The level of first year english majors’ awareness of using dictionary in practicing pronunciation at can tho university

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CAN THO UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF EDUCATION ENGLISH EDUCATION DEPARTMENT THE LEVEL OF FIRST YEAR ENGLISH MAJORS’ AWARENESS OF USING DICTIONARY IN PRACTICING PRONUNCIATION AT CAN THO UNIVERSITY B.A. Thesis Supervisor Lê Thị Huyền, M.A Researcher Nguyễn Thị Nhuyễn Student ID: 7062914 Class: NN0652A1 Course: 32 Cần Thơ, March 2010 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First of all, I would like to send my sincere gratitude to my supervisor - Mrs Lê Thị Huyền who has given me much valuable suggestions, advice, encouragement, and support to complete the writing of my thesis. I will never forget the period of time working with you. In fact, I have learnt a lot from you. Hopefully, one day we can continue our collaboration in any ways. I want to say that I love you and I am really glad and proud that I have become your “đệ tử” in my life. Second of all, I want to give my special appreciation and thanks to 53 students of English Education course 35 for their enthusiasm and support in providing the data for this study, without whose valuable assistance, this work would not have been possible. I also received much help and encouragement from my classmates during I did the thesis. Hence, I would like to send my great thanks to them who supplied me helpful comments and suggestions. Last but not least, I thank my family: my parents and my siblings, who understand me, love me, care for me, and give me unconditional support. I thank you for always being there for me, enabling me to be who I am and where I am today. Thanks again to all who helped me! Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 2 TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Table of contents............................................................................................... 3 List of tables ..................................................................................................... 4 Abstracts ......................................................................................................... 5 1. CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION ................................................................ 6 2. CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ................................... 10 2.1. The definition of pronunciation ...................................................................... 10 2.2. Teaching and learning pronunciation ............................................................ 10 2.2.1. Trends in pronunciation teaching ................................................................... 10 2.2.2. Pronunciation goals ........................................................................................ 11 2.2.3. The important role of pronunciation ............................................................... 11 2.2.4. Teaching pronunciation explicitly need to be focused ................................... 13 2.2.5. Factors affecting pronunciation learning ........................................................ 14 2.2.6. Common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English ........ ….18 2.3. Background of my study……………………………………………………….19 3. CHAPTER 3: METHOD.............................................................................. 21 3.1. Research design ............................................................................................. 21 3.2. Description of participants and instruments .................................................... 21 3.3. Research procedures ...................................................................................... 23 4. CHAPTER 4: FINDINGS ........................................................................... 25 4.1. Some typical sounds that students mispronounce when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary .......................................................................... 25 4.2. The level of students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation.27 4.3. The frequency level of students’ using dictionary to practice pronunciation .... 28 4.4. Possible reasons why students have problems in their pronunciation learning.. 30 5. CHAPTER 5: SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION ........................................ 35 REFERENCES .......................................................................................... 38 APPENDICES ............................................................................................ 44 Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 3 LIST OF TABLES Page Table 3.2.2. Clusters of the questionnaire .................................................................................... 23 Table 4.2. The overall mean score of students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation ......................................................................................... 27 Table 4.2.a. The mean score of specific levels of students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation ......................................................................................... 28 Table 4.3. The frequency levels of students’ using dictionary to practice pronunciation ........... 29 Table 4.3.a. The frequency levels of specific levels of students’ using dictionary to practice pronunciation ............................................................................................. 