The weekly column
Article 106, July 2002
Better English Pronunciation
Reflections on Teaching Goals & Scope
By Connie Chow
The following outlines how an EFL class was set out with
due regard to course description stipulated by the educational institute,
learner objective(s) and instructor's pedagogical approach.
I was asked to take up the new class almost urgently.
The short notice did not put me off, though I had not taught similar courses
First things first: for every programme, there should
be a proper goal, a curriculum and materials. I was given the standard
teacher's kit, which was not much help. The objective is, of course, to
teach the English sounds and phonemes. The audiotape is too old to play;
the white noise of which is such a nuisance that it strains the ear. The
CD, of another title, plays all right, but the speaker speaks with a heavy
local accent, which is far from satisfactory.
I scanned through teaching aids and materials I have
been collecting and using for some time and formed certain ideas. Am I
going to teach phonemes, not to speak of phonetics? Is it good enough
to go through the English sounds word by word? Language is to be spoken
and, needless to say, understood when spoken to.
The institute is attended by adults from a low socio-economic
background and, most likely, quite elementary in their English standard
as well as general literacy level, too. Hong Kong is an EFL society. Though
English is studied from early childhood onward, the learning outcome often
does not match the intense effort.
What the Audience Says
A class teacher needs his/her audience as much as the
reverse, if not more. I could not wait to see my students before making
up my mind. The preliminary assessment would include age, occupation,
level and class size. Furthermore, I have to open my eyes and ears to
gauge whether they are active learners, how motivated they are and what
they expect from the class and from me. The kind and depth of student
involvement certainly affects my pedagogical approach.
Although it is not a common practice in EFL classroom
in Hong Kong, I am convinced that learners should be consulted as to their
learning objectives, course content and how the classes are to be conducted.
In the first session, we briefly introduced one another,
and discussed what the students wanted from the course. I was also interested
in their past EFL experience and difficulties they perceived. The class
was small and one of them was hard put to spell out the English letters.
We managed to reach consensus on the goals of our class:
- the English sounds, which are quite different from
those of local Cantonese dialect;
- phonemes and phonetic transcription
- correspondence between spelling and pronunciation,
whereby I forewarned them that the matching was only at best a rough
To try out the CD, I played the first lesson. Responses
were not keen, as expected. Students said they did not understand and
the words did not make sense either. We agreed that we would not use the
course book or audio aid.
As mentioned previously, I favour a communicative approach.
Words alone cannot do the job well; they must be stringed into meaningful
expressions and sentences. I would base my teaching on authentic materials
and eventually include simple everyday dialogues that students may come
Quite a few myths needed to be dispelled; one being that
once they know the English sounds, they would be able to speak English
better, which is far from true. Twelve hours in-class time would not do
the magic. Communication is two-way, and EFL learners should strive to
know something about the English speaking people and culture.
As for the classroom practice, I requested their collaboration
among themselves and with me, including intensive class participation,
homework preparation and contribution in class. They were expected to
work in pairs and teams; we were a learning community. I would like them
to be active learners and grow independent of me, the classroom teacher.
They were asked to contribute in terms of personal views, share experience
and raise queries. For adult classes, student input is indispensable to
make it fun, rewarding and motivating.
The Hidden Curriculum
The course did not explicitly cover the following aspects,
but, as I see them, they indispensable for any EFL studies:
- learner autonomy;
- self-awareness with respect to learning style and
- sustenance of interest beyond the bounds of the classroom;
- cultivating interest in English-speaking people and
- social aspects of language learning, namely meeting
other EFL learners and communicating with English speakers;
- self-exploration, that is, language as a means of
Still A Long Way to Go
Not unlike any other EFL classes, although Better English
Pronunciation started apparently well, a couple of students dropped out
without legitimate reasons - the World Soccer Cup may have been one. As
the course rolled on, I found learner motivation was anything but intrinsic.
Once it was discovered that the journey would take quite a while and real
effort was demanded of them, learners began to wonder why they started
it in the first place. Learner motivation has always been a major challenge
for classroom teachers, but it is not within my scope of discussion here.
About the Author
Connie Chow (email@example.com)
is EFL certified, and currently teaches part-time at a vocational institute
in Hong Kong.
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