Pronunciation in EFL Instruction: A Research-Based Approach

Pronunciation in EFL Instruction: A Research-Based Approach

by Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska

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ISBN-13: 9781783092604
Publisher: Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Publication date: 12/05/2014
Series: Second Language Acquisition Series , #82
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska is Associate Professor of English Linguistics and Chair of the Phonetics and Phonology Unit in the Department of English at Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, Lublin, Poland. She has published extensively (7 books and over 100 papers) on English and Polish phonology, the phonology-morphology interaction, the acquisition of English phonetics and phonology by Poles, pronunciation pedagogy, foreign accent perception and gender linguistics.

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Pronunciation in EFL Instruction

A Research-Based Approach


By Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2015 Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78309-261-1



CHAPTER 1

English Pronunciation Teaching: Global Versus Local Contexts


This book starts with some necessary preliminaries. First a crucial question is posed concerning the need to teach and learn the pronunciation of a foreign language. It then proceeds to enquire why, in spite of the unquestionable importance of this aspect of language, it often tends to be neglected. Next the focus is on various goals of pronunciation teaching/learning and on a contentious and hotly debated issue of the choice of a model accent appropriate for foreign learners of English. The discussion centres around two approaches to ELT: the traditional idea of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and a recent proposal known either as EIL (English as an International Language) or ELF (English as a Lingua Franca). They are characterized in some detail, and a critical evaluation of each is carried out before putting forward the concept of NELF (Native English as a Lingua Franca) as an approach to pronunciation instruction for foreign learners of English, meant to reconcile the two opposing views. The major features of EFL, ELF and NELF are juxtaposed and compared, with arguments provided for the superiority of the latter. Subsequently, another important but frequently neglected distinction between EFL and ESL (English as a Second Language) is re-examined. It is argued that treating them jointly as cases of learning a second language (L2) in the process of second language acquisition (SLA) is detrimental to EFL pronunciation instruction and demonstrate that they differ substantially and therefore deserve a separate treatment. Finally, the major factors relevant for diagnosing the local educational context of EFL instruction as well as learner-dependent and teacher-dependent determinants of pronunciation teaching and learning are briefly examined.

In Part B three studies are presented which provide empirical support for some of the claims made in Part A. More specifically, in order to prove the importance of good pronunciation in another language, an experiment devoted to foreign accent perception is related, demonstrating how accented speech affects listeners' judgements of personal characteristics ascribed to its users. Next, typical EFL learners' (i.e. Polish students') preferences concerning English pronunciation models are examined in a questionnaire study. Finally, an analysis of a cultural and educational context in which English is taught in Poland is presented, with the main focus on teachers' and students' attitudes to this language skill and the quality of phonetic instruction in schools.


Part A

A.1.1 Why Should Pronunciation Be Taught?

Suppose you are in a situation in which you have to speak a foreign language. It will take some time for the listeners to find out how well you know its grammar, how rich your vocabulary is. But it is enough if you utter just a few words for them to know how good (or bad) your pronunciation is. The first impression is formed and we all know how important first impressions are and how difficult it is to change those initial judgements.

But, of course, there is more to having good pronunciation than just creating a positive first impression. It is an important component of language without which no efficient oral communication is possible. Thus, phonetic errors may lead to misunderstandings and even communication breakdowns, as reported in many stories, like the one about a tourist asking in a London restaurant for soup, pronounced by him as soap, and being directed to the bathroom. Not long ago I had a conversation in English with a Polish student about her school experiences and she kept repeating how much she disliked that [staf]. I was quite confused as to whether she meant the teaching staff or stuff, i.e. school education in general, as in that particular context both items were just as likely to occur. Many similar stories, some jocular, some serious or even tragic, can be provided to prove the importance of clear and comprehensible pronunciation. Perhaps the most shocking of them concerns a collision of two aeroplanes with over 200 people dead in 1977 in Tenerife, attributed to a misunderstanding between the pilot and the air traffic controller due to the pilot's poor English pronunciation. Luckily, the consequences of phonetic errors are rarely so dramatic. In most cases misunderstandings can easily be explained. In other situations the linguistic and/or extralinguistic context will allow the listener to guess the meaning of an utterance. For example, if on a walk with your pet somebody asked you in Polish English: Is this your [dok]?, you could guess without any major difficulty that the question concerns your dog rather than your physician. In another situation, if a person, using Polish-accented English, states that she has just bought a new [bek], you will easily identify this word as the highly probable bag and not as the totally unlikely back.

