New Perspectives in English Instruction

Manila Bulletin, August 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

New Perspectives in English Instruction


These centers, established by Filipinos and even foreign nationals, provide assistance to those who need to improve their proficiency in English. Among the common short courses offered by these language centers are English Pronunciation, Conversation Fluency, Reading Comprehension, and Business Writing. Other related courses being offered are review courses for IELTS, TOEFL-iBT, TOEIC, and TSE, tests that have to be taken by those who wish to migrate or work overseas.

While the intentions of the local language centers in facilitating the learners' acquisition of the target language (in this case, English) are laudable, such centers need to redirect their views a bit so that language acquisition and learning will be from the vantage point of other cultures. This is due to the emergence of world Englishes as a new area of interest in the field of linguistics. Among the legitimate varieties of world Englishes is Philippine English.

In three issues of the Manila Bulletin (May 11, June 15, and July 20 for Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the article Who's Afraid of Philippine English?), Dr. Ma. Lourdes Bautista, one of the proponents of Philippine English, described the features of Philippine English in terms of phonology, lexicon, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics and how it could be distinguished from other varieties.

In light of this new development in linguistics, administrators of language centers (and educational institutions) may have to recognize that language instruction these days has become more difficult for the language instructor. The mere offering of a course in English Pronunciation for 30 hours or more may not readily result in marked improvement in learners' speaking skills; this is because different languages have different sounds and different combinations of sounds and learning them takes time and a lot of practice. What probably would be more realistic, given the time frame that is usually followed in teaching language skills, is teaching the phonological or sound features that make one's pronunciation more intelligible or comprehensible to the listener rather than aiming at making a learner speak with an American or British accent.

Against this backdrop, a course in English Pronunciation might as well focus only on the approximation of critical sounds rather than the imitation of those sounds. For how can one possibly acquire a pure English accent within the time constraints of the regular pronunciation course?

One shared feature among several Asian countries as explained by Indian linguists Braj and Yamuna Kachru and American linguist Cecil Nelson -- the gurus of Asian Englishes -- is the sound of hard th represented by the symbol [A[degrees]] in words like there, they, and those. Since it is quite difficult to pronounce the hard th sound considering its absence in Philippine languages, it is more commonly pronounced with the [d] sound. [ A[R] ] and [i] and [A'] and [u] are also not clearly distinguished in words like peel and pill and fool and full, respectively, when they should have distinct, nonidentical pronunciations.

These are just some examples of contrastive sounds. There are many other sounds that the Filipino has difficulty in producing and which I feel should not be taken against the Filipino speaker. However, it will be understandable if an accent neutralization course in Call Center English will focus on these sounds and will try to make the Filipino produce the hard th and distinguish between the tense and lax vowels because of the clientele that call centers serve.

Alongside this development is another area of research in linguistics known as Contrastive Rhetoric, which considers language and writing as cultural phenomena. Contrastive Rhetoric was originally proposed by Robert Kaplan in 1966 as a pedagogical solution to the problem of organizational structures in writing in a second language.

Applied linguists have noted since then that writing conventions differ among cultures because different cultures have different ways of organizing ideas in writing. …

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