An investigation into the 11th graders' difficulties in learning English pronuciation at Thanh Chuong 3 high school

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MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING VINH UNIVERSITY VO THI HUONG LY AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE 11th GRADERS' DIFFICULTIES IN LEARNING ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION AT THANH CHUONG 3 HIGH SCHOOL MASTER’S THESIS IN EDUCATION NGHE AN - 2014 MINISTRY OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING VINH UNIVERSITY VO THI HUONG LY AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE 11th GRADERS' DIFFICULTIES IN LEARNING ENGLISH PRONUNCIATION AT THANH CHUONG 3 HIGH SCHOOL Field: Theory and Methodology of English Language Teaching Code: 60.14.01.11 MASTER’S THESIS IN EDUCATION Supervisor: NGUYEN GIA VIET Ph.D NGHE AN - 2014 STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP I hereby acknowledge that this study is mine. The data and findings discussed in the thesis are true, used with permission, and have not been published elsewhere. Author Vo Thi Huong Ly i ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS I would like to take this opportunity to give my thank to many people who directly and indirectly help me in accomplishing this research. First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Nguyen Gia Viet for his kind help and valuable advice that he provided me throughout my thesis. Without his help, my thesis may not be completed. Secondly, I would like to thank all of the teachers from Thanh Chuong 3 high school and all accounting students at Thanh Chuong 3 high school for their enthusiastic participation and helpful contribution to my research. I also would like to give my thank to my beloved family and friends who support me, encourage and help me all the time I do my research. Vo Thi Huong Ly ABSTRACT ii This master thesis deals with the importance of teaching pronunciation of the English language at high schools. As the global character of English language is strengthened every day, the only knowledge of English grammar and vocabulary is not sufficient as the importance of being able to lead an intelligible and effective communication plays a great role as well. Therefore, this master thesis aims at finding out some of the ways which can make an improvement in terms of teaching pronunciation in English lessons. iii TABLE OF CONTENTS Pages STATEMENT OF AUTHORSHIP..................................................................... ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS................................................................................ TABLE OF CONTENTS................................................................................... LIST OF TABLES............................................................................................. CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION....................................................................... 1.1. Rationale..................................................................................................... 1.2. Purpose of the Study................................................................................... 1.3. Scope of the Study...................................................................................... 1.4. The research questions................................................................................ 1.5. Research methodology................................................................................ 1.6. Setting and background.............................................................................. 1.7. Outline of the Study.................................................................................... CHAPTER 2. THEORICAL BACKGROUND................................................ 2.1. Role of pronunciation in communicative competence and in foreign language learning............................................................................................... 2.2. Approaches to pronunciation teaching –pronunciation teaching Methodologies................................................................................................... 2.3. Factors affecting pronunciation learning.................................................. 2.3.1. The native language............................................................................ 2.3.2. The age................................................................................................ 2.3.3. Phonetic ability................................................................................... 2.3.4. Attitudes and identity.......................................................................... 2.3.5. Motivation and concern for good pronunciation................................. 2.4. Differences in the sound systems between English and Vietnamese............ 2.4.1. Phonemes............................................................................................ 2.4.2. Vowels................................................................................................ iv 2.4.3. Consonants.......................................................................................... 2.4.4. Stress................................................................................................... 2.4.5. Intonation............................................................................................ 2.4.6. Linking sounds.................................................................................... 2.5. Common English pronunciation problems encountered by Vietnamese learners........................................................................................ 2.5.1. Vowel problems.................................................................................. 2.5.2. Consonant problems............................................................................ 2.5.3. Stress, rhythm and intonation problems.............................................. CHAPTER 3. RESEARCH METHODOLOGY............................................. 3.1. Methodology............................................................................................. 3.1.1. The research questions........................................................................ 3.1.2. Method orientation.............................................................................. 3.1.3. The characteristics of a case study...................................................... 3.1.4. The participants................................................................................... 