Por Paula Fallas Sanchez – Education degree student
In one of the many episodes of the American sitcom Modern Family, Gloria, an immigrant from Colombia, gets teased and mocked relentlessly for her mistakes in pronunciation when talking English, to which she responds “Do you even know how smart I am in Spanish?” (Lloyd, Levitan, 2009). Unfortunately, this is something that many people struggle with when learning a new language. While having an accent is unavoidable for many, and completely acceptable, mispronunciation can lead to misunderstandings, and it is important to know that having an accent is not equal to mispronouncing a language. It all comes down to how English teachers are being prepared to teach. Graduating with an English teaching degree does not mean that they are equipped to teach correct pronunciation the way it should be taught.
The first aspect of this problem that needs to be analyzed is the following: Are students who are studying to become English teachers getting taught how to teach English pronunciation to future English as Foreign Language students? Unfortunately, in Costa Rica the answer to this question is no. Out of the universities in the country that offer a bachelor’s degree in English Teaching, only the Universidad Latinoamericana de Ciencia y Tecnología offers Teaching Pronunciation as one of the required classes in order to graduate with a bachelors in English Teaching (ULACIT, 2019). This is quite alarming because the Universidad de Costa Rica, the best university in Costa Rica with a ranking of number nineteen in the Latin American university rankings (QS Top Universities, 2019), does not offer a teaching pronunciation class for those getting a bachelor's degree in English Teaching (UCR, 2019). Only having one university in the whole country offering this subject is simply not enough.
It is necessary, however, to make sure that the importance of this class is understood so that it can be given the proper attention it requires. English is one of the hardest languages to pronounce, and this is because several sounds in English do not exist in other languages (Tritch, 2016). Knowing the difference between sounds in the languages is indispensable because, through it, teachers will be able to focus on the sounds that the students have never heard or pronounced, instead of reaffirming sounds that the student already knows because it is shared between the two languages (Tritch, 2016).
The most efficient way of teaching students how to pronounce words correctly would be through the focus of the sounds that do not exist in their native language. A teacher who does not know how to teach pronunciation will not be able to explain how the student’s mouth should move to pronounce the word, therefore making it harder for the student to produce said sound (Tritch, 2016). In order to facilitate the learning atmosphere in the classroom in the most efficient and successful way possible, an English teacher should have the knowledge needed to teach proper pronunciation to their students.
As was mentioned before, mispronunciation almost always leads to misunderstanding and, unfortunately, sometimes, ridicule. It is useless to claim to speak a language only to then mispronounce words so horribly that no one understands what is being said. It is a teacher’s job to ensure that their students learn the language and all its aspects. Pronunciation must be taught since the beginning, so that the student learns how to say the words correctly as they are starting to learn words in English (Tritch, 2016). This ensures that problems like fossilization are avoided once the student has progressed in the language (Tritch, 2016). To truly know a language, one must be able to communicate in said language and be understood. In order for this to be true, English teachers must be equipped to teach correct pronunciation to their students.
The process of learning a second language is already a difficult one without the added, seemingly unavoidable, teasing that may rise due to having an accent or mispronouncing words; much like how Gloria felt in her struggle to express herself in a language that was not native to her. While there is nothing wrong with having an accent, mispronunciation in a foreign language can lead to a vast amount of complications. This subject is not being given the importance it should be. However, if it was being taught, it would bring more efficiency to English learning classes as well as assure the student that they would be able to communicate properly with others. No future English teachers should graduate without having the knowledge necessary to teach their students how to pronounce words properly.