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Blog criado por Bruno Coriolano de Almeida Costa, professor de Língua Inglesa desde 2002. Esse espaço surgiu em 2007 com o objetivo de unir alguns estudiosos e professores desse idioma. Abordamos, de forma rápida e simples, vários aspectos da Língua Inglesa e suas culturas. Agradeço a sua visita.

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quinta-feira, 11 de junho de 2015

To what extent are teachers seen as models in (foreign) language pronunciation learning?

Very recently, I asked this question on my profile on Quora (read it here). A few people provided me with very interesting answers.

As I imagine that you guys would not take some time in order to read it all, I have selected some of them to show you.

I have changed the names of the commentators (Quorans as they are known, I guess). Anyway, I am going to call them ‘Quoran’.

Quoran #1:

In my personal experience, both as a learner of English, French and Mandarin as secondary languages, and as an ESL educator, the extent is huge.
A teacher who uses a clear, standard pronunciation of the language being taught gives the students the opportunity to assimilate the language aurally in ways that a non-native, or non-standard speaker of that same language would not. This doesn't mean that native speakers are immediately the best teachers, by any means. There are superior ESL teachers (or of other foreign languages) who aren't native or don't have a native pronunciation, whose skills lie in delivery of instruction, design of purposeful activities, use of meaningful multimedia tools -for example, use of audiovisual materials of high educational value that do use native or standard pronunciation- and a wide range of knowledge about the mechanics of the language.
Well trained teachers make an immense difference. I say this from having experienced the ESL industry in China, which values native speakers, often over well qualified teachers with non-native accents. That said, a hard, unclear or incorrect accent is setting a foundation of the same quality for the students when it comes to their oral proficiency.
Accents aren't everything, but they make a difference in the way a person is received in conversation with a native speaker of the language. Learning incorrect pronunciations or erroneously stressed syllables hamper the clarity of the speaker's message. This, in my opinion, is why a teacher with a clear and correct accent makes a huge difference.

Quoran #2:

I have no experience in teaching. What I do have is experience in learning, and giving support to my children with their homework.

In my POV, I would say a teacher is a model if the student has had little to no previous contact with the language they are learning.
A few generations ago, it was definitely more prevalent: if a teacher had poor pronunciation, the students would follow. And, since in my country there was a time when many people didn't have the opportunity to travel abroad for leisure, those students who would become teachers themselves and never had direct contact with speakers of the language they were (supposed to be) teaching, the problem would carry on over and over.
Now, with TV and the internet, things happen differently. Not only parents (of children who are now attending school) are likely to have had more contact with foreign languages, but children themselves can listen to those languages through several different media. So, they can detect when the teacher speaks differently from what they had previously heard.
Both my children had, on occasion, come across such discrepancy* in English classes, and they both came to me for clarification. I told them to ignore the pronunciation and focus on the rest, since the teachers were fully prepared to help them.
I believe they did as told, since both achieved high grades in English.
French, on the other hand, is a whole other battle...
I have my own not-so-positive view on foreign languages curriculum (public middle and high school) in my country. Kids who rely only in school classes to learn a foreign language come out totally unprepared to have a conversation in said language.
* - in Portugal, only TV series targeted at preschoolers (and some Disney channel series) are dubbed. At the cinema, animation movies are shown in both versions: dubbed/original. Series and movies meant for teenage and/or adult viewers are never dubbed.

Quoran #3:

Personally I've witnessed two teachers of Spanish who were born in America and who had awful American accents.  There tongues flapped around in their mouths like pieces of liver.  The low income schools were they worked apparently had trouble finding fully qualified Hispanics to teach.  I first learned Spanish pronunciation from Senora Olga Lugo de Bejerano fresh from Castro's Cuba in 1966.  She could barely speak English... so we got the real deal.  Did you know that you must learn to roll your R's before puberty sets in... or you will never be able to pronounce "arroz" (i.e. rice) property?

Quoran #4:

Not really sure about "teachers". I learned English phonics from a book and through referring to my immersion in both Canadian and British speakers from TV. My English could still use a lot of work. But I modeled my pronunciation from "hearing" the text in a novel being read by my ideal speaker in my head. Sounds rather convoluted, but no one in my family spoke English well back then and I had little exposure to English other than TV and radio. We didn't have the Internet back then. Things have changed a lot since. I am sure if someone wants to learn a foreign language now, they have no shortage of sites or resources to go to.

Quoran #5:
Generally students tend to copy their teachers when doing something that is unfamiliar with them.
For example, for me, English is a second language even though I've known it practically my whole life. My first English teacher was a Canadian and one of the things I picked up on was the famous Canadian "eh". I had that teacher for less than a year a long long time ago yet I still use that at the end of my sentences.
So because of my personal experiences, I believe students look at their teachers as the sole model for pronunciation when learning a new language, particularly when they have no other means of hearing that language.

