Pronunciation improvement as a by-product of synthetic phonics instruction


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Presentation at the 45th TESOL Convention in New Orleans, March 19, 2011

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Pronunciation improvement as a by-product of synthetic phonics instruction

  1. 1. What can we do to improve learners’ pronunciation when we can’t teach pronunciation? Paul Sze Faculty of Education The Chinese University of Hong Kong Presentation at 45 th TESOL Convention in New Orleans, March 19, 2011
  2. 2. To teach or not to teach pronunciation: Questions that have been bothering me: Why should we bother so much about pronunciation? Can we afford not to bother about pronunciation? What can be done?
  3. 3. The Hong Kong EFL teacher at the crossroads
  4. 4. Academics say to teachers: <ul><li>“ Be proud of your HK accent.” </li></ul><ul><li>EFL teachers being ‘re-educated’ with concepts such as: </li></ul><ul><li>World Englishes (eg, Kirkpatrick) </li></ul><ul><li>English as a Lingua Franca (eg, Jenkins) </li></ul>
  5. 5. A Letter to the Editor <ul><li>Relax Hong Kong. Your accent is part of your identity. Be proud of it. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Balasubramanian Kumaravadivelu , Professor of applied linguistics, San Jose State University, California; Visiting professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, 2008 </li></ul></ul>
  6. 7. Parents: … We want our children to be taught by native speakers, or at least teachers with native-like proficiency.
  7. 10. Curriculum Officials … Teach English communicatively No place for pronunciation in the official English Language curriculum
  8. 11. Exam Officials … We assess pronunciation in speaking, too.
  9. 12. What should teachers do?
  10. 13. A study of Hong Kong students’ awareness of code-mixed pronunciation of English Should we just settle for a Hong Kong accent?
  11. 14. Background <ul><li>Hong Kong people often use loan words from English in their daily conversation (in Cantonese). </li></ul><ul><li>They often modify the pronunciation of these loan words to conform to Cantonese phonology. </li></ul><ul><li>But unlike Japanese Katakana, these code-mixed English words are still treated as English. </li></ul>
  12. 15. Examples of code-mixed pronunciation <ul><li>File </li></ul><ul><li>Fans </li></ul><ul><li>Concern </li></ul><ul><li>Store </li></ul><ul><li>Bus </li></ul><ul><li>sales </li></ul><ul><li>Buffet </li></ul><ul><li>VISA </li></ul><ul><li>game </li></ul><ul><li>Warrant </li></ul><ul><li>Van </li></ul><ul><li>Cute </li></ul><ul><li>security </li></ul>
  13. 16. The study <ul><li>2 listening tests administered to 185 Secondary 4 (Grade 10) students at a secondary school with above-average English-proficiency intake. </li></ul><ul><li>Test 1: Listen to 12 sentences. Some sentences contain a Hong Kong pronunciation. Underline it if you hear it. </li></ul><ul><li>Test 2: Listen to 10 words. Each word is read two times. Underline the Hong Kong pronunciation. </li></ul>
  14. 17. The 10 test words <ul><li>Social </li></ul><ul><li>Souvenir </li></ul><ul><li>Concern </li></ul><ul><li>Physics </li></ul><ul><li>E </li></ul><ul><li>Game </li></ul><ul><li>Tiramisu </li></ul><ul><li>Coupon </li></ul><ul><li>Show </li></ul><ul><li>buffet </li></ul>
  15. 18. Results: Not aware of code-mixed pronunciation <ul><li>Game: 33% </li></ul><ul><li>E: 72% </li></ul><ul><li>Show: 50% </li></ul><ul><li>Coupon: 56% </li></ul><ul><li>Social: 74% </li></ul><ul><li>Concerned: 71% </li></ul><ul><li>Buffet: 21% </li></ul><ul><li>Souvenir: 34% </li></ul><ul><li>Tiramisu: 58% </li></ul><ul><li>Physics: 30% </li></ul>
