means that it goes without saying that the teacher imparting such knowledge is also obliged to study the basics of English pronunciation. However, the manner it is done should be in-depth and adequate. For instance, in an actual lesson the teacher should know how to utter a sound by demonstrating it to the student with the use of a mouth diagram. In other words, studying phonics, a method of teaching people to read based on learning the sounds that letters represent, is taken as part of the learning process. Once a teacher has had their grasp on phonics, what comes next is accent training. At present, American and British accents are considered to be standard. A teacher who was not born and raised in either America or the United Kingdom may have an accent greatly influenced by their own mother tongue. In English, accent training involves pronunciation of certain sounds, intonation, stress and rhythm that are unique mainly to the US or the UK. Learning these nuances are vital for non-native teachers in order to provide corrections to pronunciation of satisfactory accuracy without causing any confusion or doubt. The right of teachers to correct mispronounced words doesn’t necessarily suggest that they may do it abruptly every time a student mispronounces a word. There is that “when” or the appropriate time to make corrections. The ideal timing for correction is after a student finishes saying their sentence or when they are done expressing their idea, not in the middle of their speaking as this is generally perceived as rude and does prevent any students from speaking smoothly and naturally. An exception to this is when a student is struggling to pronounce a word. Here, the teacher may come in for some aid in providing correct pronunciation. Learning the how and when would be insufficient in pronunciation correction. “What” can complete them and has something to do with crucial correction. A correction is said to be crucial for a mispronounced word based on the first language of students and the accent they prefer to learn. Take a Japanese student for example. Learners of English from Japan those who have just started to learn English in particular speak the language with obvious difference from the way English should be spoken. There is a clear distinction in how they pronounce /r/ /v/, /f/ and words ending in /tʃən/ and /ʃən/. These sounds are uttered /l/, /b/, /p/ and /tʃəŋ/ and /ʃəŋ/ respectively in their language. There could be more nuances between the language and English. This existence of differences in sounds can also be found in other languages, and teachers should be well aware of them especially based on what country their students are from. The accent preferred to be learned by students also constitutes a main consideration. Some of the reasons that students study English are to be able to study or work in another country, or simply to travel outside their own country. Depending on the country they want to go to, students take certain English tests, and these tests may be based on American or British English. Taking this into account, teachers of English should know how pronunciation varies accordingly. For example, a teacher who is accustomed to American accent may find a student pronouncing the word ‘vase’ /vɑːz/ wrong. As seen here in this example, knowledge on both British and American English is undoubtedly necessary to avoid giving corrections wrongly. The teacher should have explained that the word ‘vase’ is pronounced /vɑːz/ in British while /veɪs/ in American. In a similar way, students who are preparing for IELTS should be exposed to the accents known to the exam, which is also true for TOEFL. With the aforementioned explanation, “what”, that is, crucial correction, should be done in accordance with the student’s country or first language and the type of accent they hope to learn and understand. Teachers can either make or break their students, and the latter is the very purpose of teaching as a profession. Having acquired the necessary knowledge on whether to correct a student’s pronunciation or not, teachers can gain confidence and assurance that they are doing the right thing as long as they know the “how”, “when”, and “what” of pronunciation correction.