Uploaded by Gaby Ingargiola


Ingargiola 1
Gaby Ingargiola
Janice McGregor
Literature Review
April 8, 2019
Beliefs Surrounding the Teaching of Pronunciation
In the field of teaching English as a second language (TESL) there have been many shifts
in beliefs about how to best teach the target language to students. We’ve gone from the
grammar-translation method, to the audio-lingual method, to the direct method, to task-based
methods, and more. These shifts were almost always a result of a reaction to the failure(s) or
miss comings of the method before it. Naturally, when linguists and teachers see a flaw or
incongruence in teaching practices, they aim to improve it. And just as the teaching methods
have shifted to better the success of students and teachers alike, so too have the approaches to
teaching English as a second language. What once started (more or less) as a cognitive approach
to teaching has, in general, shifted to a more communicative approach. We, as teachers of
English second language (L2) learners, have begun to focus more on intelligibility and
communicative skills as opposed to the accuracies and guidelines that traditional cognitive or
natural approaches emphasize. Though teaching and mastering these accuracies (i.e. grammar) is
still an important factor in becoming a successful L2 user, there has been a recent push to focus
more (or at least equally) on how to make students more intelligible; something that more
accurately reflects language as it is used in the natural world. So, if we want to emphasize
intelligibility in our teaching, one way to do so would be to teach pronunciation; something that
has withstood the adaptations and changes to teaching practices.
Ingargiola 2
Just like English second language teaching (ESL), pronunciation is something that has
been adapted and reviewed, or critiqued, for many years. As teaching beliefs change, it is only
natural for the content that we teach to change in order to fit the needs of the new teaching
approaches and methods too. For a long time, when anyone mentioned pronunciation, the first
thing that came to mind was phonetics. However, good pronunciation has proven to be much
more than that and this is where the controversy surrounding pronunciation began. The two main
arguments surrounding the teaching of pronunciation (at first1) were (1) that pronunciation
should not be taught because there is not enough hard, empirical, evidence to prove that teaching
pronunciation (specifically phonetics) significantly improves students’ ability to learn and use
the target language, and (2) that pronunciation should be taught because it lends students to be
more native like in their speech (Nagle, Sachs, & Zarate-Sandez, 2018; Burri, Baker, & Chen,
2017). However, there is a new, more relevant, argument that has begun to encompass the
pronunciation debate. Rather than considering whether pronunciation should or should not be
taught at all, the current controversy is about the goal(s) of teaching pronunciation (Bai, Yuan.
2018). Those goals being, teaching pronunciation with intention of increasing students’ ability to
sound more native-like, or to increase students’ intelligibility.
Though the bulk of the debate, in this modern era, focuses on the goals of pronunciation
teaching, I think it is important to fully understand how the pronunciation debate got to where it
is today. It is for this reason that this paper will explore all ‘sides’ of the pronunciation debate.
To do so, we start with the original debate: Is teaching pronunciation truly effective?
Understanding the contents of the original debate will better inform how linguists and the likes
switched from questioning the necessity of pronunciation instruction, to agreeing that it has a
place, as long as the goals of the instruction are sound. More specifically, this paper will
Ingargiola 3
spotlight three findings: that pronunciation should not be taught at all, that pronunciation should
be taught for native-likeness, and finally that pronunciation should be taught for intelligibility.
The argument that teaching pronunciation is unnecessary dates back to when the term
pronunciation was synonymous with, and almost exclusively concerning, phonetics. While
teaching phonetics is a part of pronunciation teaching even today, pronunciation instruction has
evolved to include things such as stress, intonation, and mouth position; and even then, “research
has shown that not all aspects of pronunciation are equally important to the understanding of
speech” (Nagle, Sachs, Zarate-Sanderz 2018). However, before teaching things like those
mentioned above were deemed necessary, the opposition to teaching pronunciation focused
exclusively on phonetics. They targeted the slow paced nature of teaching phonetics (Derwing &
Munro, 2015) and how phonetics held learns back and distracted them from more important
things such as grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, and more.
So, what exactly does the opposition argue? While initially targeting and pulling apart the
need for phonetics was the basis for their claims, as the more essential aspects of pronunciation
(like those mentioned in the paragraph above) began to arise, phonetics was no longer the main
issue. Instead, there was now a lack of proof to back pronunciation teaching. All those in favor of
pronunciation instruction claimed that it would increase the overall success of second language
