Some Issues in Teaching English Pronunciation in Palestinian Schools
English language is one of the international languages in all over the world. ?As any language, it has four main aspects should be learnt in order to has a perfect one. One of these aspects is speaking in which pronunciation constitutes fundamental element that should be known. For this, pronunciation takes an important part in teaching English. As a teacher of a foreign language, there are some challenges may have through teaching this essential part of language. However, Is it really teach as an important aspect in Arab school or it tends to be neglected? In both cases, why? What are these issues which teachers face? Why are they arising?
Are there specified difficulties occur in Palestinian schools? If there are what are they? And why are they specified? Are there solutions or techniques for these difficulties? What are these? And how teachers can apply them in teaching if they can? This is what the paper attempts to discuss in depth. The primary issue which pronunciation suffers from in most of Arab schools, especially in Palestinian ones, is the negligence. Most of English teachers attempt to neglect any activities of pronunciation found in the curriculum. And if it can not be neglected,
The fact that pronunciation suffers from neglect is due to several reasons. The first one is that many teachers think that teaching pronunciation in early stage is not important at all. This point is denoted by Krashen and Terrell (1983 in Stern 1992:113). They hold the view that pronunciation should not be taught in the early stages because –as many teachers believed- wrong pronunciation habits can be changed later. Teachers who fall in with this view rely on the ability of learners to assimilate and correct their pronunciation later without specific instruction.
Moreover, there is some teachers play down teaching pronunciation because it may impede the learning of grammar and vocabulary. Their argument is based on that when teachers concentrate on the accuracy of pronunciation during the lesson, they may disregard grammatical and lexical mistakes the students may make. In addition to the previous reasons for neglected teaching pronunciation, those teachers tend to make grammar and vocabulary their first concern and arrange them as primary stage in their planning lesson (Kelly 2000:13). That is what may happen in most of Palestinian schools.
When it comes to planning a lesson, teachers tends to make grammar their first concern followed by lexicon. Kelley, again, refers the reason to the course books that incline to teaching grammar and vocabulary more than pronunciation. But the problem in Palestinian schools may be, also, because they are used to teaching those parts of language rather than pronunciation. From their beginning as teachers, they found that teaching grammar and vocabulary is more effortless than teaching pronunciation due to its activities and techniques.
For them, grammar and vocabulary have rules they can follow in teaching and make students learn them while pronunciation has not like these rules. Against these views, teaching pronunciation in early stage is very essential part in teaching English language. Allen and Valette (1977:56 in Stern 1993:113) prove that in their quotation: It seems more convincing that teach correct pronunciation in early level get the students to draw attention on their enunciation and make them avoiding and reducing mistakes in future.
As regards to the second claim that it hinders teaching grammar and vocabulary, pronunciation connects with other aspects of language (Wong 1993). Concerning this connection, Stern (1993:114) explains that there are three considerations how it relates to grammar and lexicon; linguistic, communicative, and affective. To illustrate, he mentions the following example from Gilbert (1984:21): (1) count counted (2) mouse mouth (3) a. we’ve often gone up to that lookout. b. he’s got to look out when he talks to his boss.
In the first one, differences in sounds make distinction in grammar, the second is lexical distinction, and in the last one, differences in stress distinguish a compound noun from phrasal verb. By the differences of sounds and stress, learners can easily learn lexicon and grammar. In other words, teaching pronunciation does not obstruct learning grammar and vocabulary as some teachers fear. Furthermore, the significance of pronunciation is come to light through communication. Due to have communicative competence, accurate pronunciation of sounds and stress in the utterance is extremely required.
Stern (1993:115) gestures that serious flaws in pronunciation take bad effect on understanding. For example, if one of those who has ill pronunciation want to ask an English person to give him a pen and due to his ill pronunciation he pronounces it pin, the meaning of the word is changed so he may never convey his message clearly. In this case, communication with foreign people could be very hard and awkward. Regarding to those who put grammar and vocabulary in precedence, they can tackle this issue by two ways. The first one is by making pronunciation as integral part of teaching language and lesson planning.
In words of Kelly (2000:13), teachers while planning should involve pronunciation issues which are related to the structures and lexis that going to deal with in the lesson. Also, they can anticipate the difficulties that students may have, and plan their lesson accordingly. By expecting and planning, teachers have the opportunity to practice pronunciation and not ignore it. The second way is that specifies a complete lesson weekly to discussing the hardness of pronunciation with students and solves it by practice. They can do that through conversation by listening to them and correct mistakes students may make.
