Why The Need To Teach Spoken English?

The recent developments across the world have made English the main lingua franca, Present day it is imperative to develop the skills of speaking and listening on the part of the learning. Peter McCarthy has stated, “Today high standards of spoken performance in English are sought, the climate of opinion today generally, and in educational circles in particular is moving strongly in the direction of stressing the importance of developing ability to handle spoken language, alongside other forms of linguistic competence”.Whatever be the priorities in teaching English, spoken English cannot be neglected today. We need to develop in our schools and colleges, a standard of spoken English, which is internationally intelligible.

What Is Involved In Teaching / Learning Spoken English?

Teaching spoken English involves training in learning and comprehending different forms of Standard English. Learners should not only be able to express himself intelligibly to speakers of other varieties of English but should also be able to understand their forms of English. This purpose will be met by exposing the learners to various forms of Standard English

The Challenges of Acquiring Standard Spoken English Skills

As English is very different from Indian languages in its phonology as well as in grammar and vocabulary, the Indian learners try to transfer of their mother tongue phonology into the learning of English which in turns handicaps them Now a days the teacher probably tries to achieve the set of phonological contrasts, but does not worry much about the phonetic detail. Teaching spoken English includes much more than just the teaching of pronunciation.

Mother Tongue Influence – A Major Impediment in Learning Spoken English

Different languages have different voice settings within the vocal chords and muscles, which contribute to our perception of the language’s overall auditory character. This perception is usually a learner’s first conscious contact with the phonology of the second language. The sound system of Malayalam, which is different from that of English, interferes with the learning of spoken English. Naturally, English sounds are substituted by Malayalam sounds, which are closest to those English sounds. Serious mistakes in stressing, spelling pronunciation, broken rhythm and other faults mar the speech of the students to a considerable degree. As a second language widely used in daily life English is bound to be influenced by the speakers of Mother tongue: the type of English spoken in a particular region has a distinct local flavor about it. Therefore, the students as well as considerable section of teachers think that they are speaking English very well. They are often ignorant about the fact that they are actually producing the nearest equivalent of their mother-tongue sounds. An examination of the stress patterns of English and Malayalam will reveal the divergences between the two systems and will explain why the English speech of most students sounds totally non English.

Following features make spoken English different from spoken Malayalam

  • In English poly syllabic words the syllables have different degrees of stress, an understanding of which is most essential for learners of English to listen to with intelligibility, the English of native speakers and other linguistic groups speaking English. The different degrees of stress are generally termed primary stress, secondary stress, weak stress, or unstressed syllable. The word – accent of native English is closely related to its phonological system. Since the phonological system of ‘Malayalee English’ has considerable variation from the native English and maintains characteristics peculiar to Malayalam, the students often finds it difficult to follow this feature.
  • It is to be understood that in Malayalam stress is placed evenly on the syllables of a polysyllabic word. In Malayalam, the syllables, which appear prominent, are only those, which have geminated consonants and retroflex sounds, the basis for prominence is never the intensity of a vowel as in English.
  • Certain English words are identified different, not from spelling, but from ‘stress’ as in the words “conduct” (nouns) and “conduct” verb Quite often, the students use accentual patterns of English words in terms of certain tendencies rather than definite formations. They are not even aware of things as stress, and accent in individual words or sentences.
  • In an English sentence uttered by natives, the accented syllables tend to occur at regular intervals of time. The four factors – Stress, Pitch variation, Quality and Quantity – which are responsible for making a particular syllable in a word prominent, make certain syllables of connected speech, more prominent than the other syllables. Our students use patterns of accentuation different from the patterns of native English a feature, which makes their English quite different.
  • The intonation pattern of English utterances makes different types of utterances distinct. This helps to differentiate between questions, statements orders, command requests etc. in addition to the grammatical patterns of such utterances.
  • All consonants in Malayalam except a few occur as sequences of two within the same syllable. These consonant sequences functioning as single consonants are pronounced clearly with extra breath force. Such sound sequences known as geminates, form an important characteristic of Malayalam phonology, and these characteristics are found transferred to the English spoken by the English learners of our educational Institutions. This peculiarly of articulation is alien to the native speakers of British/American English.