But can we be satisfied with having pronunciation that is just comprehensible? To answer this question, let us consider some of the consequences of heavily foreign accented speech which can, however, with some effort on the part of the listener, be understood. As various researchers have observed, pronunciation which puts too much strain on the listeners is very likely to cause them irritation and annoyance and, in consequence, discourage them from further contact with the foreign speaker. The effort that is required might simply be too much for our interlocutors. I have personally found myself in a situation of this kind. Some years ago I spent several months in the USA where I rented a flat in a university building for foreign visitors. It turned out that my upstairs neighbour was a girl student from China. I tried to talk to her a few times, but found her English so difficult to understand that I finally gave up. In consequence we never made friends and just exchanged greetings and polite smiles when we accidentally met.

Speakers with pronunciation problems often make, quite unconsciously and unintentionally, an unfavourable impression of their personality on their listeners. Kelly (2000), for instance, in his discussion of the role of English prosody, claims that German learners who use their native intonation patterns in English sound abrupt or impolite, while the Spanish who employ Spanish prosody in English might sometimes appear rather bored and disinterested. Other studies have demonstrated that listeners often judge people they have never met on their personality, intelligence and social status just from listening to the way they pronounce a few words. Needless to say, the less intelligible the foreigner's speech, the more critical such judgements are. In Part B a brief report is presented on the experiment which has been carried out to examine how native speakers of Polish perceive foreign-accented Polish and how the degree of accentedness affects the listeners' evaluation of the speakers' personal characteristics. It is shown that the better foreigners' Polish pronunciation is, the higher scores they receive on their alleged intelligence, education, reliability, pleasantness and trustworthiness. Of course, the opposite is also true; more heavily accented and less intelligible speech causes more critical assessments.

Further empirical evidence is also available to show that there are serious drawbacks to having poor English pronunciation. In one experiment the same lecture was delivered to two groups of students. In the first case it was presented with near-native pronunciation, in the other, a foreign-accented version. The students' judgements were very different; the first lecture was regarded as more interesting, more logical and better organized than the second, even though the content of both was exactly the same! In another study carried out in Sweden (Abelin & Boyd, 2000), students evaluated foreign teachers who taught various subjects in Swedish. In all instances teachers with good Swedish pronunciation were assessed as more competent and efficient than those with a strong foreign accent.

Negative perceptions of accented speech can have even more serious consequences and sometimes lead to foreigners' social stigmatization and discrimination (see Lippi-Green, 1997; Moyer, 2013). Munro (2003), for instance, discusses several cases of accent-based discrimination in Canada. One of them involved a Polish immigrant called Gajecki, who spoke fluent English but with a strong Polish accent. After a few years of a successful teaching career at school, Gajecki was denied employment because, according to the administrator, he 'did not speak English'. A court ruled that Gajecki was discriminated against on the basis of his accent and awarded him compensation.

Thus, no matter how good someone's general command of a foreign language is, if their pronunciation is poor, it might negatively influence the perception of such a person. On the other hand, learners with good English pronunciation impress people favourably and often benefit from this asset. Some years ago a student of mine went to London for his summer holidays. He needed money to live on, but all he managed to find was a rather unattractive and poorly paid job of washing up in an expensive restaurant, which he did with two other foreigners. One day a waiter was taken ill and a replacement was needed. The manager decided to employ one of the three foreigners and chose the Polish student to be the new waiter (a considerably nicer and better paid job, with good tips from the customers) because of his good English pronunciation, much better than those of the other two candidates.

Finally, it should be pointed out that people with poor pronunciation often lack the confidence to speak up and try to say as little as possible. On the other hand, good pronunciation provides learners with the confidence to engage in conversations with other speakers of English, allows them to sound able and competent, and gives them a sense of achievement. It is an asset that cannot be underestimated.