Likewise, teachers can get them new vocabulary with its pronunciation and make them repeat it. In addition to showing the importance of pronunciation, the example, mentioned the wrong pronunciation of pen and pin or bin, points out another serious issue in teaching pronunciation for Arab learners; the difficulties of pronunciation some sounds. In this case, teachers face serious challenges to get the students pronounce well because of the difficulties and how they can deal with them in teaching. In the other words, how they can teach pronunciation for beginners.
Because of this problem some teachers tends to neglect teaching this approach. But what are these difficulties of pronunciation? And how teachers can deal with them? There is a tendency for the teachers to focus on production as the main problem affecting learners. However, in a word of Dalton (1997), most research shows clearly that the problem is more likely to be reception- ‘what you don’t hear, you can’t say’. Moreover, if the English sound is not clearly received, the brain of the learner converts it into the closest sound in their own language.
For instance, if the teacher pronounces /p/ sound for the first time without explaining the difference between it and /b/ sound, students will already pronounce it /b/. These difficulties come from the differences in sound system between the two languages; English and Arabic. In this case, the problems occur in teaching three parts of pronunciation: consonants, vowels, and stress. Amer (2007:19) states that differences between English and Arabic in consonants give rise to difficulties of pronouncing English words.
First of all, some consonants, which seem to have the same pronunciation, cause problems in teaching beginner students. For example, pronouncing the consonant /p/ is the primary difficulty for Arab students. The problem is that /p/ sound is not available in Arabic and differs from the sound /b/, which both of them seem to be the same the same for Arab learners. Here, teachers of pronunciation face the problem when students cannot distinguish between /p/, unavailable, and /b/, available in Arabic as ? , so they pronounce the both sounds /b/.
For this particular difficulty, McLaughlin (2003:71) suggests to use paper-activity in teaching those sounds /p/ and /b/. the activity is required to ask students to hold a piece of paper in front of their mouths. Then, the teacher asks them to pronounce b sound and draw their attention to the fact that the paper does not move. The same request is asked with p sound. But, here, if the pronunciation correct, the paper should move with the air released by their breath. At this stage, the teacher has to explain the physical difference in the two sounds to make it easier for students.
Also, he asks them to repeat this number of times in order to be familiar with the difference. For that, McLaughlin says: “once they have the correct pronunciation of the letter, they can build on their skills by repeating the same excercise with [other] word”. Again in order to differentiate between similar sounds, teachers can use pair words have the two voices like: pan and ban, pin and Ben, etc. The previous difference, between p and b is not the only problem that brings difficulties. Another one occurs because some consonants seem to be the same in Arabic in pronunciation, but in fact they re not. To illustrate, the alveolar sounds in English are produced when the tip of the tongue touches the alveolar ridge like /t/ and /d/ while for Arab learners they seem to be dental sounds as ? and ?. In this case, teachers have problem to make them differentiate between these sounds. Moreover, some of these sounds do not exist in Arabic like /? /, / /, and /v/. These causes a problem for teachers to carry the students pronounce them correctly. In this context, Amer (2007:19) advises teachers to be good pronouncers and teach consonants ‘deductively’.
Also, they ought to inform their students the differences, Dalton (1997) states: Having informed him or her [the student] of some of the main areas of contrast between native language [Arabic] and target language [English] and what difficulties students have, it then remains for the teacher to build this information into some meaningful classroom exercises. In order to carry them differentiate between similar sounds, teachers can use pair words have the two voices such as pan and ban, pin and bin, etc.
Another difficulty, which seems to be more common among Arab students, is created from vowels. According to Roach (2000:10), vowels are “sounds in which there is no obstruction to the flow of air as it passes from the larynx to the lips”. The problem arises from the differences between the two languages’ vowels and the minimal pairs; sounds are quite similar. First of all, English vowels are more particular, while the Arabic ones are allophonic (Amer 2007:24). This causes hardness for teachers in getting the students pronounce them correctly as it is new sounds for them.
Moreover, some English vowels have no exist in Arabic language like: /e, , , , , , , /, what make difficulties to produce. In addition to these problems, McLaughlin (2003:72) and Riddle (2003:77) agree that English spelling does not help students to produce correct vowels because there is no phonics role in pronouncing English words. For instance, the words ‘her’ and ‘hair’ have the same pronunciation but different spelling. One solution can be useful for this problem is to teach these vowels individually by using phonemic chart.
