Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Creating a Pronunciation Profile of First-Year Spanish Students

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Creating a Pronunciation Profile of First-Year Spanish Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

Given the limited amount of instructional time, pronunciation, once regarded by Kelly (1969) as the "Cinderella of language teaching" (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, & Goodwin, 2010, p. 2), has often been de-emphasized so as to address other aspects of language development and allow for the maximum amount of communicative language practice. According to Morin (2007), explicit pronunciation courses as well as explicit instruction have been overlooked in many North American Spanish programs of study and class sessions. Teaching pronunciation, however, addresses many different factors that affect the production of intelligible, comprehensible, and accurate utterances among native English-speaking college students of Spanish. Gilakjani and Ahmadi (2011) identified accent, stress, intonation, and rhythm as key focal factors, but also considered the impact of motivation, exposure, instruction, age, personality, and native language influence. Thus, in order for a Spanish instructor to facilitate increasingly comprehensible and accurate oral production, he or she will need to identify, design instructional activities targeting, and provide feedback on, the pronunciation errors of specific learners, admittedly a difficult task that demands time and dedication when instructing a large group of students. In order to make this task more accessible, this study attempted to develop a common pronunciation profile for native English speakers studying Spanish so as to allow instructors to focus on areas of pronunciation that present the most frequent difficulties facing first-year Spanish students whose first language is North American English.

Literature Review

Derwing, Thomson, and Munro (2006) studied the way in which two groups of beginner English-as-a-second-language students, enrolledfull time and living in Canada, improved their accents and developed fluency in their second language. The participants met with the researchers on three occasions over 10 months to record their oral descriptions of pictures. The researchers reported, "[w]e determined that both groups showed only a small improvement in accentedness" (p. 191). The researchers believed that this low achievement in what they referred to as accentedness was closely related to the personal needs of the speakers: for some learners, a heavy accent did not necessarily mean loss of comprehensibility. In another study, half of the participants reported that they felt pronunciation was the main reason they experienced difficulties in their second language (Derwing & Rossiter, 2002), and Jenkins (2002) reported that pronunciation was the most common cause of communication difficulty and the most difficult to resolve.

Direct Instruction

In their efforts to find out whether direct pronunciation instruction influenced speaking skills, Atli and Bergil (2012) carried out a study in which students recorded voice samples of picture strip stories that they had to describe spontaneously. The experimental group received focused pronunciation classes in English, the language of study, which included phonology practice. The researchers found that the mispronunciation of short vowels persisted even after direct instruction, although these students did gain an awareness of the sounds of the target language. Other instructional approaches have focused on raising students' awareness of their pronunciation as well. For example, Castan~ eda and Rodr^iquez-Gonz^ales (2011) found that self-evaluation made students feel more positively about their pronunciation. Kendrick (1997) reported that nonnative speakers of English felt that pronunciation exercises, combined with drama and roleplays, helped them improve their pronunciation of British Received Pronunciation; interestingly, in this study, spontaneous speech was rated as less accented than reading or controlled speaking. In contrast, Rallo-Fabra and Juan-Garau (2011) found that reading samples were judged as more comprehensible and less accented than informal free speech. …

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