A Syllabus for Pronunciation Teaching to Fourth Graders
Recently, there has been growing interest in pronunciation teaching as oral proficiency has been focused in English education in Japan. The pronunciations of many Japanese learners are said to be on the level which spoken communication cannot happen. Pronunciation is one of the important factors of smooth communication. Native-like pronunciation, which many Japanese people tend to consider as an important goal, however, is not always necessary for communication to occur. Learners' pronunciation should be just accurate enough to be able to make themselves understood, in other words, what to have as Japanese learners is communicatively competent pronunciation.
In this paper, I will first discuss the necessity of improvement in Japanese learners' pronunciation. Secondly, I will argue the pronunciation teaching especially to pupils in the elementary school. Finally, I will propose the syllabus I designed for the forth graders in the elementary school.
Necessity of Improvement
There has been more need for communicatively competent pronunciation than ever as Japanese people have come in contact with people all over the world. For a long time English education in Japan had put great emphasis on reading and writing skills of English. English was for those who pursued high academic knowledge from foreign documents written in English. This tendency had a great influence on the entrance exam in the school in Japan in which there were few questions on pronunciation, if any, too much attention was placed on segmental aspects of English pronunciation in order to 'select' students in the exam. This is how English education has produced many people who fail to acquire communicatively competent pronunciation of English in spite of their long hard work for English. This situation, however, has been changing rapidly as Japanese people have more opportunities than ever to communicate with people from all over the world in English. The Ministry of Education now tries to improve the English education to develop learners' communicative proficiency emphasizing on listening and speaking skills of English.
To improve pronunciation of Japanese learners, it is necessary to develop their perception of suprasegmentals, which have been neglected in pronunciation teaching in Japan, especially rhythmic differences between Japanese and English because the main linguistic difference between English and Japanese is in rhythm. English is stress-timed, whereas Japanese is syllable-timed. Rhythm of English consists of stresses. The amount of time to say a sentence depends on the number of syllables that receives stress; whether a syllable is stressed or not stressed determines the meaning of the word. On the other hand, rhythm of Japanese depends on syllables. The amount of time required to say a sentence depends on the total number of syllables; length and pitch of syllables determines the meaning of the word. Japanese learners who do not understand those differences tend to assign equal weight to each syllable neglecting whether the syllable is stressed or unstressed, and adapt Japanese syllable pattern 'CV-CV-CV' to English and put unnecessary vowels after a consonant and between each consonant clusters and sequences. This causes incomprehensibility of English speech of Japanese learners.
Elementary School Pupils
The Ministry of Education now plans to start English classes as part of international understanding education in the elementary school from 2,003. From the fourth graders, pupils will have English classes not as a formal subject but by making use of the 'Period for Integrated Study' or the time allotted to Special Activities, in order to become familiar with English. There will be no evaluation for it. They will mainly learn sounds of English. I do believe that those who will be introduced English sounds including suprasegmentals in the elementary school will be able to develop communicatively competent pronunciation as well as the whole communicative proficiency. According to S. Oyama (1982), "with respect to pronunciation, those who start learning pronunciation before the age of 11 can acquire native-like pronunciation. As I discussed before, native-like pronunciation is not necessary for the second language learners, however, if they will not have to have a hard time with pronunciation in the future, it must be a great advantage to start learning pronunciation in the elementary school.