29 Table 4.4. The overall mean score of possible reasons why students mispronounce some typical sounds when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary ............................. 31 Table 4.4.1. The mean score of three groups in possible reasons why students mispronounce some typical sounds when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary ................... 31 Table 4.4.1.a. Descriptive Statistics of teachers’ role ..................................................................... 33 Table 4.4.1.b. Descriptive Statistics of instructions ........................................................................ 33 Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 4 ABSTRACT This study was conducted from January to the beginning of March, 2010 in Can Tho University. The participants were 53 first year English major students in Can Tho University. In this paper, we examine the level of first year students’ awareness of using dictionary in practicing pronunciation. This is a descriptive research, in which the data from 53 questionnaires were treated by SPSS 11.5 (Norusis, 2000). It was found that students are often aware of the important role of using dictionary (M= 5.05, SD= .72) with 1 - Never (0%), 2 - Rarely (1%-10%), 3 - Seldom (10%-25%), 4 - Sometimes (25%75%), 5 - Often (75%-90%), and 6 - Usually (90%-99%). Nevertheless, it was also found that students sometimes use dictionary to practice pronunciation (M= 4.42, SD= .98). However, students have faced many difficulties in pronouncing English sounds. The first reasons may be students’ understanding of phonetic transcriptions (M= 3.74, SD=.95). Especially, students rarely received instructions or trainings on how to read phonetic transcriptions from their teachers (M= 2.97, SD= 1.30). From the results, the researcher proposes that teachers not only ask students to use dictionary in practicing pronunciation inside as well as outside classrooms but also train them the techniques of reading phonetic transcriptions carefully. TÓM LƯỢC Nghiên cứu này thực hiện từ 11/01/2010 đến 11/03/2010 tại Trường Đại học Cần Thơ với đối tượng nghiên cứu là 53 em sinh viên năm thứ nhất chuyên ngành Sư phạm Anh văn, thuộc Khoa Sư phạm, Trường Đại học Cần Thơ. Theo đó, mức độ nhận thức của sinh viên về việc sử dụng từ điển như nguồn tác động trong việc học ngữ âm của họ được điều tra và số liệu nghiên cứu từ 53 phiếu điều tra được xử lý bằng phần mềm SPSS 11,5 (Norusis, 2000). Kết quả cho thấy sinh viên thường nhận thức được vai trò quan trọng của việc sử dụng từ điển để học ngữ âm (M= 5.05, SD= .72 với 1 - Không Bao Giờ (0%), 2 - Hiếm Khi (1%-10%), 3 - Ít Khi (10%-25%), 4 - Thỉnh Thoảng (25%-75%), 5 Thường (75%-90%), and 6 – Rất Thường (90%-99%). Tuy nhiên, sinh viên chỉ thỉnh thoảng sử dụng từ điển để học ngữ âm (M= 4.42, SD= .98). Mặc dù vậy, thực tế thì những sinh viên này lại gặp nhiều khó khăn trong việc phát ra những âm tiếng Anh. Lý do có thể là khả năng về ngữ âm của sinh viên (M= 3.74, SD= .95). Đặc biệt, sinh viên hiếm khi nhận được sự chỉ dẫn từ giáo viên (M= 2.97, SD= 1.30). Từ kết quả nghiên cứu, tác giả kiến nghị giáo viên không những thường xuyên yêu cầu sinh viên sử dụng từ điển để thực hành ngữ âm trong cũng như ngoài lớp học mà còn dạy cho họ những cách đọc các ký hiệu ngữ âm thật cẩn thận. Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 5 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION In this chapter, I would like to state general statement of the problem; statement of the hypotheses, objectives, or questions. Besides, general organization and coverage of the study are also included afterwards. 1.1 . General statement of the problem There is no doubt that dictionaries are very useful. Knowing how to use dictionaries is important for students, especially English Education students who will teach many students in high school. However, in Viet Nam, students do not have environment to practice English pronunciation. High school teachers formerly focus on teaching grammar and vocabulary. Listening, speaking, and writing are also trained recently. Thus, I believe that dictionary is one of the best friends to help students produce English sounds accurately because students can find out how to produce a word by checking a good dictionary to see what the correct pronunciation is supposed to be. In fact, dictionaries give single word phonetic transcriptions which can greatly improve students’ pronunciation skills. Wells (2001) defined phonetic transcription as “the use of phonetic symbols to represent speech sounds”. Wells (2001) also suggested that ideally, each sound in a spoken utterance is represented by a written phonetic symbol, so as to furnish a record sufficient to render possible the accurate reconstruction of the utterance. In 1992, Avery and Ehrlich strongly suggest that learners may improve their performance and feel confident with regular practice. Nevertheless, no one encourages and instructs students how to read phonetic transcription accurately and effectively or how to use dictionary when pronouncing English sounds. Specifically, teachers just show them how a word is spelt, what it means, and what part of speech it can be from dictionaries. As McKeown (1993) said "dictionary consultation assumes a lexical, linguistic sophistication on the part of the user. It demands the user possess broad semantic categories to relate the unfamiliar word". On the same philosophy, Taylor (2003) confirms an English - English dictionary as an essential and invaluable resource for