I hope the above remarks make it clear why mastering the pronunciation of a foreign language is well worth both the teachers' and the learners' effort. As argued by Morley (1991), the question is not whether pronunciation should be taught, but rather what should be taught and how it should be done.


A.1.2 Why is Pronunciation Teaching Often Neglected?

In the preceding section we have pointed out the major advantages of having good English pronunciation as well as some negative consequences of poor pronunciation for language learners. A logical assumption based on the presented reasoning can be made that pronunciation instruction occupies an important place in ELT. Yet it is striking that many, if not most, books and articles devoted to pronunciation instruction begin in a similar fashion, i.e. with remarks concerning a general neglect of pronunciation teaching, often called the 'Cinderella' of ELT (e.g. Celce-Murcia et al., 1996; Kelly, 2000). Hewings (2004: 11) maintains that, even if good pronunciation is important to many learners who are willing to work hard to achieve it, 'teaching does not always reflect this wish, and pronunciation is treated as a low priority area of study'. Derwing and Munro (2005: 382) also complain about 'the marginalization of pronunciation within applied linguistics'. This view is expressed by many authors in their assessment of the situation both in ESL and EFL teaching contexts, which indicates that this is a global rather than a local issue.

Thus, in spite of its undeniable importance, phonetic instruction tends to be neglected in ELT, which is a puzzle that requires some explanation. First of all, pronunciation is frequently regarded as the most difficult aspect of another language to master. Thus, numerous examples are often provided of language learners who achieve a high level of competence in grammar and vocabulary of the L2, but whose pronunciation leaves much to be desired. In other words, different elements of language are learnt with varied success and in this respect pronunciation appears to be the most problematic area, particularly when native-like speech is seen as the goal of teaching and learning. Consequently, many teachers believe that since time and effort spent on pronunciation instruction usually brings unsatisfactory results, it should rather be devoted to those aspects of language which are teachable and learnable.

Secondly, as argued by Elliot (1995: 531), 'teachers tend to view pronunciation as the least useful of the basic language skills and therefore they generally sacrifice teaching pronunciation in order to spend valuable class time on other areas of the language'. This view is additionally reinforced in EFL contexts by predominantly written exams that learners must take, for example at the end of mandatory language courses in many countries, and for which teachers must prepare their students. It should be added that the teachers' professional reputation often depends on how well their students do in such tests. Also, many international language examinations (see Szpyra-Kozlowska, 2003) attach little importance to the examinees' English pronunciation in comparison with other language skills. If what is tested in language exams is primarily grammar and vocabulary, then intensive pronunciation training must be viewed by teachers and learners as a waste of precious class time. This is known as a 'washback effect'.

Furthermore, the negligence of pronunciation can be affected by the fact that frequently very little attention is given to it in general English course books as well as books preparing learners for different international examinations (see Section A.3.6. in Chapter 3 for more details). Many instructors, believing that course book authors are highly qualified specialists in ELT who know best how much attention should be given to various language components, follow the contents of such publications faithfully and tend to devote insufficient time to pronunciation training.

Little attention to practical phonetics stems also from the assumptions of the communicative approach, dominant in modern language teaching, in which, on the one hand, good pronunciation is viewed as essential for effective communication but, on the other hand, emphasis is placed on fluency rather than accuracy and pronunciation errors are tolerated. This, in consequence, means that pronunciation training tends to be fairly limited as 'communicatively adequate pronunciation is generally assumed to be a by-product of appropriate practice over a sufficient period of time' (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996: 449).

Yet another reason for many non-native teachers' reluctance to teach practical phonetics more extensively is the poor quality of their own pronunciation and the resulting lack of confidence concerning this skill. It has been observed that the better the teachers' mastery of the English sound system is, the more attention they pay to their students' phonetic training. Of course the reverse is also true.

