An Introduction to TESOL
Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages
M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
© 2002 by M. S. Thirumalai, E-mail: email@example.com.
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Asking students to Present Oral Reports for some minutes in front of the class on a given topic will help the students to edit their speech beforehand to make it suitable for their audience.
Life history and testimony of the student is a good topic for the purpose. He will focus upon his birth, family, childhood, school, work specialization, marriage, travel, present activities, and plans, etc. Note that practicing this as part of speaking skill will help develop the writing skill later on. In writing, this will take the form of guided composition. Subsequent assignments can include oral reports on other subjects, and may lead to debates between class members (Bowen et al. 1985).
Oral reports, telling anecdotes, or jokes are some of the activities you should incorporate in every class. The ability to talk about an incident, tell an anecdote, joke, etc., is a valuable social skill. Presentation should always be followed by a question-answer session in which the class will raise questions and the presenter will answer. Some assistance from the teacher may be required at this stage.
Learning rhymes, poems, songs, proverbs, sayings, etc., brings the student a little closer to the culture. Additionally, the rhythms learned along with the poems and even the songs are usually valid examples of the suprasegmental elements in the language. Note that this does not demand that students should be taught composing nursery rhymes. You should expose them to popular literature, ask them to imitate and repeat after you, and use these as interludes for fun and learning. A lot of learning does take place when students get involved in enacting the content of the rhymes. Intonations are easily acquired in a chorus drill.
To conclude, combine speaking practice with other skills. Let the students get source material for an oral report through a reading or a listening assignment. What is taught for the development of one language skill could be used for the development of other language skills. Repetition of the familiar material in another mode will help students in quickly mastering the related skill.
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THE NEED FOR PROPER PRONUNCIATION
Pronunciation is a very important component of speaking skill. Without proper pronunciation, which should be somewhat similar to but not necessarily identical to native performance, second or foreign language users of English will not be able to communicate accurately.
It is possible to communicate the information without elegant pronunciation. It is also possible to communicate one’s intent without elegant pronunciation. However, such communication would be inadequate or could even lead to miscommunication. Moreover, if we allow this to happen all the time and if we do not insist on certain standards of pronunciation, there is a danger that the students would be “led to a permanent plateau of pidgin from which very few emerge” (Bowen et al. 1985).
Remember that pronunciation lends accuracy to the message conveyed. Remember also that if the learner’s pronunciation is “very poor”, a concept which needs to be clarified and specified in context, he will have great difficulty in communicating orally with native speakers of English. He may have excellent skills in writing and reading, but if his pronunciation is very poor, he will not be seen to be proficient in English. Native speakers of English often tend to be generous towards the second/foreign learners of English. And yet there is always the danger that poor pronunciation may be equated with the lack of knowledge of English.
MODELING PROPER PRONUNCIATION
Pronunciation has been often taught through modeling by the teacher who asks students to listen and imitate her. She corrects the pronunciation, possibly then and there, and asks students to listen and imitate her pronunciation through graded presentation of words, phrases and sentences.
Minimal pairs of words such as bit:beat, hit:heat are used to develop correct pronunciation. These may be followed by phrases and sentences for proper sentence melody practice.
More often than not, the teacher expects a native-like pronunciation from her students, which the adult students often find impossible to achieve. Ultimately such a teacher is forced to settle for a level of pronunciation which may be understood without much effort by the native speakers, even though it is heavily accented!
FACTORS WHICH INFLUENCE PRONUNCIATION
Experience tells us that individuals differ from one another as to their ability to pronounce English correctly. At least six factors have been identified by teachers of TESOL. These are: 1. The influence of the learner’s native language. 2. The learner’s age. 3. The learner’s exposure to English – length and intensity of exposure. 4. The learner’s innate phonetic ability. 5. The learner’s attitude and sense of identity. 6. The learner’s motivation and concern for good pronunciation (Celce-Murcia and Goodwin 1991:137).
The socio-economic class of the learner, whether he comes from a family in which members already know and use some English, and whether there are opportunities available in the community to continue to practice English outside the classroom, may also have an impact upon the level of proficiency attained in the pronunciation of English. The socio-political attitudes towards learning and teaching English which prevail in the nation appear to influence the performance of students in the rural areas.
GOAL OF TEACHING PRONUNCIATION
Most TESOL teachers do not aim at imparting “perfect” pronunciation. Even native-like pronunciation is not insisted upon in all contexts. Teachers have recognized that it takes a lot of time to master “perfect” pronunciation and that the results are not often worth the time and effort.When mature students try seriously to imitate a foreign pronunciation model, and when the expertise is available to offer technical assistance, they will demonstrate the physical capacity for a quite satisfactory production. But the minute the students’ attention is diverted to the content of the message, the pronunciation control loosens, and native language influence reappears to produce a heavy speech accent . . . For most adult students a reasonable goal is the ability to communicate orally with ease and efficiency, but without expecting to achieve a competence in pronunciation that would enable them to conceal their own different language background. At the same time it should be possible to achieve a consistent production of the basic contrasts of the sound system, to speak fluently and understandably in a form that requires minimum adjustment on the part of one’s listeners. And of course students must be capable of understanding native pronunciation under normal circumstances of production, and not require of their interlocutors a special style (Bowen, p.102, in Celce-Murcia, et al. 1979).
TIME SPENT ON PRONUNCIATION PRACTICE
How much time should be devoted to pronunciation? The answer depends on factors such as “level of instruction, age range of the students, aims of the course, availability of materials, training of teachers, intensity of involvement, interest of students, etc” (Bowen et al. 1985:133).
Availability of time for the course and for the specific class hour is another important factor. If the course is intended only for the development of pronunciation, there will be plenty of time on hand, and the teacher will lead her students through several levels and kinds of materials dealing with structures.
If we spend a lot of time on pronunciation exercises, student interest may dwindle. So, teachers should move on to something else when pronunciation exercises no longer produce noticeable progress. Five to ten minutes of class time per meeting for as long as the need and willingness of the students last - this is a golden rule (Bowen et al. 1985).
The first requirement that a TESOL teacher should meet is that she should be familiar with the basic sound system of English. The basic system includes the individual consonants, consonant clusters, vowels, and diphthongs as well as stress, and intonation. It also includes the combinations and the distributional patterns of these elements. The TESOL teacher should know what is meant by vowels, consonants, diphthongs, stress, and intonation.
It is important for the TESOL teacher to be familiar with and able to use either the International Phonetic Alphabet or some modified form of it. This will help her to make some comparison between English sounds and sound patterns with those of the native language of the learners. This will also help her to explain in some graphic details why the learners have difficulty with some sounds and not with others. Again, by using the International Phonetic Alphabet she will be able to demonstrate and make the learners identify the manner and place of articulation of the sounds they have difficulty in producing.
Teaching pronunciation involves teaching the articulation of consonants, vowels, and diphthongs used in English. These are called segmental sounds. Teaching pronunciation involves teaching also the use of stress and intonation, called suprasegmental. First of all, familiarize yourself with the parts and uses of speech tract. Then, understand the processes involved in the production of the sounds.
The processes involved in the production of English consonants may be looked at from two angles: manner and places of articulation.
Place or point of articulation is the point at which the air from the lungs is either interrupted totally or partly, and is modified in the vocal tract to produce a sound. Scholars identify seven places of articulation in the production of English consonants. These are labial, labiodental, dental, alveolar, palatal, velar, and glottal. Manner of articulation refers to the manner in which the airflow in the vocal tract is modified by the speech organs in the production of a sound. Scholars identify six manners of articulation in the production of English sounds. These are as follows: Stop, Fricative, Affricate, Nasal, Liquid, and Glide.
The TESOL teacher should also have a good knowledge of the processes involved in the production of vowels in English. Vowels pose greater difficulty to the second or foreign language learners of English, especially because of certain complex relations between them, stress, and the production of diphthongs.
In the production of a vowel sound there is no interruption whatsoever of the airflow in the speech tract and there is no audible friction either.
Four criteria are generally employed in the identification and description of vowels. 1. Lip rounding/unrounding, that is, the kind of opening made at the lips, the degrees of lip rounding or spreading. 2. Tongue height, that is, the extent to which the tongue rises in the direction of the palate. 3. The part of the tongue that is raised: front, center, or back. 4. The position of the soft palate which is raised for the production of oral vowels, and which is closed for the production of nasalized vowels (Crystal 1987:153).
It is also important to note whether a vowel is tense or lax and whether a vowel is accompanied by another vowel-like sound which together forms a diphthong. In some cases it is important to note the length of the vowel produced.
The following list gives the sounds used in American English, as detailed in Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972).1. /b/ boat
2. /d/ dark
3. /f/ far
4. /g/ gold
5. /h/ home
6. /k/ cold, Kodak
7. /l/ let
8. /m/ man
9. /n/ next
10. /η / (velar nasal) ring
11. /p/ part
12. /r/ rest
13. /s/ send
14. /s/ ship
15. /t/ ten
16. /θ/ think
17. /ð/ that
18. /v/ very
19. /w/ went
20. /y/ you
21. /z/ zoo
22. /z/ pleasure
23. /hw/ when
24. /ts/ children
25. /dz/ jury
26. /a/ far
27. /æ/ am
28. /Ε/ (epsilon) get
29. /I/ in
30. / / (broken o) for
31. /U/ put
32. / / (inverted v) but
33. /ey/ late
34. /iy/ see
35. /ow/ go
36. /uw/ rule
37. /ay/ I
38. /aw/ now
39. / y/ (broken o plus y) boy
40. /i∂ / (i with schwa) feel
41. /I ∂ / hill
42. /e ∂ / sale
43. / ∂ / (epsilon plus schwa) well
44. / æ / (æ plus schewa) shall
The TESOL teacher should have a good knowledge of how the suprasegmentals are employed in English. Suprasegmentals are those sounds which are overlaid on segmentals. These do not occur without the segmentals which carry them.
Stress, rhythm, and intonation are the three important elements of the suprasegmental system used in English.
Some syllables may be produced with more force or intensity than others. This is called stress. English is a free stress language, unlike French in which the stress always falls on the last syllable of the utterance. In English the stress can be placed on any syllable of the utterance in order to achieve a variety of purposes. The meaning of single words can be changed by shifting the stress. Words which are not ordinarily stressed may be stressed for emphasis.
Remember that recognition (and production) of vowels and stress in English is very difficult for the second or foreign language learners of English. Some rules have been identified to explain why, where, and when the stress falls in a word in English. “Unfortunately, there are no infallible rules for determining which syllable of a word should be stressed. Many times you will need to turn to the dictionary unless you hear the word spoken by someone familiar with it. Certain observations, however, should be of help.
- The great majority (at least three out of four) of two syllable words are accented on the first syllable: never, breakfast, Monday.
- Compound expressions:
- Compound nouns ordinarily have a primary accent on the first component and secondary accent on the second: drugstore, thoroughfare, weatherman.
- In compound verbs the reverse is true; there is usually secondary accent on the first component and a primary on the second: understand, overlook, outrun.
- In the intensive-reflexive pronouns the stronger accent also falls on the last syllable: myself, yourself.
- Numbers ending in -teen may receive primary stress on either syllable, but it is best for a student learning English as a second language to put it on the last syllable, so as to distinguish clearly between thirty and thirteen, forty and fourteen.
- A large group of words, which may be used either as nouns or verbs, have a difference in stress to indicate the difference in usage. In such cases, the noun has a primary accent on the first syllable, the verb on the last (compare 2a and 2b above). The nouns in this group of words sometimes have secondary accent on the last syllable: increase, overflow.
cónduct condúct cónflict conflíct cóntèst contést cóntràct contráct cóntràst contrást cónvert convért désert desért íncline inclíne íncreàse incréase ínsert insért ínsult insúlt óverflòw òverflów pérmit permít prógress progréss prótèst protèst rébel rebél récord recórd súrvèy survéy súspect suspéct
- In general, when a suffix is added to a word, the new form is stressed on the same syllable as was the basic word: abandon, abandonment; happy, happiness; reason, reasonable. Words ending in -tion, -sion, -ic, -ical, -ity, however, almost always have primary stress on the syllable preceding the ending. The addition of one of these suffixes may, therefore, result in a shift of accent: contribute, contribution; biology, biological; public, publicity.” (Prator, Jr. and Robinett 1972:19-21).
FOCUSING ON SELECTED SOUNDS
Do not teach the sounds of English individually. The sounds should be part of a meaningful word or phrase or sentence. Students generally pick up the sound system by listening to your model or voices on cassette, etc. However, the presentation of sounds in a carefully selected word or phrase or sentence will help you to direct the students’ learning process. And this will help you also to monitor their progress. By practicing words and phrases which contain the sounds to be learned, students are able to master the production and use of these sounds.
Introduce the sound. Focus students’ attention on the teaching point. Present a sentence or line/text which has the sound. Underline the sound in the text. Avoid complications of stress, intonations, etc. Include examples of the sound in all the positions.
HELPING STUDENTS TO RECOGNIZE AND DISCRIMINATE SOUNDS
What sounds should be focused upon? Some suggest that only those sounds that are not common between English and the native language of the learner should be focused upon for special treatment in a pronunciation lesson. Some others suggest that “when an individual begins the study of a foreign language, the new phonemes are often immediately obvious to him, and he, therefore, tends to learn them rather quickly” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972: xiii).
It may be helpful to make use of a contrastive study of the phonetics of English and the native language of the second or foreign language learner. Through this study we will identify the sounds of English that are not found in the native phonetic and phonemic system of the second or foreign language learner.
Sounds that are used as allophones in the native language may be used as phonemes in English. There may be differences in the number and kinds of phonemes between English and the source language of the learner. Even if all the phonemes of English are found in the source language of the learner, it is possible that their distributional patterns may not match those of the phonemes used in English.
It is also possible that the phonemes of English may occur in combinations that are unfamiliar in the source language. English and the native language of the learner may have similar phonemes at different points of articulation.
However, such a contrastive study may or may not be available to you. If you have to prepare such a contrastive study on your own, you will need more skills in linguistics than you may have right now. Making a contrast between English and the native language of the learner should lead you to set up a hierarchy of possible errors in pronunciation. Otherwise mere contrast will be only a futile exercise. Under such circumstances what shall we do?
Scholars have found out that there are “large categories of speech difficulties which all or many” learners of English have in common. In an exhaustive study of errors committed by a variety of second or foreign language learners of English, Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972) found out that substitution of one phoneme for anther was relatively infrequent in the speech of their students. Only a few such substitutions—/iy/ for /I/, /I/ for /iy/, /o/ for /ow/, /a/ for /∂/, /s/ for /z/, /t/ for /d/, /d/ for /ð/, etc.— accounted for the great majority of cases.Most others, while theoretically possible or even likely, were actually quite uncommon and certainly could not be regarded as a problem of major importance. We found our students having no trouble with/m/ or the diphthongs /ay/, /aw/, etc. even in those where the mispronunciation should have resulted in giving the word a different meaning bit as /biyt/ (beat) instead of /bIt/, the context made the intended meaning quite clear. In other words, the substitution seldom seemed to result in a misunderstanding . . . Our students appeared simply to fail to understand a word much more often than they mistook it for some other word. We did not understand them a great deal more frequently than we misunderstood them . . . When an individual begins the study of a foreign language, the new phonemes are often immediately obvious to him, and he therefore tends to learn them rather quickly . . . But he may never notice or reproduce certain other features of the new sound system, unless these are pointed out to him . . . Our own solution has been to regard unintelligibility not as the result of phonemic substitution, but as the cumulative effect of many little departures from the phonetic norms of the language.
The fact that any phonetic abnormality can contribute to unintelligibility does not mean, either, that all departures from the norm should be treated as though they were of equal importance.” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972).
