This pronunciation teaching report will begin with a brief background of the participating learner which includes a summary of his areas of difficulty. This will be followed by the description of the course, outlining the teaching and learning activities. Then, the progress of the learner will be discussed as a basis of evaluation of the effectiveness of the program. A brief conclusion will conclude the paper.
2. The Learner Background
The student participating in this project is a speaker of a northern dialect of Vietnamese. Cu Van Sinh, 25 years old, started learning English as a foreign language in Vietnam when he was in the first year of university, that is when he was 19 years old. At present, he is doing a masters degree course at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).
As previously discussed in part 2a, on the phonemic level, there was no profound difficulty in pronouncing English vowels. It seems that this is greatly facilitated by the student’s native language that has more complex vowel systems than English does. The obvious problem was found in the production of some consonants, including consonant clusters. The following is the summary of the student’s areas of difficulty.
In the speech sample taken at the beginning of the program, it was discovered that the problem mainly appeared in the production of voiced stop and fricative in the final position. In most cases, the learner deleted those sounds. For example, side /saɪd/ was pronounced as /saɪ/, experience /ekspiəriəns/ as /ekspiəriən/.
In one case, the learner inserted a vowel in between a consonant cluster, such as /kəlʌs/ for class. He also omitted one of the consonants in a consonant group, for instance stress /stres/, pronounced as /stes/. In another case, he changed the consonant cluster with a single different consonant: difficult /dɪfɪkəlt/, pronounced as /dɪfɪkən/.
2.3 /đ/, /ʤ/, and /ɡ/
The consonants /đ/ and /ʤ/ were constantly replaced by /z/. For instance, just /jʌst/ was pronounced as /zʌst/, and brother /brʌđə/ as /brʌzə/. The consonant /ɡ/ in the initial position as in the word grammar /ɡrćmə/ was pronounced without full closure, resulting in a guttural sound.
2.4 Tone 1 and 2
In the prosodic area, it was revealed that the learner used rising intonation (tone 2) in most of his sentences, including those carried certainty and definiteness.
3. Description of the Course
The objectives of the teaching program focused on the above phonemic and prosodic areas. The program was initially planned to run for nine hours, divided up in six meetings with each meeting met 1.5 hours. Due to the student’s conflicting schedule, one session was dropped so that the overall program met for 7.5 hours.
Penington (1996) suggests that in building perception and production of the target language pronunciation, a learner can benefit from a combination of :
(1) pre-production training of pronunciation features and consciousness-raising about the importance of pronunciation in communication;
(2) in-production meaning-based oriented input arising in the course of language use and through negotiation in communicative task; and
(3) post production input in the form of feedback on intelligibility, overall communicative success and the extent to which specific phonological goals or targets have been achieved.
The plan for this program’s teaching and learning activities to some extent follows the above Penington’s suggestion with some specific activities including:
a) perception - raising the learner’s awareness of the nature of particular sounds or intonation
b) modelling - providing the learner with example on how to produce the target sounds or intonations
c) production - repeating model and independent practice
d) corrective feedback - giving correction as necessary
e) structured situation - giving a situation for a dialogue to elicit particular words or sentences containing the target sounds or intonation
f) casual conversation - monitoring the student’s improvement in spontaneous performance
First, the learner was given a set of cut-up minimal pairs words (appendix 1a). In each pair, one word ends in a vowel, while another one in a consonant. For example, house and how. I read one of the words in each pair. The student was to show me which word I read. This activity is aimed at raising the learner’s awareness of the presence of consonants in final the position.
Then, I read all words as a model, and the learner repeated my example. Afterwards, he practised pronouncing the words by himself.
The next activity used a set of pictures of some items in singular and plural (appendix 1b). The student was to name some nouns as indicated in the picture. He was expected to come up with the sounds /s/ and /z/ in the final position for plural nouns, for example one ring, two rings.
In this session, explanation and examples on the use of different tones for different meanings, with a focus on tone 1 and 2, was given. This focus was incorporated with other activities throughout the course.
The lesson began with showing the student a diagram that illustrated the position of the tongue when a consonant cluster is uttered (appendix 2a). At the same time, examples on pronouncing some consonant clusters in isolation e.g. /g/- /r/ č /gr/ č grammar was given. The example was presented gradually i.e. first pronouncing a single consonant, and then another consonant, followed by combination of them as a cluster and as a word. The student then repeated the example.
The above activity was followed up by a cloze listening activity. The student was given a text containing words with consonant clusters. The words which have consonant clusters in them were deleted, e.g. Could I have a (credit note) for this (dressing) gown? (Macneil, 1988, p. 41). I read the complete version of the text while the student listened to me and filled in the missing words in the text. The texts are in appendix 2b and 2c.
