EFL for Chinese learners
08 Apr 2004
Today at work I did some research online as part of my task to develop a pronunciation program to benefit the Chinese teachers in my company. I found some good stuff (this page being exactly what I was looking for, though I don’t find it 100% accurate), but perhaps the most interesting was a paper entitled Explicit Instruction in the Communicative Method: Pedagogical Approaches for Successfully Teaching the Sound System of a Second Language by Erika Hoyt.
The paper was written in 2001 and doesn’t cover anything especially new or revolutionary, but it was helpful in that it referenced specific issues for Chinese and Spanish speakers, two groups with which I am particularly familiar. Also, jargon is kept to a minimum, so if you have any interest at all in the wonderful world of drudgery we lovingly call “linguistics” you should be able to get through it without much trouble at all. And if you’re a EFL teacher, there’s a good chance you’ll learn something useful.
I just want to highlight a few of the issues I could relate to most.
On Requisites for Successfully Learning a Foreign Language
- a positive and active approach to learning the target language
- an outgoing and tolerant approach to the language and its native speakers
- continual experimentation with and revising their Interlanguage of the target language
- the willingness to use the target language in ‘real communication’
- the ability to think in the second language (L2) as a different system from their first language (L1)
Having lived in China for a while, I’ve come into contact with quite a few long-term foreign residents with varying degrees of Chinese ability, ranging from extremely fluent to practically zero. Looking at the above list, I can think of various cases (of other people as well as my own learning experiences) in which progress is so incredibly limited by just one specific item. And it’s different ones for different people.
The last item came as a slight surprise, but upon a little reflection I could think of examples of that too.
On Rhythm and Stress
> Another example of L2 sound perception involves Chinese speaking ESL students who do not use any rhythmic stress in their English speech because they are transferring from their native language. Their lack of stress results in unnatural, abrupt speech and lexical confusion; syllable stress plays an essential communicative role in distinguishing between “terRIfic” and “TERrify” or the questions “What’s in the desert?” and “What’s in the dessert?” (Chen, Fan & Lin, 1996, p. 5)….
In their article about acquiring English stress, English language researchers Chi-fen Chen, Chuen-Yn Fan and Hsian-Pao Lin write that native Chinese speakers remain unaware of the difference in Chinese and English stress until they are explicitly told (Chen et al, 1996, p. 4)….
Students learning English who speak a native language with an even stress pattern, such as Chinese, benefit from contrasting stressed and unstressed sounds. One way to highlight English stress rules is to outline the qualities of a stressed unit of sound — loud, long vowel, full clarity and higher pitched — and unstressed sound — quiet, short, reduced vowel clarity and lower pitched (Chen et al, 1996, p.7). The teacher could make a chart and/or give an aural explanation of the different qualities. After understanding the difference between stressed and unstressed sounds, the students will be able to identify stress patterns. Chen suggests that students pair up and play a stress game.
The problem of rhythm and stress is one I noticed way back in 1998 when I first started tutoring a Chinese grad student (who would eventually nudge me toward Hangzhou), and one I’m still seeing at my current job. It’s something I have to attach special importance to at work, and I suspect it’s something that EFL teachers across Chinese would do well to incorporate into their lesson plans. I think it’s often neglected.
On Outside Sources for Language Learning
> Using many different sources of language input will help the students’ register flexibility in listening comprehension. Students need to know that target language has many different speakers and pronunciations beyond the way that the teacher speaks. Also, integrating different speakers of the language into the students’ learning experience will help the learners to develop an outgoing approach towards the native speakers of the language, which is one of the characteristics of successful language students.
This is so very true. My best students in China were frequently big fans of music, movies, or TV in English, and they do things like getting part-time jobs using English and writing in English blogs.
Anyway, the paper has a variety of other good stuff too. I give it points for including the “McGurk Effect” because it’s my favorite linguistic term. (Hey, it’s really cool, and it sounds funny!)
It would be great if more EFL teachers in China (外教) actually cared about their teaching. And for those that do, but don’t have the relevant educational background, it would be great if they would learn a little about linguistics. But maybe that’s asking for too much…
Related: Sinosplice’s Teaching Guide.