In general, you should identify the main pronunciation problems that your students have. Pronunciation problems will vary greatly from one country to another. TESOL teachers may already have prepared and published a list of common errors of pronunciation found in a particular country. If not, keep a diary of errors in pronunciation committed by your students and prepare a general list which you can use to develop remedial drills.
The most common errors include the following: 1. Difficulty in pronouncing sounds which do not exist in the student’s language. For example, the sound / ð / in the, and / ∂ / in bird. 2. Confusion of similar sounds, for example, /i:/ in eat or /I/ in it, or /b/ and /p/. 3. Use of simple vowels instead of diphthongs, for example, use of /i:/ instead of /i /. 4. Difficulty in pronouncing consonant clusters, for example, desks, fifth. 5. Tendency to give all syllables equal stress, and flat intonation (Doff 1988:112).
HELPFUL HINTS FOR TEACHING PRONUNCIATION
Focus only on those sounds which are causing difficulty to the students. The following steps may be helpful in teaching the difficult sounds: Say the sound alone, but this may be avoided wherever possible. Say the sound in a word. Contrast it with other sounds. Write words on the board only when it becomes necessary to make your point clearer. Explain how to make the sound. Have students repeat the sound in chorus. Have individual students repeat the sound.
As Doff (1988:114) points out,say the sound clearly in isolation (so that students can focus on it) and in one or two words; and (ask) students to repeat the sound, in chorus and individually. If students confuse two similar sounds, it is obviously useful to contrast them so that students can hear the difference clearly. If students have difficulty in producing a particular sound (usually because it does not exist in their own language), it is often very useful to describe how it is pronounced, as long as this can be done in a way that students understand (using simple English or their own language).
Some other steps which you can follow are: use the minimal pairs to practice the sounds (will/well), say a word or phrase with the difficult sound, leaving a blank for the student to fill it in with the known word: A boy and a (girl); First, second and (third); a pigeon is a kind of (bird). You may also make up sentences with words which are difficult for the students to produce, and ask the students to repeat after you and then produce the same on their own.
Remember that a sound cannot be reproduced by chance. Students must first hear it and recognize. However, we should not spend a lot of time in practicing aural discrimination of sounds as a focused activity. Aural discrimination practice should take only a few minutes of class time.
Place the new sound in a fixed position in a number of words. Write these words on the board. Model these selected words, giving the same intonation for all words.
Aural recognition and discrimination is better achieved through minimal pair drills. Contrast two sounds in English in minimal pairs. Contrast two sounds, one in the native language of the leaner and another in English. Often it is helpful to give the approximate equivalent of the English sound in the learner’s native language. Emphasize that the similarity is only approximate, wherever some difference is noticeable.
Model the pairs and then ask students to tell the difference between the pairs of sounds. Same-Different exercise drills are very useful for this purpose. For example, you can give bit/beat/beat and ask which ones are similar and which ones are different. You can give the sentences He bit me/He beat me and ask the students to show where the difference lies.
“Pronunciation instruction has been presented in various ways. First there is model of imitation . . . A second technique for teaching pronunciation is explanation . . . A third technique is practice. A fourth technique is comparison and contrast. Two similar but significantly contrasting sounds are taught together, with an effort to highlight the feature that differentiates them . . . This kind of comparison helps pinpoint the difference, but doesn’t always guarantee efficient acquisition of the two contrasting sounds” (Bowen 1979 in Celce-Murcia, M. and McIntosh, L., Eds. Teaching English as a Second Language, Newbury House Publishers, Inc., Mass.: Rowley, 1979).
Face the class, walk around, speak at normal speed, and model the utterance for students to imitate. Produce the sounds in isolation, in isolated words, isolated phrases, and later in sentences. Finally produce them in communicative sentences. Ask the students to imitate your pronunciation. Generally speaking, production of sounds in isolation is for demonstration purposes only. It is always better to produce the sounds in words and phrases which can be easily explained and understood. The new sounds may be given in new words, but not in phrases and sentences which are not understood. Give the meaning for the item which is being drilled.
It is always better for the students to drill the words and phrases with their books or sheets open so that they will develop some sensitivity on their own to the correspondence between pronunciation and spelling.
Some of the simple exercises for the pronunciation of sounds are as follows: Prepare a list of the sounds used in English. Go through the list and model the same for the students. Ask them to imitate and repeat after you.
Prepare a list of admissible combination of sounds in English, go through the list, and model the same for the students. Ask them to imitate and repeat after you.
Prepare a list of very common words, write them as they are usually spelled in English, go through the list, model them for the students, and ask them to imitate and repeat after you.
Then select a few words from the list at random, ask the students to read them, keeping in their auditory memory the model you have provided earlier. In subsequent repetition drills, contrast a newly introduced sound with the one already mastered: pot:putt; lock:luck; rob:rub; duck:dock.
This may be followed by testing drills in which the teacher gives an item and the students recognize the sound in contrast to another. For example, the teacher gives bit and beat as the model. Then she gives words such as hit, heat, leave and live, and asks the students whether the given word resembles in its vowel with hit or heat. Note this kind of testing is more a testing of aural recognition than actual production. However, aural recognition is an important segment of actual production. Production and recognition should go hand in hand.
PRACTICE IN CONTEXT ONLY
Always practice in a meaningful context by asking students appropriate questions. In the early part of the pronunciation drill, you may be required to give practice of individual sounds and words without much context. Even here you should explain the meaning of the word in which the sound occurs so that some contextualizing will take place.
Once words, phrases and sentences are introduced, context is more easily created. You may ask them to give the names of objects around or in the pictures presented to the students. You may ask the students to give their own names and names of people around them. You may ask questions about their family and friends, what they do, what they did that day, and so on.
Paulston and Bruder (1976) suggest three types of questions to practice materials in context: questions which demand recapitulation of beginning material, opinion-type questions, and discussion type questions.
Words introduced earlier may be used for additional practice by asking students to give the names of objects shown to them or found in the pictures presented to them. This demands recapitulation of the words already introduced. Opinion type and discussion type questions are good for advanced students.
TEACHING STRESS AND INTONATION
As a teacher of TESOL, you should know what a syllable is. You should be able to identify the syllables in an utterance. Train yourself to identify and count the syllables in words, phrases, and sentences.
Remember that most words with two or more syllables have one stressed or strong syllable and one or two unstressed or weak syllables. Stress is not dependent upon the fixed place in the sentence. Stress can occur on any syllable. Generally speaking, only nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives and interrogatives are stressed.
Often the vowel in the unstressed syllables is pronounced as / ∂ / or /I/. Notice the vowel in the beginning of the following words: Asia, apart, attack. All these words have / ∂ / in the beginning which is unstressed. Notice the first vowel in the word between, and the last vowel in the word wanted. The vowel used is /I/. In the words able, and table, the “a” is pronounced as /eI/. In vegetable and syllable, it is reduced to / ∂ /. In the word day, the “ay” is pronounced /eI/ but in the words Monday, and Tuesday, it is often reduced to /I/.
Note also that the vowels in many conjunctions and prepositions such as and, but, at, for, of are normally reduced unless the word is being specially stressed for meaning conveyed. It is stressed in the construction John and Mary, both of them.
Reducing vowels in this way is a feature of normal spoken English. It is, however, very difficult for the second/foreign language learner to master. You should use and demonstrate reduced vowels in your own speech in the classroom.
Discuss what is meant by stress with your students if their native language does not use stress. Whisper stressed words. This will show how the stressed syllables are more prominent than the others. Pronounce a few selected words, and ask students to underline stressed syllables. Prepare exercises to demonstrate how stress changes the meaning.
“Strong stresses are one of the distinguishing features of the English language; the important syllables in English are more prominent, the unimportant syllables less prominent than in most other languages. Stress then is the key to the pronunciation of an English word. If you stress the wrong syllable, it may be quite impossible for anyone listening to understand what you are trying to say . . . Persons who learn English as a second language often make the mistake of pronouncing unstressed vowels the way they are spelled . . . Unless you consult a pronouncing dictionary or a competent English-speaking person, there is no sure way of knowing whether the unaccented vowels of an unfamiliar word should be / ∂ / or /I/. Frequently it makes no difference . . . Unfortunately, there are no infallible rules for determining which syllable of a word should be stressed. Many times you will need to turn to the dictionary unless you hear the word spoken by someone familiar with it . . . ” Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972).
When it comes to teaching stress in English, especially to adult learners, it is important that we combine modeling for production with auditory recognition and explanation of possible rules for the placement of the strong stress (primary accent). For this purpose, you may present several words of polysyllables and ask students to decide which syllable is stressed in each word thus presented. They will mark the primary accent on the vowel in the written word. This may be followed by an exercise in which the students will identify which of the syllables are unstressed in the words given.
Our goal is to increase the ability of the students to recognize and place stresses. To achieve this it is important that we give our students groups of graded lists of words, such as two syllabic, three syllabic, four syllabic, and five syllabic words. Perhaps each group may consist of five or six words, and the students will be asked to listen to the oral model provided and to mark the syllable or syllables which are stressed. The task may be made more complex by asking students to mark not only the stressed but also the unstressed vowels of the words.
Auditory recognition must be followed by oral production. Again, production of individual words must be followed by the production of phrases and sentences in that order.
Remember that English is a stress-timed language. This means that the length of time between stressed syllables is always about the same, and if there are several unstressed syllables they must be said more quickly. He wrote a letter. He wrote a long letter. He wrote a very long letter. In each of these sentences, the unstressed syllables (a, a long, a very long) take about the same amount of time to say. So, “a very long” has to be said more quickly.
Emphasize that this stress timing is a very important feature of spoken English. If students become accustomed to hearing English spoken with a natural rhythm in class, they will find it easier to understand real English when they hear it spoken outside the class.
You can use several devices to demonstrate visually where there should be stress and where it should be unstressed. This can be done by using your voice. Say the sentence, exaggerating the difference between stressed and unstressed syllables.
This can be done also by using gesture. Use your arms like a conductor of an orchestra, use a stronger gesture for the stressed syllable. Clapping or tapping on a desk more loudly for the stressed syllables, and less for the unstressed syllables is another technique you can adopt.
You can use the black board. You can circle the element in a word which is unstressed, and underline an element that is stressed. You can write the stressed syllable in heavier letters.
Prator, Jr., and Robinett (1972:28) suggest tackling the problem of acquiring a good English speech rhythm under five parts:
- Giving proper emphasis to stressed syllables, and making these recur rather regularly within a thought group.
- Weakening unstressed words and syllables, and obscuring the vowels in most of them.
- Organizing words properly into thought groups by means of pauses.
- Blending the final sound of each word and syllable with the itial sound of the one following within the same thought group.
- Fitting the entire sentence into a normal intonation pattern.
Remember that content words are usually stressed in English. Content words fall under the following category: Nouns, verbs (with some exceptions), adjectives, adverbs, demonstratives (this, that, these, those) and interrogatives (who, when, why, etc.).
Remember that function words are usually unstressed. Function words which are usually unstressed include the following: Articles (a, an, the), prepositions (to, of, in, etc.), personal pronouns (I, me, he, him, it, etc.), possessive adjectives (my, his, your, etc.), relative pronouns (who, that, which, etc.), common conjunctions (and, but, that, as, if, etc.), one used as a noun-substitute, and the verbs be, have, do, will, would, shall, should, can, could, may, might, and must (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:28-29).
Intonation is speech melody, the way our voice goes up and down as we speak. Intonation is very important in expressing meaning, and especially in showing our feelings, such as surprise, anger, disbelief, gratitude, etc. Intonation patterns are quite complex, and it is better for students to acquire them naturally rather than try to learn them consciously. That is, your modeling and their imitation in an unconscious way is important.
Rising intonation is used in asking yes/no questions, and to express surprise, disbelief, etc. The voice rises sharply on the stressed syllable. Is he your friend? Do you want some tea? “In English, rising intonation is normally used at the end of questions which do not begin with an interrogative word (that is to say, questions which may be answered merely by yes or no)” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:54).
Falling intonation is used for normal statements, commands, and for WH-questions. The voice rises slightly earlier in the sentence, and then falls on the key word being stressed. What’s your name? Remember that the voice rises slightly earlier in the sentence, and then falls on the key word being stressed. Remember that “the voice often does not rise and fall (suddenly); . . . the change from one tone to another may be gradual and extend over several syllables” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:42, footnote).
We need to emphasize that students should weaken the unstressed vowels, blend words together, fix the intonation in their mind, ear, and speech habits. For this they should repeat the short sentences themselves until they sound natural to them (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:47).
HOW DO WE PRACTICE STRESS AND INTONATION?
The easiest way for students to practice stress and intonation is by repetition. Prepare sets of sentences with contrasting intonations and give them to the students to practice. You should identify such sentences, wherever possible, from within the lesson.
Give a good model of the sentence. Say it at normal speed, making a clear difference between stressed and unstressed syllables, and using natural intonation. Indicate the stress and intonation clearly, using gestures.
Say the sentence in sections, starting with the end of the sentence and gradually working backwards to the beginning. For example, living here/been living here/have you been living here?, etc. Ask groups of students to repeat the whole sentence, then individual students should be asked to repeat the whole sentence. You should watch carefully whether the students pay attention to stress and intonation when they repeat the sentence (Doff 1988).
As a teacher of TESOL, you need to do more homework when you wish to teach stress and intonation. Before you begin giving the practice, practice saying the sentences yourself. Mark the stressed syllables. Mark places where you could divide the sentences for working backward. Mark rising or falling intonation (Doff 1988).
Some of the exercises used in standard textbooks in giving pronunciation practice for stress and intonation are listed below.
- Pronunciation exercises may be needed to develop contrast between voiced and voiceless consonant sounds in English.
- Exercises may be needed to develop correct pronunciation of -ed added to regular English verbs to form the past tense and past participle. In wished the -ed is pronounced as /t/, in failed the -ed is pronounced as /d/, and in needed it is pronounced as /Id/.
- Exercises may be needed to develop a correct pronunciation of -s which is added to make a noun plural or possessive, or to put a verb in the third person singular form of the present tense. “This ending is spelled in several different ways: -s (two hours, he says), -es (several churches, she kisses), -’s (a moment’s time), or -s’ (grocers’ prices).” However, the pronunciation is governed by certain principles. These need to be taught to the second/foreign language learner of English.
- It may be necessary to have exercises to teach the aspiration of initial stop consonants in English. “Voiceless stop consonants are aspirated at the beginning of a word. In many other languages, initial voiceless stop consonants are not regularly aspirated, and people who learned one of these languages first usually find it hard to aspirate properly in English.” It may be necessary to teach the lengthening of vowels before final consonants in English. Voiced consonants are confused with their voiceless counterparts at the end of words: Who was /was/ instead of Who /waz/. This type of error is seen to occur more frequently than other types with the exception of the failure to give unstressed vowels their normal sound of / ∂ / or /I/. Before a final voiced consonant, stressed vowels are lengthened: /e/ in bed is lengthened than /e/ in bet, /i/ in rib is longer than the i in rip, a in bag is longer than a in back.
- Training may be necessary to encourage students to make forceful articulation of consonants. A “difference between final /s/ and /z/, as in bus and buzz, is that /s/ is pronounced with a great deal of force, the /z/ with very little. In other words, at the end of bus a listener can hear very clearly the sound of air escaping through the teeth; at the end of buzz there is much less sound of escaping air. At the end of a word, only voiceless continuants are pronounced with a great deal of force.
- It may be necessary to give some special training in the pronunciation of /l/ and /r/ in words and phrases to help the second language learner to pronounce these like the native speakers of English. (Prator Jr., and Robinett 1972: 98).
- Syllabic consonants require some focused attention. Most second or foreign language learners of English have difficulty in correctly pronouncing words such as little, sudden, wouldn’t saddle, cotton, idle.
