I find that pronunciation is an ideal subject to teach if one wants to motivate their students. I have always felt a strong sense of achievement when native speakers praised me for my pronunciation (which I had mostly picked up from watching english
TV shows and playing videogames when I was younger). I am certain that most students of english
also feel this way. In this essay, I shall write about the problems with english
pronunciation I have encountered in china
One part of the problem is that the knowledge of most chinese english teacher
s is somewhat lacking. Many of my classes consisted of young children
, who only had a year or two of english
learning behind them at most. They had generally been taught by chinese teacher
s before, which very often meant that their dodgy grammar, use of vocabulary (e.g. instead of saying “I have a cold”, they said “I have a big cold.”, using the word “big” as an epitheton ornans, they were taught that it was forbidden to omit) and pronunciation had gone uncorrected. There is an emphasis on drilling exercises, but the chinese teacher
s spend little effort to actually try to explain the basics of grammar and pronunciation to the students. When I decided to hold an advanced phonology class to the teacher
's assistants (all three of whom majored in english
and language teaching at university), many of the pieces fell into place for them just then. It became apparent that not even in university are such important aspects of the language touched upon. Obviously, the children
do not need to be taught this, but it is very helpful if the teacher
actually knows why the pronunciation of a word works the way it does.
The other reason english
pronunciation is problematic for chinese
students is that english
has virtually nothing in common with chinese
. The phonetic elements are very different from each other; chinese
speakers have difficulties with distinguishing certain sounds and pronouncing some others.
Another problem is that the smallest units of the chinese
language already carry some meaning and they are all unique in writing. (The reading and writing is obviously also taught differently.) english
words, however, are constituted by phonemes (and letters) which do not carry any meaning on their own. It is very confusing for a chinese
person to see that every word of the language is built from the same 26 letters, and lacking a logical explanation, they find it harrowing that these letters are pronounced differently (the letter C is pronounced as /s/ in some cases and /k/ in others in english
, for example, whereas in pinyin, they are taught pronounce it /tsh/; pinyin can be yet another source of confusion, actually).
This is where the two major problems become one. Instead of trying to understand the rules of the pronunciation (and many other aspects of the language), and then make them understood, most teacher
s merely dump an unholy amount of vocabulary on the students which they then drill ad nauseum. This is not a very enjoyable way to learn a language. (I would hesitate to call it language learning, actually.)
However, these problems can be fixed with enough patience (and with substantial knowledge!). children
are very curious by nature, and once they are motivated to learn, they will try hard to understand why the language behaves the way it does. If one can use enough visual aids and simple enough language, the kids
can slowly pick up on the basics and end up figuring things out on their own. Most adults I've had one-to-one classes with were able to understand the rules much faster, and they immediately became interested in learning more, because they came to understand that if they keep certain rules in mind, they don't have to learn the pronunciation of every word they come across by heart, they merely have to apply
what they already know (that is, learn more with less work). In time, this process may become instinctive.