A Survey of English Phonetics Instruction in China

By Pei, Zhengwei; Qin, Kerong | International Journal of English Linguistics, October 2015 | Go to article overview

A Survey of English Phonetics Instruction in China


Pei, Zhengwei, Qin, Kerong, International Journal of English Linguistics


Abstract

Although pronunciation is a salient component of effective oral communication, English phonetics instruction has long been marginalized in China and relevant research is also scarce. To bridge this gap, we did a survey of 64 English majors from a Chinese university and 13 English Phonetics quality courses on national, provincial and collegiate levels constructed from 2004 to 2014 by Chinese universities. Our survey study disclosed tertiary-level students' perceptions of English phonetics instruction and the state quo of English phonetics instruction in China. Based on the results of our study, implications for how to advance English phonetics instruction of China in the future were discussed.

Keywords: English phonetics instruction, China, English majors, quality courses, survey

1. Introduction

The ultimate goal of language learning is to communicate in the target language. Successful oral communication presupposes the acquisition of phonetic skills. Chen & Hu's (2006) survey reveals that Chinese people's poor pronunciation is the major hindrance to their conversation with foreigners working in China. Therefore, intelligible pronunciation as "an essential component of communicative competence" must be viewed and taught as an integral part of oral communication (Morley, 1991, p. 488).

Given the significance of phonetics, English phonetics instruction is undoubtedly the foundation of teaching English as a foreign language (EFL). However, it has long been marginalized in Chinese classrooms, and meanwhile research on EFL phonetics and phonological acquisition is scant in China. On July 22, 2015, we searched through the articles published in nine leading foreign language journals (i.e. Foreign Language Teaching and Research, Modern Foreign Languages, Foreign Language Research, Foreign Language Learning Theory and Practice, Foreign Languages and Their Teaching, Foreign Language World, Foreign Language Education, Foreign Languages in China and Technology Enhanced Foreign Language Education) in China National Knowledge Infrastructure over the last three years with the thematic words related to English phonetics and phonology, only to find 12 relevant articles amongst approximately 3,500 articles, occupying a small proportion of the total (0.3%). Hence, we feel an urge to research into EFL phonetics instruction for the purpose of contributing to the bridging of this gap.

Specifically, the study reported in this article addresses two research questions: 1) what are university students' perceptions of English phonetics instruction in China? 2) what is the state quo of English phonetics instruction in China? To answer these questions, we did a survey and based on its results, we first depict tertiary-level students' perceptions of English phonetics instruction, then analyze the current status of English phonetic instruction in China, and finally discuss the implications for how to advance the teaching on English phonetics in the future.

2. Methodology

2.1 Survey of English Majors to Answer Question One

Considering that tertiary-level English majors in China need to take the compulsory course English Phonetics in the first year of university study to develop their basic phonetic skills, we recruited 64 sophomore English majors from a university in Nanjing as our participants. They were aged from 18 to 22, averaging 19.5. The majority of them were females (n = 58, 90.6%), reflecting a gender imbalance typical among students of language in China.

For the survey, we devised a 9-item questionnaire in Chinese, the last four of which were multiple-choice questions. This survey required participants to tell us how they viewed English phonetics learning and how English phonetics teaching was usually done in their class. It took about 10 minutes to complete, and was organized during regular class hours in a sound laboratory. While responding to the questionnaire, the participants were reminded to read all the items and options on it carefully and express their opinions frankly. …

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