Language Teachers Who Mispronounce the Language They Teach
By Omar Bihmidine
Morocco World News
Sidi Ifni, Morocco, January 15, 2013
It is a real pity that some language teachers believe that pronunciation does not matter as long as it does not hinder communication. At first sight, this may appear sound. But, these teachers must bear in mind that they teach the language. They, unfortunately, forget that pronunciation is an integral part of the language. Other language teachers go on to believe that no one is perfect, that pronunciation is similar to accent in terms of imperfection, and that it is not worth making a fuss about. What these stubborn teachers must remember is that they are not politicians, leaders, tourist guides or travel agents so that they may focus on what they communicate and not how they communicate or pronounce some words.
In Morocco, many teachers of English, for instance, feel that they are not obliged to teach students pronunciation since most English textbooks do not embody lessons dealing with this skill. Only a few teachers of English take the initiative to teach it, particularly those who are aware of the importance of this language component. Whether pronunciation is included in language textbooks or not, language teachers must pronounce the language they teach correctly and intelligibly. Any mistake in pronunciation is unforgivable, for the job of the teacher is not to communicate in the language, but to teach the language. As we know, language encompasses a number of areas, including pronunciation. Any excuse given by language teachers to prove that pronunciation is secondary to the act of communicating one’s ideas must be flimsy. For pronunciation is indispensable for speaking understandably and intelligibly.
Language classrooms are not necessarily supposed to be conferences or round tables where speakers, teachers and students speak the language without taking into account how they speak it. A language classroom is a place where learners learn how they should pronounce the language, not necessarily what they say in the language they learn. Anyone in the street can speak the language communicatively and be understood by foreigners, but does this mean that they can be efficient speakers or that they would make good teachers? No doubt, the ability to speak openly is of paramount importance, but this fact must not convince teachers that as long as their students speak openly and uninhibitedly, they should no longer worry about the right way to pronounce certain words.
Great mastery of a language also entails excellent pronunciation. Here, it is true that there are a number of poets, writers, philosophers, scientists and physicians who make many pronunciation mistakes when they speak. Surprisingly, they write with ease and excellence. We must, therefore, make it clear that they are all pardoned for their terrible pronunciation mostly because they are not language teachers whose pronunciation can be contagious to the students they teach. Writers are not supposed to teach the language, neither are tour guides. Pronunciation is an aspect of language that can distinguish good speakers from bad ones. Students’ ears tend to follow excellent pronunciation. In emulation, most students pronounce the way their teachers pronounce. If teachers pronounce badly, why should students pronounce as badly as their teachers.
Students can not help being affected by the way their teachers speak. Students are being filled with input while they are lending their ears to their teachers. In the process, students fall prey to pronunciation mistakes if teachers make any particularly that students hold teachers in high regard and think of them as the source of knowledge. Needless to say, teachers nowadays must serve as facilitators. But, nearly all students are not aware of this new role teachers play. In this respect, I still remember that I pronounced a number of English words incorrectly when I was a high school student. Certainly, I have to attribute them to my teacher who himself mispronounced them.
It is a grave thing while learning a language to be taught mistakes. Such mistakes become fossilized and it takes learners much time to unlearn them. Believe it or not, many teachers themselves admit that the pronunciation mistakes they still make as teachers were brought about by their ex-teachers. Now, it is up to them to unlearn them rather than correct them. Back to my university days, I was taught by a poetry professor who paid meticulous attention to pronunciation. His pronunciation was so immaculate that we university teachers began to emulate him and immensely admired the way he pronounced English words. Only then was I able to unlearn my fossilized mistakes and to focus on pronunciation. Here, I must ascertain that the effect of language teachers on students’ learning must never be underestimated.
Among the explanations behind some teachers neglecting this key component of a language is that they themselves do not master phonetic transcription of words. A sign of their sour grapes is that they begin to look for excuses to ‘exonerate’ themselves from not grasping the right way of pronunciation. Among the flimsy excuses they provide is that no one is perfect and that pronunciation is not a prerequisite for guaranteeing meaningful communication. No doubt, no one is perfect. But, why don’t language teachers correct their pronunciation before heading for their classes? Why don’t they give all their poor students good marks given the fact that no one is perfect? Instead of admitting their mistakes and working to correct them, some language teachers choose to excuse themselves by intervening to say that no one is perfect.
Logically speaking, everyone can be excused for making pronunciation mistakes except language teachers. A number of Moroccan teachers of English, for instance, cannot figure out all the phonetic transcription symbols. Yet, they may still resort to audio-based dictionaries. In fact, we are not here ‘prescribing’ the right way of teaching pronunciation. Rather, we insist on teaching the exact and correct way of pronouncing a language. With regard to teachers who do not care whether they pronounce correctly or who believe that pronunciation does not matter compared to the act of communicating one’s ideas uninhibitedly, they must stop to wonder about some of their students who are eager to learn the right pronunciation. Do not these students deserve to be taught by a language teacher who masters immaculate pronunciation?
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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