English second language students at various levels, yet many of the dictionaries recommended to students are too sophisticated for students’ lexical abilities. Furthermore, not only can dictionary consultation assist students, it is considered the Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 6 initial step in learning a new word (Gonzalez, 1999). As a result, when speaking to native speakers, students are often surprised at how the phonetic transcriptions seem to not always match pronunciation used in connected speech. In other words, they often have lots of difficulties in pronouncing English sounds, especially in reading phonetic transcription from dictionaries. Actually, there are many researchers such as Rants (1991), Holstein (1993), Uppercut and Day (1993), Laufer and Melamed (1994), Knight (1994), Nits and Oceanic (1995), Laufer and Kimmel (1997), Laufer (1998), Summers (1998), Fraser (1999), Laufer and Hill (2000), Rhoder & Huerster (2002), Thirumalai (2007), who have conducted research to study the role of dictionary in vocabulary learning. I realized that there was no body who studied the role of dictionary in learning pronunciation, especially reading phonetic transcription in dictionary to practice pronunciation. Now, I am teaching at Phan Ngoc Hien high school (in the Teaching Practicum Course), after that I will become a teacher. In my mind, I really want to help my students study well, especially in pronunciation because pronunciation is a key element of the learning of oral skills in a second language. The students need to understand how sounds are produced to deliver communication efficiency in interaction. Moreover, knowing the phonetic transcription of the English words is a vital importance for students in the university in order to understand what lecturers are speaking or even to engage in day to day conversations. Because of these reasons, I wanted to do a research related to using dictionary in practicing pronunciation of students. I named my thesis as “The level of first year English majors’ awareness of using dictionary in practicing pronunciation at Can Tho University”. In the following part, I would like to state statement of the hypotheses, objectives, or questions. 1.2. Statement of the hypotheses, objectives, or questions 1.2.1. Statement of the hypotheses I hypothesize that 1. Students often mispronounced some typical sounds when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary. 2. Students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation was low. 3. Students did not use dictionary to practice pronunciation. 1.2.2. Statement of the objectives In this research, I want to: Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 7 1. find out some typical sounds that students often mispronounce when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary. 2. measure the extent of the first year English major students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation. 3. find out the frequency level of students’ using dictionary to practice pronunciation. 1.2.3. Research questions The study is about the level of the first year English major students’ awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation. Hence, I want to find out the answers for the following questions: 1. What are some typical sounds that students often mispronounce when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary? 2. To which extent are first year English major students aware of using dictionary to practice pronunciation? 3. How often do students use dictionary to practice pronunciation? In the last part of this chapter, I will mention general organization and coverage of the study. 1.3. General organization and coverage of the study My thesis consists of five chapters. Chapter 1 is the introduction. It consists of general statement of the problem; statement of the hypotheses, objectives, or questions; as well as general organization and coverage of the study. Chapter 2 is the review of the literature. It relates to the definition of pronunciation and teaching and learning pronunciation (trends, goals, the important role of pronunciation, teaching pronunciation explicitly need to be focused, factors affecting pronunciation learning, common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English). Chapter 3 is about research method. It deals to research design; description of participants and instruments; and research procedures. Chapter 4 is about research findings, including some typical sounds that students often mispronounce when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary, the result of the level of students’ awareness of using dictionary and the frequency level of students’ using dictionary to practice pronunciation. Possible reasons why students mispronounce Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 8 some typical sounds when reading phonetic transcription in dictionary are also mentioned in this section. Chapter 5 is the summary and discussion. It will summarize of research problems, research methods, and findings as well as present the discussion about the result of the research in terms of the original hypothesis, pedagogical implications, limitations and recommendations for future research. Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 9 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE In this chapter, I will review the definition of pronunciation. In addition, my other major concerns will be some information related to teaching and learning pronunciation including trends, goals, and the important role of pronunciation. The factors which affect pronunciation learning are also supplied in this chapter. Besides, a large part of this chapter will be concerned with common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English. 