I have designed the syllabus imagining if I had classes for the fourth graders. Since the Ministry of Education has not provided the detailed suggestions about what and how to teach there, I have made it relatively my way. The syllabus is to introduce the sounds of lax vowels of English with suprasegmentals. According to Avery & Ehrlich (1992), Japanese speakers tend to have difficulty with the sounds of lax vowels of English because they mix up them with the sounds of Japanese vowels. Therefore, the lax vowels should be introduced in the early stages in order to accustom their articulator to producing the sounds when they are young enough. Schwa should be introduced after students learn tense vowels and diphthongs so that they can understand the contrast between stressed and unstressed vowels. For the suprasegmentals, Firth (1992) notes that the practice of stress and rhythm with key vocabulary items should be focused in a syllabus for basic students. Each lesson in the syllabus bas basically two sections; one is the introduction of a new sound. Familiar materials are used in order to enable them to produce the sound accurately. For the suprasegmentals, jazz rhythm is used so that the pupils can easily understand a stress of the word. The other is an activity in which the pupils can practice the sound with fun. The former is to develop the new muscle skills necessary to produce English sounds, and the latter is to make an activity meaningful so that it will draw learners' interest.
For a long time English education in Japan had neglected the fact that the primary function of language is for communication, which has caused to produce many people who cannot communicate in simple English. Starting English education with emphasis on communicative proficiency in the elementary school is hoped to be the turning point in the whole English education in Japan. More study is needed since teaching communicative English and teaching to children are both new initiatives. Suprasegmentals, the fundamental linguistic difference between English and Japanese as well as the way to draw children's interest should be focused for the effective pronunciation teaching in the elementary school. It is to be hoped that successful English education in the elementary school will be a good influence on the whole English education in Japan and increase people who enjoy communication in English.
Lesson 1. /_/
Materials: picture cards for new vocabulary, keyboard, big spoons (have your pupils bring them from home, if possible)
1. Introduce /_/
Say several words with /_/ (apple, cat, ambulance, hand, sand, etc.) showing the picture cards.
Hand out the spoons to each pupil(have them take out their spoons). Spread your mouth and put the spoon onto your tongue and slightly push the spoon down to keep your tongue down in your mouth. Say /_/ sound. Have your pupils repeat /_/ sound till they get used to.
Without the spoons, have them say the words several times each with using jazz rhythm of your keyboard. Remember to correspond stressed /_/ of each word to the rhythm. See below;
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Apple Apple cAt cAt
2. Activity: Clap your hands
Using jazz rhythm, the pupils say "Clap, clap, clap, your, hands, as, quickly(slowly), as, you, can." while clapping their hands. Make it faster and slower and repeat several times. Keep them aware of /_/ sound using the spoon sometimes.
Lesson 2. /a/
Materials: picture cards for new vocabulary, potatoes(1 for each group), keyboard
1. Introduce /a/
Say several words with /a/ ( hot, clock, etc.) showing the picture cards. Have them repeat the words.
Show how to produce /a/. Open your mouth wide with actual yawn motion. Hold the mouth when you are just about to exhale while yawning. Say /a/ with touching your throat in order to show you are producing the sound from down your throat. Have your pupils do the same thing. Have them repeat till they get used to make the sound.
Have your pupils say the new words several times each to the jazz rhythm.
2. Activity: Hot potato
The pupils form large circles of about ten pupils. One pupil(P1) receives a HOT POTATO. P1 walks around the outside of the circle with the POTATO and suddenly gives the POTATO to P2, who is standing in the circle. P1 shouts "HOT POTATO", and begins to run around the outside of the circle while the pupils in the circle pass the potato from one to other, saying "IT'S HOT. IT'S VERY HOT." As they do so, P1 should run around and reach the original starting position (P2) before the pupils can pass the potato right around the circle and back to P2. If P1 succeeds, the pupil holding the potato when P1 reaches the starting position becomes the new HOT POTATO HOLDER for a repeat game. Anyone dropping the potato automatically becomes the new HOT POTATO HOLDER.
Lesson 3. /I/ vs. /iy/
Note: These phonemes are being introduced at the same time so as to show the contrast
Materials: picture cards for new vocabulary, keyboard, rubber bands(you may have your pupils bring them from home, if possible)
1. Introduce /I/ and /iy/
Say several words with /I/(big, six, sing, fish, etc.) and /iy/ (tea, teacher, beach, three, me, etc.) showing the picture cards. Have them repeat the words.
