Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Relation between Reading and Speeling

Reading and spelling are closely related. Reading does help spelling. However, it cannot be asserted that one leads to the other. In the past, there had been great insistence on mastering spelling, with the assumption that if one mastered spelling, reading automatically followed. In recent times, the trend has been to assume that if children are taught to read, spelling would automatically follow. Neither position seems to be wholly true.

While reading and spelling are somewhat connected with one another, research indicates that one does not necessarily entail the other. For example, “there are many people who have no difficulty in reading, but who have a major persistent handicap in spelling…. It is commonplace to find children who can read far better than they can spell” (Crystal 1987:213). However, in the early stages of learning, children tend to spell more correctly than they read correctly.

There are several reasons as to why the spelling in English seems to be nearly chaotic. There are more letter alternatives for a sound than there are sound alternatives for a letter in English. “For example, sheep has really only one possible pronunciation . . . ; whereas the form could be written in at lest three different ways – sheep, sheap, shepe (Crystal 1987:213). Researchers have suggested that in English there are 13.7 spellings per sound, but only 3.5 sounds per letter (Dewey 1971).

There are other reasons as well why spelling and pronunciation appear to be so divergent from each other in English. The history of the language, and the history of borrowing and printing provide many reasons for this divergence.

It is easy to teach the letters of the English alphabet, but very difficult to teach the association between letters and sound, mainly because a letter may represent many sounds, and a sound may be represented by more than one letter. I learned all the 26 letters, their sequence, and pronunciation within a few days when I was in my fifth grade, and I also concluded that by this act I had completely mastered the English language! Soon I recognized how foolish and hasty I was in coming to such a conclusion! Even today I wonder how children all over the world are able to succeed in learning spelling in any language!

More often than not, the letters of the English alphabet are taught associating with a word in which the sound (or one of the sounds) represented by the letter is prominent. Ultimately, however, the students need to associate a primary sound with the letter, and to master the order in which the letters are presented in the alphabet.

Mastering the alphabetical order of letters is of practical importance. Without the knowledge of this order, students will not be able to use the dictionaries.


Monday, September 11, 2006

Teaching Pronunciation (19)


Paulston and Bruder (1976) suggest the following: Correct errors immediately at single word drilling phase. Correct the mistakes by modeling and by asking your students to imitate your pronunciation. In conversational exchanges, correct errors only on particular teaching points. Correct those items which interfere with comprehensibility, and overlook other mistakes. Judge content and form separately. Correct carefully without reducing motivation and self-image of the adult learners.

Doff (1988) identifies three approaches to error correction practiced by teachers.
1. “I never let my students make mistakes. If they say anything wrong, I stop them and make them say it correctly. I don’t want them to learn bad English from each other.” This approach focuses more on errors of students than on what they do correctly. This approach hampers developing fluency in English, for committing mistakes is an integral part of any learning activity. Currently it is agreed that the errors committed by the students should be considered as an indication of what we still need to teach.

2. “I correct students sometimes, but not all the time. If we’re practicing one particular language point, then I insist that they say it correctly. But if we’re doing a freer activity then I try not to correct too much. If I do correct, I try to do it in an encouraging way.”

3. “I try to correct errors as little as possible. I want my students to express themselves in English without worrying too much about making mistakes. Sometimes I notice points that everyone gets wrong, and deal with them later – but I never interrupt students to correct them.”

Presently, “most teachers would agree . . . that we need to correct some errors, to help students learn the correct forms of the language . . . But this does not mean that we have to correct students all the time – if we do, it might make them unwilling or unable to say anything at all” (Doff 1988:188).
Doff further gives the following suggestions. “As far as possible, encourage the students, focussing on what they have got right, not on what they have got wrong. Praise students for correct answers, and even for partly correct answers; in this way, they will feel they are making progress. Avoid humiliating students or making them feel that making a mistake is ‘bad’. Correct errors quickly; if too much time is spent over correcting errors, it gives them too much importance and holds up the lesson” (Doff 1988:190).

Remember that our ultimate goal in pronunciation and speaking practice is developing fluency with comprehensibility.


