jueves, 25 de agosto de 2016

       Why is Pronunciation the      
Cinderella of Language Teaching?

By Enrique Rojas R.

Everyone in language education knows that the most neglected ability being imparted in learning institutions, and for many teachers the most difficult to attain, is that of teaching a tongue’s pronunciation. And this is particularly true in the case of teaching English as a foreign language. Not in vain, it is widely called “the Cinderella of English teaching.”

As it is known, English is not a phonetic language. Other linguists, like Professor Gertrude Hildreth will contend that it is so in a general sense but, at the same time, “it is inconsistent to a considerable degree.” (Hildreth) Professor Thurston Womack, in turn, argues that all languages, by definition, are phonetic, since “Phonetics pertains to speech sounds” and “all languages are composed of speech sounds. They cannot be languages otherwise” (Womack). The latter defines: “A language is an arbitrary system of vocal signals by means of which groups of human beings interact.” But he himself admits that this definition excludes writing, gesture, visual and auditory and tactile code systems.

The crux of the matter is that English spelling does not recognizably reflects the sounds of the English language and that makes it difficult to teach children, even native speakers, how to read, let alone speakers of other languages how to pronounce.

The way American children learn to read is based in teaching them to recognize recurring written words which have sounds they already are familiar with, pronounce well and enjoy using. These utterances must be identified within the framework of the total word, then “through a generalizing process the children learn to identify common recurring sounds in unfamiliar words met in reading.” (Hildreth). Thus, they learn to read the short i through common words such as winter, wings or win, whereas they become familiar with the long i via ride, slide and hide and so on.

Nevertheless, in Latin America and Spain alike, children are still trying to learn to read English syllabically, applying the only principles they know, those of their own language in which there is a one to one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes. Of course, Spanish does not present a 100% phonological spelling; such a thing probably does not exist in any language, but it is fairly close to that. Small wonder that these students’ pronunciation is very far from the language they are trying to learn; frequently it turns out unrecognizable to native speakers.

The problem is that the non-native English teachers also learned this way themselves and, therefore, undergo the same confusion. They do not feel confident about their own pronunciation, so they prefer to skip teaching it to their students. And the pernicious flaw perpetuates itself (Scrivener).

It might be claimed then that native speakers of English, whether British or Americans, or else, would be the best teachers, since they know how to pronounce correctly the words in English. But this is far from the truth because the fact of being native speakers of English does not qualify them to comprehend the phonological problems of speakers of other languages and which are the main glitches to be overcome.

It is curious to note that the same thing occurs in the opposite case, that of English speakers trying to learn Spanish. Ana Serradilla Castaño, a professor of Phonetics in Spanish to speakers of other languages in an American university in Madrid, complains of the little importance and dedication given to the studying of pronunciation. “They are unable to reproduce Spanish sounds,” she says referring to American students. She states that they thought they could speak Spanish because they did it in the safe context of the classroom, but in reality “they continue speaking English using Spanish words”. (Serradilla)

So, the only solution will be provided by teachers –whatever their origin-- who are better prepared and knowledgeable to cope with these situations. And the teaching of pronunciation should be intensified and begin with the first stages of foreign language learning.

What do you think? Is the teaching of pronunciation a burden for you too? How do you deal with it in your classes?  Let us know, by leaving a post and sharing your valuable experience.

Bibliographic references:
Hildreth,  Gertrude. Some Misconceptions Concerning Phonics
National Council of Teachers of English. Elementary English.Vol. 34, No. 6 (OCTOBER, 1957), pp. 386-388. Published by: Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41384636. Page Count: 3
Scrivener, Jim. 2011. Learning Teaching. The Essential Guide to English Language Teaching. London.
Womack, Thurston. Is English a phonetic language?. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41384636?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Retrieved Aug.234, 2016

Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 17 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.

martes, 16 de agosto de 2016

What Can I do to Enhance my Level of English?

By Zarela Cruz

Have you ever asked yourself how you would enhance your level of English notwithstanding the level you teach? Sometimes, we teachers, have to hide our own instruction preferences to keep a position. Time flies and suddenly you are told that all the staff will be made to have international exams to test their mastery of the language. You are frozen. What to do now?

First of all, don’t panic. Panicking does not help at all. What you have to do is to oblige yourself to practice your English daily, no matter what. You can try with videos of your own preference, watching movies, Netflix, listening to the news in English, reading newspapers on line….there are many ways to do it…and here comes the best part, for free!

Another strategy consists of changing the layout of your email to English. That way, you would be familiar with all the words related with this type of activity.  Do you think it is hard to do?  Not at all. It is within the reach of a click. More ways to use the social media? When you use What’s app, write to your colleagues and students in English; when you create a Facebook for an English course, always exchange information in English. This habit pays dividends very quickly. Give it a try and you will see.

What I always attempt to do is to test myself: that is, undertake international mock exams. Try one section at a time, so you can see which one or ones need to be reinforced.  If you want to go deeper, do read the existing literature about a topic that interests you. On the other hand, novels in English tend to be economical, since not many people buy them. You may even find a very interesting one on sale.

You will always have the chance to take online courses in English as well. Do it as often as you may. There is an increasing number of students who are pursuing such courses. You will learn not only about the topic, but also about teaching methodologies. And you happen to be a privileged learner, since teachers partake in both scopes: the student’s and the instructor’s. 