2.1. The definition of pronunciation According to Murphy (1991), most people think of pronunciation as the sounds we make while speaking. Those most of us think in terms of speech production, the Longman Dictionary of Applied Linguistic emphasizes “the way sounds are perceive by the hearer” to define pronunciation (Richards, Platt, and Weber, 1992, p. 296). On the other hand, pronunciation is the way in which a word is pronounced or the way a person speaks the words of a language (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary). However, pronunciation is considered as the act of articulating syllables, words, and phrases with regard to the production of sounds and the placing of stress, intonation, etc. (Webster’s Dictionary). In my opinion, pronunciation is the mode of uttering words or sentences. In other words, it refers to the production of sounds that we use to make meaning. In the next part, I will review theories on teaching and learning pronunciation. 2.2. Teaching and learning pronunciation 2.2.1. Trends in pronunciation teaching Current trends in pronunciation pedagogy have been affected by disciplines like psychology, linguistics, sociology, semiotics, and computer technology to a great extent. Celce-Murcia (1987) and Anderson-Hsieh (1989) pointed out “since the advent of the communicative approach, pronunciation has been recognized a key role in improving the learner’s oral skills and contributing to the success of oral communication”. Indeed, by improving the learner’s oral skills, an accurate pronunciation is believed to help the learner increase self-confidence, promote social interactions outside the classroom (Florez, 1998; Morley, 1994), and contribute to clarity and efficiency in professional exchanges (Neri, Cucchiarini, and Boves, 2002). More recent trends in pronunciation teaching and learning have abandoned assumptions, current in the audio-lingual era, that Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 10 native-like accuracy was the goal, and intelligible communication is seen as an achievable aim for most learners (Scarcella and Oxford, 1994; Celce-Murcia, et al. 1996). Welcome now to the question of what goals should be set for learners? 2.2.2. Pronunciation goals Bowen (1972) proposes three realistic goals for the teaching of pronunciation: (a) ability to communicate orally with ease and efficiency; (b) ability to produce the basic contrasts of the target language sound system; and (c) ability to understand fluent speech as produced by native speakers. The accomplishment of such goals might benefit from the use of an eclectic approach to the teaching of pronunciation, especially for postpuberty language learners. For Bowen, the success of pronunciation instruction depends essentially on motivating the learner by integrating pronunciation with the other elements of instruction, which might be accomplished by contextualizing the pronunciation lesson. However, Morley (1991) identified the four basic pronunciation goals of functional intelligibility, functional communicability, increased self-confidence, speech monitoring ability and speech modification strategies. We can claim that pronunciation is the first and essential step to one’s second language acquisition because if it is not well-acquired especially at the early learning stage, other aspects of English learning will be negatively affected. Due to the numerous English varieties as well as the changing definition of Standard English, we should not simply set up a goal of teaching any of the varieties, but rather, provide a variety of opportunities for our students to learn, practice and realize the important role of this language. 2.2.3. The important role of pronunciation As we know, pronunciation is an integrated and integral part of language learning. It consists of elements much wider than sounds of consonants and vowels. It includes the elements of rhythm and intonation, which support the communicative process. That is to say, anyone who wants to gain communicative competence has to study pronunciation. In fact, in Morley’ opinion, pronunciation plays an important role in helping the learner become an intelligible speaker (1998). Richards and Renandya (2002) believe that teaching can play an important role in helping learners develop ways of improving their pronunciation and shaping their attitude toward the importance of pronunciation while Chen (2007) indicates the role of pronunciation in second language acquisition Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 11 pronunciation was a key ingredient of communicative competence and a more balanced approach that valued both accuracy and fluency. In contrast, there are some researchers (Suter, 1976, Purcell & Suter, 1980) who have cast doubt on the importance of pronunciation in English foreign language teaching. According to them, pronunciation practice in class has little, if any, effect on learners' pronunciation skills – “the attainment of accurate pronunciation in a second language is a matter substantially beyond the control of educators” (Suter, 1976; Purcell & Suter, 1980). Central to Pennington’s point of view is that the most important part of learning a second language rests on pronunciation (1994). Interestingly, Wong (1993) adds that even when the non-native speakers’ vocabulary and