  16. 19. Questions to think about 1. Are the percentages alarming or not? 2. If students continue to use these pronunciations in communicating with L1 speakers and L2 speakers from other places, does that matter?
  17. 20. What can we do to improve learners’ pronunciation when we can’t teach pronunciation?
  18. 21. A study I conducted: Synthetic Phonics for ESL Children in Hong Kong: An Exploratory Study
  19. 22. The background
  20. 23. Teaching of Phonics in HK <ul><li>In L1 countries, phonics is taught for emergent reading. </li></ul><ul><li>In Hong Kong, good spelling is valued, and as a result, dictation as a regular assessment activity. </li></ul><ul><li>Dictation difficult for some students. </li></ul><ul><li>Phonics taught to improve students’ spelling. </li></ul><ul><li>But the traditional approach is slow and ineffective. </li></ul>
  21. 24. Synthetic Phonics An approach which has been widely promoted in the UK in recent years and found to be highly effective.
  22. 25. Synthetic Phonics <ul><li>Direct teaching of sound-spelling relationships (i.e., grapheme-phoneme correspondences , eg., a, e, i, o, u, ee, ay, ea, ow, f, ce, sh, th, ch, …). </li></ul><ul><li>Pupils are given training in blending graphemes into syllables/words, and segmenting syllables/words into graphemes. </li></ul>
  23. 26. Example Scenario 1 <ul><li>Pupils have been taught the vowel grapheme ‘ay’, and the consonant graphemes ‘m’, ‘b’, ‘s’. </li></ul><ul><li>They are then taught how to blend these graphemes to produce ‘may’, ‘bay’, ‘say’. </li></ul><ul><li>Later, when they are taught further graphemes such as ‘d’, ‘g’, ‘tr’, ‘h’, ‘l’, ‘r’, they will be able to sound out: ‘day, gay, tray, hay, lay, etc., from the spelling, and to spell them out from the pronunciation. </li></ul>
  24. 27. Example Scenario 2 <ul><li>If pupils have been taught the grapheme ‘ch’, and some common vowel (and consonant) graphemes, they will be able to sound out: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>chip, cheap, cheese, choose, chat, chin, chart, chum, cheer (even if some of these words are new to them); </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>… and spell them from their pronunication. </li></ul></ul>
  25. 28. Will Synthetic Phonics work in an EFL context? ???
  26. 29. Synthetic Phonics for ESL Children in Hong Kong: An Exploratory Study <ul><li>In the first term of 2008-09, with the full support of OUP, an independent study was carried out at 3 primary schools in HK. The study covered all the P.1 pupils at the 3 primary schools. </li></ul><ul><li>The research question: Does synthetic phonics work for these P.1 children? </li></ul><ul><li>The study is now still going on, to track students’ progress. </li></ul>
  27. 30. The Study <ul><li>A pre-experimental design research adopted. </li></ul><ul><li>Pupils given a pre-test on 2 phonics skills in September 2008. </li></ul><ul><li>They then followed a three-month programme on synthetic phonics (Stage 1 of OUP’s Read, Write, Inc . course). P.1 English teachers at the 3 schools supported by OUP ELT experts and synthetic phonics trainers. </li></ul><ul><li>Pupils given a post-test on same 2 phonics skills in January 2009. </li></ul>
  28. 31. Some findings <ul><li>The synthetic phonics worked. </li></ul><ul><li>Students’ ability in decoding and blending progressed much faster. </li></ul><ul><li>STUDENTS’ AWARENESS OF PRONUNCIATION, AND THEIR ACTUAL PRONUNCIATION, HAVE IMPROVED ENORMOUSLY. </li></ul>
  29. 32. What can we do to improve learners’ pronunciation when we can’t teach pronunciation?
  30. 33. If we don’t teach pronunciation systematically any more, and if we are still concerned about pronunciation, what about teaching synthetic phonics since it has the capacity for improving students’ pronunciation too?