Teaching pronunciation. The role of the native speaker

Term Paper, 2015

13 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Taylor Bruhn (Author)


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. What is a native speaker ? A definition

3. Should the native speaker be the target of L2 teaching?
3.1 Analysing the definitions
3.2 Goals of L2 teaching
3.3 Received Pronunciation as a target of teaching and the idea of an interlanguage

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

One of the most investigated topics in Second Language Acquisition (SLA) is the concept of the native speaker (cf. Cook 2008, James and Leather 1996). There is a roiling debate on the meaningfulness of the native speaker as the target of teaching pronunciation. Following Gonzáles-Nueno (1997), the ultimate goal in teaching is to make the student “sound like a native speaker” (261). On the other side, Abercrombie (1991: 93) argues in favour of the comprehensibility. The main goal of teaching L2 (second language) pronunciation is therefore to sound “comfortably intelligible” (ibid.)

In this paper I will discuss the reasonableness of teaching native-like pronunciation. Should the native-speaker be the target of teaching pronunciation? What are conceivable disadvantages? In a first step, it is essential to give a definition of the native speaker. Secondly, in chapter 3.1, these definitions will be analysed with regard to the research question. Chapter 3.2 analyses the general goals of teaching a second language. These goals will be referred to the issue of teaching L2 pronunciation. Furthermore, I will provide a survey from Waniek-Klimczak (2002) about students’ attitudes towards the issue of accent, pronunciation in general, and pronunciation teaching and compare the results with the general goals of L2 teaching. Chapter 3.3 will focus on the concept of Received Pronunciation (RP). I will analyse the advantages and disadvantages of teaching RP to L2 learners. As a last point, I will take up Major’s (2001: 28) statement that everybody speak an interlanguage and discuss it. In the conclusion I will summarize the results of the analysis and try to give a final statement.

2. What is a native speaker ? A definition

Since this paper deals with the question whether native speakers should be the target of teaching pronunciation, it makes sense to define the native speaker first.

Bloomfield (1933: 43) states that “the first language a human being learns to speak is his native language; he is a native speaker of this language”. Taking this definition into consideration, Cook (2008: 171) infers that being a native speaker is a matter of individual history. In other words, the very first language one encounters as a baby is the native language (ibid.). McArthur (1992) takes up Bloomfield’s early definition of a native speaker and says that it is “a person who has spoken a certain language since early childhood”. The Oxford Dictionary uses a quite similar definition for the native speaker: “A person who has spoken the language in question from earliest childhood” (OED online).

Another way of defining a native speaker is by listing the characteristics. Cook (ibid.) mentions some of these components of a native speaker by referring to Stern (1983). According to him, a native speaker has a (a) subconscious knowledge of rules, (b) intuitive grasp of meanings, (c) the ability to communicate within social settings, (d) a range of language skills, and (e) creativity of language use. Cook (2008: 171) adds that native speakers are even capable of producing new sentences that they have not heard before (ibid.). All these features can be seen with regard to pronunciation.

By referring to the language identity, a third approach to defining the native speaker becomes clear. In short, the use of language indicates who the speaker is. Your speech gives away a lot of aspects of your identity (Cook, 2008: 171). Furthermore, Cook (ibid.) claims that the individual speech shows the group in which the speaker belongs to. Thus, being a native speaker shows identification with a group of speakers or even a membership of a language community (ibid.).

3. Should the native speaker be the target of L2 teaching?

3.1 Analysing the definitions

The first kind of definition focuses on individual circumstances. The native language depends on under which conditions the person was born and raised. Respecting this type of definition, “your second language will never be your native language regardless of how long or how well you speak it” (Cook, 2008: 171). Following this definition, nobody can become a native speaker just by learning a second language. Even when the L2 learner cannot be distinguished from a native speaker, he cannot achieve the position of a native speaker. The actual use of language does not matter here. This kind of definition leaves very little room for argumentation and has to be accepted. At this point, I want to make clear that the research question has to be whether L2 learners should have a native-like pronunciation and not whether learners can become real natives of that language.

Since Stern (1983) provides a list of characteristics that define the native speaker, it makes sense to analyse a possible adaptation of these features by L2 learners. All these characteristics have something in common. They can be achieved over time. It is a matter of time and effort. None of these characteristics are achieved by heritage. Nevertheless, it is true that native speakers attain them much earlier and most likely all of them, whereas L2 learners might struggle with some of these features.

The third type of definition focuses on the language identity of native speakers. Due to their same use of language, native speakers belong to specific groups. When people learn their native language they acquire the code and its variations. Moreover, they learn to make value judgments about the use of forms due to their awareness of their social meanings (Dalton and Seidlhofer 1994: 7). People’s decision of using rhotic and non-rhotic /r/ could serve as an example here (cf. Labov 1966). Native speakers share this ability of making use of these social markers. When a L2 learner imitates these variations, in particular, “in the early stages of his acquaintance with the new culture, he must clearly risk making social self-identifications that he would not intend” (James and Leather: 271). Avery and Ehrlich (1992: xiv) claim that language learners are more likely to sound like members of the L2 culture when they identify with these members. This can be also seen vice versa. The more L2 learners sound like members of the native language, the more likely they identify with these members. Keeping this in mind, it raises the question whether L2 should acquire native-like pronunciation with regard to social identity. Avery and Ehrlich (ibid.) hints at the importance for learners to preserve their own cultural identity. Their foreign accent serve as a marker for this identity (ibid.). Does acquiring a native-like pronunciation really happen at the expense of the own original identity? This statement is arguable. A foreign accent does not have to reflect the identity of a person. Even when people attain a native-like pronunciation, they will most likely not lose their awareness of their origin. However, this might apply to some of the L2 learners. Avery and Ehrlich’s (ibid.) statement might be a bit exaggerated but cannot be fully neglected.

In conclusion, the first kind of definition has to be accepted. It is not possible to determine the conditions under which someone was born. Thus, you cannot become a native speaker just by learning the language. It is therefore essential to mention that the discussion primarily focuses on native-like pronunciation and whether it is desirable to obtain such accent. The analysis of the second type of definition showed that L2 learners are equal or rather can be equal to natives. Both can be ranged on the same level when it comes to the characterizations and features of native language use. However, this analysis provides no hint about the meaningfulness of obtaining native-like pronunciation. Having said that, the analysis of the third approach to defining the native speaker gives a first idea about the disadvantage of learning a native accent. Keeping Avery and Ehrlich’s (ibid.) statement in mind, you have to know that learning native-like pronunciation could cause a loss of the identity, even when this seems to be farfetched.


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Teaching pronunciation. The role of the native speaker
RWTH Aachen University
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Teaching pronunciation, Teaching, pronunciation, native, language, native speaker, native pronunciation, L2, L1, school, english, rwth, the, role, linguistics, phonology, phonetics, teacher, Pädagogik, Lehrer, Sprache, Schule, Muttersprache, Phonetik, Phonologie, Lingustik, Englisch
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Taylor Bruhn (Author), 2015, Teaching pronunciation. The role of the native speaker, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/310331


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