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WHAT DO YOU SOUND LIKE?

Recently, at a pan-Asian conference in Seoul, Korea I was entranced by the


number and variety of ‘Englishes’ on show, with speakers and participants
from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, the
Philippines, Japan, Korea and China (amongst others). In this pluralinguistic
world English belongs to everybody and anybody, and we are reminded again
and again that there are many more speakers of English as a second
language than as a first language. Or perhaps we should say that there are
many more speakers of English who don’t come from one of the ‘inner circle’
countries (in Kachru’s description) than there are ones who do.
In such circumstances it becomes difficult to work out what kind of
pronunciation models or behaviour are appropriate for our students. Should
we try and force them to adhere to British or American English, for example?
And even if they want to sound like Australians or Canadians, what is the best
way to help them to do this?
These are the kinds of questions which are asked in this updated ELT
Forum module on pronunciation – in the selection of materials that you can
find in the development pack. Different writers discuss ways of sensitizing
students to pronunciation issues as a pre-requisite for any kind of successful
production. There are discussions about what kind of pronunciation teaching
might be appropriate for business students, and articles about how to use
dictation in pronunciation teaching, as well as extracts about how and when
pronunciation teaching can be slotted into lessons.
But the issue of pronunciation models remains a key one in these times
of international English. On this issues, and as far as I can see, students
should not be bludgeoned into trying to speak like a British person (for
example) unless they want to. On the contrary, the goal of our work should
be to help our students to understand as much of what they hear as they can,
and to make themselves as appropriately intelligible as possible. That, after
all, is all that any of us really want. For as my recent Korean experience
reminded me, there can be many many English varieties operating in a
system with their different pronunciations, grammars, idiomaticities and
richness. The wonder and glory of it is that they are al l mutually intelligible.

Jeremy Harmer
INTERESTED OR BORED?

Before you read ‘Interested or bored? How should pronunciation be taught?’,


complete the following tasks:

1 Do you believe that good pronunciation can be taught? What is the


relationship between sensitizing learners to pronunciation issues and
their own ability to use good pronunciation?

2 List you three favourite pronunciation activities.

Now read ‘Interested or bored? How should pronunciation be taught?’. How


far does the article match your views? Are any of your favourite activities
described in the article?

INTERESTED OR BORED? HOW


SHOULD PRONUNCIATION BE
TAUGHT?
Jeremy Harmer

Introduction: pronunciation teaching and


pronunciation sensitizing

There is considerable anxiety about what kind of pronunciation teaching we


should offer our students. As the articles in the pronunciation module on ELT
Forum demonstrate, the quest for intelligibility on the part of our students can
take many forms. And the students themselves have widely differing views on
whether they wish to achieve some native-speaker-like proficiency or whether
indeed they would prefer to be intelligible but maintain a distinctive version
which includes their own L1 background.
The solution, in part, has to come from them. They are the ones to
determine how like a native -speaker they need or want to sound. But the
situation is further complicated by the fact that English is changing its role as
a means of international communication. In the first place, the frequently
repeated statistic is that more people speak English as a second language
than as a first language; it follows, therefore, that a large proportion of
English-language exchanges take place with no native-speaker participation –
that is with no particular advantage to be gained by the use of any
approximation of one of the many varieties of native speaker use.
But we are in deep water here. The concept of native speaker is very
difficult to sustain as the world gets both smaller and larger. Is the speaker of
Indian English a native speaker? Well of course she is, just as a speaker of
British English or a speaker of Nigerian English or of Singaporean English is.
Their Englishes may be somewhat different varieties, but all of them learn and
acquire in countries where English is a functional language of national life.
What, though, of a speaker of Korean English, for example? Clearly not a
native speaker? Well of course not! Not in the terms that we have always
discussed such a concept.
But the competent speaker of English who is Korean has as much right to
the language as an American person (for whom English is often, anyway, a
second language – as in the case with many Hispanic speakers). Indeed any
competent speaker of a language has a right to ownership of that language.
These issues, and the many difficulties which they provoke, arose for me
yet again as I attended a conference of Asia TEFL, a pan-Asian conference
with teachers from all over the region, from Singapore to Nepal, from China
to Japan, from Mongolia to Indonesia. And as I sat and marvelled at the
elegance and richness of the many different Englishes on display – all
perfectly intelligible to each other – I started to become preoccupied, yet
again, with the problem of pronunciation teaching and whether offering
students a British English model (and let’s face it, it’s more likely to be
southern English standard – a sort of modernised RP – than any other British
variety) was an appropriate thing to do. Or rather, to put the question more
succinctly, how ‘British’ (since I myself am British) should I expect my
students to sound?