Spelling versus the Pronunciations in English

The pronunciation of many English words is tricky due to their spellings. Therefore, the pronunciation once wrongly practiced gets fossilized with the learner, and it becomes very difficult to bring about a change in the language habits in a later stage. So there should be devices to develop correct habits of pronunciation, at the initial stages of building up vocabulary, structures and other linguistic skills.

Tendency to neglect Spoken Skills as it is not evaluated

Another reason for the inadequacy of spoken skill is that the ability of the student to speak English has not yet been made a part of the educational assessment in the education system. Though the syllabus envisages good oral communication, it has never been a part of evaluation. The difficulty of testing oral skills, applies to a very wide range of ELT environments especially in institutional education. In environments, which rely heavily on tests as a motivation to learn the result is all too obvious: no serious effort to improve oral communications is made. The assessment of the spoken language has traditionally been a headache for the English teacher. Many well established tests do not even have an oral component, since grammatical accuracy and vocabulary can be assessed quite adequately.

The making of corrections in spoken English of the learners is a challenge as far as the teachers are concerned. Often such a question does not arise because the teachers rarely get occasion to listen to the spoken English of the learners. As we know, there is no interaction between the teachers and the learners in the target language. The classroom methodology that is practiced today does not allow it.

Effects of neglecting Standard Spoken English practices

  • The pronunciation once wrongly practiced gets fossilized with the learner, and it becomes very difficult to bring about a change in the language habits in a later stage. Though many of our learners are able to articulate almost all the English words correctly, they very often fail to do so, on account of various factors.
  • An ineffective communication process creates a cognitive block in the overall learning and development process of students due anxiety, fear, frustration, or low self-esteem when faced with real life competitions
  • The current orthography of English is notoriously deficient in its capacity for showing clearly the pronunciation that a word or sequence of words should have, hence the learners are likely to be misled and have a permanent mispronunciation until corrected.
  • Presently most of the teachers do not have an awareness of the significance of spoken communication. Therefore, their English is a local variety of English, which cannot claim any international intelligibility. Hence the students future protects are severally affected due to lack of standard model.
  • The teachers form opinion that their spoken English is not nearer the international model. Lack of confidence cause the teachers to use Mother tongue as the primary source of communication while teaching this makes the institutions environment complacent to Spoken English.
  • Another, very strange thing about teaching English pronunciation at the education institutions is that, the teachers who have had enough training in teaching pronunciation in theory, are most often failures in actual practice. They have difficulty in applying their knowledge when faced with the practical handling of the particular cases with which they are confronted. Their failure to bridge satisfactorily the gap between theory and practice commonly shows itself.
  • What is required is very effective practical training. Studying the phonetics is an academic and theoretical approach that simply does not work in practice. Even among those people who have made a special study of phonetics, only a few pronounce foreign languages fairly well.

Remedial Measures

  • Presence of Language coaches who are well aware of the link between English syntax and pronunciation, gradation and other features. There are a number of important links between English grammar and both segmental and supra-segmental features of pronunciation.
  • Highly trained professional who can be modeled for Standard English is very effective approach.
  • Proper organization and preparatory work accompanied and integrated by technological support can make these training session highly beneficial and creative. There are also wide ranges of suitable materials available today which can make these training programs capable of evincing variety and interest.
  • To improve listening skills model variety of English dialects could be familiarized
  • Effective speech training is found to be very effective if it is given to the learners in small suitable groups with specific attention is to be given to word stress, sentence stress, pauses, placement of nucleus and proper intonation patterns.
  • The facilitator, then, should be as perfect a model in this respect as he can make himself.