Teaching Pronunciation (18)


Since there is much variation between spelling and pronunciation, it is better to teach these together. When a new sound is learned, give the various spellings of that sound. For example, the learners should recognize that the letter combinations kn, gn, mn, pn, in initial positions have the sound /n/ and that the spelling e has various sounds in different words.

Teach first the common usual spelling of the sound, then follow this with less common spellings, sight words and homophones in that order. Sight words are those words which have a pronunciation different from other words with a similar spelling (Paulston and Bruder 1976:104).

For example, look, took, book, shook, good, and wood all form a pattern which is not shared in words such as too, food and mood. These words need to be taught as sight words, as exceptions to the general pattern.

Homophones are words with different spellings which are pronounced the same (two/too/to, night/knight) (Paulston and Bruder 1976:105). Homographs are those words with the same or similar spellings with different pronunciation: conduct/conduct, present/present; simply/imply.
Fortunately for us, enterprising teachers of TESOL have published several insightful manuals to teach pronunciation of English which carefully grade the sound-symbol correspondences and provide hierarchically well-organized exercises. I highly commend Pronunciation Pairs by Baker and Goldstein (1990) to develop spelling-pronunciation correspondences. There are several books available which follow the “phonics” method linking sounds with letters. The characteristics of errors committed by the South Asian learners of English are listed in several publications. Professor B. Kachru's booklength treatment of the subject in the Current Trends in Linguistics, South Asian Languages volume, is a very significant milestone in this discipline.

It is important to avoid technical explanations. Instead, provide exercises using words which would be of immense practical value to the students in their day to day use of English. Rules of pronunciation should not be memorized, but taught through abundant practice so that the learners will internalize these rules and the exceptions in their own way, in an unconscious manner.

Remember that teaching correct and appropriate pronunciation of English to adult learners of English is indeed a very difficult task. Do not expect to eliminate all traces of their native language from their English utterances. The goal is to make them speak English in a manner that their speech, though with the accents of their language, will still be understood fairly well by the native speakers of English.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Teaching Pronunciation (17)


Some of the exercises used in standard textbooks in giving pronunciation practice for stress and intonation are listed below.
1. Pronunciation exercises may be needed to develop contrast between voiced and voiceless consonant sounds in English.
2. Exercises may be needed to develop correct pronunciation of -ed added to regular English verbs to form the past tense and past participle. In wished the -ed is pronounced as /t/, in failed the -ed is pronounced as /d/, and in needed it is pronounced as /Id/.
3. Exercises may be needed to develop a correct pronunciation of -s which is added to make a noun plural or possessive, or to put a verb in the third person singular form of the present tense. “This ending is spelled in several different ways: -s (two hours, he says), -es (several churches, she kisses), -’s (a moment’s time), or -s’ (grocers’ prices).” However, the pronunciation is governed by certain principles. These need to be taught to the second/foreign language learner of English.
4. It may be necessary to have exercises to teach the aspiration of initial stop consonants in English. “Voiceless stop consonants are aspirated at the beginning of a word. In many other languages, initial voiceless stop consonants are not regularly aspirated, and people who learned one of these languages first usually find it hard to aspirate properly in English.” It may be necessary to teach the lengthening of vowels before final consonants in English. Voiced consonants are confused with their voiceless counterparts at the end of words: Who was /was/ instead of Who /waz/. This type of error is seen to occur more frequently than other types with the exception of the failure to give unstressed vowels their normal sound of / ∂ / or /I/. Before a final voiced consonant, stressed vowels are lengthened: /e/ in bed is lengthened than /e/ in bet, /i/ in rib is longer than the i in rip, a in bag is longer than a in back.
5. Training may be necessary to encourage students to make forceful articulation of consonants. A “difference between final /s/ and /z/, as in bus and buzz, is that /s/ is pronounced with a great deal of force, the /z/ with very little. In other words, at the end of bus a listener can hear very clearly the sound of air escaping through the teeth; at the end of buzz there is much less sound of escaping air. At the end of a word, only voiceless continuants are pronounced with a great deal of force.
6. It may be necessary to give some special training in the pronunciation of /l/ and /r/ in words and phrases to help the second language learner to pronounce these like the native speakers of English. (Prator Jr., and Robinett 1972: 98).
7. Syllabic consonants require some focused attention. Most second or foreign language learners of English have difficulty in correctly pronouncing words such as little, sudden, wouldn’t saddle, cotton, idle.
8. Substitution of one vowel for another in the stressed syllable of a word is very common. The pronunciation of leaving sounds like living because of this substitution. “The speaker gives the letters which represent vowels the sounds these letters would have in his native language . . . The speaker is deceived by the inconsistencies of English spelling . . . The speaker cannot hear, and consequently cannot reproduce, the difference between two sounds, either because the two do not exist in his own language, or because they never serve to distinguish between words in it” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:106).