grammar are excellent, if their pronunciation falls below a certain threshold level; they are unable to communicate effectively. Wong also demonstrates that “a lack of knowledge of pronunciation could even affect learners' reading and spelling and the importance of pronunciation is even more distinct when the connection between pronunciation and listening comprehension is taken into account” (1993, pp. 45-46). Accordingly, Siska (2009), pronunciation is one of the three aspects of language, together with grammar and vocabulary. It plays an important part in listening, and speaking skills, so developing student’s pronunciation is one of the most significant jobs for English teachers. Almost all learners rate pronunciation as a priority and an area in which they need more guidance (Willing, 1993) because English, both written and spoken, has been accepted as the dominant means of communication for most of the world but some misunderstandings have been caused by inappropriate pronunciation (Yong, 1993). Poor pronunciation can condemn learners to less social, academic and work advancement than they deserved (Fraser, 1999, 2000) while good pronunciation may make the communication easier and more relaxed and thus more successful (Dan, 2006). Furthermore, pronunciation is important not only to communicate ideas easily but also to understand other speakers well. It is particularly important to integrate pronunciation into beginner classes as it will, from the very beginning, help avoid the risks of fossilization and stabilization of pronunciation habits (Ritchie & Bhatia, 2008). Baker (1992) concluded: “Pronunciation is very important and learners should pay close attention to pronunciation as early as possible”. Therefore, pronunciation should be taught in all second language classes through a variety of activities (Scarcella & Oxford, 1994). Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 12 2.2.4. Teaching pronunciation explicitly need to be focused The way we speak immediately conveys something about ourselves to the people around us. Therefore, learners with good pronunciation in English are more likely to be understood even if they make errors in other areas, whereas learners whose pronunciation is difficult to understand will not be understood, even if their grammar is perfect. Actually, we also often judge people by the way they speak, and so learners with poor pronunciation may be judged as incompetent, untrained or lacking in knowledge, even though listeners are only reacting to their pronunciation. Morley (1991) and Pennington (1996) confirm that pronunciation training is essential for successful communication since it strongly contributes to ‘speaker intelligibility’ (Jenkins, 2000), i.e. the ability of the speaker to produce speech that can be easily processed by the listener at the phonological and prosodic level. However, many adult learners find pronunciation one of the most difficult aspects of English to acquire, and need explicit help from the teacher (Morley, 1994 and Fraser, 2000). Sharing the same viewpoints, teachers now agree that explicit pronunciation teaching is an essential part of language courses (Fraser, 1999). Firstly, confidence with pronunciation allows learners the interaction with native speakers that is so essential for all aspects of their linguistic development. Secondly, poor pronunciation degrades good language skills and condemns learners to less than their deserved social, academic and work advancement. Nonetheless, the learners’ ability to communicate is severely limited without adequate pronunciation skills because limited pronunciation skills can undermine learners’ self confidence, restrict social interactions and negatively influence estimations of a speaker’s credibility and abilities (Morley, 1998). With the emphasis on meaningful communication and Morley's (1991) premise, that “intelligible pronunciation is an essential component of communication competence”, teachers should include pronunciation in their courses and expect their learners to do well in them. Although Morley (1991) states that it is necessary to teach English pronunciation in the English foreign language or English foreign language classroom, this important area is still neglected or ignored at many universities and colleges around the world. Indeed, teaching English pronunciation is still surprisingly and shockingly neglected in many English foreign language settings. For example, in China, an English phonetics course is simply left to chance or given no place at all in English teaching and learning (Cheng, 1998). In addition, a pronunciation course is still only an elective in the Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 13 universities or colleges. According to Lin, Fan and Chen (1995), 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. In the U.S.A, many students and teachers believe that spending time on pronunciation is useless because it would be difficult, if not impossible for students to hear differences, for instance, between ship and sheep (Wong, 1993). Similarly, English pronunciation is simply ignored in the curriculum of some universities in Thailand (Wei and Zhou, 2002; Syananondh, 1983). In Mexico, pronunciation was described as “the Cinderella of language teaching”; which means an often low level of emphasis was placed on this very important language skill (Dalton, 2002). In short, English pronunciation is great important as the other aspects and skills of the English language, such as vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, and so on. Pronunciation is a crucial part of communication, especially through listening and speaking. Consequently, pronunciation components have to be incorporated in the materials, classroom activities and testing tools; and the teachers have to be focused on teaching English pronunciation on balance with other language skills. In the following part, I am going to review some factors affecting pronunciation learning. 