Luận văn Pronunciation teaching and learning

The trend of globalization in every field all over the world has given foreign languages in general and English in particular a greater role than ever before. As English is largely used in international settings, the ability to communicate in real-life situations is very important. Therefore, speaking plays an essential role because without it, communication cannot take place directly between people.

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CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION 1.1 Rationale The trend of globalization in every field all over the world has given foreign languages in general and English in particular a greater role than ever before. As English is largely used in international settings, the ability to communicate in real-life situations is very important. Therefore, speaking plays an essential role because without it, communication cannot take place directly between people. Dealing with how to improve speaking skills, learners face the problem of pronunciation. A consideration number of learners’ pronunciation errors and how they inhibit successful communication is a good reason for the justification of why it is important to teach pronunciation to learners. There is a great number of books relating to the teaching of English pronunciation, most of which refer to specific exercises to help students achieve better pronunciation. However, in my experience as a teacher of English for three years, I have witnessed many cases in which students are able to do pronunciation exercises, but fail to have proper pronunciation in their real-life speaking. Thus, a good mark in doing pronunciation exercises in written form does not accompany good pronunciation. In my opinion, the problem lies in the fact that students do not receive adequate feedback from the teacher on their pronunciation performance. Some students even do not know how to form certain sounds in English. Therefore, it is impossible for them to have genuine production of sounds and sentences. Despite this, little can be done about this due to a vast number of factors, the most serious of which is the high student-teacher ratio in Vietnamese universities, which is about 25 to one (at universities in which English is a major). The teachers hardly have enough time to pay attention and give correction to every student’ speaking performance in general and pronunciation in particular. As a result, students are unable to identify their weak aspects. All of these motivated me to conduct an action research on the use of continuous feedback with the aim at improving the first year students’ English pronunciation. 1.2 Statement of the problem As a teacher at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Hanoi National University, I have realized the fact that the first-year students have a lot of problems concerning their pronunciation. It is true that they speak English in all English classes (twelve periods a week) and teachers are alert to help them with their pronunciation problems. However, after a year of learning, their pronunciation doesn’t seem to improve much, not to mention the fact that their frequent mistakes are maintained as the first day they enter the university. This reflects the fact that the present teaching and learning of English pronunciation is not very effective. As O’Connor (2002) stated, “clear, concise feedback matched to standards will promote student achievement”, feedback plays a very important role in the teaching of any foreign language skill because without it, students would have a vague picture of what they are really weak at and what they need to improve. As for pronunciation, feedback is even more important. This is because only when students are adequately informed about their particular pronunciation problems, and helped to make genuine sounds before moving on the more complex issues of pronunciation such as intonation or elision, can they focus more on what their personal problems are and invest more time and effort to improve them. Generally, learners of English are required to have intelligible pronunciation. However, for students at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Hanoi National University, the aim of English pronunciation cannot be limited to that point. It is obvious that most of these students are becoming teachers of English in the future. Therefore, their English pronunciation must go far beyond the “accepted level”, as they are going to teach English for the coming generations of the country. After finishing the four-year curriculum, it is expected that their pronunciation would be native-like or near native-like. Therefore, it is essential that the issue of English pronunciation must be raised at the very first time the students enter the college. These first year students should be taught how to achieve relatively correct pronunciation, regarding certain aspects of it. This is to lay a foundation for better pronunciation competence in the next three years. In addition, if students are not provided with adequate feedback on their pronunciation, the mistakes they make may be fossilized and it will take a very long time to correct them later. Those are the main reasons why I would like to propose An Action Research on the Use of Continuous Feedback to Improve the First Year Students’ English Pronunciation at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, Hanoi to be the topic of my thesis. 1.3 Purposes of the study This research was designed to improve the students’ pronunciation performance by using continuous feedback. Generally, it has three purposes: - To find possible explanations for the weak pronunciation competence of the students - To investigate pronunciation problems among first year students of English at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, Hanoi . However, due to the limitation of time, the researcher only focused on English consonant sounds. - To justify the effect of continuous feedback on students’ pronunciation. 1.4 Research questions With the above purposes, the research questions are: 1. What are the possible reasons that lead to students’ weak pronunciation of English? 2. What are the students’ most common problems regarding English consonant sounds? 3. Can continuous feedback improve students’ English pronunciation? If yes, to what extend? 1.5 Scope of the study The research was conducted on the first year students at the English Department of CFL, VNU. Regarding its scope, the research was only aimed at justifying the effect of continuous feedback on the students’ pronunciation of English consonant sounds. Other aspects of English pronunciation would not be investigated. Even though the researcher made use of speaking tests as an important instrument for the research, only issues concerning the students’ pronunciation of consonant sounds were taken into consideration. 