Show the difference between /I/ and /iy/ using a rubber band . First, say /iy/ spreading your mouth and the rubber band to show it is a tense vowel. Then say /I/ pulling the rubber band a little relaxing your mouth. Say /I/ and /iy/ using the rubber band. Have them do the same thing.
Have your pupils say the new words several times to the jazz rhythm.
2. Activity: See-Saw
The pupils sit in two parallel lines, on the floor. Turn to face to a partner. They stretch their legs out so that their feet are touching their partners' feet. They stretch their arms out and grip their partners' hands. They rock and balance back and forward in harmony with others in their line. They say the following sentences with /iy/ sound in slower motion and /I/ in faster motion.
"I see three big fish in the see."
"Please give me three cups of tea."
Lesson 4. /U / & / / (lip- rounding)
Materials: picture cards for new vocabulary, pupils' number of pieces of thick white paper, various colors of lipsticks, keyboard
1. Introduce /U / & / /
Say several words with /U / & / / (book, cook, wood, etc.) and (ball, baseball, wall, walk, tall, etc.) showing the picture cards. Have them repeat the words.
Show hot to produce /U / & / /. Put any color of lipstick onto your lips, round your lips slightly wider than kissing shape (to produce / / open your rounded lips slightly wider that /U /.) and kiss the paper so that you can show the good mouth position to produce /U / & / /.
Have your pupils try the same thing several times using the different colors of lipsticks(prepare blue or black lipsticks, if possible, in case boys will not like to wear a red lipstick.)
Have them repeat /U / & / / keeping the good mouth position.
Have them say the words several times each to the jazz rhythm.
2. Activity: Pass the Cookbook (/U /)
Divide the pupils into groups. The pupils stand in horizontal lines. One pupil(P1) at the right side of each line holds a COOK BOOK (for this you may use any book, just make it a COOK BOOK!) using no hands. P1 says "I HAVE A COOK BOOK." And the pupil next to P1 says "GIVE ME THE COOK BOOK." Then P1 passes the book to the next pupil. Each team must pass their books to the last team member without using their hands. Dropped books must be returned to the starting point.
3. Activity: Pass the Ball (/ /)
Divide the pupils into even groups. Each 2 groups stand in a line, facing each other to the other group. The pupils at the front of each team pass the ball back and forth, giving the following orders to one another, "BOUNCE THE BALL. ROLL THE BALL. THROW THE BALL." Take turns as a pair finishes passing the ball giving all the 3 orders.
Lesson 5. /_/
Materials: picture cards for new vocabulary, keyboard
1. Introduce /_/
Say several words with /_/ (elephant, egg, friend, ten, etc.) showing the picture cards. Have them repeat the words.
Show how to produce /_/. Put your fingers on the corners of your lips in order to show that English /_/ is different from Japanese /e/ in that you spread your mouth wider than /e/ to produce /_/. Have your pupils do the same thing and repeat /_/ several times.
Have them say the new words to the jazz rhythm.
2. Activity: Make Friends
The pupils ask other pupils "WHAT'S YOUR NAME?" "I'M ." "NICE TO MEET YOU." Then they shake their hands saying "WE ARE FRIENDS." Pupils who have made 10 friends raise their hands and say "I HAVE 10 FRIENDS!".
- Avery, P. & Ehrlich, S. (1992). Problems of selected language groups. In P. Avery & S. Ehrlich (Eds.), Teaching American English pronunciation : (pp.111-157). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Firth, S. (1992). Pronunciation syllabus design: a question of focus. In P. Avery & S. Ehrlich (Eds.), Teaching American English pronunciation: (pp. 173-183). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Oyama, S. (1982). A sensitive period for the acquisition of a nonmature phonological system. In S. Krashen, R. Scarcella, & M.H. Long (Eds.), Child-adult differences in second language acquisition. Rowley: Newbury House.