Yolanda Calvo on Spanish perceptions of pronunciation

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Yolanda, a PHD candidate from Galicia, Spain, reported on her research into how students and teachers at post-secondary level in Galicia perceive the importance of pronunciation in ELT, and how it is covered in schools. She began by pointing out how problematic this area is. Spanish learners expect English pronunciation to relate closely to spelling as it does in their own L1; Spanish phonology diverges a long way from English and learners are especially confused by the much greater vowel repertoire of English; and finally, Spanish learners get very little acoustic exposure to English outside class – unlike in Portugal, foreign programmes on Spanish TV are  almost always dubbed.

Yolanda went on to outline her first stages of research, based on questionnaires among 135 students and 5 teachers. To some up her findings very roughly, students: acknowledge the importance of pronunciation; are more concerned with intelligibility than with sounding native-like; believe that insufficient class time is devoted to pronunciation; state that pronunciation skills are insufficiently covered in their coursebooks and are never tested; and finally, they think that where pronunciation IS done in class, it is only through monotonous repetition activities rather than anything more varied such as games, digital material or songs. The teachers largely agreed with these points of view, except that there was more of a tendency among the teachers to think that sounding native-like was the aim. Furthermore, the teachers perceived that they were using more varied techniques for pronunciation than were recognized by the students.

The audience followed Yolanda’s presentation with close interest, given that many of us were people with a special interest in pronunciation, and yet rarely do we get the chance to see our pet interest through the eyes of school students and teachers. The overall impression of pronunciation in Spain was this paradox: we don’t do enough pronunciation despite the fact that we know we need it.

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