INTRODUCING ENGLISH PHONETICS USING INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES
TO THE AERONAUTICAL ENGINEERING EFL STUDENTS AT UNEFA
MINISTERIO DEL PODER POPULAR PARA LA EDUCACIÓN UNIVERSITARIA
UNIVERSIDAD CENTRAL DE VENEZUELA
FACULTAD DE HUMANIDADES Y EDUCACIÓN
MAESTRÍA EN INGLÉS COMO LENGUA EXTRANJERA
Upon studying EFL, learners should become familiar with the sound system of L2. Obtaining certain training in phonetics, an EFL student will be able to communicate effectively not only with fellow learners, but with English native speakers as well, and will also be able to minimize the broad native accent. Not having practiced phonetics in class, English learners will find it difficult to understand and produce the language in an accurate way. The consequence: a strong native accent, distorted pronunciation, misunderstandings and frustrations. Introducing English Phonetics using Information and Communication Technologies to the Aeronautical Engineering EFL students at Unefa is an educational project to teach English phonetics at tertiary level, paying especial attention to the knowledge and practice of the English phonetic alphabet and implementing ICT in the classroom. This is an EFL course whose learning outcomes will lead to proficiency in pronunciation and competencies in ICT as alternatives that will allow students to achieve the objective of education and pertinence having to do with the transformations occurring in the world. A course syllabus proposal is presented to be implemented in the classroom using some Web 2.0 artifacts and other traditional teaching resources. Pronunciation activities are incorporated in the educational material, using traditional and technological tools.
Key words: EFL, ICT, English phonetics, pronunciation, English phonetic alphabet.
Use of Technology in EFL/ESL in the Past
PLAN OF ACTION
1. COURSE SYLLABUS PROPOSAL
2. STEPS TO IMPLEMENT TECHNOLOGICAL RESOURCES
Student learns to pronounce English as a foreign language by imitating the pronunciation of English-speaking persons, whether native or not. Sometimes imitation is not enough, however. The teacher may pronounce sounds many times, and learners still may be unable to reproduce them as exactly as desired. It will be of benefit if the instructor spells the word for the student, sound by sound, using symbols that are always pronounced in the same way. Unfortunately, sounds cannot be remembered clearly for very long; but a phonetic transcription will make recall easier. “The science of phonetics may be considered the grammar of pronunciation. Knowledge of phonetics can help you to pronounce no less, and no more, than knowledge of grammar can help you speak and write.” (Prattor. C. & Wallace, B. 1985). Knowledge of phonetics is necessary for English as a foreign language learners. In fact, anyone who study EFL or whatever the target language is, ought to become familiar with the sound system of L2. Having obtained certain training in phonetics, an EFL learner could be able to communicate effectively not only with fellow learners, but with English native speakers as well, and will also be able to minimize the broad native accent.
Unfortunately, the science of phonetics is being ignored in the majority of language centers in Venezuela. I have taught English as a foreign language for quite some time for language academies, high-school and universities. I can’t remember any language coordinator asking me to consider phonetics in the English course syllabus. On the other hand, the EFL teachers I have worked with never showed adequate training in the subject. In terms of language centers, there seems to be little knowledge of English phonetics all over the places. Not having practiced phonetics in class, English learners will find it difficult to understand and produce the language in an accurate way. The consequence: a strong native accent, distorted pronunciation, misunderstandings and frustrations. Introducing English Phonetics using Information and Communication Technologies to the Aeronautical Engineering EFL students at Unefa is an educational project to teach English phonetics at tertiary level, paying especial attention to the knowledge and practice of the English phonetic alphabet and implementing the information and communication technologies (ICT) in the classroom. As a final academic assignment in the Master of English as a Foreign Language at Universidad Central de Venezuela, this work will permit me to put into practice the content, tools and digital skills I have developed during all the ICT in ELT 2014 course, facilitated by Lic. Evelyn Izquierdo.