(L2) learners and structured their studies to test that. However, the opposition worried, or more
appropriately warned, that there wasn’t enough empirical evidence to support that claim: In
many areas of SLA, researchers warn about the limited applicability of findings from empirical
research to classroom contexts (Nagle, Sachs, Zarate-Sanderz 2018). In their studies, Gooch,
Saito, and Lyster list in their results section that the pronunciation instruction itself with the
former stating: “[the study] demonstrates that exposing L2 learners to phonological [form
Ingargiola 4
focused instruction] did not significantly impact their pronunciation between the pre and
posttests” (Gooch Saito, and Lyster, 2015). This lack of empirical evidence is something that
continues to be an issue even now. The belief is that those who are taught with pronunciation
instruction haven’t truly been proven to be more successful than those who are not. In fact, in
several studies, the results and conclusion sections warn that they cannot attribute to increased
success to pronunciation teaching.
Another argument that the opposition makes is that rather than teaching pronunciation
explicitly, it is important to teach things like metacognitive and ‘noticing’ skills so that students
can take the learning into their own hands (Hei, 2011). The idea is that by teaching these skills,
students will naturally learn to pick up on the aspects of pronunciation like intonation and stress
and deduce their significance. One linguist who researches the link between metacognitive skills
and pronunciation instruction quoted Wenden 1998 stating: “She claimed that metacognition
plays a vital role in planning, monitoring, and evaluating the learning process..” and continued to
argue that empirical studies proved that “proficient learners are more likely to use metacognitive
strategies than their less proficient counterparts (Hei, 2011). Moreover, Hei suggests that
teachers should also try to help learners be more reflective and self-directive in second language
learning. This concept/result is somewhat implied—if not explicitly stated—in many of the
studies mentioned above. For example, awareness and metacognitive skills that improve
awareness were “vital keys to language learning” in a study by Magnusson and Graham on the
effects of noticing on pronunciation and acquisition of forms, which also proved true in a study
conducted by Gonzales-Bueno and Quintana-Lara (Magnusson & Graham, 2011). While they
may not have been able to attribute the participants’ success to pronunciation instruction, their
data could prove, without a doubt, that use of metacognitive skills did improve students’ success;
Ingargiola 5
whether that be on a small, or large scale. So, it was realized that students could implicitly reap
the benefits of the different aspects of pronunciation through the use of metacognitive skills,
instead of teaching pronunciation outright. This seemed to be a more favorable approach to
teaching pronunciation, as metacognitive skills can be used for other language related teachings
and are therefore, a proven value to English language learners (ELL[s]). It is with this knowledge
that the pronunciation debate transformed into its current state.
Whether those in favor of pronunciation teaching were standing by the necessity of
phonetics, or a more abundant and richer pronunciation2, their claim (in the original debate) was
that this instruction would benefit students by helping them sound more native-like. Native-like
proficiency or native-likeness was at the heart of ESL and EFL teaching for a long time.
Linguists and teachers believed that the more native sounding a student was, the more successful
they would be. If they appeared to the outside world as first language (L1) users of English, then
they must have truly mastered the language, after all, what other reason were they being taught
English? For example, one study that was reviewed for this paper claims that pronunciation
instruction should “aid the L2 learner [to] achieve or approximate a more native-like production
of the L2” (Ballesteros 2015). In addition to this you have studies that focus on “phonologically
accurate oral language” that will be “effective” in producing learners with a more “native-like
production” which not only assumes that there is a correct wat to speak English, but also
excludes the different accents in World Englishes (Gonzalez-Bueno, Quintana-Lara, 2011).
In a similar fashion, when teaching ESL outside of any country where English is the
‘native’ language, there was (and unfortunately, still is) this belief that good English teachers
were L1 users of English, and therefore, would produce the best and most native-like students.
This false notion of native-likeness has flooded the fields of ESL and EFL teaching and
Ingargiola 6
acquisition. There have always been people who want to rid ELL of their accents and
essentially—whether intentional or not—strip them of their cultural backgrounds and identities.
So, by teaching pronunciation in an effort to make students more native-like, we actually harm
them in the process; and this is what the most modern version of this debate aims to end.
Today, the pronunciation debate is about whether the focus should be to reach native-like
proficiency, or to increase intelligibility. If we think back to the evolution of ESL teaching, we