2.2.5. Factors affecting pronunciation learning According to Riyadh (2005), the pronunciation of any learner might be affected by a combination of factors which some researchers, and Gillette (1994), and Pennington (1994) believe to promote or impede pronunciation mastery. These factors include age, personality, mother tongue influence, gender and learning context. It is well acknowledged that age, personality and the first language background are the most important factors that affect learners’ mastery of the second language pronunciation. These factors are briefly summarized below. 2.2.5.1. Age Is there an age related limit on the mastery of pronunciation in a second language? We will briefly summarize the findings of a few of the studies that have been carried out and look at some of the recent research on this topic. It is generally believed that younger learners have certain advantages over older learners in language learning. The common notion is that younger children learn the second language easily and quickly in comparison to older children (Mayberry & Lock, 2003; Ellis, 2008; Larsen-Freeman, 2008). As reported by Lightbown and Spada (2008), Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 14 learning depends on learners’ characteristics and the environment. Their findings suggested that older learners have a higher level of problem solving and metalinguistics abilities than younger learners. On the other hand, Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle (1978), from their research carried in Holland, concluded that adults learned faster than children and the rate of second language learning was higher. In 1998, Singleton also declared that the tendency for “younger learners to do better in the long run in the matter of second language lexical acquisition is no more than a tendency” (p. 22). Furthermore, Patkowski (1982) carried out a research on 67 highly educated immigrants to the United States from various backgrounds. In his control subjects, 33 subjects were those who had come to the United States before the age of 15 (pre-puberty group) and 34 subjects who were postpuberty group with similar backgrounds. He examined the spoken English of the subjects, and analyzed “a difference between learners who began to learn English before puberty and those who began learning English later after puberty” (Patkowski, 1982, p. 58). His results showed a strong negative relationship between age of arrival and syntactic rating. He concluded that the pre-puberty group was better in language learning than the postpuberty group. He further addressed: “…the only factor which was highly associated with the level of syntactic proficiency attained by learners was the age at which acquisition of English began. Practice and instructional variables showed little or no association with the dependent variables. The result, then, appeared to strongly support the hypothesis of an age-related limitation on the ability to acquire full command of a second language.” (Patkowski, 1982, p. 59) One of the supporting evidences in the field of second language acquisition comes from the experience of immigrants. A group of researchers have shown a relationship between age of entry, length of residence and level of language acquisition (Ekstrand, 1982; Singleton, 1998; Bista, 2008; Lightbown & Spada, 2008). Asher and Gracia (1989) as cited in Bista, 2008, examined acquisition of pronunciation of 71 Cuban immigrants to California. The subjects were of aged groups from 7 to 19 years. The majority of them had been in the United States for about five years. They concluded that “not one of the 71 Cuban subjects was judged to have American native pronunciation” (Singleton, 1998, p. 83). They also figured out a fact that the younger a child had been when entering the United States, the higher the probability of a native like accent. Carroll (1971) also suggested that the ability to acquire a native like accent declines toward puberty. In 1976, Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 15 Oyama studied 60 male Italian immigrants who entered to the United States at ages ranging from 6 to 20. She examined the degree of American accent and proficiency in English listening and she concluded that age is as an important factor to achieve native like accent. The youngest arrivals performed a better accent. She has shown the relation of age and listening comprehension as follows: “…those subjects who began learning English before age 11 showed comprehension score similar to those of native speakers, whereas later arrivals did less well; those who arrived after the age of 16 showed markedly lower comprehension scores than the native.” (Oyama, 1982, p. 23) In 1967, Ashor and Price (as cited in Singleton, 1998) have carried out an experiment with 96 students from the second, fourth and eighth grades of a school and 37 undergraduate students from a college. The subjects did not have any previous knowledge of Russian, the targeted language. After three short trainings conducted in Russian language, the results showed that the eight graders performed significantly better than the second