Teach English in ChengguAn Zhen - Wulanchabu Shi — Ulanqab

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When attempting to learn a foreign language, the language’s phonology is often overlooked within the instructional process. In particular, the concepts of phonemic awareness, word-level intonation and sentence-level intonation are not known by students or seldom taught in classes that teach foreign languages. As someone who enjoys learning new languages, it was not until my fourth university course on Japanese that I fully grasped how the way one places the pitch-accent on a two-syllable sequence such as “hashi” can result in two distinct words. As the phonology of a language has an effect on the meaning of words and phrases, it is important to take this into consideration and integrate this into occasional lessons for new learners of English, especially those with little to no exposure to the language. Phonemic awareness is the ability to discern between and manipulate individual speech sounds in words. This ability is developed as humans go through the acquisition of their first language, and it encompasses skills such as being able to segregate the syllables within a word, what the onset sounds are of a syllable, and what is the rhyme - the latter half of a syllable. Developing this skill in English learners will be valuable as English possesses phonemes that may not be present in the speaker’s native language, thus not having the phonemic awareness that can be translated over when picking up English. For example, it will be difficult for speakers of Japanese to distinguish between the first speech sounds in the words "law" and "raw", and they may ultimately pronounce them in the same manner due to a lack of either sound in Japanese. The most frightening part of learning a new language is making errors in front of native speakers, and as native speakers are often critical with pronunciation, going over the phonemes, especially those that are new to the speakers, will assist in their learning journey. Furthermore, as English does not have a phonemic writing system, this lack of phonemic awareness of English in new learners will cause difficulties while developing reading and writing skills. For example, new learners will most likely be unable to discern that the rhyme in the words "through" and "brew" consists of the same sounds. English is full of inconsistent spellings of words, which will undoubtedly overwhelm new learners. Thus, it should be the teacher’s job to start developing the phonemic awareness needed in order to help overcome such issues early on. Lessons in which teachers can break down the individual sounds in one-syllable words, then move onto multi-syllable words, will be effective. This can lead into eliciting words that rhyme, and then introducing the various letters or letter combinations which result in the same sound so students can keep this in mind once they begin to read and write. Languages can choose to superimpose what is called a suprasegmental feature onto syllables or words. English uses the feature called stress, which may become a challenge for new learners as stress requires one to change the pitch, loudness and duration in the voice all at once. The reason why thoroughly teaching stress patterns of English is important is because stress can also encode the meaning or function of a word. For example, the words "present", "progress" and "entrance" can be both nouns and verbs. The way to identify which lexical category they belong to is based on which syllable is stressed; the first syllable is stressed for nouns, and the second for verbs. Differences like these will present problems for English learners when reading and they are unable to identify lexical categories due to identical spellings, or while listening to dialogue and they hear different pronunciations of words that are spelled the same. Thus, it is valuable to introduce lessons on not just the functionality of stress and how it encodes meaning, but where to put the stress on words, particularly multi-syllable ones such as "unidentifiable". English also exhibits the feature of sentence-based pitch accents. This is when the pitch of specific words within a phrase or sentence can be accented, in relation to the other words, which reflects the conversational context. For example, when taking a phrase such as "Amy lost her dog", which word is accented with a higher pitch will affect what the speaker is trying to bring attention to within the context of the conversation. If "Amy" is accented, then it might have been in response to the question: "Who lost her dog?". If dog is accented, then the question may have been: "Amy lost her what?". Contextual elements such as this will be valuable for new students to learn in order to gain the necessary skills to converse naturally, and know what word to accent depending on the flow of the conversation. Also, general rules such as accenting the final few words of a phrase when forming a question, or the first few words when forming an assertion, will be just as beneficial to learners. Activities such as putting students into groups, having them take turns accenting each word within a phrase with and then coming up with a question that may have resulted in that accented phrase will be an effective way for learning the workings of sentence-based pitch accents. While it may seem more important to have new students of English simply learn how to speak the language as they go through the course without worrying about details such as suprasegmental features, these features are capable of changing the meaning of words or are even influenced by the context of a conversation. To native speakers, an improper understanding of English stress and sentence-level intonation may sound unnatural, and new learners may struggle when having conversations without this knowledge. Thus, it is just as valid to teach the specific aspects of English phonology in order for students to gain the necessary conversational skills to continue to progress through their journey towards fluency.