Contrast in vowels:
peak - pick - peck
dean - din - den
least - list - lest
heed - hid - head
feel - fill - fell
bait - bet - bat
pain - pen - pan
bake - beck - back
laid - led - lad
lace - less - lass
shale - shell - shall
not - nut - naught
cod - cud - cawed
Don - done - dawn
cot - cut - caught
are - err - or
barn - burn - born
flaw - flow - flew
Shaw - show - shoe
bought - boat - boot
call - coal - cool
Paul - pole - pool
lawn - loan - loon
luck - look - Luke
cud - could - cooed
buck - book
should - shoed
putt - put
pull - pool

> Exercises may be needed for the following consonant substitutions frequently noticed in the speech of the second or foreign language learner of English: /t/ / θ / and / ð /. Use words such as the following: though, thank, theft, think, third; thank, these, this, thus, breathe, leather. / j / and /y/: Jew, you, juice, use, jet, yet, jarred, yard, joke yoke, jail and Yale. For the confusion between / š / and / c / use the following words: sheep, cheap, ship, chip, shatter, chatter, mush, much, mashing, matching washer and watcher. For confusion between /b/, /v/, /w/,and /hw/ use the following words: berry, very, wine, vine, west, vest, witch, which. For confusion between /n/, / η / and / nk/, use the following words: ran, rang, sin, sing, singer, finger, rang, rank, sing, sink. To overcome the omission of /h/, use the following words: Remember that /h/ is omitted in several words such as heir, honor, hour, homage, humble, he, him, his, her, have, has and had, when these words are in an unstressed position in the sentence. However, except in the above cases, all initial h’s are sounded. Give practice with the following words: home, house, how, heat, hold, horse, hate, ahead, heart, hurt.
> Second/foreign language learners of English have several problems with the consonant clusters used in English. Speakers of Spanish, Persian and Hindi produce an initial consonant cluster like /sp-/ in English with an initial vowel: speak becomes ispeak in Hindi. Chinese speakers add a vowel between the sounds that constitute the cluster: street becomes stareet.
> Use of vowels in stressed and unstressed syllables poses a lot of problems for the second/foreign language learners of English. Ask your students to remember that when a vowel is unstressed it is almost always pronounced either as a schwa / /∂ or /I/. The stressed vowel may either be pronounced as a long or short sound.
> Each vowel is pronounced with its long sound (1) if it is final in the syllable: paper, she, final, no, duty, and (2) if it is followed by an unpronounced e, or a consonant plus an unpronounced e: make, eve, die, Poe, use.
> Each vowel is pronounced with its short sound, if it is followed in the same syllable by a consonant: matter, went, river, doctor, cut.
> Note, however, that these rules are incomplete. Moreover, learners may have great difficulty in applying these rules appropriately.
> The best way is to give them practice through modeling for each and every word they come across in their lessons. By focusing upon the pronunciation of words in this manner and by giving them some sort of generalized statements now and then, learners may be able to internalize the rules for lengthening or shortening the vowels appropriately.


Teaching Pronunciation (16)


The easiest way for students to practice stress and intonation is by repetition. Prepare sets of sentences with contrasting intonations and give them to the students to practice. You should identify such sentences, wherever possible, from within the lesson.

Give a good model of the sentence. Say it at normal speed, making a clear difference between stressed and unstressed syllables, and using natural intonation. Indicate the stress and intonation clearly, using gestures.

