Words Worth Blog

Teaching Pronunciation to Learners of English as a Second Language

Teaching pronunciation to learners of English as a Second Language (ESL) is a challenge that all are aware of. The teacher has not only to ensure the transference of age appropriate vocabulary to the learners but has also to ascertain a constant and regular supply of listening and speaking opportunities to ESL learners. Added to this is the challenge to teach them correct pronunciation, with the aspiration to bring their pronunciation skills as close to those of the native speakers.

The challenge to teach English pronunciation to such learners is accentuated by the difference in sound patterns between their mother tongue and English. The learners who are barely at the threshold of their accessing the language are bogged down with the additional burden of juggling two different sound systems. This impediment has probably made many a linguist reconsider the importance of using native speaking pronunciation models in the teaching of pronunciation and to question the degree of importance attributed to the acquiring the native accent. These traditionally accepted parameters to teaching pronunciation are now being challenged.

With the recognition of global English as a universally used language, it is accepted that this language is spoken across the world by people whose first language is not English. This implies that English is now widely used by non native speakers of English as well. They use this second language to communicate with both native and non native speakers, with the quantum of the non native speaker being phenomenally larger.

It is hence understood that, sound patterns that are not too important for intelligible pronunciation from the perspective of the native speaker, need not be taught to the English as a Second Language (ESL) learner. In fact, linguists now think that, many such sound patterns present in the native speaker accents are not worth displaying to the non-native speaker/learner of English. These sound patterns even when not taught to ESL learners do not make their speech unintelligible, especially when communicating with other non native speakers. Pronunciation items such as the ‘th’ sound, the vowel length, the use of the schwas sound etc, even if not consciously taught to the ESL learner does not largely affect the intelligibility of the spoken word.

Yet, the importance of removing the mother tongue influence persists. With global English speakers belonging to many different parts of the world, for communication to take place effectively it is vital that regional accents be minimised for comprehension to take place. Thus, even if the attempt to bring the pronunciation skills as close as to the accent of the native speaker may no longer be the goal of teaching pronunciation, the aim to sound intelligible to other non native speakers of English nevertheless prevails.

Giving exposure to the learners to authentic native pronunciation in their regional voices is a good solution to this challenge. The English as a Second Language (ESL) learner will benefit more from emulating correct pronunciation audio using non native accents. With the burden of sounding as native as possible being largely lifted, the learner now is able to focus on the more important aspects of language learning like enriching the content through adding vocabulary and polishing language structures.