- Substitution of one vowel for another in the stressed syllable of a word is very common. The pronunciation of leaving sounds like living because of this substitution. “The speaker gives the letters which represent vowels the sounds these letters would have in his native language . . . The speaker is deceived by the inconsistencies of English spelling . . . The speaker cannot hear, and consequently cannot reproduce, the difference between two sounds, either because the two do not exist in his own language, or because they never serve to distinguish between words in it” (Prator, Jr., and Robinett 1972:106).
Contrast in vowels.
peak pick peck dean din den least list lest heed hid head feel fill fell bait bet bat pain pen pan bake beck back laid led lad lace less lass shale shell shall not nut naught cod cud cawed Don done dawn cot cut caught are err or barn burn born flaw flow flew Shaw show shoe bought boat boot call coal cool Paul pole pool lawn loan loon luck look Luke cud could cooed buck book should shoed putt put pull pool
- Exercises may be needed for the following consonant substitutions frequently noticed in the speech of the second or foreign language learner of English: /t/ / θ / and / ð /. Use words such as the following: though, thank, theft, think, third; thank, these, this, thus, breathe, leather. / j / and /y/: Jew, you, juice, use, jet, yet, jarred, yard, joke yoke, jail and Yale. For the confusion between / š / and / c / use the following words: sheep, cheap, ship, chip, shatter, chatter, mush, much, mashing, matching washer and watcher. For confusion between /b/, /v/, /w/,and /hw/ use the following words: berry, very, wine, vine, west, vest, witch, which. For confusion between /n/, / η / and / nk/, use the following words: ran, rang, sin, sing, singer, finger, rang, rank, sing, sink. To overcome the omission of /h/, use the following words: Remember that /h/ is omitted in several words such as heir, honor, hour, homage, humble, he, him, his, her, have, has and had, when these words are in an unstressed position in the sentence. However, except in the above cases, all initial h’s are sounded. Give practice with the following words: home, house, how, heat, hold, horse, hate, ahead, heart, hurt.
- Second/foreign language learners of English have several problems with the consonant clusters used in English. Speakers of Spanish, Persian and Hindi produce an initial consonant cluster like /sp-/ in English with an initial vowel: speak becomes ispeak in Hindi. Chinese speakers add a vowel between the sounds that constitute the cluster: street becomes stareet.
- Use of vowels in stressed and unstressed syllables poses a lot of problems for the second/foreign language learners of English. Ask your students to remember that when a vowel is unstressed it is almost always pronounced either as a schwa / /∂ or /I/. The stressed vowel may either be pronounced as a long or short sound.
- Each vowel is pronounced with its long sound (1) if it is final in the syllable: paper, she, final, no, duty, and (2) if it is followed by an unpronounced e, or a consonant plus an unpronounced e: make, eve, die, Poe, use.
- Each vowel is pronounced with its short sound, if it is followed in the same syllable by a consonant: matter, went, river, doctor, cut.
- Note, however, that these rules are incomplete. Moreover, learners may have great difficulty in applying these rules appropriately.
- The best way is to give them practice through modeling for each and every word they come across in their lessons. By focusing upon the pronunciation of words in this manner and by giving them some sort of generalized statements now and then, learners may be able to internalize the rules for lengthening or shortening the vowels appropriately.
Since there is much variation between spelling and pronunciation, it is better to teach these together. When a new sound is learned, give the various spellings of that sound. For example, the learners should recognize that the letter combinations kn, gn, mn, pn, in initial positions have the sound /n/ and that the spelling e has various sounds in different words.
Teach first the common usual spelling of the sound, then follow this with less common spellings, sight words and homophones in that order. Sight words are those words which have a pronunciation different from other words with a similar spelling (Paulston and Bruder 1976:104).
For example, look, took, book, shook, good, and wood all form a pattern which is not shared in words such as too, food and mood. These words need to be taught as sight words, as exceptions to the general pattern.
Homophones are words with different spellings which are pronounced the same (two/too/to, night/knight) (Paulston and Bruder 1976:105). Homographs are those words with the same or similar spellings with different pronunciation: conduct/conduct, present/present; simply/imply.
Fortunately for us, enterprising teachers of TESOL have published several insightful manuals to teach pronunciation of English which carefully grade the sound-symbol correspondences and provide hierarchically well-organized exercises. I highly commend Pronunciation Pairs by Baker and Goldstein (1990) to develop spelling-pronunciation correspondences. There are several books available which follow the “phonics” method linking sounds with letters. The characteristics of errors committed by the South Asian learners of English are listed in several publications. Professor B. Kachru's booklength treatment of the subject in the Current Trends in Linguistics, South Asian Languages volume, is a very significant milestone in this discipline.
It is important to avoid technical explanations. Instead, provide exercises using words which would be of immense practical value to the students in their day to day use of English. Rules of pronunciation should not be memorized, but taught through abundant practice so that the learners will internalize these rules and the exceptions in their own way, in an unconscious manner.
Remember that teaching correct and appropriate pronunciation of English to adult learners of English is indeed a very difficult task. Do not expect to eliminate all traces of their native language from their English utterances. The goal is to make them speak English in a manner that their speech, though with the accents of their language, will still be understood fairly well by the native speakers of English.
STRATEGIES FOR THE CORRECTION OF PRONUNCIATION ERRORS
Paulston and Bruder (1976) suggest the following: Correct errors immediately at single word drilling phase. Correct the mistakes by modeling and by asking your students to imitate your pronunciation. In conversational exchanges, correct errors only on particular teaching points. Correct those items which interfere with comprehensibility, and overlook other mistakes. Judge content and form separately.
Correct carefully without reducing motivation and self-image of the adult learners.
Doff (1988) identifies three approaches to error correction practiced by teachers.
- “I never let my students make mistakes. If they say anything wrong, I stop them and make them say it correctly. I don’t want them to learn bad English from each other.” This approach focuses more on errors of students than on what they do correctly. This approach hampers developing fluency in English, for committing mistakes is an integral part of any learning activity. Currently it is agreed that the errors committed by the students should be considered as an indication of what we still need to teach.
- “I correct students sometimes, but not all the time. If we’re practicing one particular language point, then I insist that they say it correctly. But if we’re doing a freer activity then I try not to correct too much. If I do correct, I try to do it in an encouraging way.”
- “I try to correct errors as little as possible. I want my students to express themselves in English without worrying too much about making mistakes. Sometimes I notice points that everyone gets wrong, and deal with them later – but I never interrupt students to correct them.”
Presently, “most teachers would agree . . . that we need to correct some errors, to help students learn the correct forms of the language . . . But this does not mean that we have to correct students all the time – if we do, it might make them unwilling or unable to say anything at all” (Doff 1988:188).
Doff further gives the following suggestions. “As far as possible, encourage the students, focussing on what they have got right, not on what they have got wrong. Praise students for correct answers, and even for partly correct answers; in this way, they will feel they are making progress. Avoid humiliating students or making them feel that making a mistake is ‘bad’. Correct errors quickly; if too much time is spent over correcting errors, it gives them too much importance and holds up the lesson” (Doff 1988:190).
Remember that our ultimate goal in pronunciation and speaking practice is developing fluency with comprehensibility.
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ORTHOGRAPHY, SPELLING, AND READING
Reading and spelling are closely related. It is my personal experience that reading does help spelling. However, it cannot be asserted that one leads to the other. In the past, there had been great insistence on mastering spelling, with the assumption that if one mastered spelling, reading automatically followed. In recent times, the trend has been to assume that if children are taught to read, spelling would automatically follow. Neither position seems to be wholly true.
While reading and spelling are somewhat connected with one another, research indicates that one does not necessarily entail the other. For example, “there are many people who have no difficulty in reading, but who have a major persistent handicap in spelling…. It is commonplace to find children who can read far better than they can spell” (Crystal 1987:213). However, in the early stages of learning, children tend to spell more correctly than they read correctly.
There are several reasons as to why the spelling in English seems to be nearly chaotic. There are more letter alternatives for a sound than there are sound alternatives for a letter in English. “For example, sheep has really only one possible pronunciation . . . ; whereas the form could be written in at lest three different ways – sheep, sheap, shepe (Crystal 1987:213). Researchers have suggested that in English there are 13.7 spellings per sound, but only 3.5 sounds per letter (Dewey 1971).
There are other reasons as well why spelling and pronunciation appear to be so divergent from each other in English. The history of the language, and the history of borrowing and printing provide many reasons for this divergence.
It is easy to teach the letters of the English alphabet, but very difficult to teach the association between letters and sound, mainly because a letter may represent many sounds, and a sound may be represented by more than one letter. I learned all the 26 letters, their sequence, and pronunciation within a few days when I was in my fifth grade, and I also concluded that by this act I had completely mastered the English language! Soon I recognized how foolish and hasty I was in coming to such a conclusion! Even today I wonder how children all over the world are able to succeed in learning spelling in any language!
More often than not, the letters of the English alphabet are taught associating with a word in which the sound (or one of the sounds) represented by the letter is prominent. Ultimately, however, the students need to associate a primary sound with the letter, and to master the order in which the letters are presented in the alphabet.
Mastering the alphabetical order of letters is of practical importance. Without the knowledge of this order, students will not be able to use the dictionaries.
English has adopted the Roman script as its script. Long ago there were 27 letters used in the English alphabet. Now we have only 26 letters.
This number is small indeed when we consider the other languages in which the letters of the script may run into a few dozens, if not more. However, in spite of the small number of letters in the English alphabet, the writing system presents several complexities which a second or foreign language learner may find hard to cope with. Diligence is certainly needed when you wish to learn spelling in any language.
The following are some of the features of the Roman script which may cause students difficulty if their languages use a different writing system.
- Left to Right direction. Languages in the Middle East, such as Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian, and languages of Afghanistan, India and Pakistan such as Pashto, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Urdu, Sindhi, Baluchi, and so on, with a variety of dialects, covering millions of people, use the right to left direction in writing their words, phrases and sentences. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean use top to bottom direction. Thus, there is a need for you to make this distinction clear to your students from the beginning and remind them constantly of it. They will have some initial difficulty.
- Writing on the line. English is written in straight line. A four-lined notebook helps students to learn which letters go above and which go below. You may demonstrate this from the beginning by drawing lines on the blackboard.
- Shape and size of letters in the handwritten form. Students may find it difficult to form the basic shape of some letters. They may have some difficulty in distinguishing between the shapes of some letters. Before they practice learning any letter, give them some practice with curvy lines which closely resemble i, u, l and t. What is the distinction between o, p, b, and d? What is the distinction between p, g, and q? What is the distinction between l and t? What is the distinction between n and m? What is the distinction between l and k? What is the distinction between u, v, and w? What is the distinction between y and g?
- Hand movements. English uses both clockwise and counter-clockwise movements, top to bottom, and bottom to top movements. For every letter, there is a conventional way of moving the hand while writing the same. This conventional way must be taught, and students should be encouraged not to deviate from it as much as possible. Following the conventional hand movements helps in joining letters and in gaining a good speed in writing.
- Capital letters. There is a complete set of capital letters in English. Except in the case of a few letters, capital letters and their corresponding small lower case letters are quite distinct from each other. As a result, the second or foreign language learners of English must be taught to recognize the capital and small letters. The first word of a sentence in English must begin with a capital letter. Some words such as I must be written only in a capital letter whether it occurs in the beginning or middle or end of a sentence. Proper names must begin with a capital letter. There are several such important conventions which require the second/foreign language learner to master the use and writing of capital letters. Hand movements for the capital letters are different from the hand movements used for writing small, lower case letters. Students need to practice using capital letters by writing their own names and the names of towns, countries, months, etc.
- Small/lower case letters. More often than not, the beginners are first taught the small/lower case letters. By far these letters are more frequently used than the capital letters. Once again, the small letters form a set by themselves. The main focus of teaching the script revolves around the mastery of recognizing, writing small letters and associating them with their sound or sounds.
- Joining letters. Conventional way of writing letters in English is to join them within a word or word-like unit. Joining one letter with another requires practice and adoption of hand movements conducive to joining. There are several combinations of letters which are more frequent than others. For example, combinations of ta, ti, et, ot, th, nt and dt appear to be more frequent than the combinations found in words such as scythe and shotgun. A traditional way to teach joining is to ask students to join all the 26 letters of the alphabet. Students were asked to write the model provided by the teacher many times, so that the students mastered the joining process. These days teachers prefer to give any and every language learning task in meaningful contexts. Accordingly, individual words are given to students and while they copy the word, they learn the letter joining process as well. Remember that it is important to show clearly how we make joins from the end of one letter to the beginning of the next. And this joining is not always the closest point. “You may follow the following model steps: Write c and h separately on the board. Point to where c ends and h begins and draw a line joining them. Then draw the joined letters several times, and describe the shape … then up to the top of the h, then down…. Ask students to copy the joined letters several times. Go round the class and check.”
- There are three styles of handwriting: Printing, Simple Cursive, and Full Cursive. In printing, we keep the letters separate, and they look the same as in printed books.
- In simple cursive, most letters are joined, but the same basic shape as in printing is maintained. I understand that in Britain most children learn this style, and most adults use it. However, in the United States, full cursive continues to be more popular.
- In full cursive, all the letters are joined, and many have different shapes from printing.
- Italics is another style used in printing for achieving certain effects. This style or convention also needs to be learned by the second or foreign language learner.
- Ornamental writing is hardly practiced these days. However, it continues to be used in the titles of movies, mastheads of newspapers, in degree certificates, etc.
SOME METHODS USED
When do we start teaching handwriting? Doff points out that “there is no need to wait until students have mastered other skills before introducing. They can begin to learn individual letters from the very beginning. This will help giving more practice. Also early mastery can help students to develop other skills; it can help with reading, and can help them to remember words.”
What order to introduce the letters? It is not necessary to introduce letters in alphabetical order. Some have introduced letters, rather groups of letters, based on the similarity they have perceived in shape, and hand movements in writing the letters. For example, they may first introduce o, then p, then b, and then d. The basic underlying shape is assumed to be a circle in these letters. Or letters may be introduced based on the hand movements – how one letter can be extended from a simple hand movement to another.
The most popular way to introduce the letters is to associate the first sound or the prominent sound of a word with a letter and then introduce the letter: a for apple, b for bat, c for cat, etc.
Yet another way to introduce letters is to associate the letter with an object in which the letter can be easily embedded. For example, the letter S will be embedded in the picture of a swan, and taught.
Sesame Street TV program uses some of these techniques.
All these methods are useful for one reason or another. However, you need to choose that method with which you are comfortable, and which suits your audience. An adult class would prefer a straightforward teaching of the letters with the citation pronunciation for each letter. On the other hand, children would be more interested in learning through games.
Generally speaking, letters with similar shapes are taught together. This helps students see important differences between them (for example, between “n” and “h”). Vowels are introduced near the beginning. This is useful as they are common, and can be joined to other letters to make words. However, in practice the order of letters is often determined by the syllabus or the textbook. Remember that whatever method is to be adopted, the students must ultimately master the alphabetical order of the script system. Without this they cannot use reference materials such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, thesaurus, phone books, bibliographies, etc.
When do we teach the name of the letter? Just like knowing the alphabetical order, knowing the name of the letter is also important. When spelling words aloud, we need to use the name of the letter.
Copying is the best form of exercise for handwriting. Students don’t have to worry about producing the words. They simply focus on copying the letters one after another to write the words. They will have good practice joining the letters while copying. Write words on the blackboard, and/or in the notebooks of students and ask them to copy the words several times. Go around the class and check. You may also ask individual students to come and write the words on the board.
Doff (1988) suggests a technique called delayed copying. The teacher writes a word on the board and asks students to read it. Then she erases the word and students are asked to write the word from memory. Students think of the word as a whole in this process.
Handwriting includes not only the mastery of letters but also the styles in which the alphabet is written. Students will continue to commit several errors such as mixing small and capital letters within a word, mirror image problems, wrong joins, failure to insert the necessary elements of a letter, failure to keep the words separate, introducing gaps where not needed, especially within a word, improper slanting of letters, improper use of capital letters or non-use of capital letters for proper names.