Having completed the above activity, I read the words with consonant clusters in the text aloud, and the learner repeated after me. He practised reading the whole sentences independently afterwards.
Using the same text, the student chose any word with a consonant cluster and read them aloud. I listened to him and repeated his reading. When he found his pronunciation different from mine, he read the word again. Again, I repeated after him and allowed him to compare his pronunciation to mine. The student stopped reading when he found his pronunciation sounded similar to mine. In this case, I acted like a computer functioning as a pronunciation checker.
This session was concluded by having the student practise pronouncing consonant clusters by linking some words, e.g. “nd’ doll / plan doll / He planned all the work (Gilbert, 1993, p. 126). The complete text is in appendix 2d.
This session was linked to session 1, in that the student practised /s/, /z/, /IZ/ that commonly appear in the end of plural nouns. Additionally, in this session the learner also practised those sounds that occur in initial and medial positions. The student read a text containing /s/, /z/, /IZ/ (appendix 3a and 3b). Corrective feedback was given as needed.
To practise /ʤ/, the learner read a joke some words of which begin or end with consonant /ʤ/ (appendix 3c). He was to find words in the text that have that sound. Then, he read the words in isolation repeatedly, and read the whole text.
This session was continued with a casual conversation to monitor the student’s improvement throughout the three sessions in a spontaneous situation.
3.4 Session 4 – /đ/, /θ/
This session began with a cloze listening activity. The student was given a text containing /θ/, /f/, and /p/. Letters corresponding to those sounds were deleted, for instance Each hand has ____our ____ingers and one ____umb (Macneil, 1988, p. 34). The materials for this activity are in the appendix 4a and 4b. I read the complete sentences, and the student listened to me and filled in the missing letters. In this activity, the learner basically attempted to distinguish those three sounds.
Next, another text was used. There was a pair of questions. One question has a word which is the minimal pair of one word in the other question. For each pair of questions, a pair of answers was provided. I read any one of the questions, and the student answered the questions. The correctness of his answer depended greatly on his perception of the minimal pairs. For example
Something belongs to them
To challenge someone.
(Gilbert, 1993, p. 128 - appendix 4c).
We then exchanged the role in asking and answering the questions.
The student then practised pronouncing minimal pair sounds of /s/ and /θ/, and /t/ and /θ/, and /đ/ by reading a text containing those sounds (appendix 4d).
3.5 Session 5 - /g/
In this session, first a diagram representing the position of tongue when producing consonant /g/ was shown (appendix 5a). At the same time, a model on pronouncing the consonant was given, and the learner repeated the model.
Next, another fun activity as in session two three was done. There was a pair of questions. One question has a word beginning with /g/ while the other with /w/. In each pair of questions, a pair of answers was provided. I read anyone of the question, and the student answered the questions. For example:
The opposite of “narrow”
(Gilbert, 1993, p. 126 - appendix 5b).
The above activity was followed by a substitution drill, linking the sounds /k/ and /g/, /g/ and /g/, /k/ and /k/, and /g/ and /k/, e.g.
Do you like guns?
Do you like big guns?
Do you like cooking?
Do you like big classes?
(Baker, 1983, p. 99 - appendix 5c).
To assess the student’s progress in both phonemic and prosodic areas a general evaluation was carried out at the end of the program. For the prosodic area, the learner read some selected texts that had previously been used in the teaching and learning activities. He rehearsed several times without my corrective feedback before his reading was tape recorded. The rehearsal was needed to ensure that his performance could well reflect his actual proficiency. For the prosodic area, he was asked several questions about his background in an interview. The answers to these questions were basically facts about his personal background. The questions thus functioned as media to elicit tone 1. To elicit tone 2, a guessing game was used. I pretended to be someone else with a particular job. The student was to ask me questions to find out what my job was. I answered either yes or no. At the end, the students drew a conclusion about the job in question. A casual conversation was also tape recorded as a part of this assessment.
The text used to measure the student’s performance in pronouncing consonants in the final position is in appendix 1a. This text contains 20 pairs of words. In each pair, one word ends in a consonant while another one in a vowel.
Reading this text, the learner performed significantly well. Words ending in /s/, /z/, /t/, /k/, /l/, /ʤ/ were correctly pronounced. Only one error was noticed. In pronouncing the word furnished /fə:nɪʃd/, the /d/ sound was deleted, so that it sounded /fə:nɪʃ/. Interestingly, some other words in the text that end in /d/ were also correctly pronounced, such as employed /ɪmplɔɪd/ and lard /lɑ:d/. Thus, the failure to pronounce /d/ in the final position was not constant. However, in the casual conversation deletion of this consonant occurred more frequently. This was observed in the words find /faɪnd/ pronounced as /faɪ/, like /laɪk/ as /laɪ/, hand /hćnd/ as /hćn/, and side /saɪd/ as /saɪ/.
