03 Pronunciation Matters!
by Dharmendra Sheth
Everything teachers speak (and do) in front of students matters. Teachers who are aware of the importance of their own language—grammar, pronunciation, choice of words, levels of formality, colloquial expressions, idiomatic expressions, etc.—and its influence on their students’ English cannot afford to ignore the value of continuing professional development (CPD). One of the major areas of concern in development is pronunciation. It is worth considering how a teacher’s pronunciation influences students’ overall command of English, and in turn the effectiveness of English in his or her professional and personal life.
Why does a teacher’s pronunciation matter? Well, although it may sound hackneyed, it is worth stating that language is primarily speech as a potentially powerful means of communication. Good pronunciation enhances intelligibility and effectiveness of the contents of speech. Indeed, in most Indian schools, ‘teacher talk’ is the only exposure to English for students. Therefore, the more effective a teacher’s pronunciation, the greater his effectiveness and utility. With improved speech models:
- students’ listening comprehension will improve.
- improved listening comprehension will improve their English.
- they will want to imitate the teachers and to improve their pronunciation.
- they will be better attuned to English television or radio programmes.
- they will become autonomous learners of English: for they will control their own performance better.
- their overall command of English will improve because they receive and deliver greater content when they communicate.
- they will reap benefits of good language command both professionally and personally.
- they are more likely to develop a liking for English.
How will the English classroom have to operate to bring about this positive change? Enthusiastic and situationally appropriate performance models of voice and accent will make classes and learning enjoyably dramatic. Such English classes will be more ‘pronounced’! Students’ efforts to improve their pronunciation will be sweet music to their ears, and their pronunciation will sound ‘English’ or stylistically appropriate and rich to the discerning ear in time. Encouragement of students’ effort to improve pronunciation will boost their confidence and provide fresh impetus to continued effort. Even at the end of one such intensive and effective year, students will be on their way acquiring and managing more effective and ‘naturally’ varied communication in English.
Those students who pronounce words, phrases, sentences and even longer speech sequences correctly and effectively will attract attention and admiration of members of the general public as well as the educated and articulate members of society. They will reap benefits in future life when facing interviews or participating in group discussions as in other acts of persuasion and other kinds of interaction. Their language will help them make their presence felt. Other things being equal, such students will be better able to carve out niches for themselves in their chosen fields in adult life.
With the passage of time, a few batches of such students in a school, college or university department will set the benchmark for language acquisition. Genuinely effective spoken communication will become the driving force for continued success in the teaching of speech.
So long as a teacher is willing to improve his or her own speech and to make the studied and careful effort to present effective models to students, and begins to teach effective speech once he or she has achieved a respectable standard, the process ought to be self-perpetuating.
Happy Learning and Happy Teaching.
– Dr Dharmendra Sheth
English Language Consultant,
Surat, Gujarat, India
The Editorial, published in the Journal of English Language Teaching (India) XLX/5 2012
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