Exercises should be devised to reduce, if not eliminate, such errors. For example, you may write a list of words on the board, including some names of towns, people, etc., but all with small letters. Students decide which words should begin with a capital letter, and say why. Then you may rub the words from the board, and then dictate them. Students write them down.
In all these, use actual handwriting problems found in your students (Doff 1988). Remember that we already suggested that you maintain a diary of the errors of your students. Orthographic and spelling errors will be a significant section in your diary.
A few points at the outset itself: variation in pronunciation within a society is tolerated, but variation in spelling within a society is prohibited. If you spell words wrongly, you will be committing a “serious social error.” You may be considered as an illiterate or an ignorant person. Also most people think that English has erratic spelling, and it is a great feat if one is able to spell English words! As already pointed out, English is no more erratic in its spelling than other languages. Also only about 400 words contribute most to the erratic spelling behavior of the English language, but these words are more frequently used than others, resulting in the feeling of the abundance of chaotic spelling. “However, English spelling is not a simple, straightforward system” (Cronnell 1979:202).
O’Grady et al (1993) list the following as illustrative of the problems with English orthography:
- Some letters do not represent any segment in a particular word. Thorough, sign, give.
- A group of two or more letters can be used to represent a single segment. Think, ship.
- A single letter can represent a cluster of two or more segments. Saxophone, exile.
- The same letter can represent different segments in different words. on, bone, one.
- The same segment can be represented by different letters in different words. /uw/ in rude, loop, soup, new, sue, to, two.
It looks as if you will be able to learn the English spelling better if you use the standard English. If you are using a non-standard dialect, you are more likely to commit more spelling errors. In other words, there seems to be a better coordination between the pronunciation and spelling in the speech habits of the standard dialect speakers of English. As Cronnell (1979) points out, since the second or foreign language learners of English do not yet speak standard English, they are likely to commit more errors in spelling, especially with regard to those sounds which they are unable to discriminate between. For example, you should anticipate misspelling between /r/ and /l/ in the writing of the Japanese, Chinese and Korean students. You should anticipate more spelling errors in words which involve s and sh, in the writings of Bengali students.
It is found that the child speaking standard English tends to write I walked to school yesterday, while the child speaking Black English tends to write I walk to school yesterday. This is so because in the spoken Black English, the inflectional suffix -ed is often omitted. Hence the child is not aware that the correct spelling is walked.
It is also found that “the greatest spelling problems may exist for students whose native languages use the Roman alphabet….. Literate language learners, when writing in a familiar alphabet, may continue using high-learned native-language sound-to-spelling correspondences even when writing English, while students who must learn a new alphabet or writing system for English may be much more aware of how English spelling differs from their native orthography” (Cronnell 1979:205).
We give below some of the recommendations given by Cronnell 1979 as regards teaching spelling:
- For the illiterate learner (that is, those who do not know how to read and write English), instruction might be similar to that used for English-speaking children. We choose a series of books in which spelling is presented in a graded manner.
- If the learners are users of some European languages such as French, German or Spanish, the words from these languages with more or less similar spelling may be used to teach the spelling rules which are regular in English. Hand in English and German, air and nation in English and French, accident/accidente in English /Spanish, etc. may be given as examples for this approach.
- If students already know some reading and writing in English, they may not need a complete range of spelling instruction in English. We may administer a diagnostic test, a preliminary spelling test, with a number of words. Those words misspelled will be specifically studied by the students.
- The above test may present words which illustrate various spellings. “Then students performing poorly on specific spellings could receive instruction and practice on their problems.”
- “For advanced students (with specific or general spelling difficulties) a programmed text may provide more individualized learning without creating a heavy burden on the teacher.”
- Students should be encouraged “to find the spellings of words in which there are sounds with two or more possible spellings.” They should be encouraged “to check words when they are unsure of the spellings.”
- “Proof reading (and correcting) sentences with spelling errors” is a good exercise.
- “Perfect spelling without ideas, knowledge, organization, and clarity is of little value.”
THE PHONIC METHODS
Based on rules which appear to be somewhat more regular than others, textbook writers organize the words into groups, and then teach the words group by group. Take for example, the letter c is pronounced as k before a, o, u or a consonant: cat, cold, cute, act, cream. It is pronounced as k before e, I, y in words such as keep, kiss, sky. It is also as k at the end of a word after a diphthong: seek, make, strike. It is pronounced as k also at the end of a word after a consonant: ilk, honk, bark. The phonic method, which has been very popular with the teachers and parents for a long time, follows this arrangement.
There are many such rules, not only for the consonants but also for the vowels. Exploiting such rules to understand and create a sensitivity to the underlying spelling system is the focus of all the textbook writers in English. Sometimes explicit rules and explanations are also offered in these textbooks.
Spelling continues to be one of the basic issues and problems in teaching and learning English.
SOME SPECIFIC PROBLEMS
What follows here (from sight words to mnemonic devices and word games) is largely a summary of information found in Bowen et al. (1985), often using their very own words and examples. However, this information is dealt with in many books, and is often arrived at by many perceptive TESOL teachers.
Many words used in English have unique spellings in the sense that the correspondence between spelling and sound is rather tenuous in them. For example the, one, two, who, some, school, gym, weird, been, many, said, their, laugh, broad, know, honor, cafe, etc., have no clear correspondence with their pronunciation.
Some other words falling in this category include indict, vicutals, sword, bade, colonel. These are to be taught as sight words. We cannot identify any general pattern of spelling in these words.
Consider the following words: though, through, bough, thoroughly, ought, rough, cough, hiccough, trough, lough. The spelling does not help us to correctly pronounce these words. These need to be taught as individual words.
Loan Words and Spellings
English has a ready tendency to borrow words and their spellings from other languages. The spelling eau for the sound /ow/ has come with French words like beaux, bureau, plateau, etc., to add another bit of irregularity and complexity to English. On the other hand, the Spanish word junta comes into English with the /j/ sound suggested by the spelling rather than keeping the Spanish /x/ (matching /h/).
The area of onomastics is another rich source of irregularity in English spelling. Consider the names Freud /froyd/, McKaughn /mekoyn/.
In yet another pattern, not only does the same spelling represent different sounds, but more difficult for the student who is to produce English words in written form, the same sound can have numerous spellings. Consider the examples: see-sea, meet-meat, cede-seed, etc.
Groups of words with each spelling can be associated together in a single lesson (such as be, me, we, he) later compared with see, bee, fee, tree, free, tee, three, week, peek, heel, green, seed — and at another time sea, tea, pea, flea, each, peach, reach, teach, bead, leave, eagle, speak, peak, weak, heal, clean, cream, team, cheap, dean, eat.
As Bowen et al. (1985) points out that all the possibilities of a pattern need not be taught—only the ones that are useful and relevant to the student’s progress.
Alternation/Reduction of Consonants
The consonants c and g alternate in several ways. C and G become /k/ and /g/ when these are hard, and these become /s/ and /j/ when soft.
electric electricity legal legislation critic criticism logos logic public publicity regal regent romantic romanticism centrifugal centrifuge classic classicism pedagogue pedagogy physics physician analog analogy politics politician obligation oblige statistics statistician allegation allege
Consonant reduction involves the appearance of consonant letters in the spelling that are not present in the oral forms of words.
Examples are: handsome, surprise, grandpa, cupboard, Wednesday, answer, who, whom, honest, castle, listen, raspberry, receipt, salve, walk, corps. These have to be learned like sight words.
Another pattern of consonant reduction is based on phonotactic rules. Non-permitted clusters simplify by dropping one of the consonants, only to have it restored in another form of the word, usually when an affix is included that allows the cluster to become a sequence (sign-signal, signify, etc., column-columnar, hymn-hymnal, know-acknowledge, mnemonic-amnesia, damn-damnation, gnostic-agnostic, thumb-thimble, muscle-muscular).
Another pattern to be discussed is the doubling of consonant letters (not sounds) to indicate short vowels. When a verb ends in a single consonant, as plan, and -ing, or -er is to be added, one must first double the final consonant of the stem. The correct form is planning, planner. If the same suffixes are to be added to the word plane (referring to a specialized tool in a wood shop), the r can be added directly to produce planer, but the e is dropped before adding -ing for planing. If the verb has two vowels before the single final consonant, the -er and -ing are added directly: speak, speaker, speaking. This is a pattern that applies almost all the verbs in English. If a verb with a simple vowel and two consonants follows, there is no need to double, and the -ing and the -er can be added directly; eg., backing, backer.
The format of exercise given in exercise 10.7 allows you to use virtually all the verbs of English in the drill suggested.
Another pattern of consonant doubling is the doubling of the final consonant, especially in monosyllabic personal names — sometimes given names, but most frequently family names: Plann, Ladd, Fenn, Conn, Glenn, Penn, Goff, Hiss, Webb, Cobb, Pitt, McCann, Call, Kidd, Todd, Redd, Pett, Flamm, Ross, Ott, Rudd, Russ, Hill, Snell, Gibbs, Mills.
Where to break a word that won’t quite fit at the end of a line? The rules are 1. a single consonant between vowels goes with the vowel that has higher stress: blow.er, a.way. 2. If there are two consonants between vowels, they will divide if they are a sequence, but if they form a cluster, both will go with the second vowel if it carries a higher stress; re.claim, but rec.la.ma.tion.
American dictionaries include all the permissible division points in the main entry of each polysyllabic word, with raised dots as point markers.
Mnemonic Devices and Word Games
Rhymes, other mnemonic devices, word games such as Scrabble, Boggle, Perquackey to remember and practice spellings may be used.
AN IMPORTANT CAUTION
To illustrate that English spelling is not as chaotic as it is sought to be portrayed, we have listed several spelling rules. However, it is not advisable to base our teaching strategy only on giving, explaining and demonstrating these spelling rules.
The rules are bound to be confusing even to the highly motivated, inquisitive and intelligent students. Our goal is not the mastery of the knowledge of the rules, but the mastery of the spelling of actual words and the development of a sensitivity to the underlying system.
I highly commend memorization and copying as two very important exercises. I highly commend grouping of words which have some uniform spelling behavior and teaching the same. I highly commend dictation as an effective measuring tool to assess the spelling skill.
I highly commend developing a tendency to use the dictionary and check the spelling as and when one is in doubt. I do not commend memorization of spelling for spelling’s sake. So, focus only on those words that are needed to teach your lesson. Over the months, students will develop the sensitivity to recognize and use the spelling patterns on their own.
Do not ask students to memorize the spelling of many words in a single assignment. May be a few at a time. But give them a dictation of words already known to them almost every day in the early months.
Spelling bee contests with some rewards is an appropriate reinforcement technique.
Remember that spelling is an integral part of writing. It is also essential for reading. Spelling links the pronunciation with the alphabet.
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WHAT IS READING?
We begin with oral reading or reading aloud when we teach young children to read. Young children associate the letters with the sounds these letters represent. They read aloud the letters and their combinations.
Often young children read aloud the letters in a word as if the word consists of independent letters. Soon they recognize or realize that the letters and the sounds they represent stand for a group or series of sounds which occur somewhat sequentially and that this group constitutes the word. The reading aloud goes underground so to say in silent reading.
However, the relationship between sound and letter in a reading process is very complex indeed. Here I have deliberately characterized the reading process in simplistic terms. Reading is a very complex activity which is mastered by the child, by God’s abundant grace, with some ease. We must remember that reading is closely related to the development of writing.
Since, more often than not, our second/foreign language learner has some reading skill in his/her first language, he/she brings this skill to bear upon his reading ability in English.
Oral reading and silent reading refer to the features somewhat related to the mechanics of reading. But reading is “appreciating the sense of what is written: we read for meaning” (Crystal (1987:209).
In other words, the ultimate goal of reading is not the process of reading itself, but the unraveling of the meaning represented by the words, phrases, and sentences. Sometimes, “reading between the lines” is demanded. In the latter case, the association between the letter and the sound does not often play a crucial role.
Basically two questions are raised as regards the bases of reading: Do we read by ear or do we read by eye? All of us will agree readily that we read by eye, because use of the eye for reading is so obvious to us. On the other hand, the sound is never far from reading, and hence both in oral and silent reading, we do often move our lips and perhaps the tongue and other subvocal mechanisms. What we see by eye is to be converted into some sound values (Crystal (1987:209).
As we pointed out earlier, children do read aloud first, converting the letters and words into sound units. At this level then it is the sound that dominates reading. Even at the reading aloud stage, words are not spelled, and letters are not pronounced all alone, but words are sought to be read as single units by themselves. When silent reading is established, single sounds or letters will no more become the focus. We often see words, and not individual letters. We often produce words as oral utterances, and not the sounds which constitute the words.
KINDS OF READING
In a recent publication which gives a variety of new ways of teaching reading (Day 1993), the editor of the book classifies reading into three kinds: extensive reading, intensive reading, and oral reading. Extensive reading is used “to refer to the teaching of reading through reading. In this approach, there is no overt focus on teaching reading. Rather, it is assumed that the best way for students to learn to read is by reading a great deal of comprehensible material.” Intensive reading is used to refer to the actual teaching of reading skills in an instructional setting. Students are exposed to a variety of materials and asked to perform activities such as answering comprehension questions on the passage read. They may be trained to look for critical information in the passage they read, and make inferences, etc. Intensive reading is instruction-based and forms the core of teaching reading in the TESOL classroom. Oral reading does attract much attention from many TESOL teachers, but it is “an integral part of the teaching of reading, especially in EFL contexts.”
STAGES IN TEACHING READING
We can look at reading for second or foreign language learners of English as an acquisition process in three stages:
1. BEGINNING OR ELEMENTARY READING
The students are exposed to the association of the letters of the English alphabet with their relevant sounds in appropriate contexts. In this process, they discover the relationship between the alphabet and the spoken language. Students are given groups of simple words, phrases, and sentences with focus on one or two letters and their combinations. They are introduced to the correspondence between the individual letters and their combinations in graded steps. They come to internalize, in an inductive manner, the possibilities of sound values for each letter, or combination of letters. Emphasis is thus on decoding graphic information from the words, phrases, and sentences. Based on what they have been exposed to, students begin to read new combinations of vocabulary and sentence-level structures. They develop an ability to predict the sound values represented by the letters and their combinations in contexts.
2. INTERMEDIATE READING
The intermediate reading stage fosters interest in reading, and develops the actual reading skill practiced throughout one’s life beyond mastering the association between letters and sounds. Students no more read aloud. They are comfortable with predicting the sound values of letters and their combinations, and they begin to read for the purposes for which they originally enrolled themselves in the TESOL class. Emphasis here is on developing additional reading skills. They begin to read advanced English passages. Reading with purpose is the focus here.
3. ADVANCED READING
Most students of TESOL are quite satisfied with what they have accomplished in the intermediate stage. However, reading is a continuing process, and they need to be introduced to the reading of authentic materials for specific purposes. Stories re-told, and abridged and adapted versions are the focus in intermediate level. But at the advanced level originals are presented.
The beginner may be a child, an illiterate, or an adult second or foreign language learner of English, who is an illiterate in English. He/she may be highly educated or a moderately educated person in his/her own native language.
At the beginning level, the focus is on the mechanics of reading. The beginner needs to be taught the relationship and the correspondence between the letters of the alphabet and the spoken language.
In a sense, the letters are all abstract symbols. The letter functions as a tag to the sounds it represents. By seeing (reading) the letter, the beginner identifies the appropriate sound value for that letter in that context.
This is not an easy task even for the adult learner. It is possible that the learner may come from a language in which the Roman alphabet similar to the one used in English is being used. And yet the sound values of letters in his language may vary context to context in his language also, which in their turn may be in conflict with the sound values of the letters as used in English.