3.1.5. The instruments................................................................................... 3.1.6. Data analysis process.......................................................................... 3.2. Conclusion................................................................................................ CHAPTER 4. DATA ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSIONS............................... 4.1. Data analysis:............................................................................................ 4.1.1. Questionnaires.................................................................................... 4.1.2. Interview: Students’ difficulties in learning English pronunciation as experienced by teachers at Thanh chuong 3 high School............................. 4.1.3. Classroom observation........................................................................ 4.2.Conclusion................................................................................................. CHAPTER 5. RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS................... 5.1. Summary of the findings........................................................................... 5.2. Suggestions for pronunciation teaching in high schools........................... v 5.2.1. Amount of Exposure........................................................................... 5.2.2. Attitudes and motivation..................................................................... 5.2.3. Suggested teaching techniques............................................................ 5.3. Conclusion................................................................................................ 5.3.1. Conclusion of the study...................................................................... 5.3.2. Limitations of the study...................................................................... 5.3.3. Suggestions for further studies............................................................ REFERENCES................................................................................................... APPENDIX vi LIST OF TABLES Pages Table 4.1. Students’ general attitude towards learning English......................... Table 4.2. Students’ awareness of the importance of learning English pronunciation..................................................................................... Table 4.3. Students’evaluationon difficulties in learning English pronunciation ........................................................................................................... Table 4.4. Students’ awareness of the concepts of stress, intonation and rhythm............................................................................................... Table 4.5. Students evaluation on difficulties in learning English intonation........................................................................................... vii CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION 1.1. Rationale English has become a language for global communication these days. In this common trend, English in Vietnam has become one of the important, compulsory subjects at schools, from primary school to high school system. No longer are students merely required to master English grammar and vocabulary to sit for a test, they are now studying English to develop their own communicative skills, of which intelligible pronunciation plays a crucial part. With poor pronunciation, students have problems either making themselves understood or understanding others. Therefore, there should be the appropriate attention to teaching and learning pronunciation. Despite realizing the importance of English pronunciation, Vietnamese students still can not acquire correctly. The main reason is that the traditional teaching laid the emphasis on grammar. Many students can not pronounce English words and sentences correctly. They often pronounce them with equal stress, flat intonation and no rhythm at all. English pronunciation seems to have become the most serious problem that students face when they learn English. This is happening in most upper secondary schools in Vietnam except for foreign language specializing schools. Situated in a remote area in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province, Thanh Chuong 3 high school is far weaker than other schools regarding students' English proficiency at English. And if some students are said to be good at English, it means they are good at English grammar. Most of them find it hard to express themselves orally. If anyone can, he has problems in pronouncing English words and sentences. In the English lessons, only 1 teachers speak , and most of the time, they have to speak Vietnamese because they are concerned that their students do not understand what they are saying. When the new textbook is introduced, almost students complain about the difficulties they get in learning English speaking skill in general and in pronunciation in particular. From the very first day of my teaching career in here, from my own observation and experiences, I could tell that they had serious problems in pronunciation during the pronunciation course even though each lesson was designed with clear, stated objectives. A number of students mispronounced separated words and words combined in a sentence. Others pronounced a sentence with equal stress, flat intonation and no rhythm at all. And we ourselves realize that our students really have bad pronunciation. As a result, students here have a lot of problems when they do the tests on pronunciation as a part the graduate examinations. This is a serious problem not only at Thanh Chuong 3 high school but also at many other mountainous schools. Being motivated by the situation, I was determined to carry out a case study in order to figure out the problems in learning English pronunciation met by the 11th grade at Thanh Chuong 3 high school entitled: “An investigation into the 11th graders’difficulties in learning English pronunciation at Chuong 3 high school”. The research findings would be followed by suggestions for students with the hope that the students at my school could improve their English pronunciation. 1.2. Purpose of the Study The main aims: -To investigate the difficulties that Thanh Chuong 3 high school students meet when they learn English pronunciation. 2 -To recommend some suggestions for teachers and learners to overcome these difficulties. To achieve these aims, some main objectives were defined as the followings: - To find out students’ attitudes towards learning English in general and learning English pronunciation in particular. - To investigate how difficult the English pronunciation is for the students. - To find out what causes the difficulties. - To offer some recommendations. 