The phonemic chart is a series of symbols used to denote the various sounds in the English language (McLaughlin 2003:73). The aim of this chart is not teaching students to write the phonemic symbol for each new word, but it helps them to distinguish between similar sounds. In this context, McLaughlin (2003:79) signifies that the perfect way to use the chart is to concentrate on ‘minimal pairs’ such as sounds /i/ and /i:/. In this case, the teacher gives an example of two words like slip /i/ and sleep /i:/ to show it the chart and draw students’ attention to the position of mouth and the differences of it.
Related to pronunciation problems, stress in English is one of the most visible areas of hardness in teaching pronunciation. According to LODCE, Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, stress is loudness which a part of a word is pronounced, makes it sound stronger than other part. Some writers and teachers as Riddle (2003:82) hold the view that stress is probably less important than other aspect of English pronunciation, because mis-stressing does not affect meaning as mispronouncing consonants. However, many agree that stress is essential related to efficient foreign language communication and efficient learning.
The difficulties in teaching English stress are due to its different roles from Arabic. English tends to be a stress-timed language. This means that stressed syllables are roughly equidistant in time, no matter how many syllables come in between. On the other hand, Arabic language is syllable-timed, with each syllable coming at an equal time after the previous one. Regarding this difference, Arab learners often have a staccato rhythm when speaking English that is disconcerting to a native speaker. At this point, teachers confront challenges in carring students to pronounce stress fluency.
Also, stress in English more strongly determines vowel quality than it does in Arabic language. For example, in some varieties the syllables an, en, in, on and un are pronounced as homophones, that is, exactly alike. Native speakers can usually distinguish an able, enable, and unable because of their position in a sentence, but this is more difficult for inexperienced English speakers. Moreover, learners tend to overpronounce these unstressed vowels, giving their speech an unnatural rhythm. Another problem arises because stress in English words in separate tends to be changed in sentence level.
For example, grammatical words such as pronouns, prepositions, auxiliary verbs and conjunctions are stressed in separate while they are usually unstressed in sentence level. Most students tend to overuse the strong form, which is pronounced with the written vowel as they are used to pronounce the words separately. A question can cross one’s mind that how can teachers deal with these serious problems or how can they teach stress? There are many stratedies for teaching English stress additionally to the several activities. First step teacher has to do is to explain the meaning of stress and its functions.
Students should know what they deal with to be more interest in the subject. Also, teacher has to put students in the picture of the importance of stress and how it may affect the meaning. In this way, they can catch the interest of students toward the topic raising their awareness of the accurant stress. After that, Riddell (2003:82) advices teachers to be consistent in using one way of mark which refer to the stressed part of the word. They, also, are required to make sure the learners know the mark they use. The following step is to develop a system for showing students where stress occurs in a word.
Each word is introduced for the first time, teacher can apply the stress on it, write the word on the blackboard, mark the stress and pronounce it. Teachers ought to give chance for students to practice. There are several techniques can be used for each problem individually, but are there any alternative ways to deal with the different aspects of pronunciation (consonants, vowels, and stress) at the same time? Surely, many techniques can be applied to those aspects at the same time, but they need to be recognized from the teacher.
Furthermore, exercises and activities should be simple, accessible, fun and combine reception and production as Dalton (1997) recommends. We can use the technique of encouragement. The teacher can use it in many ways such as asking the students to cooperate with him. This can be by using activities in class and let the students answer the questions through these activities. The students will be more capable of learning the right pronunciation because they became more interested in it. Also, the teacher can use the technique of asking question randomly among students in class room.
The student will pay more attention and tries to keep up with the teacher to answer the questions that he is asked in class. If the questions are asked in order among classroom students, the students won’t pay attention to the teacher. Drilling, Songs, Grouping, and Charts are some activities can be useful in teaching pronunciation in which all aspects of pronunciation are included. According to Riddell (2003:79) and Kelly (2000:16), drilling is one of the main and useful ways can be used in teaching pronunciation.
It involves teachers saying a word or a sentence and getting the class to repeat it. Firstly, teachers drill the items ‘chorally’ inviting the class to repeat it in union. By this way, choral drilling gives them confidence and chance to practice pronunciation. Then, the teacher asks the students in turn to pronounce the item individually. Therefore, teachers ascertain that every one of them is able to pronounce the word or structure correctly. Although some teachers do not like this way, or do not believe in it, it is very important method which has benefits for teachers and students.