1.6 Research method The method employed in this study is an action research, with the use of a number of instruments, namely observation, questionnaires, speaking tests and interviews. Action research has proved to be the best choice for this study because the study was aimed at improving the students’ pronunciation within a certain context. The combination of different instruments used in this research would help to gain reliable data and help the researcher have a close investigation into the problems that the students were having. 1.7 Significance of the study Even though pronunciation is troublesome for most English learners, it is surprising that there is not much investigation into this problem. This research provides an insight into the common pronunciation problems that most of the Vietnamese students who are studying English as their major encounter regarding English consonant sounds. In addition, it suggests a new way which is very learner-centered to help students improve their pronunciation. The results of the research will be, therefore, much beneficial to both teachers and students of English. 1.8 Design of the study The study is divided into five chapters as follows: Chapter one presents an overview of the study in which the rationale for the research, the research problem, the purposes, the research questions, the scope of the study, the research method, the significance of the study, as well as the design of the study were briefly presented. Chapter two reviews the literature relevant to the study, including the definition of feedback, as well as an overview on the techniques that have been common used to teach pronunciation. These lay the foundation for the choice of the medium for the research. More specifically, it presents a number of research in which feedback has been used to help students make improvement in their language study. Chapter three is a detailed discussion of the method used in the study. This chapter presents a thorough justification for the use of continuous feedback and action research. It also gives a thorough description of the research’s components, as well as the research program. Chapter four presents the findings of the study. This part is apparently important because it justifies the effectiveness of the research. Chapter five discusses the findings of the study, provides pedagogical implications, as well as presents limitations of the research. It also makes recommendations for further research in the same field. CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1 Pronunciation teaching and learning 2.1.1 The importance of teaching and learning pronunciation According to Kelly (2000: 11), it is vital for a language learner to have good pronunciation of that language. However, pronunciation competence does not go with the mastery of grammar rules or a good lexis command. Some learners may have already acquired a considerable amount of grammar and vocabulary, but still fail to communicate effectively due to their weak pronunciation. A learner who mispronounces a variety of words would cause great difficulties for a speaker of that language to understand, which is a frustrating experience. Therefore, it can be concluded that pronunciation plays a vital role in learner’s speaking ability. Only when a learner is competent in pronunciation can his speaking skills are acclaimed. In addition to that, bad pronunciation inevitably has negative effect on the learner’s listening ability. When a learner has already been accustomed to the wrong way of pronouncing particular language sounds and utterances, it is unlikely that s/he will be able to recognize the authentic pronunciation by native speakers. There are many cases in which learners are asked to listen to a familiar expression by native speakers with the use of mainly common words. However, they fail to interpret it because they find its pronunciation totally different from the way they are used to speaking or listening in their daily communication. As a result, they cannot understand what the speakers mean. Moreover, it is obvious that good pronunciation serves as a strong motivation for language learners. Most language learners show considerable enthusiasm for pronunciation as they consider it a good way to show that they are competent of the language. Once they have obtained adequate pronunciation competence, they gradually build up strong confidence for themselves and are ready to learn new things without hesitation. 2.1.2 Approaches and methods in pronunciation teaching The history and scope of pronunciation teaching are revised in Teaching Pronunciation (Celce-Murcia. M, et al, 1996: 2). According to the authors, there are two general approaches to the teaching of pronunciation in the modern times, namely intuitive-imitative approach and analytic-linguistic approach. An intuitive-imitative approach depends on “the learners’ ability to listen to and imitate the rhythms and sounds of the target language without the intervention of any explicit information.” This means the teaching of pronunciation depends largely on the teacher’s turning on and rewinding a cassette player (or any other instrument), and the main activities in the class are listening and repeating. Of course, in order to do this, there must be the supply of authentic materials as well as recording devices to use during the lesson. The teacher has no responsibility to explain how sounds are formed or produced. Learners do their main task of listening and imitating, and it is expected that they will gradually gain pronunciation competence. An analytic-linguistic approach “utilizes information and tools such as a phonetic alphabet, articulatory descriptions, charts of the vocal apparatus and other aids to supplement listening, imitation, and production.” In this approach, learners are given explanation as well as training on how to form particular sounds of the target language. This approach is actually a further development of the first approach rather than to replace it because is still makes great use of authentic materials, as well as listening and imitating phases during the lessons. Regarding methods of language teaching in general and their philosophy of pronunciation teaching in particular, it can be seen clearly that each method puts a different weight on pronunciation, and therefore, treats pronunciation differently. Some methods, such as Grammar Translation or Reading-based approaches, give no acknowledge to pronunciation. The teacher use learners’ native language to teach grammar or text comprehension. Thus, little attention is given to speaking, and almost none