Teaching English Pronunciation at the Secondary School Level

by Karolina Janczukowicz (Author)
©2014 Monographs 156 Pages
Series: Gdańsk Studies in Language, Volume 1


This book aims to aid English teachers at the junior and senior secondary school levels in teaching pronunciation within a regular EFL syllabus. It presents such a way of incorporating the phonetic and lexical components so as to facilitate students’ acquisition of a standard phonetic system and to prevent them from forming habitual mistakes in individual words. It highlights key areas of the English phonetic system and provides examples of strategies how to use a course-book for the sake of teaching pronunciation. The discussion of teaching the phonetic system relies on the comparison between its conscious and unconscious acquisition. Teaching individual vocabulary items (especially reversing habitual mispronunciations) is analysed through contrasting mental and behavioural learning.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 0.1. Communicative efficiency
  • 0.2. Phonetic vs. phonemic transcription
  • 0.3. The phonetic system of English vs. the phonetic systems of other selected European languages
  • 0.4. Standard English vs. native English
  • 1. Phonetic transcription in the classroom
  • 1.1. The relevance of introducing phonetic transcription into the syllabus
  • 1.2. Strategies of incorporating phonetic transcription in the lesson
  • 1.3. Conventions of transcription
  • 1.3.1. Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language
  • 1.3.2. Transcriptions using IPA
  • 1.3.3. The suggested convention to be used in the classroom
  • 2. Teaching the phonetic system
  • 2.1. Areas of English pronunciation important for foreign learners
  • 2.1.1. The sounds
  • 2.1.2. Stress
  • 2.1.3. Sound to spelling relationship
  • 2.2. Ways of teaching the phonetic system
  • 2.2.1. Conscious vs. unconscious learning
  • 2.2.2. Conscious learning
  • 2.2.3. Unconscious learning
  • 2.2.4. Conclusions
  • 2.3. Using course-book materials in order to teach the phonetic system
  • 2.3.1. Viewpoints
  • 2.3.2. Opportunities – Upper Intermediate
  • 2.3.3. ForMat Magazine
  • 2.3.4. New Headway Intermediate
  • 2.3.5. Beyond Words
  • 2.3.6. Final remarks
  • 3. Introducing individual vocabulary items
  • 3.1. Introducing new vocabulary items
  • 3.2. Dealing with items learnt wrongly
  • 3.2.1. The criteria determining difficulty in changing a wrong pronunciation
  • 3.2.2. The degree to which the mistaken pronunciation has become automatic
  • 3.2.3. Habit-formation mechanisms: Mental learning vs. behavioural learning
  • 3.2.4. Reversing a wrong habit
  • 3.2.5. Concluding remarks
  • 4. Beyond communicative efficiency
  • 4.1. Public Speaking
  • 4.2. Theatre in English
  • 4.2.1. The extracurricular nature of participating in the play
  • 4.2.2. The script
  • 4.2.3. Approximating to a professional theatrical production
  • 4.2.4. Theatre in English as a teaching tool
  • 4.3. Concluding remarks
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Author Index
  • Index of Subjects
  • Appendix 1 A student’s speech: “The reflection of our souls”
  • Appendix 2 Fragments of theatre plays
  • Play 1: Arms and the Man by G. B. Shaw
  • Play 2: She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith
  • Play 3: As You Like It by William Shakespeare
  • Play 4: After Magritte by Tom Stoppard
  • Series Index

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The status of the English language as lingua franca is currently unquestionable. The economic and political changes mostly reinforce rather than undermine it. The importance of English as a school subject in secondary schools reflects the same attitude. On the one hand, the growing demand for English and the increasing number of its practical uses have largely contributed to the importance that is placed in teaching on the communicative skills, which nowadays are frequently perceived as a major if not the only reflection of a person’s command of English. On the other hand, however, understanding English or any other language taught as a second language not only as a set of the four communicative skills (speaking, writing, listening and reading comprehension), but also as an abstract system, as a code in which such components as the lexicon, grammar, phonology, semantics and pragmatics play a crucial role, belongs more and more to the domain of linguists and not teachers. The concern to enable students to make practical use of their knowledge of English is so strong that more and more often the question of what this knowledge consists of is forgotten or disregarded. Vocabulary less so, but grammar and pronunciation tend to be treated as a necessary evil which must be known but had better be avoided in teaching.

This attitude is frequently reflected in the way the information about grammar and pronunciation is included in school books, grammar often being set apart from the main text in different colour or as an appendix at the end of the book, while pronunciation – as an independent aspect – is sometimes not included at all. If it is mentioned, it may be placed in so-called “pronunciation boxes”. This treatment is far from exhaustive or systematic. Problems presented there are mostly selected at random, with very little explanation and virtually no exercises or tasks aimed at practicing them.