In this term, Kelly (2000:16) gestures: “This [drilling] is a crucial part of classroom pronunciation work, and is possibly the time in the lesson when students are most reliant on the teacher”. For the learners, drilling aims to help them achieve better pronunciation and remember new items. This is because this method follows by process of eliciting, encourage students to bring up the word or structure with its pronunciation. Also, it provides the students with confidence by repeating word together. They, especially shy students, could feel embarrassment if he pronounce the word for the first time wrongly alone.
While if he does that with other, he can get the correct pronunciation and pronounce it again with others to have courage to do it alone. Songs is another method that teachers can use in teaching pronunciation. Songs contain sounds which are consonants and vowels. According to Kenworthy ( ), by pronouncing the sounds of the songs correctly, the students learn from it and start trying to imitate the right pronunciation. There are some certain songs that we can use in pronunciation activities, which have some similar sounds in it.
For an example of using songs in teaching pronunciation is that the teacher chooses six words from a song from which minimal pairs can be created . As in the song imagine by John Lennon: * Heaven-even * Hanger-anger * Man-mad After that, the teacher writes the pairs separately on cards and gives them out one per group of five or five students. Then the students match the pairs. They, then, listen to the song and grab the correct one. Choices are checked according to the lyrics. This is of the best ways to teach some new sounds to students.
In addition to these activities, Grouping is anther important techniques can be used in teaching pronunciation. It means dividing the class into groups that contain 4-5 students. It is used in workshops and practical sessions. In these sessions the focus is on the completion of a practical task which has a highly specific observable outcome. Here the teacher is asked to prepare some practical tasks, such as on pronunciation of consonants. The teacher collects the students in these sessions and starts doing the exercise he had prepared. After answering them, the teacher sees whether they have mistakes or not.
If there is, he tries to overcome them by giving them the right answer and show them exactly where the mistake is. This technique is very useful but it has some limitations. The most commonly recognized problem in grouping is that it may be expensive in terms of time. Dividing students and making these groups organized. The student may not respond quickly to the teacher to set in the way that he wants. According to Wallace (2001:40), another disadvantage of grouping is that it is aimless with no beneficial result for learning. A cause of this is that the student may have learned something but he isn’t really aware of it.
This is because they are not well-organized by the participants where there may be a gap in the personal relationships within the group. It is helpful to use the chat in teaching pronunciation as a technique. Teachers find that using it in pronunciation is very important. The teacher can use it to introduce new sounds. This can help in adding anew sound into circulation, to work on them, and to attach them to the chart. While attaching them to it, the teacher pronounces this sound efficiently to students, so the new sounds will have a certain meaning to the learners.
These sounds can be attached to the chart by the help of a tape that has some examples on the sound he is attaching. Although teaching techniques are very important, some teachers think that they have some pitfalls. Confusion of errors is one of the disadvantages of the techniques used in teaching pronunciation. That can be either by excessive description. Excessive description is a type of error. When a teacher is explaining a point in phonetics, he should concentrate on one point of correction and turn a deaf ear to the other mistakes that the student is committing.
For example, when the teacher is giving a lesson on pronouncing / / sound and the student may mispronounce the / / sound, that he did not explain yet. The teacher can only concentrate on pronouncing / / sound and making sure that the students understand the pronunciation. To sum up, it is clear that teaching English pronunciation in Arab schools confronts many challenges. The primary one is that it tends to be neglected. Regardless to the importance of this approach, teachers concern more with other aspects of the language like grammar and vocabulary.
They claim that it is not so essential part; moreover, they do not know how to deal with it. Additionally, it is not easy to teach English pronunciation for Arab beginners. The term seems to be difficult due to the differences between the sound systems. In spite of all these issues, teachers should not ignore teaching this approach. Teaching our students pronunciation is absolutely necessary in order to achieve perfect communication. Therefore, it will be so beneficial if teachers specify one lesson a week for practice this fundamental term through using such activities as mentioned previously or others.
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Riddell, David (2003) Teaching English as a Foreign/ Second Language. London: Hodder Headline. Roach, Peter (2000) English Phonetics and Phonology: A Self-contained, Comprehensive Pronunciation Course. 3rd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Stern, H. H. (1992) Issues and Options in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wallace, Wong, Rita (1993). Pronunciation Myths and Facts. Forum Journal on-line. 31/4. Available: ;http://exchanges. state. gov/forum/vols/vol3/no4/p45. htm;, [accessed 5th December, 2007]