Say the sentence in sections, starting with the end of the sentence and gradually working backwards to the beginning. For example, living here/been living here/have you been living here?, etc. Ask groups of students to repeat the whole sentence, then individual students should be asked to repeat the whole sentence. You should watch carefully whether the students pay attention to stress and intonation when they repeat the sentence (Doff 1988).

As a teacher of TESOL, you need to do more homework when you wish to teach stress and intonation. Before you begin giving the practice, practice saying the sentences yourself. Mark the stressed syllables. Mark places where you could divide the sentences for working backward. Mark rising or falling intonation (Doff 1988).


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Teaching Pronunciation (15)


Intonation is speech melody, the way our voice goes up and down as we speak. Intonation is very important in expressing meaning, and especially in showing our feelings, such as surprise, anger, disbelief, gratitude, etc. Intonation patterns are quite complex, and it is better for students to acquire them naturally rather than try to learn them consciously. That is, your modeling and their imitation in an unconscious way is important.

Rising intonation is used in asking yes/no questions, and to express surprise, disbelief, etc. The voice rises sharply on the stressed syllable. Is he your friend? Do you want some tea? “In English, rising intonation is normally used at the end of questions which do not begin with an interrogative word (that is to say, questions which may be answered merely by yes or no)” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:54).

Falling intonation is used for normal statements, commands, and for WH-questions. The voice rises slightly earlier in the sentence, and then falls on the key word being stressed. What’s your name? Remember that the voice rises slightly earlier in the sentence, and then falls on the key word being stressed. Remember that “the voice often does not rise and fall (suddenly); . . . the change from one tone to another may be gradual and extend over several syllables” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:42, footnote).

We need to emphasize that students should weaken the unstressed vowels, blend words together, fix the intonation in their mind, ear, and speech habits. For this they should repeat the short sentences themselves until they sound natural to them (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:47).


Teaching Pronunciation (14)


As a teacher of TESOL, you should know what a syllable is. You should be able to identify the syllables in an utterance. Train yourself to identify and count the syllables in words, phrases, and sentences.

Remember that most words with two or more syllables have one stressed or strong syllable and one or two unstressed or weak syllables. Stress is not dependent upon the fixed place in the sentence. Stress can occur on any syllable. Generally speaking, only nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives and interrogatives are stressed.

Often the vowel in the unstressed syllables is pronounced as / ∂ / or /I/. Notice the vowel in the beginning of the following words: Asia, apart, attack. All these words have / ∂ / in the beginning which is unstressed. Notice the first vowel in the word between, and the last vowel in the word wanted. The vowel used is /I/. In the words able, and table, the “a” is pronounced as /eI/. In vegetable and syllable, it is reduced to / ∂ /. In the word day, the “ay” is pronounced /eI/ but in the words Monday, and Tuesday, it is often reduced to /I/.

Note also that the vowels in many conjunctions and prepositions such as and, but, at, for, of are normally reduced unless the word is being specially stressed for meaning conveyed. It is stressed in the construction John and Mary, both of them.

Reducing vowels in this way is a feature of normal spoken English. It is, however, very difficult for the second/foreign language learner to master. You should use and demonstrate reduced vowels in your own speech in the classroom.

Discuss what is meant by stress with your students if their native language does not use stress. Whisper stressed words. This will show how the stressed syllables are more prominent than the others. Pronounce a few selected words, and ask students to underline stressed syllables. Prepare exercises to demonstrate how stress changes the meaning.

“Strong stresses are one of the distinguishing features of the English language; the important syllables in English are more prominent, the unimportant syllables less prominent than in most other languages. Stress then is the key to the pronunciation of an English word. If you stress the wrong syllable, it may be quite impossible for anyone listening to understand what you are trying to say . . . Persons who learn English as a second language often make the mistake of pronouncing unstressed vowels the way they are spelled . . . Unless you consult a pronouncing dictionary or a competent English-speaking person, there is no sure way of knowing whether the unaccented vowels of an unfamiliar word should be / ∂ / or /I/. Frequently it makes no difference . . . Unfortunately, there are no infallible rules for determining which syllable of a word should be stressed. Many times you will need to turn to the dictionary unless you hear the word spoken by someone familiar with it . . . ” Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972).