Finally, various researchers base many instructors' failure to teach pronunciation properly on their inadequate training which does not provide them with the necessary knowhow. This is particularly true of ESL contexts, in which only brief and often superficial courses are needed to obtain ELT qualifications. As pointed out by Celce-Murcia et al. (1996: 12), 'teachers can effectively address the pronunciation needs of their students only through comprehensive knowledge of the English sound system and through familiarity with a variety of pedagogical techniques, many of which should be communicatively oriented'. If prospective teachers are not properly trained in these issues, they are either likely to marginalize pronunciation training or do it ineffectively in their work.


A.1.3 Goals of Pronunciation Teaching/Learning

In Section A.1.2 we have provided many reasons why learners of English should strive to have good English pronunciation. The question that immediately arises is how good the student's pronunciation should actually be. In other words, what has to be decided is the goal of phonetic instruction.

The traditional answer was simple: the aim of the phonodidatic process was for learners to achieve either native or near-native pronunciation, the only important issue being the choice of a native accent model, which will be discussed in detail in Section A.1.5. This objective implies adopting native norms of linguistic correctness and granting native speakers a special status of being the ultimate authority on English language use.

With time, however, more and more researchers have arrived at the same conclusion: for the overwhelming majority of foreign learners, the goal of achieving native-like or even near-native pronunciation is simply unattainable. As mentioned in the preceding section, while a high level of proficiency or even mastery in grammar and vocabulary is not infrequent, pronunciation is different in that articulatory habits formed early in the process of L1 acquisition appear to be fairly resistant to change in learning the phonetics of the L2. Thus, although cases of foreign learners with native-like English pronunciation are sometimes reported, they are extremely rare, particularly when language learning takes place in the so-called instructed setting, i.e. in the classroom in a country where it is not spoken.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Pronunciation in EFL Instruction by Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska. Copyright © 2015 Jolanta Szpyra-Kozlowska. Excerpted by permission of Multilingual Matters.
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Table of Contents

Preface vii

1 English Pronunciation Teaching: Global Versus Local Contexts 1

Part A 2

A.1.1 Why Should Pronunciation Be Taught 2

A.1.2 Why is Pronunciation Teaching Often Neglected 4

A.1.3 Goals of Pronunciation Teaching/Learning 6

A.1.4 EFL Versus ELF: English Pronunciation Models Debate 8

A.1.5 EFL, ELF or NELF 23

A.1.6 Which Native Pronunciation Model 29

A.1.7 EFL Versus ESL 33

A.1.8 Diagnosing the Local Teaching Context. Learner- related and Teacher-related Determinants of Pronunciation Instruction 39

Part B 45

B.1.1 Attitudes to Accented Speech and its Users 45

B.1.2 Native Accent Models or ELF A Questionnaire Study 49

B.1.3 Diagnosing the Pronunciation Teaching Context in Poland 55

2 Global and Local Pronunciation Priorities 67

Part A 68

A.2.1 How to Establish Pronunciation Priorities 68

A.2.2 Selected Proposals for English Pronunciation Priorities 76

A.2.3 Focus on the Pronunciation of Phonetically Difficult Words 90

A.2.4 Pronunciation and Spelling 104

A.2.5 Segmentals Versus Supra segmentals 110

Part B 117

B.2.1 Intelligibility and Global Versus Local Errors 118

B.2.2 Other Phonetically Difficult Words 123

B.2.3 Pronunciation Priorities for Polish Learners 130

3 Pronunciation Inside and Outside the Classroom: A Holistic Multimodal Approach 140

Part A 141

A.3.1 Developing Concern for Good Pronunciation 141

A.3.2 A Holistic Multimodal Approach to Phonetic Training 144

A.3.3 Selected Pronunciation Teaching Techniques 170

A.3.4 Pronunciation Learning Outside the Classroom 191

A.3.5 Providing Feedback 194

A.3.6 Problems with Pronunciation Teaching Materials 198

Part B 209

B.3.1 Motor Training Versus Cognitive Training 210

B.3.2 Effectiveness Versus Attractiveness of Pronunciation Teaching Activities 212

B.3.3 Employing Elements of Drama 218

B.3.4 Phonetic Error Correction 220

4 Concluding Remarks 225

References 234

Author Index 243

Subject Index 246

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