1.3. Scope of the Study The study was just conducted on a focused group of one hundred of grade 11th students in Thanh Chuong 3 high school. This study was aimed at exploring Thanh Chuong 3 high school students’ difficulties in learning English pronunciation and giving some suggested recommendations. 1.4. The research questions Questions for the study: a. What are their main difficulties in learning English pronunciation? b. What are the causes of these difficulties? 1.5. Research methodology This study is conducted as a case study which employs multiple methods including qualitative and quantitative methods. The former uses naturalistic observation, narrative diaries, and collection of existing information while the later makes use of such instruments as questionnaires and structured interviews. + Questionnaire was designed to investigate students’ attitude towards learning English as well as English pronunciation and their main difficulties in learning pronunciation.There were ten items in the questionnaire, the first three of which aimed at finding out students’ attitudes towards learning English speaking in general and towards learning English pronunciation in particular. 3 The remaining seven items were designed to find out whether they had difficulties in learning English pronunciation or not and what difficulties were as experienced by the students. All the items in the questionnaire involved closed and open-ended questions with the intention of getting deep and reliable data. After collecting the data from the questionnaires, I analyzed the data qualitatively and quantitatively. + Classroom observation was employed to see what the main English pronunciation problems were. I observed five different lessons which were given by four teachers selected randomly including three speaking lessons and two Language focus ones. Each of these teachers presented an English lesson in a 45 minute period. Classroom observation was also used to observe students’ attitude towards English pronunciation. + The last method – interviewing teachers at Thanh Chuong 3 high school was to get deeper and clearer insights into students’ difficulties in learning pronunciation. This step was to support the first and second instruments, questionnaires and classroom observation, to get and analyze the data reliably. 1.6. Setting and background Located in a remote area in Thanh Chuong district, Nghe An province, Thanh Chuong 3 high school has a lot of weaknesses and difficulties. Most of the teachers are very young and lack of teaching experience. Furthermore, the students there mostly come from poor families. They do not have good conditions to study. Because of these above reasons, Thanh Chuong 3 high school is somewhat weaker than other schools. And as a certain, English is really limited. Although English has been compulsory for many years, students have not paid much attention to it. If some students at this school invest time to study the subject, it is just because of the exams they have to 4 take. Some of students fail the national examination for the Secondary School Diploma because they can not do English tests well. Due to this, students there tend to concentrate on English subject more and more. However, because of many factors, especially the objectives of the test, English teaching and learning in this area focus much on grammar, not other skills. Teachers there tend to ignore teaching pronunciation to the students. That is why pronunciation seems to be very difficult for most of the students. Moreover, large class size and poorly-equipped classrooms make speaking lessons more difficult. Because of these, students at Thanh Chuong 3 High School are weak at speaking English, and they often have wrong pronunciation. Traditionally, teachers did not pay much attention to teaching pronunciation. And the old English textbooks did not involve teaching pronunciation, either. When we teach our students with the new textbooks, most of them are unwilling to have pronunciation lessons in Language Focus part, because they find it hard to achieve as good and correct pronunciation as in the CD. For the teachers and students at this school, pronunciation is a great problem. 1.7. Outline of the Study This thesis is presented in five chapters. The first chapter, Introduction, provides a brief overview of the study Chapter Two reviews the relevant literature for the study. This chapter presents the theoretical background of the thesis which contains six main points: Role of pronunciation in communicative competence and in foreign language learning; Approaches to pronunciation teaching - pronunciation teaching methodologies; Factors affecting pronunciation learning; Differences in the sound systems between English and Vietnamese; Common English pronunciation problems encountered by Vietnamese learners. Three deals with the research methodology. In this chapter, the focus 5 will be on background information of the subject of the study, the instruments used to collect data and the procedure of data collection as well. The next chapter, Chapter Four, presents a description of data analysis, (findings) and discussions. With the description of data analysis through three instruments: questionnaire, classroom observation and the interview, I explored some interpretations of the findings. The last chapter, Conclusion, is devoted to the summary of the findings and some pedagogical recommendations to help teachers and students in upper secondary schools to overcome difficulties in learning and teaching English pronunciation.This chapter also acknowledges the limitations of the study as well as some recommended directions for further study. 