Strategies in foreign language pronunciation: A qualitative investigation

Written by: Marina Samalieva, The University of Plovdiv

1. Introduction

The communicative approach to teaching foreign languages is based on the idea of building up and developing communicative skills and one of the crucial factors for its realisation are the learner strategies. Despite the fact that learner strategies are taken as a key factor in teaching and learning various aspects of the foreign language such as listening, reading comprehension, lexis etc. (Huahuang & Naerssen, 1987; Abraham & Vann, 1990 etc.) in teaching pronunciation these factors have not been studied so far.

The present study has the following objectives – a) to point out the area of difficulty learners meet while learning the English pronunciation and b) what type of strategies they apply in learning pronunciation and the frequency of their use.

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2. Background of the study

2.1. The Sample

Twenty one students from the Agricultural University of Plovdiv learning English as a foreign language participated in the study their level of proficiency in English being upper intermediate.

2.2. The Method of Research

To collect the data for the study we used the method of the interview.

2.3 The Setting

The interview included questions. The aim was to establish the most frequent difficulties the students have in learning English pronunciation. Moreover the students had to point out the strategies applied by them in learning English pronunciation for instance: repetition, practice, imitation etc. An example question: You have heard a word and want to remember its pronunciation. What do you do? Point to the greatest number of strategies you apply. The interview with each student was recorded.

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3. Data Analysis

3.1. Pronunciation problems

The pronunciation problems learners have are mostly in: a) pronunciation of long, unfamiliar words and specialised terms (57.1%); b) pronunciation of separate sounds (42.8%) and c) 38.1% – stress and rhythm (Table 1).

Other problem areas pointed out by the learners are -speed and familiarity with interactants (33.3%); pronunciation of sounds in which there is inconsistency with the spelling or the so-called pronunciation inconsistency (33.3% and so on, table 1).

Table 1.

Pronunciation problems and percentage of students reporting them

Problems Frequency % of students
1. Length and familiarity with words i.e. place names, names of people, terms 57.1
2. Sound production 42.8
3. Stress/rhythm 38.1
4. Speed and familiarity with interactants 33.3
5. Pronunciation inconsistency (i.e. pronunciation of multi-valued letters) 33.3
6. Perception of native pronunciation 14.3
7. L1 interference 9.5

3.2. Pronunciation strategies

The learners reported 29 strategies in learning pronunciation (Table 2). These strategies may be classified as cognitive, metacognitive and social. Some of the strategies were applied very frequently. The increasing the input i.e. listening to records, and watching television language programmes and repetition were most widely used – 95.2% and 90.4%, respectively. There follow dictionary use and practising target items in speaking, writing (66.6%), and memorisation, seeking assistance of teacher/peer students and associations (61.9%). The number of strategies ranges from 7 to 18; i.e. students report a great variety of strategies.

Concerning the type of strategies the data show that all the students preferred the strategies of practice and communicative interaction that Wenden (1991:21) calls  “strategies of cognitive learning”. As regards the metacognitive strategies, there is great variation. For 23.8% of all students the most frequent strategies are monitoring and self-correction etc. (Table 2). 52.3% of the students apply the self-assessment. The strategies seeking assistance of teacher/peer students and repetition after 61.9% and 28.6% pointed out correction by teacher/peer students, respectively.

To learn which category of students uses the metacognitive strategies we tested the learners for pronunciation (Rogerson & Gilbert, 1995). For all students with a very good level of pronunciation and one with a good level the most frequent strategies are monitoring and self-correction. (Table 2). All very good students and 63.6% of the good students apply the self-assessment. The students with a fair proficiency most frequently use the strategy seeking assistance of the teacher/peer students, repetition after correction by teacher/peer students.

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4. Discussion

Twenty-nine strategies for learning pronunciation belonging to the three major categories- cognitive, metacognitive and social (for details see Samalieva, 1999) have been found in this study. These results are in relation with other studies carried out in different conditions and with other subjects (Ellis and Sinclair, 1989; O’Maley and Chamot, 1991) and show the great variability of strategies the learners apply in learning pronunciation. The learners preferred the strategies connected with practice and communicative interaction that are called “strategies for cognitive learning” (Wenden, 1991:21). The greater part of learners referred to the strategy increasing the input, oral repetition, etc. The learners in this study apply also metacognitive strategies. These data consolidate the opinion of many authors that for effective learning to take place the usage of cognitive strategies is not sufficient (Brown, 1987; Ellis & Sinclair, 1989). Great variability was found in the qualitative application of the metacognitive strategies. Thus, the very good and good learners point to the strategy monitoring and self-assessment  while the poor learners report teacher/peer student correction. In the literature it has been suggested that properly applied metacognitive strategies have been effective for improvement of learners’ performance. Without the ability to manage and control by means of monitoring their progress and to assess the result of their efforts to learn the foreign language the students will not be able to apply their repertory of strategies when necessary because they will not know the need where and how to apply these strategies. So in order to get beyond the limits of the problem solving situation the learners should possess a rich set of metacognitive strategies. Brown point out “learners should apply metacognitive strategies besides the cognitive strategies” (Brown, 1987).

Studies about the role of strategy application in relation to the learner awareness of his processes of learning English pronunciation is of particular importance for their integration in the teaching of foreign languages.

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5. Conclusion

5.1. Twenty-nine strategies for learning English pronunciation referring to the categories mentioned in the literature as cognitive, metacognitive and social have been reported in the study.

5.2. All learners reported a great variety of strategies in learning pronunciation. They preferred the strategies of practice and communicative interaction or the so-called “strategies of cognitive learning”.

5.3. The better students use the metacognitive strategies – monitoring and self-correction that shows their awareness of the problems they encounter in English pronunciation. The less proficient students report the strategy correction by teacher/peer students.

5.4. Studies about the role of strategy application in relation to the learner awareness of his processes of learning English pronunciation is of particular importance for their integration in the teaching of foreign languages.

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References

Abraham, R.G. and Vann, R.J. 1990. Strategies of unsuccessful language learners. TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 24/2.
Brown, H. D. 1987. Principles in Language Teaching and Learning. Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall.
Huang, Xiao-Hua and M.V. Naerssen. 1987. Learning for oral communication. Applied Linguistics, vol.8/3.
Ellis, G. and B. Sinclair, 1989. Learning to learn English: A course in learner training. Cambridge: CUP.
O’Maley, J. and A. U. Chamot. 1991. Learning strategies in second acquisition. Cambridge: CUP.
Rogerson,P & J.B. Gilbert 1995. Speaking clearly.  Pronunciation and listening comprehension for learners of English. Cambridge University Press .
Samalieva, M. 1999. Learner strategies in learning a foreign language. Plovdiv University “Paisii Hilendarski” Scientific Works, 1999 – Philology (in press).
Wenden, A. 1991. Learner strategies for learner autonomy. U.K: Prentice Hall International.

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