An investigation into Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School students’ difficulties in learning English pronunciation

Nowadays, the development of science, technology and economy and the tendency of globalization have brought about a great demand of intercommunicating. In order to meet this demand, English has become an international language and a very important and compulsory subjects at schools. As a result, teaching English has become a compulsory subject at schools for many years. And nowadays, it has become more important because in the past, students had to learn English, but they did not have to take English exams in Secondary School Graduation exams. However nowadays, students have to take them. In traditional teaching, students were required to acquire English grammar nowadays they are required to acquired various skills and language items including English grammar, English vocabulary and English pronunciation. In the light of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), students are required not only to have good knowledge of vocabulary and eligible grammar, the four language skills but also correct pronunciation. Accurate pronunciation is a must in English learning for students. Therefore, learning English pronunciation is of great importance to students, even for their exams. In addition, this will help them to have a good job in their future and enable them to communicate with foreigners successfully if they have a chance and the need. Despite realizing this importance, Vietnamese students still can not acquire correct English pronunciation. The main reason is that the traditional teaching laid the emphasis on grammar has led to this problem. Many students can not pronounce English words and sentences correctly. They often pronounce them with equal stress, flat intonation and no rhythm at all. English pronunciation seems has become the most serious problem that students meet when they learn English. This is happening at almost upper secondary schools in Vietnam except for foreign language specializing schools.

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Chapter I: Introduction 1.1. Rationale: Nowadays, the development of science, technology and economy and the tendency of globalization have brought about a great demand of intercommunicating. In order to meet this demand, English has become an international language and a very important and compulsory subjects at schools. As a result, teaching English has become a compulsory subject at schools for many years. And nowadays, it has become more important because in the past, students had to learn English, but they did not have to take English exams in Secondary School Graduation exams. However nowadays, students have to take them. In traditional teaching, students were required to acquire English grammar nowadays they are required to acquired various skills and language items including English grammar, English vocabulary and English pronunciation. In the light of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), students are required not only to have good knowledge of vocabulary and eligible grammar, the four language skills but also correct pronunciation. Accurate pronunciation is a must in English learning for students. Therefore, learning English pronunciation is of great importance to students, even for their exams. In addition, this will help them to have a good job in their future and enable them to communicate with foreigners successfully if they have a chance and the need. Despite realizing this importance, Vietnamese students still can not acquire correct English pronunciation. The main reason is that the traditional teaching laid the emphasis on grammar has led to this problem. Many students can not pronounce English words and sentences correctly. They often pronounce them with equal stress, flat intonation and no rhythm at all. English pronunciation seems has become the most serious problem that students meet when they learn English. This is happening at almost upper secondary schools in Vietnam except for foreign language specializing schools. Situated in a mountainous area in Huong Khe district, Ha Tinh province, Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School is far weaker than other schools in terms of learning different school subjects, of which English language teaching seems to be the worst. And if some students are said to be good at English, it means they are good at English grammar. Most of them find it hard to express themselves orally. If anyone can, he has problems in pronouncing English words and sentences. In the English lessons, only teachers speak , and most of the time, teachers have to speak Vietnamese because they are afraid that their students do not understand what they are speaking. When we apply the new textbook, almost students complain about difficulties they get in learning English speaking skill in general and in pronunciation in particular. And we ourselves realize that our students really have bad pronunciation. As a result, students here have a lot of problems when they do the tests on pronunciation as a part the graduate examinations. This is a serious problem not only at Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School but also at many other mountainous schools. So, investigating the problems and then find out some suggestions to improve the situation are very helpful for teaching and learning English at our school. In addition, no research on teaching English pronunciation at Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School has been done so far. Because of these above reasons, I decided to do research on Phuc Trach Upper Secondary students’difficulties in learning English pronunciation entitled: “An investigation into Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School students’ difficulties in learning English pronunciation”. The study was conducted to seek the answers to the question of what difficulties Phuc Trach upper secondary students meet when they learn English pronunciation. 1. 2.The aims: With the above rationale, my study was conducted with these following main aims: -To investigate the difficulties that Phuc Trach Upper Secondary students meet when they learn English pronunciation. -To recommend some suggestions for teachers and learners to overcome these difficulties. To gain these aims, some main objectives were defined as followings: To find out students’ attitude towards learning English in general and learning English pronunciation in particular. To investigate how difficult the English pronunciation learning towards the students is? To find out what the difficulties are. To offer some recommendations. 1.3. The research questions: With the aims stated above, I proposed two following questions for the study: What are their main difficulties in learning English pronunciation? What are the causes of these difficulties? 