Why is the teaching of pronunciation important

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In this essay I will discuss why the teaching of pronunciation is considered to be important by some and not so much by others. I will then seek to identify and discuss the difficulties that English speakers of the French nationality will have with their pronunciation of English. Next I will move on to tackling some of these anticipated difficulties that French students may have by providing five activities, which may be used in an EFL class to help students with such problems.

The reason I chose to discuss the difficulties of French speakers as appose to any others is because, when I was at secondary school, my French teacher was of the French nationality, so it was her first language, this meant that her spoken English was not very good, and often when she used to try and explain the work to us, I would not understand what she said, because of the way she use to say it, this meant that I did not learn much in lessons which resulted in the failure of the subject. It is for this reason that I am interested in the English pronunciation by French speakers.

Pronunciation is very important for successful communication. In order for someone to clearly understand what it is you are saying, you must say it correctly. There are many issues around the teaching of English pronunciation to non native speakers. In a recent poll on the BBC – Teaching English, Website, the question was raised about how important it is for students to speak English like a native speaker, and teachers were asked; should English be taught in a way that the aim is to end up with native speaker pronunciation standards?

Out of 809 votes 73% of people agreed that it should be, with views such as “Good grammar isn’t as important as good pronunciation”, and “Correct pronunciation is important to avoid misunderstandings and embarrassment… “. While 22% of people disagreed, with a different view in mind, “If a student can make himself/herself understood, surely that is enough in 90% of cases….. French, Italian or Chinese English are just as valid as long as the speaker is comprehensible to other English users.

Although this may not be a very wide representation of views, about the importance of teaching pronunciation, it does on the other hand provide us with an insight on the view that without clear pronunciation, there are many difficulties that non-native English speakers will face when trying to communicate, and it also strengthens the argument that the teaching of pronunciation is important and without it people can easily be misunderstood or misjudged thus leading to controversy. Dell Hymes introduced the term Communicative competence.

His original idea was that “speakers of a language have to have more than grammatical competence in order to be able communicate effectively in a language; they also need to know how language is used by members of a speech community to accomplish their purposes. ” (Aspects of communicative competence) This illustrates the point that pronunciation is extremely important for effective communication and that bad pronunciation can confuse people even if you use advanced English grammar.

You can use very simple grammar so people understand you but you cannot use simple pronunciation as this has to be correct all the time in order for you to avoid embarrassment and for others to understand you. When a non native speaker speaks English, there are many difficulties they will face from just learning the grammar and syntax, because by learning just this allows you to identify the rules of the English language and allows you to distinguish between the correct and incorrect usage of the language however it does not engage in how the language is actually used when spoken.

This cannot be taught to students learning English as a foreign language in a normal session unless a specific session is dedicated to the exploration Spoken English, in terms of pronunciation. However before we can move on further to sessions on pronunciation we must acknowledge that, there are many different speakers of the English language in the UK and elsewhere and it is usually the case that not everyone’s accent is the same. So when teaching the pronunciation of English, one must teach that which is accepted by all, and teach the standard pronunciation.

It leads us to ask what is Standard English? Who decides what is standard? The American Heritage(r) Dictionary of the English Language briefly explains what is the accepted form of pronunciation today and how it came about, ‘A pronunciation of British English, originally based on the speech of the upper class of southeastern England and characteristic of the English spoken at the public schools and at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Until recently it was the standard form of English used in British broadcasting’.

There are some similarities between the English and the French language both in syntax and vocabulary; however the phonological system reveals that there are also some important differences between the languages, those such as, the links between spelling and pronunciation, which means that French speakers will often face difficulties in understanding and constructing verbal English. French language shares many phonological characteristics with English, therefore French speakers do not have much difficulty in recognising and pronouncing consonants, however the problem surfaces when it comes to vowels.

Amongst these difficulties there is also the difference in the English and French system of word stress. One of the main problems that can be identified is the strong ‘French accent’ that is used when speaking English; this is because of some of the features that the French language has. These would be such things like the fact that French words of two syllables or more are stressed in a regular way unlike English where the stress pattern for words or groups of words, must be learnt and known to the user.

Another difference between the languages is that in English un-stressing a syllable would mean that the time taken for saying it would reduce and there is also more vowel reduction unlike the French language where the opposite is done. The French language uses tenser, more rounded lips and more frequent jaw opening; the tip of the tongue is not used. The difficulties which French speakers face when speaking English is explained in more detail below.

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