Or, the learner may come from a language background in which syllabaries are used. That is, he may be accustomed to reading the syllables which more or less retain the same values wherever they are used. However, he will find that in character and chat, cha needs to be read differently.
Or, he may come from a language background where pictograms are used, as in Chinese in which there is no easy and manifest correspondence between the “letter” and the sound.
Keep the following in mind when you begin teaching reading at the beginner’s level.
- The background of the beginner: a child, an illiterate, a moderately educated person.
- The Reading task involves decoding the system of abstract symbols to discover its relation to the spoken language system.
- The time taken to master this relationship varies with age, maturation, previous experience, and other social factors.
- With primary emphasis on mechanics one may master the mechanics of reading in four months.
- Some recognition problems in English: capital, small, italics, handwriting, left to right, distinction between letters, mirror image problems.
- Choose the words which express familiar meanings or meanings which can be recognized and retained in memory.
- Choose only those words which focus on the item to be learned.
- Do not choose those words which may have the same spelling in English as well as in the learner’s language, but are read (pronounced) differently.
- Do not ignore the stress.
Reading readiness exercises help students to recognize and read the letters and words. Reading readiness exercises may or may not use linguistic materials, but whatever materials are used, these should be easy to handle and are familiar to the students. The goal of reading readiness exercises is to help foster a congenial atmosphere for learning reading and to develop some favorable attitude toward reading.
Visual Discrimination, Auditory Discrimination, and Memory Training are some of the reading readiness exercises given to the students.
Directions like same, different, top, bottom, middle, first, second and last referring to objects, letters, and words are presented in these exercises. In English, for example, the students need to distinguish between p and q, between d and p, and so on.
Names and general shapes of the letters of the alphabet that English uses, different forms of the same letters (upper and lower case forms, etc.), ability to tell whether two letters or groups of letters are the same or different are all focused in these exercises.
Some possible discriminations: What is at the top, at the bottom, in the middle of the page? Which object is the first, the second, the last? Are any of the objects, letters, or words the same as the one in the box? Pair the capital and lower case letters as shown in the example.
Although the auditory discrimination exercises are part of the preparation for listening, these need to be presented even as reading readiness exercises. This is important for those students who hear or repeat a sound persistently wrong. There is a close relationship between the auditory image of the word and its reading and reproduction in writing. Each word has its own auditory image, and this auditory image should be retrieved correctly in the reading process. Otherwise it could lead to misreading and misspelling.
Some possible exercises: a. Minimal Pairs: Are the sounds the same or different? b. Initial Sounds: Do the names of any of the objects shown in the big box begin with the same sound as the object in the small box?
Rhyme words: Say the names of the object in the big box to yourself. Answer yes if it rhymes with the object in the small box, no if it does not.
Similar Sentences: Which sentences say the same thing? Minimal Differences: Which sentence of three or more is different?
This training helps students to hold something in the mind for a length of time.
- Repeat the first sentence of three after all have been heard.
- Give the order of events in a story heard.
- Name as many of the objects from memory as possible after a picture, or an array of objects, has been shown for a limited time and then removed from sight.
- Reassemble a picture series in the order first shown.
These exercises help the students to focus on the form of the words (spelling). Once the form is internalized, it is possible for the students to predict what the other parts of a word would be when he/she is given a word. In other words, he/she does not go from one letter to another in his/her reading process. He/she is able to predict and thus read the word in its entirety. This helps increase the reading speed also. Remember that although spelling a word is an important first step towards reading, it is only a first step. Spelling a word must be dropped in favor of reading a word in its entirety.
A student may be said to be in control of the basics when he:
- regularly makes appropriate eye movements for English.
- recognizes and discriminates among the vowel and consonant sounds in English.
- associates vowel and consonant sounds with letters.
- recognizes and discriminates among consonant blends and consonant combinations.
- recognizes and discriminates among vowel combinations.
- recognizes vowel sounds with /r/.
- recognizes selected sight words.
- recognizes rhyming words when not spelled with the same letter pattern.
- recognizes upper- and lower-case letters and the basic punctuation marks.
Note that the knowledge of the orthographic structure is central to the reading process. Note also that any exercise we may give to the students to develop the association between the letters and their combinations with the sounds should be always done with words, phrases, and sentences meaningful to the students. It is important to give exercises not only with groups of words but also with groups of phrases and sentences.
Methods for Teaching the Mechanics of Reading
Essentially there are two kinds of methods which take care of the mechanics of reading: the whole word method, and the linguistic method. Students are given the whole word to read in the first method, whereas they are first introduced to the elements which constitute the word in the second method, and then asked to combine them. Signs such as Exit, Entrance, Gentlemen, Ladies, No Entrance, Cafeteria, Fifteen Items or less (Express Line in grocery stores), Open, Closed, etc., will be given without any analysis of the constituent elements. Students will associate the entire sound(s) with the entire written form.
In the linguistic method, students are introduced to the sound-symbol correspondences first in the word, and then they are enabled to combine the sounds to produce the word. “There is no conclusive evidence that either the Whole Word or the Linguistic Method for introducing reading texts works best with all students. Nor is there any assurance that when reading, a student will practice only one or the other exclusively.” However, there is no escape from using the linguistic method in the later steps of reading, since not all words of a language can be introduced using the whole word method. The learners often break the words and arrive at the underlying forms in some intuitive manner. Words may be derived from other words. Also the forms may have the same spelling but their reading pronunciations may differ from one another. These and many other characteristics of the structures of English make it imperative that we make a proper blend of these two strategies.
It is important that second/foreign language learners of English are taught to recognize sight vocabulary in an automatic manner, without spelling such vocabulary. There are about two to three hundred words in English which account for a good part of all the words used on a written page. We should enable the students to recognize these words such as articles and prepositions in an automatic fashion. Teach them to recognize also the punctuation marks along with the conventions such as spacing and indenting, which go with the use of such sight vocabulary. There are also set phrases in English which function as sight vocabulary. The students should be enabled to recognize these also as sight vocabulary.
Remember that in the initial stages of reading it is always useful to insist on students reading aloud. This helps them improve their reading pronunciation, and develop a sensitivity to how words are pronounced in English. When they come across a new word, this reading aloud practice will help them to attempt more or less a correct pronunciation of the word.
The teachers of TESOL have been using a variety of materials to help students read with better pronunciation, and to motivate them to read in order to meet their needs. They often tend to use materials which the second/foreign language learner of English may have to use frequently, materials such as public announcements (No classes next Friday, Report for duty at 6:00 A.M.), invitations to parties and weddings, telephone messages, guidelines to perform a task, instructions to assemble toys, recipe, etc. The materials which focus on the learners’ survival needs, social needs, and personal needs are presented to them for reading. Reading Games which use catchy phrases in ads, T-shirts, campaign buttons, posters, stickers, etc., are presented to the beginning reader, even when he/she is struggling to master the mechanics of decoding the English alphabet.
The initial texts given for reading are often written with such words that are commonly and frequently used in English. However, frequency of occurrence alone should not be considered when we choose words for the beginning reading texts. “Beginning reading materials should be constructed with a sensitivity to the utility, interest, and value of the words that make up the text. But in case of conflict the text comes first.” In the beginners’ lessons, “students learn to read names, addresses and telephone numbers important to them, common street signs, and other public labels. Other items of interest: advertisements, direction on food and medicine labels, instructions on vending machines, simple how-to-do-it instructions and menus.”
Proverbs in English, metaphors, and similes will be introduced as part of the reading material towards the end of the beginner’s level or in the beginning of the intermediate level of reading. A variety of reading materials such as commercial texts, teacher-written recombination’s of materials covered in class, student-written materials, using the Language Experience Approach, narrative games such as strip stories, and group-written stories are other materials recommended by Paulston and Bruder (1976), Bowen, et al. (1985) and Celce-Murcia (1991).
Once the reading mechanics relating to the decoding of the alphabet is well established, once the mastery of adequate sight vocabulary is also accomplished, the reading texts may focus on familiarizing the students with the phrase and sentence structure in the reading materials. Students need to learn the differences between a phrase and a sentence in the texts to read. While the sentence is the required minimal unit in written English, phrases function as breath groups. “Phrase reading exercises can be useful in weaning the reader from word-for-word reading, and can help increase speed.” Some of the exercises which can be used to develop phrase reading are: “repeat-and-copy exercises, the use of flash cards, lists on the blackboard, matching phrases, etc.” Focusing on phrases and sentences for reading will help students not only to foster better speed in reading, but it will aid them in learning more English structures for practical purposes.
The students must be helped to develop a sensitivity to the English word structure. For this, the students will begin reading the most regular and the most productive word patterns in English, and then they will be exposed to the reading of irregular forms. If they internalize the regular patterns they will begin to look at the derived and inflected words such as past tense forms, adjectivals, adverbs, etc., as single entities. The irregular patterns will be learned as sight words or phrases.
Remember that reading is now exploited not only to learn more meanings and forms (words and affixes) in English, but also to gain a knowledge of the structures of English. From mechanics to structures, and then from structures to content is the way the reading exercises proceed. There is a mix of all the three in every exercise.
THE READING LESSON
There are four steps followed in a reading lesson:
- Introduction. The teacher explains the purpose for reading the target passage, gives the students a setting for the text to be read, presents a background of appropriate information for the text to be read, and selects and introduces the new vocabulary necessary to comprehend the main ideas in the text.
- The reading. This is generally an oral exercise for the beginners, usually consisting of listening to the passage read aloud, or listening and following along. Later on reading is silent.
- Comprehension tasks.
- Review and related exercises.
The following behavioral steps may be followed in the class:
- Teacher reads while students listen.
- Teacher reads while students listen and read along.
- Student(s) read aloud (in small groups or in dyads).
- Students read silently, or practice reading aloud individually.
- Three types of questions are employed for discussion: information (what, when, where, who, how many, etc.), inferential (Did Juan know English when he came to the United States? How do we know? Does Juan know how to drive?), interpretive (questions relating to author’s opinion, reader’s judgment concerning the content of the article, etc.) (Bowen et al. 1985)
Some TESOL teachers would like to distinguish between the beginner’s level reading and the elementary level of reading, assigning the beginner’s level only to the mastery of the mechanics of reading. We have combined both these stages under the heading Beginnings Level.
It is important for us to recognize that reading is an essential part of the TESOL classroom. Reading helps to acquire and internalize vocabulary and structures, even as it helps the pronunciation and speaking. It reinforces writing as well. More reading leads to increasingly better performance in the use of English. “At present sufficient reading practice is not given in TESOL classes. Reading can be developed only through practicing reading. So give more time to reading in a reading class.” Have separate class periods for reading, incorporate reading as an integral part of the course, and give reading assignments to the students everyday.
Selecting MaterialsGood textbooks are available in plenty. However, the teacher should select his or her own textbook based on the usefulness of the book for his or her students, and their interest. Level of difficulty should also be considered. Unfortunately, textbook selection is not in the hands of the teachers in most schools in India. No book is ever pefect. Teachers may have to make several adjustments to the content, words, sentence patterns and other items of the lessons they teach from out of the selected textbook.
Adult students tend to read silently even in their beginning level. This must be discouraged. There is a need to develop an association between the form (words, phrases, and sentences) and its corresponding sound representation. This is better achieved by oral reading. Success with oral reading helps also the success with speaking. So, encourage your adult students to read aloud as often as possible. Towards the end of the elementary or beginner’s level, students may be allowed to read silently to some extent.
To develop silent reading, start with phrase reading. Encourage your students to read the phrases at a single stretch, not going from word to word. Flash cards with phrases may be shown for them to read the individual phrases at a single stretch. Flash the card for a brief while and they should catch the phrase and read it. Choose the phrases from the text or from common expressions frequently used in spoken English.
Show them only a partially written phrase and encourage them to guess the full phrase.
Rearrange the words in a phrase and ask them to give the correct phrase from memory. Give them a list of words and ask them to put them together into as many phrases as they can. Or specify a number. Give them two or three sentences and ask them to read silently and time the reading. Then give them another set of sentences of same length and ask them to read silently, and time their reading. Step by step, increase the number of sentences. And increase the number of words in individual sentences. Time their reading.
In the Intermediate Reading level, the emphasis is on overall comprehension, and reading with purpose. This requires development of study skills. At the intermediate level of reading, the materials should be so chosen as to introduce the students subtly to the grammatical and stylistic conventions of English. Reading is exploited in these passages to help students internalize the grammar (structures) of English. The structures of English are linked to the reading process and the goals of reading. For example, students come to know through reading practice that certain phrases predict the transition in information discussed in the reading material.
Kitao (1993) lists the following phrases as marking transitions in the information contained in the reading material. Acquaintance with these phrases helps students anticipate and predict the turns in the material.Additional information: and, furthermore, moreover, in addition, also
Expected information: of course, naturally, surely
Unexpected information: surprisingly, amazingly
Intensified information: in fact, as a matter of fact
Restatement: as I mentioned before, in short, in other words, i.e., that is
Example: for example, for instance, to illustrate, such as
Consequence: so, therefore, as a result, consequently
Cause/effect: because, due to, thanks to, on account of, as a result of, in view of
Contrasting information: however, but, although, even though, nevertheless
Order: first, second, then, next
Conclusion: in short, therefore, in conclusion, in summary, on the whole
Brown (1993) suggests asking the students to do the following ten things before reading begins.
- Look at the title and the headings for each section. What do you think this passage is going to be about?
- Look at the pictures. What do you think this passage is going to be about?
- Read the first and last paragraphs and the first sentence of each paragraph. What do you think this passage is going to be about?
- Read the title. Now quickly scan the passage and circle all the words that have a connection to the title.
- Scan the passage and cross out all the words you don’t know. After you read the passage again carefully, look up the words in a dictionary.
- After looking at the title, pictures, and so on, brainstorm the specific words you expect to see in the passage.
- After looking at the title and pictures, make up some questions you think this passage might answer.
- What kind of passage is this? (fiction ? nonfiction—what kind?) Why would somebody read this? For information? Pleasure?
- Choose words from the passage and write them on the board. Ask students to scan the passage and circle them.
- Tell a story about the background of the reading passage.
We can always make innovations and improvisations to meet the reading needs of our students.
To help foster extensive reading, students should be given materials that are interesting to the students. Commercial graded readers for ESL serve the purpose well. Give them new materials to read aloud.
The most important intermediate reading skills are (Bowen et al. 1985:240):
- Reading with incomplete information (Reading a passage with a sizable number of unfamiliar vocabulary items).
- Organizing for careful reading (skimming and scanning).
- Organizing information (specific time to preview).
- Reading critically.
- Developing effective personal reading strategies.
- Setting effective reading speeds for different kinds of reading.
Success at the intermediate level of reading depends a lot on the initiative the learner takes and the positive attitude he or she has towards reading. The learner should recognize the pivotal role reading plays in improving his/her diction and pronunciation, even as it helps him/her internalize the structures of English. The learner should find for himself or herself how studious reading habits help him/her perform better in English at all the levels - speaking, listening, and writing. Reading materials are abundant in all the surroundings and it is for the learner to take advantage of all these reading materials in his/her surroundings.
Reading is gateway to culture and literature. If the material is relevant, and thus meets the learner’s needs, it will help instigate an interest in reading in the learner.
At the intermediate level the focus is also on developing appropriate reading speed.
English for Special Purposes (ESP) is the chief focus of the advanced level of reading.
For individualized self-learning, there is no better method than encouraging the students to read on their own whatever that interests them. Through reading, diction, grammar, and communicative efficiency improve. Through reading, students develop an empathy not only for the language but also for the content of the text they read, as well as the best traditions of the culture the language comes to represent in their understanding. Through reading what is noble in English thought is appropriated.