1.4 Research Methodology: The study was conducted as a case study. The research began with a literature review in different theoretical issues related to teaching English pronunciation . After the literature review, to gain the aims with high reliability, the researcher employed different methods of a case study. They are observation, questionnaires and interviews. These methods were used to collect data from students and teachers at Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School in Ha Tinh with the intention of addressing the aims of the study. + Classroom observation was employed to see what the main English pronunciation problems were. I observed five different lessons which were given by four teachers selected randomly including three speaking lessons and two Language focus ones. Each of these teachers presented an English lesson in a 45 minute period. Classroom observation was also used to observe students’ attitude towards English pronunciation. + Questionnaire instrument was designed to investigate students’ attitude towards learning English as well as English pronunciation and their main difficulties. There were ten questions in the questionnaire, the first three questions were aimed at finding out students’ attitude towards learning English speaking in general and towards learning English pronunciation in particular. The seven questions left were employed to find out whether they had difficulties in learning English pronunciation or not and what difficulties were as experienced by the students. All the questions in the questionnaire involved closed and open-ended questions with the intention of getting deep and reliable data. After collecting the data from the questionnaires, I analyzed the data qualitatively and quantitatively. + The last method – interviewing teachers at Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School was to get deeper and clearer insights into students’ difficulties in learning pronunciation. This step was to support the first and second instruments, questionnaires and classroom observation, to get and analyze the data reliably 1.5. The scope of the study. As I mentioned in the research methodology, this is a case study. So the study was just conducted on a focused group of grade 11th students in Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School. This study was aimed at exploring Phuc Trach Upper Secondary students’ difficulties in learning English pronunciation and giving some suggested recommendations. 1.6. The setting and background. Located in a remote area in Huong Khe district, Ha Tinh province, Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School is a young school compared with the four others in this district with 7 years of foundation. Therefore, the school has a lot of weaknesses and difficulties. The school was founded in 2000, so most of the teachers are very young and lack of teaching experience. Furthermore, the students there mostly come from poor families. They do not have good conditions to study. Because of these above reasons, Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School is somewhat weaker than other schools. And as a certain, their learning English is really bad. Although English has been compulsory for many years, students there have not paid much attention to it. If some students at this school invest time to study the subject, it is just because of the exams they have to take. Many students fail the national examination for the Secondary School Diploma because they can not do English tests well. Due to this, students there tend to concentrate on English subject more and more. However, because of many factors, especially the objectives of the test, English teaching and learning in this area focus much on grammar, not other skills. That is why pronunciation seems to be very difficult for most of the students. Teachers there tend to ignore teaching pronunciation to the students. Moreover, classes at this school are large, crowded and poorly equipped which make speaking lessons more difficult. Because of this, students at Phuc Trach Upper Secondary School are weak at speaking English, and they often have wrong pronunciation. Traditionally, teachers did not pay much attention to teaching pronunciation. And the old English textbooks did not involve teaching pronunciation, either. When we teach our students with the new textbooks, most of them are unwilling to have pronunciation lessons in Language Focus part, because they find it hard to achieve as good and correct pronunciation as in the CD. For the teachers and students at this school, pronunciation is a great problem. 1.7. The design of the study The thesis was designed with five chapters. The first chapter, the Introduction is an brief overview of the study with more details of the rationale, the aims, the methods, the setting and background as well as the design of the study. Chapter Two is a literature review. This chapter presents the theoretical background of the thesis which contains six main points: place of pronunciation in oral communication and foreign language learning, preliminary considerations in teaching pronunciation, pronunciation teaching methodologies, compare and contrast sound systems in the two languages: English and Vietnamese, some common pronunciation problems, and common pronunciation problems that Vietnamese often meet. Chapter Three deals with the research methodology. In this chapter, the focus will be on background information of the subject of the study, the instruments used to collect data and the procedure of data collection as well. The next chapter, chapter Four, presents a description of data analysis and dicussions. With the description of data analysis through three instruments: questionnaire, classroom observation and the interview, I explored some interpretations of the findings. The last chapter, the conclusion, is devoted to the summary of the findings and some pedagogical suggested recommendations to help teachers and students in upper secondary schools to overcome difficulties in learning and teaching English pronunciation. This chapter also provides the limitations of the study as well as some recommendations for further study. Following these five chapters are the Appendixes and References of the study. Chapter II: Literature Review 2.1.Place of pronunciation in oral communication and foreign language learning. In oral communication, if a person mispronounces a sound, a stress, a word or wrongly uses the rhythm, intonation of his utterances, he will surely cause misunderstanding, even no understanding for his partner, and he will get failure in communication. Moreover, if the pronunciation of that person of the same language in communication is different from that of his partner, they will also get difficulties in recognizing and understanding each other. To have success in communicating with others, it is recommended that you have good pronunciation in general and good foreign language pronunciation in particular. Therefore, achieving good pronunciation is very important for foreign language students. It really decides the success or failure of one’s oral communication in the target language. Pronunciation is as important as any other aspects of language like syntax or vocabulary. Correct pronunciation is very necessary to develop our speaking skill. Pronunciation also has many other connections to the other fields such as listening, spelling and even grammar. For example, if someone is good at pronunciation, he will be able to comprehend the spoken English more easily. Or if a person understands and uses the rhythm, intonation and stress correctly, he will make the listeners understand better. Even pronunciation has connection to grammar, especially in English. The speaker who pronounces correctly the endings of the words, for example, can give grammatical information. In short, pronunciation is not only important in our oral communication but also in other skills such as grammar, listening and spelling. So, acquiring good pronunciation is very important for those who are learning foreign languages. It can help them much in their exams and their futures. Students who will have to look for jobs in their future should also realize this importance and try to learn English pronunciation as much as possible. 