How important pronunciation in foreign language teaching?
By Indeewara Thilakarathne
Since communication is a mutual relationship between speaker and hearer, pronunciation plays a vital role in not only speaker being understood properly but also in articulating what one wants to express in a foreign language.
Theoretical and practical knowledge of Phonetics of a teacher of foreign language such as English, German and French could make a bigger impact on students of foreign languages. Correct pronunciation practices facilitate students to avoid pitfalls in the use of foreign languages and easily overcome much-maligned miscommunications when speaking with a native speaker.
The following interview is based on the Workshop on Pronunciation for teachers of German were conducted by Nadee Weerasekara and Wathsala Ranasinghe during the recently held German Language Teachers' Camp at Hotel Coral Sands in Hikkaduwa.
Q: Learning correct pronunciation plays a critical role in communication and in foreign language teaching. Given the sheer diversity of languages and their equally diverse sounds patters, it is essential to learn correct pronunciation to express one clearly and coherently in a foreign language. How important, in your view, the correct pronunciation in foreign language lessons?
A: According to my opinion learning the correct pronunciation plays quite a vital role when learning a foreign language. It is one of the key factors in a language that not only supports one to make oneself properly understood to a fluent or a native speaker but also to comprehend the speech of a native speaker. Therefore, teaching the correct pronunciation of a language even at the basic level of lessons is very important.
Q: What were the principal objectives of the workshop on pronunciation for teachers of German Language?
A: There were three main objectives.
Participants get aware of the correct pronunciation of short and long vowels, consonants and also consonant clusters, which are a combination of 2 or more consonants.
Participants get to know of the rules that are applicable for the correct pronunciation, so that they can even pronounce never seen words properly
As all participants were teachers who teach German as a foreign language, we also wanted to provide them with particular methods they can use to make students practice pronunciation and also various exercises that they can use in their lessons to practice pronunciation in an interesting manner.
Q: What were the responses from the participants of the workshop?
A: Well some of the participants were surprised as they found out the pronunciation of certain letters and letter combinations were totally different to what they have been practicing. But at the same time they were glad that they got to know the standard rules, so that they can do it properly in the future.
Q: Have you provided the teachers with techniques and exercises that they would be able to practice at classroom?
A: Yes, as mentioned above that was one of our main objectives as well. All the exercises we did at the seminar were examples. And we constantly mentioned that they can use similar exercises in their lessons. We also suggested certain books that they can buy, that contain such exercises.
Apart from that we also provided them with techniques for how they can get their students to hit the right sounds when pronouncing certain consonant clusters which are especially difficult for Sri Lankan students. For example where to place the tip of the tongue inside the mouth and which shape to make with the lips when they want to make particular sounds.
Q: Pronunciation would really be a challenge given the fundamental differences in each and every language's sound system and their basis of articulation (Lautsystem und die Artikulationsbasis). Significantly some of the sounds and ways of articulation are simply not present in Asiatic languages such as Sinhalese and Tamil. Our speaking organs have also been formed in such a way not facilitating to pronounce and articulate certain speech sounds. What are the ways and means of addressing such cardinal issues in a photonic workshop?
A: Yes, there are sounds that the Asians do not have. Comparing to other Asian countries, we have less Problems than the others. There a certain articulation exercises, which you can do to train your organs. There are pictures of the mouth. These Pictures help you to keep your tongue and lips in the correct place.
Q: How could a teacher of a foreign Language avoid such pitfalls in pronunciation and pass on correct pronunciation practices to his or her students?
A: Phonetics is a wide topic and plays a big role in the language. As a Teacher you should train yourself and should have a good Knowledge of phonetic to correct your students and train your students. Especially as a Teacher you should be able to hear the pronunciation problems and, find the reason, why he or she doing this, it is a mistake and correct the mistake. Train yourself and improve yourself. Try to do more exercise for phonetic, when you plan your lesson. It's important like Grammar or vocabulary.
Q: In the same manner speech system and intonation of one language differ from another. If one tries to speak German in the same manner one does speak English, Polish or Russian or Sinhalese or Tamil and using their particular sound systems. Such attempts would, invariably, result in communication problems and would be problematic when student's practice listening comprehension (Hörverstehen). Have you also paid attention to those aspects as well at the workshop?
A: Yes, we have practiced Intonation and Melody, when you ask a question and say a sentence and did some exercises as well. Listening is the first step; when you want to improve your pronunciation. As I already said, we have to train ourselves and the students regularly. Its not easy to come out from the language, what you daily speak. Automatically you have same intonation. We gave some tips for these Problems. But the listening comprehensions, what we use, are authentic situations in day today life.
Q: Over the years phonetics has been evolved as a distinct academic discipline, primarily as general phonetic and language related phonetic (sprachbezogene Phonetik). For a foreign language teacher, it is important to have a general knowledge of phonetics and rules as well as faire knowledge of language related phonetics (in this case, German Language). Have you also given tips and recommend some of the academic publications, journals that could help them (teachers) to further improve their knowledge of pronunciation and phonetics?
A: Yes, we have explained the Phonetic rules and Theory in the Workshop. It was not only a Workshop to give Ideas for the Classroom, also to improve the Knowledge of teachers. We showed the books and websites, where they can find more exercises for the lesson. As Example: Aussprache 44 Spiele book und Ausprache 33 Spiele book.
Q: And why is it important to avoid colloquial language, expressions and sound patterns (Die Umgangslautung) in the use of language in communication and writing?
A: The colloquial language should be avoided in writing and also in professional or official situations. It is not bad to be aware of informal terms or the so called slang as they interest some students the most when learning a foreign language but one should learn their formal counterparts as well. Then, they could occasionally choose between the right terms to be used at the right situation that suits best for the audience as well.
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