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WRITING - AN INDIVIDUAL EFFORT BUT MORE RULE-BOUND
Writing is an individual effort. Individuals compose their thoughts often in privacy and then reduce their thoughts to writing, using the strict conventions followed in the language. Writing is an individual effort or work, but it must follow the rules laid down. The development of writing even in native English speaking children is conscious and is thus non-spontaneous. As I have discussed elsewhere (Thirumalai 1977), written language differs from oral language in structure and mode of functioning. The acquisition of oral speech by itself is the acquisition of signs (symbols). The acquisition of writing is a step further and the learner must now transfer the symbolization he/she acquired in the process of speech acquisition to written language. Vygostsky (1962) compares this to the acquisition of algebra which is harder than arithmetic. Added to this problem is the fact that writing needs no interlocutor.
In writing, the discrete nature of linguistic signs should be appreciated consciously. The learner must recognize the sound structure of each word, dissect it and reproduce it in alphabetical symbols, which he must have studied and memorized before. This same deliberate preparedness is needed to put words in a certain sequence to form a sentence (Vygostsky 1962; Thirumalai 1977).
Teaching writing to native speakers of English has always been a major concern of education. More often than not, most students, both native speakers and second language learners of English, feel inadequate in the face of the writing task. Modern world demands some efficiency in writing skills. However, when one can learn to speak the first or second language with little or no conscious thought, switch from the spoken to writing poses greater difficulty.
“Writing is more an individual effort than speaking, while at the same time more rule-bound and therefore more error-prone. . . The speaker does not have to pronounce each word exactly according to one standard of pronunciation or one model of structure, while the writer is expected to produce according to one model of spelling, and usually a reduced range of structures, with 100 percent accuracy” (Bowen et al. 1985:252). Everyone will agree with Bowen et al (1985:253) when they declare that “writing is more rule-bound than speaking. Considering the control of the orthographic system, the careful organization, and the linguistic conservatism required, writing is the most demanding of the language skills.”
The writing classes have the potential to help consolidate and improve the students’ speaking and reading skills. However, it is important for us to remember that writing is an important skill which can be taught as an end in itself, although none of the language skills is far removed from the other language skills. Focusing on writing as an independent skill helps us to identify the specific problems faced by the learners, and to identify the specific needs of the learners relating to writing. Mechanics of writing are distinct from the mechanics of other skills such as speaking and reading. While reading involves seeing and pronouncing, writing involves association of sounds with mental composition of thoughts and their orderly presentation, and hand movements.
Writing can be viewed and taught as a developmental process just as reading. And we can view writing from four perspectives: Mechanics, emphasized in the low beginner stages (beginning); Extended Use of Language, emphasized in the high beginner and low intermediate stages (elementary); Writing with Purpose, emphasized in the high intermediate and low advanced stages (intermediate); and Full Expository Prose, emphasized in the terminal stage (advanced) (Bowen 1985).
Raimes classifies approaches to teaching writing into five types: controlled to free, free writing, paragraph pattern, grammar-syntax-organization, communicative, and process approaches. In the controlled to free approach, “students are first given sentence exercises, then paragraphs to copy or manipulate grammatically by, for instance, changing questions to statements, present to past, or plural to singular. They might also change words or clauses or combine sentences” (Raimes 1983:6).
In the free writing approach, students are asked to “write freely on any topic without worrying about grammar and spelling for five or ten minutes. . . . The teachers do not correct these short pieces of free writing; they simply read them and perhaps comment on the ideas the writer expressed” (Raimes 1983:7). In the paragraph pattern approach, “students copy paragraphs, analyze the form of model paragraphs, and imitate model passages. They put scrambled sentences into paragraph order, they identify general specific statements, they choose or invent an appropriate topic sentence, they insert or delete sentences” (Raimes 1983:8). In the communicative approach to writing, students are asked to assume the role of a writer who is writing for an audience to read. Whatever is written by a student is modified in some way by other students for better communicative effect. In the process approach to writing, students “move away from a concentration on the written product to an emphasis on the process of writing” (Raimes 1983:10). They ask ‘not only questions about purpose and audience, but also the crucial questions: How do I write this? How do I get started?” (Raimes 1983:10).
Note that a proper blend of these approaches to writing will give us best results. For example, the controlled to free approach to writing helps us to focus on proper mechanics in the beginning level, whereas communicative approach to writing will be very effective once our students have some control over the mechanics and have acquired a good number of words and sentence structures to help them match these with their thoughts. All successful texts and teachers have always tried to take the best and relevant aspects of every method to suit the learner’s level and need.
BEGINNING WRITING: EMPHASIS ON MECHANICS
At the beginning level the focus is on learning the alphabet, the left-to-right direction of English writing, printing, cursive writing, upper and lower case letters, alphabetizing, basic spelling patterns of English, rules for capitalization, and word and sentence punctuation.
The basic skills include writing letters, numbers, words, phrases, and sentences correctly.
All these should be accomplished by providing writing exercises which use real words (and phrases and sentences). Students may begin with copying what is given to them, but soon they should begin to write from memory, be these items words, phrases, or sentences. In such “free writing” they may be given non-linguistic visual prop in the form of pictures of objects or objects themselves. They will see the pictures or objects, recollect from their memory the words for such pictures or objects, and write these words. In other words, right from the beginning some form of free writing is encouraged, even as they go on mastering the mechanics of writing.
A checklist for introductory writing skills is as follows.
- Motor skills needed for producing legible printing.
- Left-to-right orientation.
- The ability to produce shapes which are the building blocks of English letters.
- Knowing and printing the alphabet.
- Naming while copying and then spell out loud the words copied.
- Recognition and production from written form: vowels, consonants and blends. Words and syllables, upper and lower case letters, basic spelling patterns, common, Sight words, rhyming words, punctuation, phrases and sentences.
- Motor skills needed for producing legible cursive writing.
Copying words and sentences is an important low level writing activity. The alphabet is mastered using copying. Proper hand movements in writing letters and words are established using copying. Also the fluency in writing is improved through appropriate copying exercises. Copying helps also recognizing and using punctual marks. Young students begin with copying, and copying becomes a game, a play for them. The adult students may not relish much copying, and yet some amount of copying is important even to retain in memory what has been learned. So, encourage your class to do some copying exercises.
Use words for writing practice from the student’s immediate environment, and later on from speaking and reading activities. After learning to say and read words, and then to copy them, the student may perform other writing tasks, such as filling in missing letters and missing words.
Bowen et al. (1985) suggest the following: When the student is able to write words from memory, he may be asked to
- list objects in pictures.
- draw and label his own pictures.
- make personalized stationery by drawing a personal letterhead.
- make a monthly calendar or birthday card for a classmate.
- draw a picture map of his neighborhood or another familiar area.
Alphabetizing tasks provide writing practice. These include the following.
- List five words that begin with ........
- Rearrange the following words in alphabetical order:
- Write a girl’s name that begins with _________ .
- Find two objects in the picture whose names begin with __________ .
- Rearrange the letters in an alphabetical order.
As the beginner’s knowledge of English increases through what he is learning to say and read, and to generate new words, phrases, and sentences, he may be asked to
- make topical vocabulary lists.
- make associational pairs or groups of words.
- prepare antonyms.
- prepare synonyms.
- make familiar paradigms like the days of the week or the months.
- make personal lists, such as items on a shopping list, food served at a meal, and packing lists.
At this stage the student may practice his signature in cursive form.
From words students go on to short word groups such as phrases.
From the above steps, proceed to extend phrase writing into sentence writing
Students may be given pictures and asked to identify the objects and events and write about them. This will be an extended writing exercise. They may be asked to write the sequence of tasks depicted and/or inferred from the picture. While doing this, they will be engaged in sentence combining, paragraph assembly, paragraph completion, controlled composition (such as rewriting the paragraph in a different tense, modification of names and pronouns, etc.), guided composition (which provides some tips or ideas and the students write short sentences and paragraphs on a topic based on items provided), and questions and answers (Raimes 1983).
It is important that we correct the errors at the beginning level so that some standards in spelling and expression are set for the learners. Raimes (1983) suggests that we “use errors in students’ writing to plan ahead: What do the students need to work on next? What are they having trouble with. . . . give your students time and opportunity to correct errors before you do. . . . (if your students focus on meaning) question only the real major errors, like jumbled sentences, which interfere with communication so much that you can’t work out what the student is trying to say.”
Most textbooks written by well-known authors often de-emphasize the need to correct the writings of second language learners, and place an emphasis on meaning and free writing, or fluency in writing. However, I personally feel that if the teachers do not correct the students’ writings in the Third World countries, a sense of self-sufficiency sets in and the students will not recognize the errors they have committed.
As Bowen et al. (1985) suggest, “Look for problems such as reversed letters, transposed letters or words, incorrect uppercase or lowercase letters, lack of paragraph indentation, lack of familiarity with the basic spelling patterns, and illegible handwriting.”
The students should begin to write for an audience and seek feedback. This will encourage more free writing. But, let such demands be within the current level of the grammatical ability of the second language learner. Most of the exercises suggested above, although controlled, lead on to simple form of free writing.
EMPHASIS ON EXTENDED USE OF LANGUAGEAt the end of the beginning level, the ESL student may have a vocabulary of fewer than one thousand words and a limited number of sentence patterns. To increase the mastery of additional sentence patterns, we may ask the students to do parallell writing. “Parallell writing is, in a way, the freest kind of controlled writing. Instead of making changes in a given passage or writing according to an outline or given sentences, students read and study a passage and then write their own on a similar theme, using as a guide the vocabulary, sentence structure, cohesive devices, and organization of the model passage” (Raimes 1983:109). Students should be asked to plan, polish, rewrite their passages several times.
INTERMEDIATE WRITING: EMPHASIS ON WRITING WITH A PURPOSE
At the intermediate level, students acquire a lot of words, and begin to write English for specific purposes, so to say. They will continue to demonstrate errors in their writing. They begin to focus on the use of pronoun links, connecting words for the progress of the thoughts they express, such as also, therefore, but, however, use of specific grammatical points such as conditional clause with or without negation, double negatives, modals, tense, etc. Punctuation, arrangement of sentences within a paragraph, transformation of one sentence type into another with or without change in the meaning, stylistic improvements, summarizing the ideas found in a passage in their own sentences, completion of sentences and paragraphs to match the ideas contained therein or they want to express, writing with the appropriate tone, style and organization for the topic focused upon, are some of the things which will be considered in the intermediate level. All this may be achieved with some guided practice.
Bowen et al. (1985) suggest that students organize their thoughts in three main types: “1. Take content from one’s own experience or the results of one’s own information gathering, and arrange it into a logical format. 2. Analyze a prose model, reconstruct its outline, and use the outline as a model for writing another passage, using parallel or analogous information. 3. Follow an outline prepared by someone else, e.g., teacher or textbook.”
Raimes (1983) suggests that we give training to students to write in English speculating on the focus of the given text. She also recommends that “students can be given tasks that encourage them to speculate about the text itself, about its content, context, organization, and the writer’s choices of words and syntax.” Raimes (1983) suggests writing skits and records of guided discussion and interviews. At the intermediate level, the technique of dicto-comp is recommended. “The teacher reads a passage all the way through, not broken into segments. Students listen to the passage two or three times. Then they pick up their pens and write down as close a version as possible. This makes them pay attention to the meaning of the passage more than to the form of the individual words or the structure of the individual sentences. At the end of the passage, the students gather in small groups to compare what they have written down. After they have assembled everything they can remember, they listen to the passage again, make revisions and then check their grammar, spelling, and punctuation” (Raimes 1983:77).
Note-taking and story-telling are two other ways in which the TESOL students are encouraged to do some free but controlled writing. “When elementary level students take notes, they can be given a skeleton outline to work with and expand, so that their listening is more directed. Advanced students can listen to long passages and make notes as they listen. Both groups need to be alerted to the signals that speakers use: pauses, raising the head and the voice to make an important point, or using words like first, finally, most important to signal separation and priority of the points made” (Raimes 1983:79).
Filling in forms of general nature, filling in money order forms, forms for registered or certified mail in the post office, writing letters to friends, newspapers, and other organizations, writing business letters, writing instructions for some one to perform a particular task, writing a journal, and even writing some creative short stories are all given at the intermediate writing level. Indian textbooks do not really focus on the use of English for functional purposes.
We have already talked about the usefulness of guided composition, parallel writing, preparing lists of objects and other inventories, sentence combining and parallel writing. These will continue to be used in developing writing at the intermediate level.
Most students are reluctant to write. Apart from the fact that writing needs more deliberate involvement than reading, students are afraid that what they write may be full of errors in a language with which they have just begun to gain some acquaintance. They may have a lot of reluctance to write even in their first language. Students will face great difficulty in composing their thoughts in English, a second or foreign language to them. As standards of writing are more stringent than in other skills, students need to be trained to proceed from writing short passages to longer essays. They need a lot of encouragement, and appreciation. They need good models, and modeling. They need to be exposed to standard written materials. The form and the character of such materials need to be explained to them.
Increased Speed in Writing
At the intermediate level, there should be some focus on writing faster, in the same way there would be some focus on reading faster and better. If the students are too slow in writing, they will have great difficulty in performing better in timed test situations. Also it will become increasingly difficult for them to match the speed of their thoughts with their writing speed. It is important that we give the dictation exercise progressively increasing its speed. It is also important that we give our students timed writing on given topics. Yet another way to increase speed in writing is to ask them to perform some cloze exercises. In this exercise, “students copy an incomplete short passage and then complete it in their own words. The objective is not to increase the number of words per minute, but to increase the speed of organizing thought in a second language and of judging and producing in a style that will be compatible with the first part of the passage” (Bowen et al. 1985).
Students will enter the advanced level with a good knowledge of sentence structure, vocabulary, and idiom. They are already exposed to a variety of forms of writing. They can meet almost every need at the end of the intermediate level. However, they may have had not much exposure to the specialized literature. They may have no skill in writing articles in the format in which these are demanded for publication in standard journals. They may not have much acquaintance with the specialist vocabulary in English from their fields of specialization. Thus at the advanced level of writing in English the focus is more on English for specific purposes. Different fields require different levels of the knowledge of English. For example, if a student wants to study and specialize in law or business, he needs a more elaborate and deeper knowledge of the use of English. On the other hand, if a student’s focus is on physical sciences, there may not be a high demand on him to have an excellent control over English. The students will be required to have good skills in organizing information and ideas in his field of specialization. He will be required to follow the stylistic and rhetorical conventions adopted in English which apply to his field of specialization. He should have adequate skills in self-editing his own writing. The writing conventions of a particular field are usually expressed clearly and succinctly in the style sheets of major publications in that field.
At this stage, we no more deal with teaching English. We are called upon to teach the appropriate rhetoric of the field using English. Rhetoric and logic play a more crucial role than linguistic structures. However, it is always important and useful to refresh the second/foreign language learner of English about the spelling, vocabulary and diction, and structure errors he continues to commit. Students will continue to commit linguistic errors even as they try to master the rhetorical and logical expressions. There are quite a few books in the field which focus upon various aspects of advanced writing in English. These textbooks “treat the writing task as problem solving, and set the prospective writer the task of identifying characteristics of writing and then using their discoveries about writing in actually composing new essays” (Bowen 1985).
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LEARNING WORDS: MEANING AND USAGE
The importance of learning words in any language cannot be exaggerated. When we say that we know English, we mean that we know the meanings and usage of a few thousand words in English. Communication in any language is impossible without some mastery of the words used in that language. It is mainly through using words that we compose and express our thoughts to others.
A second or foreign language learner of English is required not only to focus upon the sentence structures but also upon the acquisition of words. Often, the learner seeks to learn the words before even attempting to understand and use the sentences. When a new sentence is presented to a learner, he tends to break it into manageable units called words.
Everyone intuitively feels what a word is on most occasions. However it is indeed hard to define word, because some times two or more “words” may be combined, printed, and used as a single word.