Another type of error found during the free conversation was that the learner substituted the consonant in the final position with a different consonant. This was observed in the words beautiful /bju:tɪfl/, pronounced as /bju:tɪfƱn/, and girls /gɜ:lz/ as /gɜ:nz/. The substitution of /n/ for /l/ was also noticed in the speech sample taken at the beginning of the program e.g. /dɪfɪkən/ for difficult. The learner expressed that he was actually aware of the presence of the consonant in the final position. However, he said that it was really difficult for him to control it, especially during a spontaneous conversation when his attention was paid more to what he said rather than his pronunciation. Major (in Pennington, 1994) states:
Under conditions of spontaneous speech, when the learner attends more to content than to form, interference from the L1 appears in the surface forms of L2 utterances. L1 transfer (in the form of interference) may thus be more common in informal production tasks such as spontaneous speech that in formal production task such as reading a word list (p. 96).
That the student performed well when reading the written text could be facilitated with the text format. As mentioned earlier, the text has pairs of words, one ends in a consonant and another one in a vowel. This arrangement potentially facilitated the student to be aware of the consonant sound. In contrast, during the free conversation, the student relied merely on his actual capability without any external control.
Avery, et. al. (1987) suggest that consonant sounds in the final position do occur in Vietnamese. However, voiceless stop consonants /p/, /t/, and /k/ at the end of a word are never released and much shorter than that in English. As a result, English speakers may have difficulty hearing this sound even when a Vietnamese speaker pronounced these consonants. In Vietnamese, they further explain, the voiced stops /b/, /d/, and /g/ do not occur in the final position. Therefore, Vietnamese speakers may find difficulties in distinguishing voice and voiceless stops.
Avery et. al. (1987) assert that in order for Vietnamese speakers to be able to produce the words with voiceless stop in their final position, they need to practise saying words ending in those consonants and are given major sentence stress, e.g. Put it up on top (p. 95). Another way of practicing, they suggest, is by linking words ending in voiceless stops followed by words beginning with vowels.
Considering the nature of the student’s L1, this area seems to call for more structured exercises. The kind of exercise as suggested by Avery, et. al. should have been given in the programme to get the learner accustomed to the sounds.
The learner’s performance in pronouncing consonant clusters was judge by having him read the text in appendix 2c. The text consists of 8 sentences with 18 words beginning with consonant clusters. e.g. When the crystal vase out of its box, I discovered that it was scratched (Macneil, 1988, p. 41). No essential difficulty was noticed in this case. Unfortunately, as the text contains consonant clusters which occur only in the initial position, the learner’s performance in medial or final consonant clusters was not well detected. During the free conversation, however, an indication of improvement was captured. The learner pronounced think /θɪŋk/, with the clusters /ŋ/ and /k/ clearly heard, although the /θ/ was not perfectly articulated. This shows an important improvement since the learner used to delete the /k/ for this word. Swan & Smith (1987) note that for Vietnamese speakers consonant clusters in the medial position as found in abstract or capstan is the most difficult. The learner himself admitted this kind of problem. One exercise in linking sounds done during this program seemed to be valuable to address this difficulty e.g. “ks” so / make so / We make so many (Gilbert, 1993, p. 126 - appendix 2d). This kind of exercise seemed to give a chance to the learner to move towards consonant clusters gradually.
Wider range of texts should have been used so that the student’s performance in this area can be assessed more comprehensively. Nonetheless, remembering that in the beginning of the program the problem with consonant clusters was obvious, the learner’s performance in the final evaluation have to some extent shown improvement.
4.3 /đ/, /ʤ/, and /g/
To observe the student’s progress in pronouncing /đ/, the student read a text containing a list of words beginning or ending with /đ/, e.g. there, brother, etc. (appendix 4d). It was revealed that significant difficulty did not appear. This indicates meaningful improvement since in the beginning, the learner constantly replaced this sound with /z/ e.g. /brʌzə/ for brother, and /wezə/ for weather. Rigorous drills during the program seemed to work well to this regard.
The same improvement was also noticed in /g/. The text read by the student to assess this consonant is in appendix 5c. The student seemed to be able to fully block the air when the back of the tongue is in contact with the soft palate. He used to fail to fully block the air so that the resulting sound was a throaty sound. Activities that link the sound /k/ and /g/, e.g. Do you like games?, /g/ and /g/, e.g. Do you like big gardens? (Baker, 1983, p. 99) seemed to facilitate him to have a better control of this consonant.