2.2.Preliminiry considerations in teaching pronunciation There are a number of factors affecting the acquisition of the sound system of a second language. The dominant ones may be biological, social-cultural, personality and linguistic factors. The followings are a brief consideration on these factors. 2.2.1. Biological factor A common observation made by many people involved in the field of second language learning is that adult second language learners often have a foreign accent while child second language learners often attain native-like pronunciation. “Critical-period hypothesis”, one hypothesis explaining this difference between adults and children holds that languages are learnt differently by children and adults, and that is a direct result of the maturation of the brain. As many experienced teachers of foreign languages know, most of adult learners have difficulties in acquiring native-like pronunciation. So in some aspects, the critical period hypothesis is true. However, it does not mean that no adult can achieve native-like pronunciation. In fact, some adults do very well in learning pronunciation and among other adult learners, the degree of pronunciation accuracy varies considerably from one to another. Therefore, the critical period hypothesis do not absolve English Second Language teachers of the responsibility of teaching pronunciation. The fact that adult learners can achieve pronunciation differently also means that teachers of foreign languages should spend much time improving students’ pronunciation. 2.2.2.Socio-cultural factors The fact that variability in pronunciation accuracy of adult learners exists has led other researchers to conclude that it is socio-cultural factors that mostly determine the success of learning pronunciation. These researchers has also claimed that the more strongly second language learner’s identity with members of the second language culture, the more likely they are to sound like members of that culture. Because of this, it is very important for teachers of foreign languages to be aware of the way in which these socio-cultural factors can influence the students. Maybe the students also wish to have good pronunciation but at the same time they may not want to sound the foreign language in the native accent. So it is very important to set the realistic goal in the pronunciation class. 2.2.3.Personality factors. The personality of the learner also affects the acquisition of pronunciation. For learners who are out-going, confident, and willing to take risks, they may have more opportunities to practise pronunciation. In contrast, students who are less confident, introverted and unwilling to take risks may lack of opportunities to do so. Teachers of foreign languages should be aware of this so that they can encourage students to overcome these difficulties in learning pronunciation. To do so, teachers have to strive to create a non-threatening atmosphere in the classroom so that students are willing and encouraged to practise. Furthermore, pressure is not effective if students are not ready. That is why teachers are advised not to force students so much. In personality factor, there are two very important issues. The first one is phonetic ability. It is demonstrated by some researchers that some people are able to mimic the sounds more accurately than others. This factor can not be determined by the teachers because each one is born with different ability of mimicing the sounds. The things teachers of languages can do with this factor is to investigate learners’ abilities so that they can have suitable tasks and methods to improve their pronunciation. Secondly, learners’ attitudes towards learning pronunciation is also very important in personality factor. If students have positive attitude towards learning English and they have great motivation to learn it, they will try their best which can improve their learning than anything else. 2.2.4.The role of the native language Mother tongue is also another important factor. According to Peter Avery and Susan Ehrlich(1992), the native language can determine the nature of a foreign accent. We can see this clearly from the fact that speakers of English are easy to recognize Vietnamese accents, Chinese accents, Japanese accents, etc. In other words, learners can transfer the sound patterns of the native language into the second language. Every language has different inventory of sounds, different rules for combining these sounds into words, and different stress and intonation patterns. Learners make errors in pronunciation not just when they attempt to produce unfamiliar sounds but also when they reflect the sound inventory, rules of combination and the stress and intonation patterns of the native language. Peter Avery and Susan Ehrlich(1992) stated that the sound system of the native language influence students’ pronunciation of English in at least three ways. First of all, learners may have difficulties when they meet sounds in English that are not part of the sound inventory of the learners’ native language. According to these two linguists, the pronunciation of sounds depends on the proper use of the musculature in the mouth. That is why adult learners are difficult to produce new sounds because they have never exercised their mouths in the particular way required to produce certain English sounds. The second way that the sound system of the native language influences students’ pronunciation of English is because the rules for combining sounds into words are different in the learner’s native language. Learners may meet this type of difficulty when they learn a particular sound that is part of the inventory of both English and the native language. Thirdly, learners can transfer the patterns of stress and intonation, which determine the overall rhythm and melody of a language from the native language into the second language. What Peter Avery and Susan Ehrlich(1992) mentioned here is that the role of the native language is very important to the second language pronunciation learning because the native language not only affects the ability to produce English sounds but also the ability to hear English sounds. It is proved that the more differences between the two languages there are, the more difficulty the students have to cope with pronunciation. In short, there are some preliminary considerations in teaching pronunciation. That is biological factor, socio-cultural factors, personality factors, the role of the native language . Teachers of foreign languages should be aware of these factors when teaching pronunciation. 2.3. Pronunciation teaching methodologies. In the last half of the twentieth century, language teaching methodology has changed in approaches and methods of pronunciation teaching. There has been different views on teaching pronunciation. The following is a brief description of how pronunciation was taught in some of the most popular language teaching. In the 1970s, when the
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