to pronunciation. However, most methods give a genuine concern for the teaching of pronunciation. The appearance of a method often brings about new approaches towards the teaching of particular issues, most of which are affected by the time they come into being. In Direct Method, which first became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the teacher provides learners with a model for native-like speech. This can either be the teacher himself or a recording. By listening and then imitating the model excessively, learners gradually develop their pronunciation. Some successors to this method are called naturalistic methods, which mean methods that devote a period of learning solely to listening before speaking is allowed. Linguists following this method believe that when learners are asked to listen without having to worry about speaking, they are better at recognizing the sounds because they are under less pressure. Thus, it is likely that they will be able to produce correct sounds even without receiving explicit pronunciation instruction. Other methods, namely Audiolingualism in the US and the Oral Approach in Britain during the 1940s and 1950s have another way to treat pronunciation. In the class, pronunciation is very important and is taught explicitly from the start. The teacher (or a recording) models a sound, or an utterance and students are asked to repeat it. The difference between Audiolingualism and Direct Method lies in the feature that in Audiolingualism class, beside the model, the teacher also takes advantage of a number of teaching aids such as phonetic description, or the transcription system. The most common technique that is used to teach pronunciation is the minimal pair drills. Learners are asked to distinguish between two different sounds that might sound similar by listening to the teacher or a tape recorder. This listening discrimination is followed by oral practice. During the 1970s, the Silent Way came to public attention. In classes applying this method, accurate pronunciation is a focus from the very beginning. The teacher speaks as little as possible, but takes advantage of gestures to indicate what the students should do. S/he can do this with the aid of a number of tools such as a sound-colour chart, the Fidel charts, word charts, and colored rods. Another method that also came into being during the 1970s was the Community Language Learning (CLL). This is a method which focuses much on the learners rather than the teacher or teaching curriculum. A tape recorder is an indispensable tool in this class. Students sit round a table, and then ask the teacher to translate any utterances they wish to be able to speak in the target language. The teacher then provides students with the phrase they need orally. After some time of practicing its pronunciation, when students can produce the whole utterance fluently, it is recorded on the tape. After that, the tape is played back and the students are able to compare their pronunciation with the target one provided by the teacher. It is the students who decide what particular utterances they would like to be trained pronunciation. The teacher is regarded as a “computer” turning on and off at the students’ request. Today, the dominant teaching approach has been the Communicative Approach. Under this approach, the main objective of language is communication. Therefore, students are not required to have a native-like pronunciation, but intelligible one. This is a kind of “accepted pronunciation”, which means students may make some mistakes provided those mistakes do not affect negatively on the comprehension of the listeners or cause misunderstanding. How can learners achieve good pronunciation? This has been done by a number of techniques with the aids of both traditional and modern materials, either authentic or non-authentic. 2.1.3 Research into the techniques used in teaching pronunciation To date, teachers make use of a great deal of techniques to teach pronunciation. Pronunciation may be taught in isolation or in combination with language skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing. We would like to mention some common techniques proposed by Celce, et al (1996: 8) and Kelly (2000: 16). * Listen and imitate: The pronunciation of the target language is provided by the teacher or tape recorders, language labs, etc. Students are to listen to a sequence of sounds or sentences and repeat it. This not only helps students achieve better pronunciation, but remember new items more easily as well. This technique usually takes two forms, which are either all-class or individual (Kelly, 2000: 16). These two forms are actually the two phases of the same technique. Normally, at first, the whole class repeats after certain sounds and phrases. After a certain amount of class-drilling, individual student take turns and pronounce those items on his/her own. * Phonetic training: This technique makes use of articulatory descriptions, articulatory diagrams and a phonetic alphabet. Learners are provided with basic theoretical knowledge about how sounds are formed. They are also aided by the teacher to make genuine sound production. However, this kind of technique is not supposed to teach to too young learners as it is unlikely that they are able to comprehend such a complicated matter. * Minimal pair drills: These relate to words which differ by only one phoneme. Normally, learners are allowed to listen to the tape and distinguish between the two sounds. This type of activities is particularly useful to teach sounds which cause difficulties for learners or sounds that are easily mismatched. After listening, learners are asked to produce the sounds themselves. * Contextualized minimal pairs: When minimal pair drills seem a bit boring and too theoretical with separated sounds, their contextualization compensates for this weakness. The sentence stem serves as a basis for students to produce appropriate responses with correct pronunciation. When words are put in sentences, it seems to be more useful than the vague minimal pairs because it is more practical. * Tongue twisters: When other techniques look serious and sometimes put learners under much pressure, tongue twisters provide a more delighting way to learn pronunciation. Sounds which are difficult to differentiate are put together to make meaningful sentences. This technique rooted from speech correction strategies for native speakers. One of the most typical examples for this technique is the sentence, “She sells seashells by the seashore.” * Practice of vowel shifts and stress shifts related by affixation: This is a useful technique in which students are taught how stress and vowel shift by affixation. Many learners have the habit of pronounce a new-fo