When it comes to teaching stress in English, especially to adult learners, it is important that we combine modeling for production with auditory recognition and explanation of possible rules for the placement of the strong stress (primary accent). For this purpose, you may present several words of polysyllables and ask students to decide which syllable is stressed in each word thus presented. They will mark the primary accent on the vowel in the written word. This may be followed by an exercise in which the students will identify which of the syllables are unstressed in the words given.

Our goal is to increase the ability of the students to recognize and place stresses. To achieve this it is important that we give our students groups of graded lists of words, such as two syllabic, three syllabic, four syllabic, and five syllabic words. Perhaps each group may consist of five or six words, and the students will be asked to listen to the oral model provided and to mark the syllable or syllables which are stressed. The task may be made more complex by asking students to mark not only the stressed but also the unstressed vowels of the words.

Auditory recognition must be followed by oral production. Again, production of individual words must be followed by the production of phrases and sentences in that order.

Remember that English is a stress-timed language. This means that the length of time between stressed syllables is always about the same, and if there are several unstressed syllables they must be said more quickly. He wrote a letter. He wrote a long letter. He wrote a very long letter. In each of these sentences, the unstressed syllables (a, a long, a very long) take about the same amount of time to say. So, “a very long” has to be said more quickly.

Emphasize that this stress timing is a very important feature of spoken English. If students become accustomed to hearing English spoken with a natural rhythm in class, they will find it easier to understand real English when they hear it spoken outside the class.

You can use several devices to demonstrate visually where there should be stress and where it should be unstressed. This can be done by using your voice. Say the sentence, exaggerating the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables.

This can be done also by using gesture. Use your arms like a conductor of an orchestra, use a stronger gesture for the stressed syllable. Clapping or tapping on a desk more loudly for the stressed syllables, and less for the unstressed syllables is another technique you can adopt.

You can use the black board. You can circle the element in a word which is unstressed, and underline an element that is stressed. You can write the stressed syllable in heavier letters.

Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972:28) suggest tackling the problem of acquiring a good English speech rhythm under five parts:
1. Giving proper emphasis to stressed syllables, and making these recur rather regularly within a thought group.
2. Weakening unstressed words and syllables, and obscuring the vowels in most of them.
3. Organizing words properly into thought groups by means of pauses.
4. Blending the final sound of each word and syllable with the itial sound of the one following within the same thought group.
5. Fitting the entire sentence into a normal intonation pattern.

Remember that content words are usually stressed in English. Content words fall under the following category: Nouns, verbs (with some exceptions), adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and interrogatives (who, when, why, etc.).

Remember that function words are usually unstressed. Function words which are usually unstressed include the following: Articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, of, in, etc.), personal pronouns (I, me, he, him, it, etc.), possessive adjectives (my, his, your, etc.), relative pronouns (who, that, which, etc.), common conjunctions (and, but, that, as, if, etc.), one used as a noun-substitute, and the verbs be, have, do, will, would, shall, should, can, could, may, might, and must (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:28-29).


Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Teaching Pronunciation (13)


Always practice in a meaningful context by asking students appropriate questions. In the early part of the pronunciation drill, you may be required to give practice of individual sounds and words without much context. Even here you should explain the meaning of the word in which the sound occurs so that some contextualizing will take place.

Once words, phrases and sentences are introduced, context is more easily created. You may ask them to give the names of objects around or in the pictures presented to the students. You may ask the students to give their own names and names of people around them. You may ask questions about their family and friends, what they do, what they did that day, and so on.
Paulston and Bruder (1976) suggest three types of questions to practice materials in context: questions which demand recapitulation of beginning material, opinion-type questions, and discussion type questions.

Words introduced earlier may be used for additional practice by asking students to give the names of objects shown to them or found in the pictures presented to them. This demands recapitulation of the words already introduced. Opinion type and discussion type questions are good for advanced students.