Given this treatment of the phonological aspect of English, the conclusion must be that there exists a serious gap in contemporary course-books and most European secondary school programmes with respect to pronunciation. Teachers must make up for this deficiency on their own, using alternative course-books designed specifically for teaching pronunciation, but that is often not done systematically for fear that it might happen at the expense of the “serious” material. Alternatively, the teacher goes in the opposite direction and devotes much time to pronunciation, but that might happen at the expense of other important aspects of English. ← 7 | 8 →

The overall aim of this book is to present a proposal for teaching pronunciation at the secondary school level in such a way that it would not interfere with the regular work and the school book, but at the same time would provide students with sufficient knowledge of pronunciation to cope with the communicative demands placed on the students at the point of completion of their secondary school education. The project is not prepared with any particular school book in mind but rather is to be applied to any contemporary course, and used with it. Examples of particular solutions (in Chapters 2 and 3) are only suggestions as to what may be done with respect to a certain problem, and not the only possible way to do it.

Although many problems that are discussed here are directed towards secondary school teachers, at both junior and senior level, anyone interested in the problem of teaching pronunciation of English as a second language will find it useful. However, those teachers who deal with students younger than the junior level of the secondary school may find those aspects of greatest use that tackle the unconscious acquisition of the phonetic system (section 2.2.3), while teachers of adult learners might find the discussion of conscious acquisition (section 2.2.2) most relevant.

Furthermore, the generalizations concerning clashes between two phonetic systems, i.e. English and any native language out of those spoken in Europe, have been made relying on phonetic course-books designed for learners of English as a second language (e.g. O’Connor and Fletcher 1989) and on the comparisons between phonetic descriptions of such languages as French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian and Polish (Fougeron and Smith 1993, Mangold 2005, Martinez-Cedran et al 2003, Rogers and d’Arcangeli 2004, Jones and Ward 1969, Wiśniewski 2001). One comment must be made here; namely that from the practical perspective there exist certain similarities between particular groups of languages from the point of view of the acquisition of the phonetic system of English. That is why Scandinavian languages are most often referred to as a group, even though their phonetic systems are not the same. Likewise, most claims connected with the sound patterns and devoicing can relate to most Slavonic languages. However, stress placement within a word, an aspect very important from the point of view of learning English pronunciation, differs largely between various Slavonic languages, that is why, in many instances a more specific reference will be made to particular Slavonic languages (most often Polish or Russian) while Scandinavian languages are mostly treated as a group.

The whole work presents three domains: the question of phonetic transcription, teaching the phonetic system, and teaching the pronunciation of individual words. Before we concentrate on these issues, however, certain notions and areas of interest on which the discussion will largely depend must be presented and explained. ← 8 | 9 → These are communicative efficiency, phonetic vs. phonemic transcription and standard English vs. native English.

0.1. Communicative efficiency

The exact understanding of the notion of communicative efficiency is vital for two reasons: first of all, the contemporary requirements which are placed on learners of English largely depend on it. The criterion whether a speaker has managed to communicate a message successfully recurs in education standards, such as the Common European Framework as well as the international Cambridge examinations at various levels. Secondly, there are sound reasons, explored below, that the overall goal at which the teachers of English should aim when teaching pronunciation should be communicative efficiency.

The definition of communicative efficiency provided by Hawkins (2004) states that Communication is efficient when the message (M) intended by the speaker (S) is calibrated to the hearer’s (H) mental model in such a way as to achieve accurate comprehension of M with rapid speed and the least processing effort compatible with H’s mental model.

Hawkins adds that in particular situations individual hearers might make the processing effort in different degrees. That is an important comment as it presents the notion of communicative efficiency as a gradable concept which does not reflect any definite level of English but rather places emphasis on “accurate comprehension” of the listener achieved with relatively little difficulty on the part of the speaker.

The definition was created with communicative skills, especially speaking, in mind. In this study, however, it will be used as the main criterion in assessing students’ pronunciation, since given a wide variety of possible ranges that can be expected and assessed at the point of their graduation from secondary school, they can hardly be expected to represent a level where the main criterion is “native-like” quality with respect to individual sounds or overall rhythm and intonation. Therefore, the question whether a student’s pronunciation creates in the mind of the hearer the exact image of the utterance, or hampers his or her comprehension in any way, will be the deciding factor in calling such pronunciation correct or not.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
Transkiption Spracherwerb Aussprache Phonetik
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 156 pp., 4 tables

Biographical notes

Karolina Janczukowicz (Author)

Karolina Janczukowicz is an Assistant Professor at the University of Gdańsk (Poland) in the Institute of English and American Studies. Her professional experience includes teaching literature and ELT methodology as well as directing amateur theatrical performances. Her particular interest concerns teaching pronunciation to secondary school students. This book is the result of her observations following both, the practical experience and academic research.


Title: Teaching English Pronunciation at the Secondary School Level
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160 pages