Learning good pronunciation is a matter of developing motor skills, a little like learning to use a typewriter or operate telegraph equipment. The student acquires a set of motor skills: the motion of the lips, tongue, etc., necessary for the new language; ear training goes into learning pronunciation, too. To maintain motor skills frequent review is necessary otherwise these skills deteriorate.
In addition to other things, a language is a set of habits—habits developed in early childhood and reinforced throughout a person’s life – time by continual practice. These habits involve movements of the tongue, the lips, the vocal cords, etc, which produce speech sounds. Pronunciation is the production of speech sounds for communication.
Learning a foreign language consists of learning a new set of habits. The habits acquired in learning a native language during childhood will not fit another language. It is necessary for a student to begin by making conscious efforts to produce the sounds of the new language as the native speaker produces them. Because the sounds of the new language involve different and unfamiliar motions of the lips, tongue and other speech organs, learning to make the right motions may require a good deal of time and practice.
There is a tendency on the part of the beginning student to use habits from his native language for producing utterances in the new language. He substitutes familiar sounds from his own language for the new sounds of the foreign language. Sometime this results in complete unintelligibility.
Hearing is vitally important in learning to pronounce the sounds of a new language. If the student does not really hear a distinction, he will probably not learn to produce it, not easily, at any rate. Practice in pronouncing such pairs as eat–it; sheep–ship; feel–fill. Facial diagrams are also beneficial.
Besides learning the new motions involved in producing the vowels and consonants of a language like English, the student must also gain automatic control of certain phenomena which accompany the vowels and consonants: STRESS (force in articulation), INTONATION (speech melody), and JUNCTURE (transition).
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Stress differences are observed in several pairs of English verbs and nouns. (In all such cases, the noun is accented on the first syllable and the verb on the second.) Ex. Insult-insult: permit – permit. We find different INTONATION contours in a pair of sentences like, “He’s here.,” and “He’s here?” JUNCTURE differences can be seen in a pair of items like “nitrate” and “night rate”.
Suggestions for the teacher
1) Always speak at a normal conversational speed.
2) Correct mistakes. If a student makes mistakes, stop him and have him repeat the word or sentence after you, help him to from proper habits and try to keep him from continuing wrong ones.
3) Make it clear that you expect a superior performance from each student. Encourage all the students. Do not neglect the better ones to work with the poorer ones, and do not favor the better ones because you find it easier to talk with them.
4) Review frequently. As the student proceeds through the course they should master everything thoroughly. In practice, real mastery often comes about a week after exposure. This is the time for careful review.
5) Avoid the use of student’s native language in the class room.
6) Avoid discussions about the language being learned. Do not allow students to lead you into discussions about why you say. One thing, rather than another. The only answer is “Because that’s the way the language works.”
7) Avoid introducing large numbers of new words. Learn the vocabulary rang of your student and stay within it. Emphasize fluency and accuracy in handling a small vocabulary. This is especially important in the beginning stages.
Learning a new language amounts to Learning by doing. This is best accomplished by imitation and drill in the classroom where the students can see and hear the teacher and the teacher can see and hear the student. The teacher serves his students best when he gives them utterances in the new language to imitate and checks their imitation, stopping now and again to make corrections and, occasionally, brief explanations.
In a language classroom where the audio lingual method of teaching is used, every lesson, regardless of subject matter is a lesson in pronunciation. The teacher always serves as a model for pronunciation and corrects mistakes when they are made. It must be remembered, however, that acquiring correct pronunciation of the second language is basically the development of new muscular habits. For this reason, special lessons must be devoted to the development of these habits.
Since no two languages use the same set of sounds, your students will be in fronted immediately with sounds that exist in English but not in their native language. There will also be sounds in English which are almost, but not quit, like sound in their language. Your students must first of all be trained to hear the sound of English which do not exist in their language. Not until they can hear and distinguish the sounds can they be expected to produce them.
Let us suppose that the native language of your students does not have the vowel sound which English has in the word “hit” but does have the vowel sound in the word “heat”. Your students will not hear the vowel sound of hit. Instead they will tend to identify it with the vowel which is familiar to them the vowel in heat. Drills with minimal pairs will help in this problem.
First, then, compare the language of your students with English to discover which English sounds will be problems for them. Which sound will be totally new to the students and which sounds of the native language are almost like some of English? This will not be a difficult task for you.
Notice in the phonetic alphabet at the front of the book which English sounds are missing in the Korean language. Also, simply notice what words and sounds your students consistently have trouble pronouncing in English. This will give you a clue to the problem sounds.
Students are often misled by the spelling of English. They try to pronounce words as they are written. Because of this, it is better at time to do the pronunciation work with books closed, at least at the beginning of the lesson.
The teacher should use such lists as hit–heat, bit–beat, sit–seat, fit–feet, etc. Each of the two vowel sound may be given a number. As words from the lists are read to the students, they should indicate which vowel sound they hear by saying the appropriate number. In this way one can find out distinguish the contrasting sounds without too much difficulty, you may go on to drill on the pronunciation of the sounds.
If students have great difficulty hearing the difference between such closely related minimal pairs (two words which differ in only one sound) such as hit and heat and bet and bait, you might try placing the unfamiliar sounds between two familiar ones. For example, try giving the students beet and bait first. Then insert bit: beet, bit, bait. The students will soon hear that there is another sound between the two that they already have no problem in hearing, and they will have less trouble in distinguishing the new sound.
Students will also find it hard to distinguish sounds that are almost like others in their own language. For example, a student may be able to produce an “l” sound that is sufficiently different from the “l” sound in English to sound foreign. You will have to explain to the student how to produce the English sound, how to move his tongue, lips, and so on.
Problems arise also because of the distribution of sounds. The native language may have many of the sounds of English, but they may not occur in the same positions in words as they do in English. The teacher must be alert for such problems and drill students to overcome these difficulties.
The teacher should try to give some pronunciation work using whole sentences. Many problems are caused by clusters of sounds, that is, groups of sounds coming together. The only way to deal with these clusters is to drill phrases or whole sentences. Using whole sentences also enables you to give practice in intonation, rhythm, and stress at the same time that you are working on vowel and consonant problems.
Every language has its own system of rhythm and stress. If your students are to learn to speak and to be understood in acceptable English, they will need practice and correction in these aspects of the language from the first day of class. Learning to speak English with the proper stress patterns is just as important as learning to recognize and produce the various vowel and consonant sounds.
Stress is the relative degree of loudness or force that a syllable receives when it is spoken. When you say the word “pencil” for example, the two syllables “pen” and “cil” are not said with equal Loudness. Whether you say the word in a normal voice, or whisper it, or shout it, the first syllable is always spoken louder than the second syllable.
Intonation is the tune or melody of what we say. It is the rise and fall of the voice which occurs in speaking. Since there is a relationship between intonation and meaning, it is important for the student to learn the intonation patters so that he may speak properly and understand what is said.
Intonation is heard around a certain number of points called “pitches.” In English there are four pitches which may be used. Pitch 1 is the lowest and Pitch 4 1s the highest. Pitches 1, 2, and 3 are used all the time in speaking English. Pitch 4 is less common and it is most generally used for emotional emphasis.