Reception and production


One logical outcome from these dilemmas (to my mind) is that the teaching
of pronunciation should concern itself not so much with how the students
should sound, but rather how they can be made aware of how competent
speakers sound. In other words, rather than try and force students to
conform to some pre-set model of pronunciation acceptability, we should,
instead get them aim for multi -variety comprehension and intelligibility. As a
result, therefore, we should be doing our best to make them able to hear
things, and understand the significance of what they are hearing, rather than
trying to force unnatural (and often one -variety) pronunciation practices onto
them. For our students, then, the goals of pronunciation teaching should be
firstly to train their ‘ears’, and then to help them sound just how they want to
sound, provided that they don’t confuse their listeners into thinking they are
hearing something different from what they are actually trying to say.
Reception, in other words (the ear-training we have just mentioned) is just as
important as production and the two, just as with vocabulary learning, are in
any case inseparable.
In that context, and based on work I have been doing recently in course
design, I want to suggest that there are three main roles for pronunciation
teaching:

A Training students to hear: one of the things I want for my students is


that they should be able to hear what they are exposed to. By that I
mean that they should have the ability to analyse the sounds that they
come across if they want to. I write this in italics because I see no
reason why students absolutely have to be analytic in any way. It goes
against the style of many of them. But at the same time, there are
many students who want to be analytic some of the time (my italics
again). In other words I want to give them the tools to listen with
precision should they so wish or need.

Some ‘getting to students to hear’ activities might be:

• How many sounds? Students hear a number of words that they


see written down (e.g. cat, dog, sheep, shepherd, mountain,
lake). They have to say how many sounds (not letters) they hear.
In the case of ‘sheep’ for example, there are only 3 sounds for 5
letters. ‘Shepherd’ has 8 letters, but only 5 sounds.

• How many syllables ? in the same way we can ask students to say
how many syllables they hear in words like ‘secretary’. Often
people say this with only three syllables even though, on paper, it
clearly looks as if it has four!

• Same or different? Students hear pairs of sentences, for example,


and have to say whether they are the same or different. A pair
might be 1 There are three pubs in town/2 There were three pubs
in town’. Here we are not so much trying to get students to
identify the different sounds themsleves, but rather to hear that
there is a difference.

• Up or down? A staple of pronunciation activities, this simply


involves students trying to work out whether the voice goes up or
down at the end of sentences and questions. Typical are tag
questions where students have to say whether the voice goes up
or down at the end of sentences such as ‘You’re Taiwanese, aren’t
you?’
• Nonsense syllables: an exercise that combines hearing stress and
intonation happens when students are given sentences and
phrases such as ‘Nice to see you?’ or ‘Please come in.’ They are
told to think about how they would say them (where they would
put the stress etc). Then they hear someone saying the phrases
with nonsense syllables, e.g. ‘Der-di-DER’ for ‘please come in’ and
they have to identify the phrase in question.

All of these activities are designed, more than anything else, to train
the students to hear accurately. What we want is not so much to train
students in a particular piece of listening, but rather to become
accustomed to listening analytically should they so desire. They will
then be able to work out what they are hearing when they hear new
words and phrases for the first time

B Helping students to understand : if students are able to hear (that is,


for the purposes of this article, to listen analytically), then we can ask
them to put this ability to appropriate use. What we want is for them to
understand what they hear. Two examples will show what this means:

• Interested or bored? Students hear a number of people replying to


statements like ‘I just got a new job’ or ‘I’m going to be in a new play at
the theatre’ with exclamations such as ‘That’s terrific’ or ‘How
interesting’. All they have to do is say whether the speaker who reacts
is genuinely interested or not. Or they hear people responding to
requests for help with phrases like ‘I’d rather not’ or ‘Do I have to?’ and
all they have to do is say whether it would be worth continuing with the
request or whether, on the contrary, the respondent’s tone of voice
(pitch and intonation) were so emphatic that they clearly can’t be
budged.

• What exactly do you mean? This is an activity devoted to variable


stress. Students have to be able to is work out what exactly is being
asked about in questions like ‘John said he wanted to marry you?’ or
‘John said he wanted to marry you?’ This activity helps them to use
their ‘hearing’ skills to understand what is being said.

• Different meanings students hear the same word or words said in a


number of different ways (words like ‘yes’, ‘well’, ‘right’ etc) and have to
understand what meaning is being communicated – anything from
‘absolutely not’ to ‘tell me more’ or ‘could you say that again’

• Football scores one of my favourite activities (which I first encountered


in a class given by David Crystal many years ago) concerns football
scores given as football results. Since this is intonation based it
combines the twin functions of a hearing activity (in the terms of this
article) and an understanding article.
‘Football scores’ has the students hear results but with the second
score missing. They have to guess what it is. Thus ‘Manchester United
6, Liverpool ….’. The speaker’s intonation will tell them whether the
number is 0 - 5, 6 or more than 6.
‘Football scores’ is interesting because once the teacher has
explained how it words (the different rises and falls) the students
themselves can try and have the same effect. It’s fun and helps them to
understand better. But we do not really want to train them to be
football announcers, but rather that, by trying it out, they should gain
greater insight into how things work.

