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Numer publikacji: 11067
Dział: Języki obce

Problems with learning good pronunciation and with understanding English spoken at natural speed faced by the primary school children

Problems with learning good pronunciation and with understanding English spoken at natural speed faced by the primary school children.

In this essay I would like to draw attention to problems the primary school students have with learning English pronunciation. It seems that many teachers are not prepared to teach this area of English to young learners and so pronunciation activities are very often neglected and that results in students not being able to communicate with others properly in their older life. Many of my older students, who were not taught pronunciation, have problems with distinguishing the English sounds while listening to them and that results in them not understanding the spoken language. Some of them cannot produce the sounds properly, they have problems with intonation and word and sentence stress and so communicating certain things causes problems to them. As an English teacher of children I feel that teaching of pronunciation should be introduced as early as possible and that those precious first years of learning a foreign language should not be wasted. I do not want to repeat the mistake of the teachers who taught my older students in their first, crucial years of learning, and I try to introduce pronunciation practice at early stages of English teaching. Even though the classes are big and paying attention to all individual needs is difficult my students have this strong, initial motivation and I try hard to give them as much practice in speaking and listening as possible.
While working with a big group of young learners I find it quite difficult to pay attention to the pronunciation of individual students, not everyone has a chance to speak on his/her own. Some children talk more, some prefer to listen, but most of them take pleasure in playing with a new code: phonemes, rhythm and intonation. School learning, like acquisition, includes the phase of imitation and repetition. Observational learning is most natural for young learners, they love to imitate and they treat the teacher as the model. In the early stages of learning English, my pupils usually spend much of their time listening to me while playing simple games, singing songs, saying rhymes or listening to simple stories. I try to conduct most of the classes in English so as to provide my students with the opportunity to improve their listening ability in as natural a manner as possible. The obvious advantage of early learning is the greater facility young children have for reproducing the sounds and rhythms of the other language. The role of memory in learning of sounds is crucial. By learning a short poem, nursery rhyme or a song, children memorize the pronunciation of new words. After a short period of imitating and repeating what they hear they start ‘creating’ the language themselves, first sounds, then words, then phrases and even some sentences. While learning to listen children somehow discover differences, similarities and relationships with other phonemes, rhythms, and intonations in the English language. In the primary school children should practise auditory skills, comprehension and accuracy of pronunciation. They should learn how to listen and be able to distinguish between the distinctive sounds (phonemes) of a foreign language, to recognize the patterns of rhythm and intonation in a sentence.
Younger students absorb the foreign language through play, just as they do while acquiring their mother tongue, and other activities they find enjoyable. They love making up rhymes, singing songs or telling stories. They should be allowed to talk nonsense, experiment with words and sounds. Children need to talk; they take a great delight in talking. A noisy class does not mean a bad class. Without talking children cannot become good at it. They possess an inborn need for interaction and speaking and it is one of the most powerful motivators for using the language. Their understanding comes through the physical world, though. I try to involve all the senses and include movement – the TPR method is useful for teaching listening skills. Children listen more effectively if they are motivated and engaged in the activity.
A phonetic script which is a useful tool, for it enables the learner to analyse pronunciation and to refer to the dictionary for pronunciation is, however, completely useless in the early primary classroom for the students can hardly read. All their knowledge of sounds, as well as of stress patterns and intonation comes through hearing. With children it is always a good idea to introduce humoristic elements and play with pronunciation. Easy songs, poems, rhymes, tongue twisters, storytelling, video and audio tapes with various accents recorded by native speakers, choral repetition and basic role-plays may come in handy. The, so called, gymnastics of the tongue and the mouth gives perfect opportunity for ‘ hidden’ practice of specific language patterns and pronunciation can be improved. Rhythm, stress and intonation can be also practised with a bit of help of music. Repetition may help to develop the ability to articulate certain phonological features of language and practise perceptive skills. Songs, music and other fun activities practise pronunciation, intonation and stress in a very natural way.
The older primary school students are more mature, have greater language awareness and know a lot about the rules which govern their mother tongue. All these can be used in a foreign language classroom. What is more, the students can
already read and write quite fluently so the phonetic alphabet can be slowly introduced. The fun activities from the previous period of teaching can still be used with the fifth and sixth grade students because they also have the need for playing with the language. More ‘serious’ work can start, though. Individual sounds, intonation or word and sentence stress, weak forms and linking sounds are practised with students who are already aware of what they are doing. They become less dependent on me as a model and they start being more responsible for their speaking and listening skills. In the course books for the fifth and sixth grade students there are many activities on English pronunciation in which intonation of various types of questions, weak forms and linking, counting syllables, differentiating between spelling and sounds, word and sentence stress, past endings, silent letters and work on individual problematic sounds,eg. /θ/, /ð/, /ε:/ are practised. I find those activities quite useful for they are adjusted to the age of my students. I also introduce some additional easy pronunciation games at that stage of teaching, like battleship (where instead of numbers and letters students have sounds in phonetic alphabet) or palmonisms ( where students have to find words with the same sound or stress), bingo (where minimal pairs can be practiced), happy families (where students have to collect families of certain words by asking each other for the cards and thus practising pronunciation), stress snap (students have to notice the stress pattern of the word on a card earlier than others and only then can they win the game), odd one out (where students have to eliminate the element which is different from others). All the games need some time to prepare but they are worth the effort for my students find them engaging and are eager to practise pronunciation.
Teaching and learning English pronunciation in the primary classroom may be fun for both the teacher and the students. Children love playing with the language and its sounds. They are, generally, not afraid of singing or speaking with others, even though many have problems with production or understanding of certain sounds, etc. The shy ones also have the chance to practise because while singing, speaking or listening in a big group of friends the tension is reduced and they feel more secure. I find it a good idea to teach the younger students a few songs, rhymes or poems at the beginning of the course to give them impression that they are learning to speak quickly. They should feel that they are making progress and learning the language fast. Thanks to this they do not loose their motivation and my job is much easier.
I consider pronunciation a very important element of a foreign language teaching and that is why I practise it a lot with my students for I want them to have no problems with understanding English spoken at a natural speed by native speakers who speak with various accents. I also want my students not to have problems speaking to and being understood by others. Some students still have problems but, generally, I think that my work has been successful for most of my students love practising pronunciation and listening and are, in my opinion, quite good at it.

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