know that we went from a more cognitive approach to teaching, to a more communicative
approach. The communicative approach aims to help students learn and use language as they
would encounter it in the real world. With that being said, many modern studies focus on
teaching pronunciation with the goal of getting them to be more intelligible: “Intelligible
pronunciation should be an important component of students’ communicative competence.
Without adequate pronunciation training, students may experience misunderstandings and even
breakdowns in verbal communication, which may further adversely affect their self-confidence
in language learning (Bai, Yuan, 2018). In addition to this, some believe that “pronunciation is
an important factor in achieving mutual intelligibility” and therefore, should not focus on nativelikeness (Burri, Baker, Chen, 2011). Bai and Yuan’s study found that teachers today have a
positive outlook on pronunciation teaching and believe that it “not only facilitates students’
effective communication in daily life, but can also increase their self-confidence and motivation,
and have positive impacts on other aspects of language learning”; something that teachers strive
to do on a daily basis (Bai, Yuan, 2018).
In conclusion, we know two things. The first is that pronunciation instruction is no longer
up for debate but is a matter of intent and purpose of instruction. As pronunciation has evolved to
be a blanket term for many facets of language, it has more than proven to be a crucial aspect of
Ingargiola 7
L2 acquisition. What once was regarded as one-dimensional and undervalued has become a more
dynamic and fundamental part of English language instruction. The second thing we know is that
teaching pronunciation to attain native-likeness is detrimental to the identity and outcome of
ELLs who undergo such instruction, and in turn, should only be taught to increase their
intelligibility. Though the notion of native-likeness continues to plague certain learning groups
and communities around the world, when it comes to being a successful English language user,
there is no more success for those who sound more native-like than those who don’t. In fact, L2
users of English who are able to maintain their accent and culture only seem to enrich the
English language.
When it comes to the future of language instruction, the next foreseeable step would be to
eliminate the idea of native-likeness. For too long English has been a property of western
countries in which the L1 users are stereotypically viewed as being white. This issue is that
although there is a large population of white people in countries like New Zealand, America,
Australia, Canada, and the UK, they are not the only people. The color of ones skin does not
preclude them from being a ‘native’ speaker of English. The only way to get rid of this falsehood
would be to educate students on cultural diversity and introduce them to World Englishes. Just
because someone does not come from one of the aforementioned countries does not mean they
can’t be an L1 user of English. There are many people in Africa, Asia, and India that grow up
speaking English despite having a different national language. I think if only people could realize
that the English language is not a property owned by any one group of people, but instead a
shared language, we can eliminate the concept of native-likeness and rid the ESL/EFL field of
the prejudices against accents. Pronunciation instruction could help show this by incorporating
Ingargiola 8
the use of different pronunciations of English words and create an entirely new dynamic for
language learners and teachers.
Bai, B., & Yuan, R. (2018). EFL teachers’ beliefs and practices about pronunciation teaching.
ELT Journal, ELT Journal, 10/31/2018.
Ballesteros, N. (2014). Why Teaching Pronunciation to Spanish L2 Learners Matters. Voices,
Ingargiola 9
Burri, M., Baker, A., & Chen, H. (2017). "I feel like having a nervous breakdown" "pre-service
and in-service teachers' developing beliefs and knowledge about pronunciation
instruction. Journal of Second Language Pronunciation, 3(1), 1.
Derwing, T., Munro, M., & Ebooks Corporation. (n.d.). Pronunciation fundamentals : Evidencebased perspectives for L2 teaching and research (Language learning and language
teaching; v. 42).
Garcia, Eugene. (2012, November 30). The Education of English Language Learners in Arizona:
A History of Underachievement. Retrieved December 6, 2017 from Teachers College
114 (9). http://www.tcrecord.org.ezproxy1.library.arizona.edu/librar
Gonzales-Bueno, Manuela, & Quintana-Lara, Marcela. (2011). The Teaching of L2
Pronunciation through Processing Instruction. Applied Language Learning, 21, 1-2),
Gooch, Saito, & Lyster. (2016). Effects of recasts and prompts on L2 pronunciation
development: Teaching English /ɹ/ to Korean adult EFL learners. System, 60(C), 117127.
He, Lei. (2011). Metacognition in EFL Pronunciation Learning among Chinese Tertiary
Learners. Applied Language Learning, 21, 1-2), p.1-52.
Nagle, C., Sachs, R., & Zárate–Sández, G. (2018). Exploring the Intersection Between Teachers’
Beliefs and Research Findings in Pronunciation Instruction. Modern Language Journal,
102(3), 512-532.
Random flashcards
State Flags

50 Cards Education

Countries of Europe

44 Cards Education

Art History

20 Cards StudyJedi

Sign language alphabet

26 Cards StudyJedi

Create flashcards