Monday, May 14, 2012

Is Pronunciation Just A Trivial Matter?

What...did you say???!!!

Learning a language is like cutting a path through a thick forest. The more often the path is traversed, the easier the journey becomes. But a literal cutting of a path through a forest poses a lot of challenges. In the same way, traversing the so-called English road poses a lot of challenges and hindrances.

One thing that impedes a student's "English Journey" is the differences in pronunciation. We all use the same speech organs. It's just that, we use them differently. For some students, the sounds of R and L are the same, so this becomes a hindrance for them. It's common for them to say RACE when they really mean LACE. When their teacher dictates the word CLOUD, they write CROWD and vice versa.

To deal with this, is it all right to ask students to identify and memorize the sound symbols? Or is it all right to show them pictures of the different speech organs such as the lungs, the larynx, the vocal folds, and the different articulators, and discuss how each organ produces a sound? This will make learning English pronunciation more tedious and inefficient. How would you feel if you wanted to learn how to swim but your swimming instructor advised you to get a picture of a pool and imagine yourself swimming in it?

In the same manner, isn't it more practical and more efficient if the teacher just pronounces the words and actually shows the student the actual shapes and positions of the lips, the tongue and the other speech organs?

Truly, then, it's not wise to just tell the students the theories. They need actual practice. My Korean friend once told me that in Chinese, the slight change in intonation can entirely change the meaning of a sentence. In English, a slight moving of the tongue backward or a simple pressing of the lips together may cause confusion and embarrassment. Does the speaker really want to talk about the National Erection Day or the National Election Day? Does he want to ROB his girlfriend or does he want to LOVE his girlfriend?  Did he really want to say that he liked the FART of his boss or the PART of his boss? What does he want to talk about, The Boys of America of The Voice of America?

Pronunciation is a thing often regarded by many as a trivial matter. Clearly, this belief is wrong. Our dear students need help in this specific area.  So, then, in addition to showing the students how vowel and consonant sounds are formed, how else should pronunciation be taught?

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