graders and the fourth graders. They also noticed a consistently positive relationship with advancing age because of above average mental ability of the adults. In other studies on age and Second Language Acquisition, many researchers have mentioned a similar finding that adult subjects performed better than the children (Singleton, 1998; Bista, 2008). In other words, the younger learners took more than twice as long as the older learners. A large scale experiment was conducted by Burstall and her colleagues (Singleton, 1989) in the 1970s. The study included three age groups of pupils from selected primary schools in England and Wales. Among the 11 year old, 13 year old and 16 year old students, the results indicated that older students dramatically achieved higher score in listening and speaking tests than the younger ones. Age is not everything in second language learning. However, factors related to the age, for example the learning opportunities, the motivation to learn, individual differences, and learning styles, are also important determining variables that affect the rate of second language learning in various developmental stages of the learners. 2.2.5.2. Personality Other factor affecting the acquisition of the sound system of a second language is related to the personality of the learner. Learners who are confident and willing to take risks probably have more opportunities to practice their pronunciation of the second language simply because they are more often involved in interactions with native Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 16 speakers. Conversely, learners who are introverted, inhibited, and unwilling to take risks lack opportunities for practice (Avery and Ehrlich, 1992). Non-linguistic factors related to an individual’s personality and learning goals, attitude towards the target language, culture, native speakers, and type of motivation, which are beyond the teacher’s control, all have their share in the development of pronunciation skills. In addition, the degree of exposure to and use of the target language can support or impede pronunciation skills development. For instance, learners who are confident and get involved in interactions with native speakers are liable to practice their foreign language pronunciation (Avery and Ehrlich, 1992). In this respect, Miller (2000) believes that changing – and not changing – speech patterns is affected by how much responsibility the student takes, how much the student practices outside of class, and how ready the student is. 2.2.5.3. Mother tongue influence Kenworthy (1987) claims that native language plays an important role in learning English pronunciation. Many researches have tried to predict the troubles the learners could face in learning English pronunciation by comparing the sound systems of English and the learner's native language. The results showed that the more differences the sound systems are, the more difficulties the learner will face. In this respect, Avery and Ehrlich (1992) state that the sound system of the native language can influence the learners’ pronunciation of a target language in at least three ways. Firstly, when there is a sound in the target language, which is absent from the learners’ native sound inventory, or vice versa, learners may not be able to produce or even perceive the sound(s). Secondly, when the rules of combining sounds into words are different in the learners’ mother tongue from those of the target language, they cause problems for learners because these rules are language specific as they vary from one language to another. Thirdly, since the rhythm and melody of a language determine its patterns of stress and intonation, learners may transfer these patterns into the target language. Teaching pronunciation is a paramount importance in foreign language learning. To ensure effective pronunciation teaching, there are certain factors that should be considered: biological, personal, sociocultural, pedagogic, mother tongue influence, and setting realistic goals. Nevertheless, pronunciation teaching should not only focus on segmental features, i.e., teaching specific sounds or nuances of sounds, but also on suprasegmental or prosodic features, i.e., stress, rhythm, pitch, and intonation, which Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 17 greatly contribute to communication. Of course, all these cannot be achieved unless teachers follow certain principles of effective pronunciation teaching: learning to describe pronunciation, creating a non-threatening atmosphere, and teaching pronunciation step by step. In the section that follows, we present a description of common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English. 2.2.6. Common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English (as cited in Avery & Ehrlich, 1992) As the sound systems of English and Vietnamese differ greatly, Vietnamese speakers can have quite severe pronunciation problems. Vietnamese is a tone language; that is, pitch changes distinguish word meaning. Most words in Vietnamese consist of only one syllable; there are fewer consonants than in English and there are no consonant clusters. On the other hand, the Vietnamese vowel system makes a large number of distinctions and, therefore, speakers of Vietnamese do not experience too much difficulty with the English vowels. Vietnamese uses a modified Roman alphabet but many of the letters have quite different sound values from those of English. Common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English include consonant problems and vowel problems. First of all, I will mention about consonant problems. 