miércoles, 3 de febrero de 2016

Pronunciation and Grammar: 
two sides of the same coin

What does “grammar” mean?

Usually we equate the teaching of Grammar with the teaching of Syntax.  However Grammar is defined   as the total knowledge of a language and as such  it is much more than Syntax. When we talk about grammar, Phonology, Morphology, Semantics, and Pragmatics also need to be considered. This common equation of grammar = syntax has contributed to the omission of the teaching and practice of a very important component of the language: Phonology. 

Typically, a grammar lesson provides students with oral and written exercises followed in most cases by a hand-on- experience in which the new structure is used in a   real communicative situation. Even in this new millennium a pedagogical harmful trend persists when teaching grammar: students do not get any instruction on how to pronounce the new structure; in most cases not even a hint!  The truth is that we have separated Grammar and Pronunciation when in fact they are the two sides of the same coin. The following examples will show us how these two areas of knowledge need to be taught together.

Much more to learn than word order

Let’s consider that our students are practicing giving commands or instructions such as   “Give her an apple”.  Apparently, if we only consider its structure we can assume that it is quite a simple utterance which poses almost no difficulties for our students. Its simplicity may cause that important phonological components may pass unnoticed for our students while in fact there are plenty to teach in the given phrase if Phonology is considered. relevant aspects such as the emphasis of content words: give and apple; the omission of the sound /h/ in the pronoun her since this sound is linked to the previous word and the fact that this phrase needs to be pronounced as one piece and not as four different words according to the linking patterns that characterize natural speech such as consonant +vowel and vowel +vowel. Also, our students need to get the right rhythm pattern when saying the phrase which usually requires practice.

Another example is the teaching of phrasal verbs which is quite a challenge since teachers spend valuable lesson time explaining   the difference between transitive or intransitive phrasal verbs or on motivating students to use phrasal verbs   when speaking English, not an easy task for Spanish speakers. However, usually a basic instruction on how to pronounce phrasal verbs is not given and then our students do not know if they have to stress the word speak or the preposition up in the following example: Please speak up.

Pronunciation and listening comprehension

The teaching of pronunciation will enhance the listening comprehension skills of our students. Once   our students have developed a good understanding of the main features of the English phonological system they will be able to cope with the characteristics of natural speech.   Going back to our example of “Give her an apple,” if our students are not trained on its correct pronunciation they will not be able to understand it nor to say it in a natural way. 

Should Grammar and Pronunciation be taught apart?

What is Grammar anyway?

An Introduction to Language. Victoria Fromkin and Robert Rodman.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, editors.

Maria de La Lama: Master´s Degree in Applied Linguistics and Bachelor´s Degree in Theoretical Linguistics from the University of California; MBA Universidad del Pacífico.  Current Director at Centro de Idiomas de la Universidad del Pacífico.