6 CHAPTER 2 THEORICAL BACKGROUND 2.1. Role of pronunciation in communicative competence and in foreign language learning Many people learning English language often do not pay any attention to their pronunciation. Even worse some of them underestimate it, they think that pronunciation is less important than grammar and vocabulary. In fact, pronunciation is extremely important. Many cases of misunderstand in communication were caused by the mispronouncing of words or the improper intonation. Let's take a few examples: if some one pronounces the words fog and fox, sea and she, sick and six with relatively no differences, in some cases can lead to misunderstanding. Another example when one pronounces the word present with stress in the first syllable, whereas she uses in the sentence " I'd like to present" is certainly incorrect and irritating. So it has been obvious why pronunciation is important. In addition, good pronunciation can also give a plus value to those who master it. Pronunciation is as important as any other aspects of language like syntax or vocabulary. Correct pronunciation is very necessary to develop our speaking skill. Pronunciation also has many other connections to the other fields such as listening, spelling and even grammar. For example, if someone is good at pronunciation, he will be able to comprehend the spoken English more easily. Or if a person understands and uses the rhythm, intonation and stress correctly, he will make the listeners understand better. Even pronunciation has connection to grammar, especially in English. The speaker who pronounces correctly the endings of the words, for example,can give grammatical information. 7 In short, pronunciation has important values not only in oral communication but also in foreign language learning. Acquiring good pronunciation is what a learner needs to make effort to do on the way of mastering a foreign language. 2.2. Approaches to pronunciation teaching –pronunciation teaching Methodologies The two general approaches to pronunciation teaching described in Celce-Murcia et al. (1996) have been adopted by many researchers, which are intuitive-imitative approach and analytical-linguistic approach. An intuitive-imitative approach assumes that students can develop acceptable pronunciation and speaking skills when exposed to the target language through accurate models. This approach relies heavily upon imitation and repetition, without any explicit information provided by teachers. The Direct method, which gained acceptance in the late 1800s and 1900s, was formed from observations of children attaining their first language. In this method, students would listen and imitate a model of the target language that was spoken by the teacher (and later by recordings). (Celce-Murcia et al, 1996). However, students who showed accuracy in controlled practice might fail to transfer what they learned to actual communicative language use. (Cohen, Larson-Freeman, & Tarone, 1991) From the late 1960s and the early 1980s, there was a decline in explicit pronunciation teaching with the invention of the language lab. The Total Physical Response by Ashers's (1977) and Natural Approach by Krashen and Terrell's (1983) were among the most popular in the pronunciation training. In Total Physical Response, students would begin to speak when they were ready and they were expected to make errors in the initial stage. The main initial focus of Natural Approach was listening, which gave students the opportunities to internalize the target sound system. Indeed, many 8 contemporary researchers still adopt this view but it still needs further investigating if the method has the persuasive foundation. An analytical-linguistic approach recognized the importance of explicit intervention of pronunciation pedagogy in language acquisition. The approach employs a variety of pedagogical aids including phonetic chart, contrastive exercises and articulatory descriptions. In this approach, students are given explicit information about how to produce the sounds and rhythms of the target language. The 1980s witnessed the significant shift with discourse based communicative approach with the ultimate goal was communication. Under this trend, pronunciation teaching focused more on a “top-down” approach instead of the original “bottom up” method of teaching isolated sounds. In other words, the focus of teaching pronunciation seemed to shift from mastery of segmentals (e.g.vowels and consonants) to fluency, highlighting the importance of elements of suprasegmentals (Pennington, & Richards, 1986). Techniques used to teach pronunciation included listening and imitating, phonetic training, minimal pairs drilling in context, visual aids, reading aloud, recording the students‟ production with more focus on suprasegmental aspects of pronunciation. It can be seen that communicative approach seems to be more balanced approach with the focus on both accuracy and fluency. The approach had characteristics of both intuitive-imitative approach and analytical-linguistic approach. In the light of communicative language teaching (CLT), learners are expected to achieve “intelligible pronunciation” of the target language, which is, according to Kenworthy, (1987), understood by a listener at a given time in a given situation. That is, students are able to understand, accept and declare to be recognized meaningfully in their oral communication. To sum up, trends of teaching pronunciation have been changing a lot 9 during different periods. Nowadays, teaching pronunciation plays a very important part in the language teaching. It is the main target connected with other skills to get the highest purpose of learning a foreign language, which is communication. 2.3. Factors affecting pronunciation learning There are many factors affecting the learners' pronunciation. According to Kenworthy (1987:4-9), factors such as the native language, the age, amount of exposure, phonetic ability, attitude and identity, motivation and concern for good pronunciation have great influence on pronunciation learning. 2.3.1. The native language The native language plays an important role in learning to pronounce English as it is clearly seen that a foreign accent is influenced by some of the sound characteristics of the learner's native language. Due to the role of native language, there has been a great deal of research on the differences between sound systems of English and other languages in terms of sound system as well as problems, difficulties the learners face when studying English. According to Kenworthy, (1992: 4): "To put it very crudely, the more differences there are, the more difficulties the learners will have in pronouncing English.” According to Peter Avery and Susan Ehrlich (1992), the native language can determine the nature of a foreign accent. We can see this clearly from the fact that speakers of English are easy to recognize Vietnamese accents, Chinese accents, Japanese accents, etc. In other words, learners can transfer the sound patterns of the native language into the second language. Every language has different inventory of sounds, different rules for combining these sounds into words, and different stress and intonation patterns. Learners make errors in pronunciation not just when they attempt to produce unfamiliar 10
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