2.2.6.1. Consonants a. Word-final voiceless stop consonants: /p/, /t/, and /k/ In Vietnamese, the voiceless stop consonants /p/, /t/, and /k/ occur at the end of a word, but these consonants are never released in final position and are much shorter than their English equivalents. This means that even when Vietnamese speakers pronounce these consonants in final position, English speakers may have difficulty hearing them. Thus, two words such as “beat” may sound like “bee” and “cake” may sound like “k”. b. Voice vs. voiceless stops in word-final position: /b/, /d/, /g/ vs. /p/, /t/, /k/ As Vietnamese has no voiced stops at the end of words, Vietnamese speakers need practice in distinguishing between voiced and voiceless stops in this position. For example, words such as “cap” and “cab” may sound identical, with a short unreleased /p/ at the end of both words. c. Word-final fricative consonants: /f/, /v/, /θ/ as in “truth”, /ð/ as in “bathe”, /s/, /z/, /∫/ as in “wash”, and /ʒ/ as in “beige” As fricatives do not occur in word-final position in Vietnamese, Vietnamese speakers may omit fricatives at the ends of words. A sentence such as: Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 18 The boys always pass the garage on their way home. may sound like: The boys alway pa the gara on their way home. d. Consonant clusters As Vietnamese has no consonant clusters in initial or final position, Vietnamese speakers must learn to produce a large variety of new syllable types that contain consonant clusters. Generally, Vietnamese speakers tend to delete one or more consonants from a difficult cluster. e. /θ/ and /ð/ as in “think” and “this” Vietnamese speakers will often produce a heavily aspirated stop /t/ instead of /θ/ in words like “think”. This is probably on the orthographic system of Vietnamese, where the letter combination th represents a heavily aspirated /t/. They will usually substitute a /d/ for /ð/ in words like “this”. f. Word-final / t∫/ as in “march” Once Vietnamese speakers have learned to produce the fricative /∫/ in word-final position, they may substitute /∫/ for /t∫/, saying “marsh” instead of “march”. g. Problem /p/ vs. /f/ and /b/ As /p/ does not occur in initial position in Vietnamese, Vietnamese speakers may substitute a /b/ or a /f/ for /p/. Thus, “put” may sound like “foot”, and “Peter” may sound like “beater”. 2.2.6.2. Vowels a. Tense vs. lax vowels: /i: / vs. /I/, /e: / vs. /e/, /u: / vs. /u/ While Vietnamese makes many vowel distinctions, the English tense/lax vowel pairs can still pose difficulties for Vietnamese learners. For instance, Vietnamese students cannot usually distinguish between “fool” and “full” or “seat” and “sit”. b. Problem /e/ vs. /æ/ Vietnamese speakers may have difficulty distinguishing between /e/ and /æ/ as in “bed” and “bad” or “men” and “man”. 2.3. Background of my study Thrush, Baldwin, and Blass (2007) in Interactions Access Listening and Speaking, advice English learners: Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 19 “You can use the Internet to find out how to pronounce words. Try using the keywords pronouncing dictionary. Combine these with the keyword English to limit your results”. (Thrush, Baldwin, and Blass, 2007, p. 77) These authors raise big awareness of using pronouncing dictionary. It means that using dictionary is very helpful and practical. Actually, it is extremely important in pronouncing words, practicing pronunciation or learning English for communicating and conversational English. Practically, it is difficult for me to find out related studies. I did not find out any materials related to the important role of using dictionary in practicing pronunciation, especially reading phonetic transcription in dictionary to practice pronunciation. I just found out the important role of using dictionary in reading skill. This is the reason why I could not review theories as well as give the evidence of related studies about using dictionary in practicing pronunciation in my literature review. Personally, in my learning experiences, using dictionary to practice pronunciation is very important. If I use dictionary in practicing pronunciation, I believe that my pronunciation will be improve greatly. However, no one encourages me to use dictionary to practice pronunciation or trains me how to read phonetic transcriptions from dictionary from high school to university. Furthermore, no body raises my awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation in all of my pronunciation courses. Therefore, my awareness of using dictionary to practice pronunciation is low. In fact, I still mispronounce many English sounds and do not sound close to native speakers although I study with native teachers. Indeed, native teachers do not train me how to use dictionary to practice pronunciation. Because of these reasons, I conducted the research. In chapter two, I have focused on reviewing the definition of pronunciation. In addition, I have also reviewed related literature on teaching and learning pronunciation including trends, goals, the important role of pronunciation and teaching pronunciation explicitly need to be focused. Besides, the factors which affect pronunciation learning and common pronunciation problems of Vietnamese learners of English are also mentioned in this chapter. In the next chapter, chapter three, I will present the method I chose to conduct my study. Nguyen Thi Nhuyen – 2010 20
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