Quoran #6:

I'd say it REALLY depends on the teacher and the language you're learning. I know most about teachers who teach English as the student's second (And in sometimes third) language. I've had 6 or 7 different teachers in English and one had a very strong British accent, Her motto was "It isn't English if it isn't British!"
Another teacher had some kind of American accent which was kinda hard to understand.
Most of my teachers has surprisingly enough had a VERY thick Danish accent (You should note that I'm from Denmark so the origin of it isn't a mystery), and I simply couldn't take them serious.
Once again I had a Spanish teacher who sounded like she'd lived in Spain her entire life (At least to me even though I've never been to Spain).

I'd say that teachers don't always set the best example for the pronunciation either as some teachers can have problems pronouncing words. My current English teacher for example pronounce a mix between a 's' and a 'd' sound when she pronounces the 'th'.

Quoran #7:

Interesting question yet I do not recall any research/poll on this topic.
Note - there are 3 things involved
- how pupils see a teacher as a pronunciation model (power-distance of a given culture/school) //which is bigger than
- how their teacher's pronunciation gets mimicked in reality //which is bigger than
- how their teacher's pronunciation gets embedded in pupils' own accents.
I think that naturally the last point matters and that it is given at 80% by the exposure time and 20% by the intentions and/or relationships So if the school is in London or pupils can watch many movies or shows or there are more teachers at once or one after another, the particular teacher's speech pattern won't influence the pupil's one much.

Quoran #8:

To a great extent, I'm afraid. I used to teach Spanish, and one of my classmates in college spoke like John Wayne! His pronunciation was just awful, and I had to listen to it in class after class. I even asked an instructor privately why she didn't work with him on it, and she told me it wasn't a priority because he was easily comprehensible!

Make no mistake. Students use their teachers as a guide. Where you lead, they will follow. To this day, I fear for his students.

Quoran #9:

In my opinion, it has alot to do with the student. Back when I was at high school for example, my English was fairly good, I learned from reading comics and watching movies and sitcoms, so when my teacher pronounced a word incorrectly I would be aware of it.

Some of my classmates however, were novice English learners, thus, they would take after their teacher in whatever he says. Similarly, I would probably follow my teacher as model for pronunciation in Japanese, but then again, I'm always skeptical, especially if I doubted that my teacher is not reliable.

Quoran #10:

If they face the students in the right way (depending on what the students need to see) and explain the movements of the mouth, tongue and so on well enough, then we might actually be able to see how to pronounce the sounds properly. However, it has been my personal experience, that to really learn how to pronounce a language flawlessly (in many, but not all cases), requires a speech therapist who can teach where the tongue should be placed and can teach the finer nuances of pronunciation. They just tend to know more about the finer nuances of the mouth and what it does to get the sound.

Quoran #11:

When I began learning English as a junior one student at 13, my teacher did not taught us anything of phonetics, it caused a serious result that many of us did not know how to pronounce every phonetic accurately. Even now, there are still some English sounds that I can not pronounce. It is my next goal to solve this problem. Back to your question, the pronunciation level of English teachers I met varied. Tape is actually  the best model.

Quoran #12:

If the teacher is responsible for the education of the student In said foreign language, they have the responsibility to also teach correct pronounciation/enunciation. A large part of learning a language ( maybe the largest) is the ability to speak it correctly.

Quoran #13:

They teach the student how to speak in that language.
Say they are teaching Spanish
One teacher learned in Spain
One teacher learned in Mexico
They will teach two very different accents in the language.
The teacher that learned in Spain will pronounce C in some words as th so Gracias sounds like Grathias.
The teacher who learned in Mexico would pronounce C as C or see sound so Gracias would sound like Gracias.

Quoran #14:

If the student is not able to distinguish the letters, then the teacher has 100% impact on students' pronunciation. But as the students grow older and get familiar with reading letters, the role of teacher decreases to sat 60-70 percent.

Quoran #15:

Teachers may be the only models a student has until the advent of Internet and Youtube and Google.  Once you find you tube, you get a varied number of speaking models.

Quoran #16:
Teachers are often authorative to students, especially when the students know little about what the teacher is teaching.

Quoran #17:
Unless a person has access to their materials (native speaking friends, videos, audio) a teacher maybe the only thing the person hears.

As you can see, there is no right or wrong answer for my questions. Would you like to help me find more answer?
To what extent are teachers seen as models in (foreign) language pronunciation learning?

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