All of the activities in this section are designed to help students understand
what people mean when they use certain stress and intonation patterns. Of
course we will get students to have a go themselves, but it is listening and
being aware that matters most, for without it is highly unlikely that they
will ever be able to produce the same patterns themselves even if they
wanted to.

C Giving the students a useful tool: there has been some controversy
about whether or not students should learn phonemic symbols or not.
Some purists think they should, whilst others think it gets in the way of
learning since it is a technical ability that not many people use in real life.
My own view is that students have no need whatsoever to write
phonemic symbols. However it will greatly help them if they can
recognise phonemic symbols when they access paper dictionaries for
example. It seems worthwhile, therefore, to introduce phonemic symbols
for recognition only – by, for example giving them simple words written
phonemically which they have to re-write orthographically, building up
their range bit by bit.

D Giving ownership: a final point needs to be made here which, while


small is nevertheless important. This is the giving of ownership, or
rather, granting the students some say over their own pronunciation
syllabus.
In its simplest form this involves students telling the teacher what
they need rather than teachers deciding on student needs. We might, for
example, give them a list of words they have been using recently and ask
them to say which words they find easy and which words they find
difficult. Those then (the difficult words) are the ones we will concentrate
on, rather than the ones we had previously thought we would focus on.
Instead of the usual monolithic approach to pronunciation which gets
students to practise things even if they neither need nor want to do so,
we are letting them decide for themselves what will be most relevant for
them.
Ownership means much more than this, of course. It also means,
perhaps, having students say what their pronunciation goals are, and
letting those opinions guide some of our actions as teachers. It means
asking students when and if they want correction of pronunciation errors,
and which particular aspect of pronunciation (intonation, sounds or
stress) they particularly want to work on.
I am not suggesting that teachers should be obliged to hand over all
decision-making to their students. I am suggesting, however, that if
students have some say in what goes on, they are more likely to be
helped to pronounce better.

The goal of pronunciation teaching, in the end, must be to help students both
understand and be understood by the widest possible range of English
speakers around the world – or by the community they wish, primarily, to
communicate in. And the only way to do this is to help them hear well, and
then to get them to understand what they hear, especially in the areas of
differing stress and intonation. If, on top of this, we can give them some
control over their learning their motivation will most assuredly increase.

Now that you have read ‘Interested or bored? How should pronunciation be
taught?, complete the following tasks:

3 Who should be responsible for deciding on the goals of good


pronunciation teaching according to the article?

4 What, according to the article, should be the goals (for students) for
pronunciation teaching?

5 Complete the charts

Name of the Description (in your own Your opinion of the


activity words) activity
Training students to understand

Name of the Description (in your own Your opinion of the


activity words) activity
THE BUSINESS ENGLISH LEARNER

Before you read ‘The Business English learner - pronunciation’, complete the
following tasks

1 How important is pronunciation to the business English learner?

2 What kinds of pronunciation activities might be appropriate for the


Business English learner?

Now read ‘The Business English learner - pronunciation’. Does the


author agree with you? What has he suggested that is different from
what you have thought?

‘The Business English learner - pronunciation’ by John Hughes. English


Teaching Professional 34 (2004)

Now that you have read ‘The Business English learner - pronunciation’,
complete the following tasks:

3 What do students say about pronunciation, and what arguments does


the author advance for teaching pronunciation to business students?

4 Why is pronunciation teaching a problem for the business English


teacher who believes in communication tasks? How, if at all, does the
author resolve this problem?

5 Complete the following chart about t he activities that John Hughes


suggests:

Activity Name of activity Describe the activity; what’s your


opinion of it?
1

4
6 What do you understand by the concept of ownership, and how
convinced are you that it is a good idea (or not a good idea)?

PRONUNCIATION AND DICTATION

Before you read ‘Using dictation to teach pronunciation’ complete the


following tasks:

1 Have you ever used dictation to teach pronunciation? If so, how have
you done it?

2 What is the status of pronunciati on teaching in most modern curricula?


Has this always been the case?

Now read ‘Using dictation to teach pronunciation’. How closely do your


answers match the author’s?

‘Using dictation to teach pronunciation’ by Patrick Blanche. Modern English


Teacher 13/1 (2004)

Now that you have read ‘Using dictation to teach pronunciation’ complete the
following tasks:

3 Complete the table:

People/movements that stress or People/movements that were/are


stressed the importance of less keen on the importance of
pronunciation teaching pronunciation teaching

4 What two things does Patrick Blanche suggest doing before the class?

A ___________________________________________________
B ___________________________________________________

5 What five things does Patrick Blanche suggest doing in the class?

A ___________________________________________________
B ___________________________________________________
C ___________________________________________________
D ___________________________________________________
E ___________________________________________________

6 What five things does Patrick Blanche suggest doing as follow-up


activities?

A ___________________________________________________
B ___________________________________________________
C ___________________________________________________
D ___________________________________________________
E ___________________________________________________