There seems to be inconsistent indication of improvement in /ʤ/. During the informal conversation, the learner several times made similar errors as in the beginning of the program, that is replacing this sound with /z/ e.g. /zɒb/ for job. At another time, however, he pronounced this word accurately. Nevertheless, consistent accurate pronunciation was seen in /ʤ/ that occurs in the final position as large and average. Up to this point, it may be concluded that the persistent difficulty is /ʤ/ in the initial position. More explicit instruction and intensive exercise may need to be done for the learner’s further development. Dalton & Seidlhofer (1994) suggests:
Some learners, it is true, are naturally gifted mimics and will ‘pick up’ a pronunciation by exposure. Many, perhaps most, however, need to have their attention drawn to what they have to do by explicit explanation. Making learners notice things by consciousness raising is as crucial to pronunciation as it is to the teaching of other aspects of language such as grammar and vocabulary (p. 67).
4.4 Tone 1 and 2
The progress on tone use was assessed through a structured and free dialogue at the end of the program. As mentioned earlier, the learner’s initial problem was that he overused tone 2, even for sentences that contain certainty and definiteness. It seems that the learner’s performance was interfered by his L1 which is tonal language and syllable-timed rather than stress-timed as English. Vietnamese uses tone to differentiate words, and for grammatical purposes it uses mostly syntax and particles (Swan & Smith, 1987). From the functional point of view, tone in English in fact also has grammatical function. Crystal (in Dalton & Seidhofer, 1994) outlines six functions of tone, one of which is grammatical. Tone marks grammatical contrast such as chunking into clauses and sentences or contrast between statements and questions. Halliday (1970) points out the different meanings conveyed by tone 1 and tone 2:
Tone 1, therefore, is the normal, or neutral, tone for declarative clauses which express statements, and for interrogative clauses of the WH-type. Tone 2, is the neutral tone for interrogative clauses of the ‘yes/no’ type, those where the question is on the polarity (p. 23).
In the tape recorded structured situation and free conversation, the problem in tone did not appear to be as obvious as in the beginning of the program. Some sentences, however, sounded unnatural due to inappropriate rising intonation, for example: the student finished reading a text and told me that he was done with the reading, he said: // 2 finished / instead of // 1 finished /. It sounded more like a question rather than a statement. In that sort of situation, no communication problem arouse due to the improper tone. However, it is likely that under different circumstances, a communication problem may arise as a result of the improper tone.
More exposure to longer chunks of speech in the form of recorded dialogs under various situations might have helped the learner to be more aware of and able to use different tones for different situations.
This study has covered a very small aspect of pronunciation. It would be too early to claim that the improvement shown at the end of the program are mainly the results of the teaching and learning activities during the program. In fact, the data for the assessment are quite limited and are not possible to represent the learner’s whole competence. Nonetheless, this little attempt may contribute to the learner’s future pronunciation development.
Avery, P, et al, 1987, ‘Problems of Selected Language Groups’, TESL Talk, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 95 – 97.
Baker, A., 1983, Tree or Three? An Elementary Pronunciation Course, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Dalton, C., Seidlhofer, B., 1994, Pronunciation, Oxford University Press, Hong Kong.
Gilbert, J. B. 1993. Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Halliday, M.A.K, 1970, ‘Meaning of Tones: General’, in A Course in Spoken English: Intonation, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia.
Pennington, M.C., 1994, ‘Recent Research in L2 Phonology: Implications for Practice’ in Pronunciation Pedagogy and Theory: New Views, New Directions, ed. Morley J., TESOL inc., Bloomington.
Pennington, M.C., 1996, Phonology in English Language Teaching, Longman, New York.
Swan, M., Smith, B., 1987, Learner English, A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 32.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 31.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 40.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 41.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 42.
Gilbert, J. B. 1993. Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 126.
· Mr. Howard is now in Bali, isn’t he?
· Ms. Rosalinda doesn’t have breakfast in a fancy restaurant.
· The horses racing in Melbourne Cup are the best all over Australia.
· When I finish my study I will
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 12, 13, 102.
I have a Japanese friend. He likes to tell jokes. One day he came to my flat, bringing with him some vegetables, oranges, chocolates, jars of jams, and sausages. I wondered why he brought those groceries. “What are these for?” I asked. “Do you still have free space in your large fridge?”, he said. “Yes, why?”. “Please let me put my groceries in your fridge for some days. Mine is broken”.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 34.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 35.
Gilbert, J. B. 1993. Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 128.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, pp. 20 –22.
Gilbert, J. B. 1993. Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 125.
Gilbert, J. B. 1993. Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English, 2nd edition, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 126.
Macneil, D., 1988, Crossing the Barrier: Pronunciation Activities for Vietnamese ESL Learners, Commonwealth of Australia, p. 99.