Pronunciation is an integrated and integral part of second/foreign language learning since it directly affects learners’ communicative competence as well as performance. Notwithstanding, teaching EFL pronunciation is still peripheral and/or neglected in the syllabus, material and classroom, especially in Bangladesh. Therefore, based on my experience both as a student and a teacher-researcher as well as on a number of existing studies, this paper examines and addresses four major issues concerning teaching EFL pronunciation to learners at different levels. Firstly, I have explored and uncovered the reasons for overlooking teaching pronunciation. Secondly, I have endeavoured to justify the teaching of pronunciation together with the other skills of the target language. Thirdly, I have tried to ascertain a level and the aspects of EFL pronunciation that should be taught. Finally, I have discussed some pronunciation teaching approaches and advocated a variety of techniques/activities for teaching EFL pronunciation in the classroom.
Key Words: EFL pronunciation, teaching, justification, intelligible accent, approaches, techniques/activities
Pronunciation is an integrated and integral part of second/foreign language learning since it directly affects learners’ communicative competence as well as performance to a substantial extent. Notwithstanding, the teaching of EFL pronunciation has received varied treatment from having no room in the synthetic syllabus and the grammar-translation method to being the cardinal focus in the situational syllabus and the audio-lingual method in which emphasis is put on the traditional notions of pronunciation, minimal pairs, drills and mini-conversations. And with the advent of communicative language teaching in the late 1960s (Richards and Rodgers, 1986), the role of pronunciation in the EFL curriculum started facing questions: whether the focus of the programmes and the instructional methods were effective or not. Teaching pronunciation until then was ‘viewed as meaningless non-communicative drill-and-exercise gambits’ (Morley, 1991: 485-6). However, with a shift from specific linguistic competencies to broader communicative competencies as goals for both the teacher and the learner (Morley, 1991), the need for the integration of pronunciation with oral communication is clearly realized.
Until very recently, the teaching of English as a foreign language in many territories of the world including Bangladesh would give primary emphasis on the reading and writing skills and secondary and/or little emphasis on listening and speaking skills. But, particularly in Bangladesh, since the introduction of communicative language teaching a few years back to different levels of education, especially primary, secondary and higher secondary levels where English is taught as a compulsory subject, the listening and speaking skills have started enjoying some sort of status alongside the reading and writing skills, although the former ones are neither seriously taught nor formally tested. That is, it is now evidently understood that the learner’s communicative competence as well as performance is dependent on his/her command of all the basic skills of the target language encompassing listening and speaking. Though pronunciation is overlooked in the syllabus, material and even classroom activities, it does have an inseparable link to communication through listening and speaking (Gilbert, 1984, Celce-Muria, 1987).
Both as a learner and a teacher-researcher of English as a foreign language, I am aware of the syllabuses, materials and classroom activities at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels in Bangladesh and in many other EFL settings as well, which unfortunately scarcely have any room for pronunciation teaching. Therefore, based on my experience and a number of existing studies in varied EFL settings, this paper examines and addresses four major issues concerning teaching EFL pronunciation to learners at different levels.
Firstly, I have explored and uncovered the reasons for overlooking teaching pronunciation.
Secondly, I have endeavoured to justify the teaching of pronunciation together with the other skills of the target language.
Thirdly, I have tried to ascertain a level or variety and the aspects of EFL pronunciation that should be taught.
Finally, I have discussed some pronunciation teaching approaches and advocated a variety of techniques/ activities for teaching EFL pronunciation in the classroom.
Why is EFL pronunciation teaching ignored?
Teaching English pronunciation is still surprisingly and shockingly neglected and/or ignored in many EFL settings including Bangladesh, although the listening and speaking skills are now somewhat included in the syllabus and taught to equip the learner with adequate communicative competence. At the primary, secondary and tertiary level in Bangladesh, an English pronunciation course or English pronunciation as a component in the English course is hardly given any considerable place at all. In China, an English phonetics course is simply left to chance or given no room (Cheng, 1998). As in Bangladesh, some teachers in Taiwan might argue that English pronunciation is not important at all, for very few tests would require students to show abilities related to pronunciation or speaking (Lin, Fan and Chen, 1995). Similarly, English pronunciation is arbitrarily overlooked in Thailand (Wei and Zhou, 2002). In Mexico, pronunciation is described as “the Cinderella of language teaching”; that means an often low level of emphasis is placed on this very important language skill (Dalton, 2002). It is then conspicuous that teaching EFL pronunciation has little room in the syllabus, material and classroom. But why?
Though very few studies are found to have been carried out to reveal the reasons for neglecting the teaching of EFL pronunciation, based on my experience as a learner as well as a teacher-researcher of English as a foreign language, I would endeavour to disclose the secrets of the peripheral position of EFL pronunciation.
Firstly, the absence or exclusion of EFL pronunciation from the curriculum/ syllabus is indicative of the fact that the curriculum/ syllabus designer has deliberately or ignorantly overlooked its significance. Hence, the curriculum/ syllabus designer’s qualifications, expertise and honesty could be seriously questioned.
Secondly, the locally produced materials and/or the imported overseas ones used to teach/ learn EFL do not usually embody pronunciation components and lessons. This indicates that the local materials developers are either unaware of the importance of pronunciation or not capable of designing pronunciation materials or just blindly confined to the syllabus devoid of pronunciation components. Besides, the overseas materials incorporating no pronunciation tips and lessons attract our teachers and others concerned because very many of them do not have any formal and adequate training in English phonetics and phonology as well as EFL pronunciation teaching.