Go to touristic places. You will relax and will have the chance to talk with tourists. If you are not the talkative type, just listen to other people speaking the language. Try to guess where they come from, if you can recognize the accent, some phrases they use, some idioms you catch… the list is endless.

Last, but not least important: keep the language alive. Always read about the latest terminology or changes in the language. Do keep in mind that language evolves and so must you.

Zarela Cruz graduated from Ricardo Palma University as a translator.  She also finished her masters studies in Linguistics and took some specialization diplomas in English and Spanish: Higher Education, Virtual Courses Design, and Spanish for Foreigners. She has also completed a number of certificates:  Teaching the Working Adult, Online, Hybrid and Blended Education, among other self-study courses.   During her more than 20 years teaching experience, she has taught different courses, programs and levels. This article aims to encourage other teachers to keep improving their knowledge of the language regardless of the level they teach.

domingo, 14 de agosto de 2016

Teaching  a  Foreign  Language
a Long Time in the Same Level
Is there a risk in it?

By Carmen Hurtado

As EFL teachers, one of the goals we set for ourselves professionally is to walk forward, climb to the top, and stand out as teachers at different stages, reaching the highest levels. However, this goal does not significantly means progress in our careers. It frequently signifies leaning towards up-to-the-minute approaches, losing touch with the evolution of the language -–syntactically as well as lexically— and developing a tendency to underperform a bit in fluency and beyond.

What are the risks native and non-native English speaking teachers face if they keep on teaching the same EFL course-level over and over?

It might emerge as lack of confidence by EFL teachers on their own language skills. For example, they might be afraid of delivering the lesson using the foreign language in full style. Likewise, they could take most of the class-period prompting early-year students to develop non-verbal activities (e.g.; coloring, cutting, and pasting) as well as, for instance, encouraging juniors/undergraduates to sustain discussions regularly if they have a big class. To get over these affairs, it would take them more than a little 'learning-session’ planning time, rather than employing the time in developing communication skills. Consequently, it might downgrade the practice of EFL in communicative activities.

Another factor to be considered is the need for better communication among teachers, because to 'learn' only what is to be taught at a certain level should not be enough. It goes without saying that teaching at one single level for a long time, gives us the impression that we have everything under control. That is, we get to know a certain lexicon, type of guidelines, sort of activities and even, we fall again into the risk of using the same doings year after year. Is that so hard to avoid?

How should teachers become aware of the importance of updating and practicing the language endlessly so that it can be transmitted at ease, fluently and appropriately?

The need to learn languages ​​continues to rise, higher and higher. Globalizations, the business world, communication, amid other components, are great motivators not only to learners but also for teachers. Are we ready to react in time and spin out straightaway?

Tell us what you have observed in this regard from your experience as a teacher of languages ​​and have your say.

Bio Data
Carmen Hurtado, graduated in the educational field; she holds a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Science, and the title of Lic. in Education by Universidad Nacional de Educación. She has also finished her master’s studies in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Universidad de Piura, and taken some specializations in the EFL and Spanish fields. She has taught English and Spanish for over 20 years. She currently works teaching fully online courses. A lecturer in the late Annual Congresses at CIDUP, she works as a Pedagogical Teacher Trainer and is a member of the Research Area at Universidad del Pacifico Language Center.

jueves, 4 de agosto de 2016

International Exams: a Tool for Teachers’ Career Improvement

By Mayra Yaranga

It cannot be denied that obtaining international certifications, both for language proficiency and for methodology, is a career-boosting move for teachers of English as a foreign language, because they are valid proof not only of their competence, but also of their commitment to their profession.

In the first place, teachers should constantly consider their proficiency in English. A good place to start would be the Cambridge English qualifications, given their wide availability and acceptance in the TEFL world. I would argue that all teachers, regardless of the level or age they teach, should start their careers at a solid B2 standard, that is to say, to hold a Cambridge First (FCE) with a Passing Grade of B or A. Naturally, teachers should always seek to improve this standard, especially now that children in many schools are being given the opportunity to sit such examinations. Ideally, the teachers in charge of preparing these students should have experienced the examination, as well as the ones above the level. Another compelling argument in favour is the fact that holding different certificates may be a key for teachers to be promoted, to teach different classes or to seek different job opportunities.

Teaching methodology is another aspect in which international examinations can be a valuable tool. Nowadays, TEFL professionals need to be familiar with the theoretical foundations and well versed in the terminology of the profession. For teachers with little experience, the TKT would be ideal in order to guarantee that such foundations are present. Unfortunately, qualifications such as the CELTA or DELTA are still available to very few people in our country, and should only be considered when time and resources become available.

I would like to suggest that teachers ought to devote an entire year (or at least eight months) to preparing for the demands of any qualification sought. There are resources available over the internet to this purpose. Other than that, they could consider training courses provided that they have the motivation and commitment to meet the demands of such courses.

What do YOU think?
What difference do international examinations make to teachers’ careers?

Mayra Yaranga (1985) has completed Doctorate studies in Education at UNIFÉ; she holds a Master’s Degree in Media, Culture and Identity from Roehampton University (London)  revalidated by PUCP, a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from UPCH and the Professional Title of Licenciada from IPNM. Currently she works as Pedagogical Specialist and Member of the Research Area for Universidad del Pacífico Language Centre. She is also Associate Professor at UNIFÉ. She has published papers in the fields of English Language Teaching and Cultural Studies.