Teaching Pronunciation (12)


“Pronunciation instruction has been presented in various ways. First there is model of imitation . . . A second technique for teaching pronunciation is explanation . . . A third technique is practice. A fourth technique is comparison and contrast. Two similar but significantly contrasting sounds are taught together, with an effort to highlight the feature that differentiates them . . . This kind of comparison helps pinpoint the difference, but doesn’t always guarantee efficient acquisition of the two contrasting sounds” (Bowen 1979 in Celce-Murcia, M. and McIntosh, L., Eds. Teaching English as a Second Language, Newbury House Publishers, Inc., Mass.: Rowley, 1979).

Face the class, walk around, speak at normal speed, and model the utterance for students to imitate. Produce the sounds in isolation, in isolated words, isolated phrases, and later in sentences. Finally produce them in communicative sentences. Ask the students to imitate your pronunciation. Generally speaking, production of sounds in isolation is for demonstration purposes only. It is always better to produce the sounds in words and phrases which can be easily explained and understood. The new sounds may be given in new words, but not in phrases and sentences which are not understood. Give the meaning for the item which is being drilled.

It is always better for the students to drill the words and phrases with their books or sheets open so that they will develop some sensitivity on their own to the correspondence between pronunciation and spelling.

Some of the simple exercises for the pronunciation of sounds are as follows: Prepare a list of the sounds used in English. Go through the list and model the same for the students. Ask them to imitate and repeat after you.

Prepare a list of admissible combination of sounds in English, go through the list, and model the same for the students. Ask them to imitate and repeat after you.

Prepare a list of very common words, write them as they are usually spelled in English, go through the list, model them for the students, and ask them to imitate and repeat after you.
Then select a few words from the list at random, ask the students to read them, keeping in their auditory memory the model you have provided earlier. In subsequent repetition drills, contrast a newly introduced sound with the one already mastered: pot:putt; lock:luck; rob:rub; duck:dock.

This may be followed by testing drills in which the teacher gives an item and the students recognize the sound in contrast to another. For example, the teacher gives bit and beat as the model. Then she gives words such as hit, heat, leave and live, and asks the students whether the given word resembles in its vowel with hit or heat. Note this kind of testing is more a testing of aural recognition than actual production. However, aural recognition is an important segment of actual production. Production and recognition should go hand in hand.


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Teaching Pronunciation (11)


Focus only on those sounds which are causing difficulty to the students. The following steps may be helpful in teaching the difficult sounds: Say the sound alone, but this may be avoided wherever possible. Say the sound in a word. Contrast it with other sounds. Write words on the board only when it becomes necessary to make your point clearer. Explain how to make the sound. Have students repeat the sound in chorus. Have individual students repeat the sound.

As Doff (1988:114) points out, say the sound clearly in isolation (so that students can focus on it) and in one or two words; and (ask) students to repeat the sound, in chorus and individually. If students confuse two similar sounds, it is obviously useful to contrast them so that students can hear the difference clearly. If students have difficulty in producing a particular sound (usually because it does not exist in their own language), it is often very useful to describe how it is pronounced, as long as this can be done in a way that students understand (using simple English or their own language).

Some other steps which you can follow are: use the minimal pairs to practice the sounds (will/well), say a word or phrase with the difficult sound, leaving a blank for the student to fill it in with the known word: A boy and a (girl); First, second and (third); a pigeon is a kind of (bird). You may also make up sentences with words which are difficult for the students to produce, and ask the students to repeat after you and then produce the same on their own.

Remember that a sound cannot be reproduced by chance. Students must first hear it and recognize. However, we should not spend a lot of time in practicing aural discrimination of sounds as a focused activity. Aural discrimination practice should take only a few minutes of class time.

Place the new sound in a fixed position in a number of words. Write these words on the board. Model these selected words, giving the same intonation for all words.

Aural recognition and discrimination is better achieved through minimal pair drills. Contrast two sounds in English in minimal pairs. Contrast two sounds, one in the native language of the leaner and another in English. Often it is helpful to give the approximate equivalent of the English sound in the learner’s native language. Emphasize that the similarity is only approximate, wherever some difference is noticeable.

Model the pairs and then ask students to tell the difference between the pairs of sounds. Same-Different exercise drills are very useful for this purpose. For example, you can give bit/beat/beat and ask which ones are similar and which ones are different. You can give the sentences He bit me/He beat me and ask the students to show where the difference lies.





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