Learning words in any second or foreign language program involves not only learning the meanings of the words, but also learning how these words are used appropriately in linguistic, sociolinguistic, and cultural contexts.
Words carry connotations which may be quite different from their literal meanings. The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, for example, uses several labels to indicate a particular attitude associated with the use of words: Approving, Derogatory, Euphemistic, Figurative, Formal, Informal, Ironic, Jocular, Offensive, Rhetorical, sexist, slang, and Taboo.
Meanings of words often become clearer when they are used in proper linguistic structures and in appropriate social contexts.
Some words from the native language of the ESL learner may look alike or share similar meanings in some contexts with corresponding English words. However, they may differ from each other in other more important contexts.
Learning words involves learning structures of the language. So, it is important that when a word is learned, students are encouraged to learn not only the words but their grammatical characteristics (usage).
QUESTIONS REGARDING VOCABULARY TEACHING
The questions which concern the TESOL teacher as regards teaching vocabulary are listed by Allen (1983:6):
- Which English words do students need most to learn?
- How can we make those words seem important to students?
- How can so many needed words be taught during the short time our students have for English?
- What can we do when a few members of the class already know words that the others need to learn?
- Why are some words easier than others to learn?
- Which aids to vocabulary teaching are available?
- How can we encourage students to take more responsibility for their own vocabulary learning?
- What are some good ways to find out how much vocabulary the students have actually learned?
CONTENT VS FUNCTION WORDS
To begin with, we need to distinguish between function and content words. Function words such as prepositions, are, and, is etc., in English are part of the grammar of the language. They are limited in number, and they express some relational features. The function words are learned early. They are used more frequently than the content words. Sentences are not composed without the function words.
Although content words in themselves have their own meanings, combinations of content words often require the use of function words. The meanings of function words are sometimes very hard to explain, but the students are often able to perceive the meanings of these function words, while having greater difficulty in actually using them. The beginning level textbooks try to explain the usage of function words through pictures with captions such as The cat is on the table, The basket is under the table, Jack and Jill, etc. It is easier in some sense to grasp the meaning as well as the usage of content words. Students will continue to have difficulty with the use of function words even when they are able to recognize their meanings.
SOME STRATEGIES TO TEACH CONTENT WORDS
A simple but a fairly frequent strategy adopted in the TESOL classroom is to introduce the students to the words for things and persons in the classroom. Their meanings are easily explained and understood by the students. These words refer to concrete objects and persons which the students can see, touch, and feel. In addition, learning the names of objects found in the immediate environment both within and without the classroom helps the students to meet some of their needs. In incremental stages words are introduced and explained.
There are several ways in which the meanings of words can be communicated and explained to the students. We may bring in the real object to the classroom and associate the object and the word. We may perform the actual action and associate the action with the word denoting it. We may show the relevant picture of the object or the event, etc., which communicates the meaning of the word. We can give explanations in the students’ own language. We can use the words in English already known to the students to give definitions in simple English.
It may be useful if the words are written on the board and then pronounced. Students will then associate the written form with the pronunciation of the word. Seeing the object or the picture or action, associating it with the written form while actually hearing the word pronounced all help the students to internalize the meaning as well as the form of the word.
Let them copy the words in their note books.
We can ask students to demonstrate the actions which the words mean, or go and touch the object referred to by the object. We can ask them to spell the words letter by letter. However, more needs to be done to help students actually use the words in a grammatically and contextually appropriate manner.
EXPERIENTIAL VOCABULARY TEACHING/LEARNING
In the classrooms where there is a greater emphasis on experiential learning, teachers may prefer to have the students first experience the meanings in some manner before the words for these meanings are given to them.
For example, students may be given a variety of fruits which naturally differ from each other in terms of color, shape, smell, and taste. Students feel and touch the fruits. Sometimes they may even taste the fruits. During and after this experience, words are introduced to refer to the fruits.
These teachers (who prefer an experiential mode of teaching and learning) suggest that we draw the attention of students to meanings before we drill the words.
As Raimes (1983) points out, it is important for us to remember “the ways in which people learn vocabulary outside of school.” We do not seek the words first. We experience something and then we ask for words to denote what we have experienced. Students learn those words better which they really need.
To get the students really use the words and not just recognize them and reveal their understanding of the words, we need to make them compose simple sentences using these words. Putting words in simple commands has been found highly useful by the teachers for this purpose. One student will give a command, and another will perform. The students will take turns and this gives them an opportunity to actually produce the words and use them in a conversation or communication setting.
Remember that from the beginning it is important for the students not only to know the meanings but also to use the words appropriately. The Total Physical Response method is very useful at this stage.
Using real objects and pictures of objects will help teaching the meaning of many non-action words. Parts of the body can be taught using the pictures and nursery rhymes. Again when commands are given to show the hand, leg, finger, etc., students begin to engage themselves in a conversational mode. They take turns in asking and answering questions.
While learning words for individual body parts, students learn also plurals and even possessive forms. In other words, we introduce words and their meanings while at the same time we teach the variations these undergo in certain grammatical contexts.
A choral drill of spelling for some words whose pronunciation differs radically from the written spelling is a good addition to the classroom exercises at this stage. Dictation may also be considered. Some teachers encourage their students to draw pictures for the word they have just learned. Puzzle-like tasks are given to identify the objects referred to by the word. Some use “fill in the blanks” technique to enable students to recall the spelling as well as the word.
WHAT WORDS TO TEACH?
How do we decide which words to include in our language teaching? Perhaps we should aim at teaching the most useful words for the learner, as well as the most frequently used words in English. However it is very difficult to strike a balance between the two.
Since frequency counts depend upon the topics of passages, etc., frequency count alone will not be of much use. Fortunately for us, scholars have come up with several lists of important and most useful content words as well as function words in English. These words are used in most TESOL textbooks. Most of the TESOL materials at the beginner’s level revolve around these identified words. Hence, if we could choose those textbooks which seem to match our interests and skills in teaching and the needs of our students, then we can follow the suggestions given in the textbook. That is, it may be a safe bet often to follow the order, arrangement, and presentation of words in a textbook, making improvisations wherever necessary.
Freeman Twaddell recommended that we should help develop vocabulary skills by encouraging them to guess the meaning of unfamiliar words. He also recommended that the teachers should tolerate some vagueness of meaning where precision is not absolutely needed.
Content words are innumerable and are used to meet the needs of the context. Addition to the lists of content words can always be made. On the other hand, the structure words are few and additions to these words are not permissible.
Students learn the structure words when they begin to use the content words in larger units in appropriate sentence and social contexts. Structure words are more frequently used, whereas the use of the content words will depend upon the frequency of the field in which it is used. Students add to the content word list as they are exposed to new environments.
ACTIVE AND PASSIVE VOCABULARY
Textbooks tend to introduce the basic English words in the beginning level of instruction. Basic vocabulary consists of all the vocabulary items that are found in daily use in listening, speaking, reading, and writing contexts of the native speakers of English. It excludes all the items not found in the every day language activity. Thus the most frequent words that occur in the daily language activities are the basic vocabulary of English. Moreover it is generally assumed that the basic vocabulary consists only of the root words and not their derivatives.
A distinction is often made between active and passive vocabulary used by the native speakers of English. The TESOL teachers as well as the textbook writers make use of this distinction in classroom practice and in writing lessons and exercises.
The active vocabulary is defined as the number of words we actually use. The passive vocabulary refers to the larger number of vocabulary we are able to understand, but use only rarely. Scholars have defined the active vocabulary as the one which is learned very intensively with respect to form, meaning and use in such a way that the learner will be able to use it in all the listening, speaking, reading, and writing activity.
In contrast, the passive vocabulary is the one which is understood by the students in a spoken or written context but the student cannot reproduce the same on his own. Some words will be taught as active vocabulary, and some others will be treated only as passive vocabulary.
Recognition vocabulary is defined as the one which is recognized or identified in listening or reading responses. The reproduction vocabulary is identified either in actual spoken or written responses.
Teachers may or may not make much of these distinctions. They may give the meanings for all the words they are about to introduce. However, the distinction between active and passive vocabulary is bound to be established sooner or later in the speech habits of the student. So, in order to use the class time efficiently and economically to the best advantage of the learner, teachers would do well if they give more exercises for the use of the “active” vocabulary.
The teacher presents a lesson, making use of a situation appropriate to the course design and to the particular group of students. She introduces the vocabulary in meaningful contexts, but leaves the students to make their own active/passive choices through her focus or lack of focus on particular words. “The words in a student’s passive vocabulary, when the need for them arises, will move into the active vocabulary. We might also expect some movement from the active to the passive, as students learn more words and don’t consistently review older ones” (Bowen et al. 1985).
USE THE WORDS FOR COMMUNICATION
“Understanding, hearing, and seeing a word are only first steps toward knowing it. Those first steps should be followed by activities that require students to use the new words for communication. ... the emphasis has been on experiences which require students to use English words for communication. ... the new words are used for making something happen. (An action is performed, or a picture is drawn, according to directions that are given in English.) In other activities, English is used for giving and receiving information. For instance, students find out, by using English, what a classmate is doing or they guess which pictures a classmate has drawn. The instructional value of such activities is this: when someone has to accomplish something which can be done only by using certain words, those words will be learned” (Allen 1983:42).
It is useful to collect pictures which may be displayed in the classroom. Collect and group these pictures showing kinds of animals, vehicles, vegetables, furniture, buildings, occupations, etc. Write below the names of these objects/events/actions. Give the words to students and ask them collect pictures for the words.
Remember that words are learned not only through a formal introduction in a lesson in the classroom but also through reading and conversations/interactions with the native speakers as well as other users of English as a second/foreign language. The lessons given to students for extensive reading should use simple structures and use only those words already known to the learners. A few words, however, may be introduced here and there without affecting the comprehension of the text. Some have suggested that one or two new words out of one hundred words would be a good proportion.
USE THE WORDS APPROPRIATELY
Teachers have recognized the fact that communicating the meaning of a new word is different from learning it to use appropriately. To establish the words in the learner, it is important to repeat the newly introduced words in as many contexts as possible within the classroom, the textbook, and the exercises.
Nation (1994:vi) suggests repetition in several ways: “by setting aside class time for revision, for example reviewing learners’ vocabulary notebooks, by periodically and systematically testing previously met vocabulary and following up on the results and by planning the recycling of previously met vocabulary through pair and group activities.”
Using the newly introduced vocabulary in various contexts will help answer questions such as “As what part of speech can it function? What range of meanings can it have? What is its core meaning? What prefixes and suffixes can it take? With what other words does it collocate? What grammatical patterns does it fit into? What particular positive and negative associations does it have? Is it a frequently word or an infrequently used word?” (Nation 1994:viii). Many other questions concerning the sociolinguistic appropriateness of the use of the words will also get clarified.
Lexical study should include the pieces that make up words: prefixes, suffixes, stems, inflectional patterns, derivational patterns, enough information for the student to be able to associate the im- of “improbable” or the ir- of “irregular” with the in- of “inadequate” word families (sign, design, signature, assign, designate, etc.).
HOW TO ACQUIRE MORE WORDS?
One way to learn the meaning of unfamiliar words is to observe how they are used and make intelligent guesses. Over time the guesses are refined and the meaning comes to be specific. As Nation (1994:viii) points out, “in addition to learning new vocabulary, learners need to be able to use strategies to cope with unknown vocabulary met in listening or reading texts, to make up for gaps in productive vocabulary in speaking and writing, to gain fluency in using known vocabulary, and to learn new words in isolation.”
Another good way is to ask about one’s surroundings, requesting from friends and acquaintances identifications and definitions.
Quite a few exercise types are found in the commercial textbooks aimed at teaching English as a second or foreign language, which help us to teach and learn words in a graded manner.
Carefully go through these exercises found in series such as Hello English and Success English. Use these exercises every day in your classroom.
SOME VOCABULARY EXERCISES
Consider the following as additional exercises. These are taken from Bowen et al. (1985):
- Pick out things you see around you, and ask what they are, what they are called, what they are used for, etc. This helps direct vocabulary building. Preferably things you don’t know or don’t recognize.
- Phrasal Verbs: Listen carefully to each sentence. Then paraphrase the sentence by substituting an appropriate phrasal verb for the single verb (or vice versa). (He arose 10 minutes later: He got up 10 minutes later; He ascended to the second floor: He went up to the second floor).
- Picture-cued responses: Describe the activities pictured in the following drawings.
- Noun compounds and noun phrases: From the clue you will be given, produce an appropriate response that distinguishes a compound from a phrase (a store that sells toys: a toy store; a box to keep firewood in: the wood box; a pin to hold your necktie: a tie pin; a toy in the form of a store: a toy store).
- Shortened forms: Your teacher will set up a sentence frame, then will suggest a substitute for the first word. When called on, produce the sentence as modified by the substitution.
- Literal acronyms: Pronounce the acronyms by giving the names of the letters that make each up. Then finish the sentence by giving the equivalent full form.
- Nicknames: As your teacher presents a series of names, make statements following the pattern given.
VOCABULARY IN WRITTEN LANGUAGE
Vocabulary teaching is a very important step. Even as we focus on the mastery of language skills and grammar, adequate attention must be paid to the mastery of words in English.
Words are learned in many ways. Reading is an important means to learn new words. Is there any one best approach for teaching vocabulary in English? No.
SOME WAYS TO LEARN AND TEACH VOCABULARY
Bowen et al. (1985) suggest the following:
- Glossaries and Dictionaries.
- Use of the Thesaurus.
- The practice of penciling a small dot in front of an entry every time it is looked up.
- The idea of a vocabulary notebook. List the interesting words in a notebook where it will be convenient to review them from time to time.
- One widely acknowledged way to build vocabulary is through an understanding and application of word formation processes.
- Learning the Synonyms and the nuances that distinguish the synonyms.
- Interpretation of words that are very similar in appearance.
- Structure Vs Content vocabulary
- Collocations Lists of words. Examples: Measurement vocabulary, color terms, converse form of verbs, semantic associations (homonyms, homographs (pairs of words with the same spelling, but with different pronunciations and meanings), relative generality-specificity of words with overlapping meanings, antonyms.
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MAINTAINING THE ATTENTION OF STUDENTS
Is there any one who doesn’t like to listen to or read stories?
It is possible that many TESOL students may or may not have any interest at all in English literature. They may come to a TESOL class simply to learn the language to meet practical ends.
At the same time, many students are able to hold their attention and progress further in learning another language only if the materials they are exposed to are interesting, not just meet their practical ends. Literature plays a crucial part in maintaining the interest of the students. Use of short stories, short novels, and plays helps maintain the interest of the students in learning the language. Teaching a short poem or a nursery rhyme helps enliven the atmosphere. When a nursery rhyme is acted out, the entire class enjoys the performance, and learns some intonation patterns not easily mastered otherwise.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SOCIETY AND ITS VALUES
Through the short stories, plays, and novels, which often try to portray the society in some realistic way, students have a glimpse of the culture of the native speakers of English. The conversations give them the nuances used by the native speakers of English in performing various roles in the society. They learn the social etiquette and the words, sentences, tone, and tenor which go with the etiquette.
Through the study of literature, the second/foreign language learner of English is introduced to the historical as well as the current culture of the English speaking peoples. With the culture, they also come to study and understand the world view of the native speakers. No language makes sense to its learner without some understanding of the world view it represents.
English speaking peoples do have a unique history, even though aspects of this history may be shared by the Europeans in general. The industrial revolution in Britain inaugurated the industrial revolution throughout the world. The evolution and progress of modern democratic institutions owe a lot to British history and traditions. Anglo-Saxon jurisprudence plays its unique role all over the world. University and other professional institutions of education have been established in most of the Third World countries through the efforts of the English speaking peoples. The Anglo-American alliance continues to be a great blessing for peace and prosperity.
True, the British and American dominion have been criticized by many for their alleged self-serving interests. And yet the balance is in favor of English education in the Third World countries. Students in the Third World countries (some of which may have been closed for Christian missionary work) flock to the TESOL classes in large numbers fully knowing that English does represent a culture and a religion which may militate against their own.
The morals and ethics represented by the English diction owe their origin largely to Christian morals and ethics with universal appeal. These universally applicable moral and ethical concerns are easily conveyed, raised, and impressed in the minds of the learners through English literature, even as they enjoy reading and listening to the stories. Movies further accentuate these concerns.
Our goal is not the teaching of English literature, but teaching and improving English already acquired by the TESOL learners. Through a careful selection of literary pieces which match the learner’s difficulty level, self-learning of English is greatly accelerated.
DIVERSITY AND VARIED USE OF LITERARY MATERIALS
It is important for us to recognize that “the English language is no longer the preserve of a few nations, but is now used globally” (Lazar 1993:5). This means that quality literary products by the non-native writers of English from other countries as well as the translation of masterpieces in the native literature of the TESOL learners may have to be included as part of our course materials.
Use of literature in language teaching helps improve the knowledge of English in many ways. Literary pieces are susceptible to multiple level of interpretation. In a literary work, content is communicated in many novel ways, with metaphors and multiple meanings, sarcasm, cynicism, etc. The intent of the message is hidden and needs to be unraveled by the individual readers. The writers use the words in some unique manner to create novel meanings and expressions.
These and many other characteristics of literary pieces help the TESOL learner to improve his skill in understanding and using English effectively, since they will be confronted with similar characteristics even in their day to day conversations.
Students master new sentence and phrasal patterns through reading literary works. They learn to use familiar words in new contexts with new meanings.
STUDY VS USE OF LITERATURE
Whether literate or illiterate, sophisticated or not, all of us have an inherent ability to understand the basic story-telling conventions. This helps us enjoy literature and appreciate the meaning it conveys. It is this implicit competence that we try to take advantage of in using literature to teach language. Students get absorbed in the story, and the language (sentences, sentence and phrasal patterns, and words) is understood and mastered without much effort in the process.
However, we need to distinguish between the study of literature per se and the use of literature as a resource for language teaching.
Our goal is not teaching literature. Our goal is teaching language. We intend to use literature to teach language.
The most important function of using literature in a TESOL class is its motivating role for performance within the classroom. Study of literary pieces provides opportunities to the class to reflect on the events and characters, share the opinions of the readers, and get them involved in discussions.
Introduction to the cultural background is another important function.
A SUBSTITUTE FOR FACE TO FACE COMMUNICATION
Study of literature helps language acquisition in another peculiar way: The students in Third World countries have only a limited access to spoken English. Face to face communication with the native speakers is a rarity. Under this circumstance, students can have continued touch with English mostly through the written English. If this written English is motivating, interesting and instructive, students will come back to use English day after day.
SELECTION OF MATERIALS
We need to select materials which match the interests of our students. Often the textbooks used to teach English as a second or foreign language in the Third World countries contain stories, dramas and poems. Some of these, especially stories and dramas, may be from the same cultural and literary background of the learners. These texts may not pose cultural problems for students. They are certain to pose problems for the TESOL teacher!
Classical British and American texts (novels, plays, etc.) abridged and re-told would be an excellent addition to TESOL textbooks.
English is an international language. Many talented creative writers from the former colonies of Britain and the countries which have been traditionally close to the United States, have chosen to express themselves in English.
In addition, there is an excellent body of literature from other languages in English translation. It is possible to supplement our TESOL textbook with materials taken from all the above four categories.
Lazar (1993:62) points out that “although students may find it easier to respond personally to a text from within their own culture, there is a strong argument for saying that exposing students to literature from other cultures is an enriching and exciting way of increasing their awareness of different values, beliefs, social structures and so on.” You may have to edit these pieces to bring some native-English naturalness to the texts. You may have to edit the material for its difficulty level and length as well.
In general, the following factors are always recommended for consideration while selecting the text (Lazar 1993):
“The students’ cultural background, linguistic proficiency, literary background, availability of texts (kinds and ease with which these are available), length of text (Do you have enough time available to work on the text in class? How much time do students have to work on the text at home? Could you use only part of a text, or an abridged version of it? If so, how much background information will you need to give students to make the text intelligible?), exploitability (What kinds of tasks and activities can you devise to exploit the text? Are there resources available to help you exploit the text, for example, a film or a particular novel the students are studying, recordings of a play or poem, library materials giving information about the life of an author, etc.), fit with syllabus (How do the texts link with the rest of the syllabus? Thematically? In terms of vocabulary, grammar or discourse? Can you devise tasks and activities for exploiting the text which link with the methodology you have used elsewhere in the syllabus?).”
Remember that our goal is not teaching literature. Our goal is to use literature to teach language. Literary pieces can be easily integrated with the syllabus for the course. At the lower level, stories are part of the textbook. The story lesson may be “taught” following the usual steps, with focus on vocabulary and sentence structure. Students may be given tasks to paraphrase the story in their own words and manner. They can “listen” to the story, they can tell the story orally, they can “read” it aloud to others, or read it silently, they can rewrite the story in their own words, they can play with the words and find the meanings for the crucial words and use them in their own sentences.
They may try to identify the technique of narration, and adopt the same to write their own stories. They can identify the conversational strategies the characters in the story have employed, and try to use the same in conversations with their fellow students in the class. They can enact the story as a team and learn to behave like the characters.
There is no limit to the kinds of activities which could be developed based on the story in the textbook. All language skills are covered in teaching the story in the class.
There is no better material than literary pieces for reading assignments outside the class. Quite a few abridged and re-told materials are available which could be assigned for reading outside the class. Short story collections and short novels are more useful than full length fiction. Ask the students to pencil those words, phrases, and idioms which are unfamiliar to them. Let them check with a second language learner’s dictionary such as Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English not only for their meanings but also for their usage. Let them write a brief report or gist of the story to confirm that they have indeed read the book. Have a brief discussion in the class about the reading assignment.
Lazar (1993) suggests three types of activities: Pre-reading activities, While-reading activities, and Post-reading activities.
If you are good in reciting poetry with passion, then you should give your students a taste of what English poems are. If your students show great talents in appropriate recitation with passion, then have several poetry reading sessions.
Poems also help teaching language. Students need to make deci-sions about the correct order of the lines, decipher the metaphor and other poetic devices used by the poet, and convert them to the ordinary language syntax. Comprehension of meaning of a poem is more intricate than the comprehension of an ordinary text, either in story form or in business correspondence, etc.
As Lazar (1993) points out, poems are marked by unusual syntax, rich in words coined by the poet, reinforcing the students’ knowledge of the norms of language use, and the manner in which they can be adapted to achieve different communicative purposes. Integrating poetry into the syllabus provides for an enjoyable way of reinforcing and revisiting contents, enabling students to make confident interpretations, understand figurative meanings, and nuances of creative literature in English.
Poems may have only a limited role to play in teaching language in a TESOL classroom. However, the textbooks prepared and used in the Third World countries correctly look at teaching languages as a means for comprehensive education. They always give an important place to poetry in their syllabus. So, some training in teaching poetry is not out of place for the TESOL teacher.
I would encourage you to be proficient in reciting and performing a number of nursery rhymes, as well as the poems written by poets such as Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost, and the reputed Indian poets.
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SPECIAL NEEDS OF CHILDREN
This course is written and taught to help you to teach English as a second or foreign language to adult learners. However, there will be plenty of occasions during which you will be called upon to teach English to children. Most of what we have learned so far can be used to teach English to children, with suitable modification to meet the special needs of children. These special needs become the focus of our discussion in this chapter.
Children learn English as a second or foreign language much faster than the adults. They imitate the teacher’s pronunciation, sentences, phrases, and words more easily. They do not ask for explicit rules which explain how sentences are put together, produced, and pronounced. They may ask for the meanings of words, but they are able to intuitively identify salient features of the meanings of a word and use the word more or less correctly.
An important prerequisite for effective learning and retention appears to be that instruction should be activity-based, rather than explanation- or theory-oriented. And the activities should be of an engaging nature. The teacher should be pleasant and sweet-natured, able to communicate at the level of the children. She should not be a terror! Use of audio-visuals is more important than the printed text. Theprinted text should be colorful, full of pictures, and should have only few language elements such as words, phrases, and sentences.
Language learning should be encouraged in all the classes and in all the environments. Children have a natural curiosity to investigate the environment in greater detail. When they go to the bazaar, the see a lot of signboards and they start reading the same. They start reading the road signs with great interest. The teacher can create a bazaar inside the classroom for reading and conversation purposes. Pretend situations are greatly enjoyed by children, and they do actively participate in such games.
Children are interested in group activities. Devise group work which would require use of words and sentences for communication among members of the group. Devise group work which aim at accomplishing some language-related task such as language games.
If the textbook lessons are not activity-based, you should be able to convert the lessons in such a way that there are abundant activities built into the teaching of the lesson. Conventional textbooks provide for some activities as part of the exercises.
An activity-based lesson centers around the activity to teach the language. Children are given some words and some simple sentences. They are asked to perform a task as a group, conversing with each other. They will use the words and sentences, some in full and most of the time in abbreviated form to communicate with one another. They may use many gestures while performing the task. Ultimately they would achieve what they set out to achieve. They would complete the task and would be greatly involved in doing the task. In this process children are introduced to the use of English in natural communicative contexts.
“This language is meaningful and understandable, because the activities are meaningful and understandable. Children are taught in English; children are not introduced to English language in an artificially pre-determined sequence of grammatical structures or functions; the input from the teacher, and their learning about their world, is in English” (Vale and Feunteun 1995).
ORIENTATION TO TEACH ENGLISH
Vale and Feunteun (1995) suggest the following orientation when we teach English to children:- build confidence;
- provide the motivation to learn English;
- encourage ownership of language;
- encourage children to communicate with whatever language they have at their disposal (mime, gesture, key word, drawings, etc.);
- encourage children to treat English as a communication tool not as an end product;
- show children that English is fun;
- establish a trusting relationship with the children, and encouraging them to do the same with their classmates;
- give children an experience of a wide range of English language in a non-threatening environment.
Physical activities help in learning the words and sentences. An acitvity-based approach is always better than mere classroom teaching mode with repetition, imitation drills, etc.
EMPHASIZE FLUENCY, NOT CORRECTNESS
Remember that children are in for a long haul. They will have several years of English. If the fundamentals of motivation, fluency and correct pronunciation are built in a steady manner without overemphasizing correctness of speech at the entry level, and if the teachers themselves have a good command of English with model setting pronunciation capabilities, children will learn English better and faster.
Nursery rhymes and songs acted out help children to internalize some words and sentences. Use nursery rhymes and songs for testing their knowledge and command of English. Use English all the time in the class. However, do not refuse to give brief explanations in the native language of children. But such explanations should have the focus on strengthening the use of English, not the mastery of translation from one language into another. Do not use the native language to elicit English responses. Use objects and actions instead.
Keep the corrections to the minimum. But you can ask children to repeat an utterance several times so that some approximation to your pronunciation will be encouraged.
Do not focus on the quantum of words, phrases and sentences to be mastered. Focus on developing an ability to communicate in contexts meaningful to the children.
Comics appropriate to children may be used. Children will see the pictures, listen to your reading, and will reproduce in their own language the utterances of the characters in the book as much as they can.
Let the children act out the story. This will develop their listening and speaking skills.
Reading and writing will take deliberate effort on the part of the students. Reading and writing should be less in quantum than speaking and listening in English classes for children.
Quite a few materials in print, audio and video are available in the market which aim at teaching English script, spelling, reading, and writing. Select those which match your children’s needs and mastery level. Use these in the order suggested by the book. Add to the exercises in an innovative and interesting manner.
Children learn English effortlessly, but the teacher needs to be well prepared!
Ask for the catalogues of textbooks for children from the leading publishers! Collect stories from the children’s native language and tell these stories in simple English to them.
Class activities should center around and cover all language skills. However, the extent to which the reading and writing will be covered in a children’s class will depend upon the proficiency so far attained. Children, like adults, have some difficulty in mastering the reading and writing skills. Do not accelerate the pace of learning in these skills.
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TEST PERFORMANCE, NOT KNOWLEDGE
Tests in the TESOL class are performance tests. We do not aim at testing the students’s knowledge of English grammar. We would like to test how students produce, understand, and use English in communicative contexts. We are not interested in testing how well the students remember the facts about English language. We are interested in testing how well the students actually use English in communicative contexts.
KINDS OF TESTS
Achievement tests test the progress the students have made in reference to particular lessons. Students’ level of achievement in terms of the structures and words taught through a lesson or a specific number of lessons is the focus of achievements tests. The drills and exercises given in a lesson gauge the progress of students even as these help him to understand, master, and use the content, structures, and words given in the lesson.
Proficiency tests, on the other hand, focus on the overall mastery of the students in English irrespective of the lesson. It may be described as a cumulative test, taking into account all the structures and words that a student may have been exposed to so far: a sort of final exam, a comprehensive exam.
PRODUCTIVE AND RECEPTIVE TESTS
TESOL tests may be of a productive nature where students are asked to produce - speak, read aloud, write - utterances, or perform tasks. These may be of a receptive nature where students are asked to read silently and answer multiple choice questions, which demand correct recognition rather than the production of the answer. More often than not, most well-prepared and widely-used TESOL tests are in the form of answering multiple choice questions.
Vocabulary tests are of several kinds. Beginner’s vocabulary skill is tested through questions which expect a yes or no answer, or by asking them to perform a simple task. In multiple choice questions, “a sentence with a missing word is presented; students choose one of four vocabulary items given to complete the sentence. A third type, multiple choice paraphrase, is a test in which a sentence with one word underlined is given. Students choose which of four words is the closest in meaning to the underlined item. A fourth kind of test, simple completion (words), has students write in the missing part of words that appear in sentences” (Madsen 1983:12).
Synonyms and antonyms may also be elicited. Testing the knowledge and use of subtle shades of meanings reflected in words somewhat synonymous is another useful test. Asking the students to use words in appropriate sentences is another exercise which has been traditionally used in language textbooks.
Limited response questions which ask students to perform certain tasks, multiple choice completion, simple completion of sentences, and cloze test are some of the test forms used in the grammar section. The grammatical structures offer an endless list of test items. We have listed a variety of exercises in the earlier chapters of this book. These exercise models can be used to test the students’ mastery of structures.
Pronunciation tests focus on effective communication, not on perfect pronunciation. Pronunciation of individual sounds, phrases, or sentences is not any more highlighted. “One reason for this view is that even after much training, very few adolescents or adults ever achieve perfect pronunciation in their second language” (Madsen 1983:57). Oral repetition, multiple choice hearing identification, reading aloud, simple dialogues, and simple narrations are very useful forms to test the pronunciation skill.
Reading tests range from reading aloud to reading comprehension. Students in the beginning levels need to be tested as to their ability to “read” the words, phrases, and sentences with appropriate pronunciation and sentence melody. This requires the mastery of the letter-sound correspondence and other phonological rules such as vowel reduction, placement of stress, and use of appropriate syllabic pauses. The exercises we have dealt with in our chapter on reading will be found highly useful here.
Reading comprehension, reading speed, and skimming techniques are other items of importance to be covered in reading tests.
Sentence combining, sentence expansion, sentence reduction, copying, and dictation are often used in the beginning level tests in writing. Guided writing and changing the passage are also popular test forms.
Picture cues have been found very effective in testing listening skill. Again we have given a number of exercises in our chapter on listening which can be profitably used to test the progress and proficiency in the listening skill.
You should test your students only in forms that are familiar to them. Do not introduce new test forms during testing. However, you may combine several situations already familiar to your students and create new ones from out of the familiar contexts. Do not introduce new vocabulary or idioms or new structures in your tests. Keep your tests brief and focused upon specific language skills.
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