The use of ICT as an aid resource in the teaching of English as a foreign language in Venezuela has still a long way to go. The spread of Internet and a broad band connection speed does not catch up with the advanced world standards. Not everybody have access to a computer and internet. In Venezuela and Latinoamerica, in general, citizens might be suffering a kind of digital divide. Every issue, service, gadget related to technology is difficult and expensive for the average citizen to afford. Despite facing this adversity, higher education institutions are aware that they need to form people able to participate responsibly in all the fields of social life, so that they can act productively and creatively in the development of their functions. We EFL teachers are doing our share too. We believe that we have to design a curriculum centered in learning and based on competencies, including proficiency in ICT as one of the alternatives that will allow us to achieve the objective of education and pertinence having to do with the transformations occurring in the world. Huerta, Perez & Castellanos (2000), cited by Arrás, Torres & García (2011) consider that the globalized world requires an increase in the productivity of social actors. They have also highlighted the need for mechanisms that allow changing the educational process with respect to the organization, contents and teaching methods in order to connect education more effectively with the real work, to acquire qualified staff capable of responding to the needs of production, technological innovation, the management of ICTs and competition in global markets. To teach phonetics to the Aeronautical Engineering students at Unefa using ICT is definitively a mechanism that will allow us to change the educational process, in terms of the innovation of contents and teaching methods so that future professionals may acquire an education to meet the demands of a globalized changing world.
At the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, we can find previous experience teaching a phonetics and phonology course using ICT. They created an EFL course. It aims to provide a comprehensive introduction to the sound pattern of English; and begins with the description of the articulation of the English consonants and vowels introducing the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet that are used for the transcription of the English sounds. Greek learners will have the opportunity to have extensive practice in phonetic transcription throughout the course. Course handouts and other materials (audio files, videos, Internet sites) are uploaded online. The language of instruction is English and the mode of delivery is face-to-face. As learning outcomes, the course expect from learners: a. an understanding of basic concepts and terms used in phonetics and phonology, b. knowledge of the English vowels and consonants and their articulatory characteristics , c. the ability to do a phonetic transcription of texts in English using the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and, taking into account that it is an advanced course, d. knowledge of syllable structure, stress patterns, intonation patterns, rhythm and connected speech processes of English and d. knowledge of the phonetic symbols and diacritics used to represent the sounds, stress and intonation of English.
This program uses ICT in course teaching and communication with students. Among educational material types are slides presentations, audio, multimedia, interactive exercises and books. Some general competences achievable are: retrieve, analyze and synthesize data and information with the use of necessary technologies, and apply knowledge in practice and work autonomously.
Use of Technology in EFL/ESL in the Past
Taking a glance back in the past, we have to recognize that the blackboard was the best technology to teach the grammar translation method. Later, the overhead projector came to supplement the subsequent methods. Later on, the audio-tape which emphasized learning through oral repetition was the perfect medium for the audiolingual method. In the 80’s, the communicative approach arose giving importance to authentic and meaningful interaction. Communicative learning has had two implications concerning how to best integrate technology into the classroom. I’m talking about the cognitive approaches and the sociocognitive approaches.
Cognitive approaches in language teaching imply an individual psycholinguistic act in language learning. Chomsky,(1986), cited by Warschauer, M., & Meskill, C. (2000), states that a language is an individual psycholinguistic act. Language learners construct a mental model of a language system, based not on habit formation but rather on innate cognitive knowledge in interaction with comprehensible, meaningful language. Sociocognitive approaches, contrary to cognitive approaches, put emphasis on the social aspect of language acquisition. According to Schieffelin & Ochs, 1986; learning a language is considered a process of apprenticeship or socialization into particular discourse communities.
I agree with Warschauer, M., & Meskill, C. (2000), who state that the Internet is a powerful tool for assisting a sociocognitive approach to language teaching, and it is in fact this fit of the Internet with a sociocognitive approach which largely accounts for the new-found enthusiasm for using computers in the language classroom. The Internet is a vast interactive medium which can be used in a myriad of ways.
To create an EFL course applying ICT, it is imperative to describe the context which in this case is related to UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL EXPERIMENTAL POLITÉCNICA DE LA FUERZA ARMADA, (Unefa), núcleo Caracas, Venezuela, a place I have been working for as an EFL teacher for the last four years.
Located in the municipality of Chacao, Caracas metropolitan district, the university was founded the 16th of August, 1973, during first Caldera’s Administration in Maracay, Aragua state. On April 26th, 1999, newly elected president Hugo Chávez signs a decree whereby the institution becomes Universidad Nacional Experimental Politécnica de la Fuerza Armada nationwide. The Unefa is famous thanks to an overwhelming socio-political inclusion where no fee is charged to the learners which are not only military servicemen but also civilians. At present, 235.000 students are enrolled at the Unefa’s 22 state venues (núcleos) all over the country.
In a modern 18-story building in the parroquia Chuao, the Unefa venue in Caracas is centrally located, across from Ciudad Centro Comercial Tamanaco, (Ccct), a huge posh shopping mall. It is a typical university with, approximately, two thousands students, a small campus at the main entrance, administrative offices, lots of classrooms and several small sport courts.
As an EFL teacher, I’m taking care of the students of the first semester of aeronautic engineering at the Unefa venue in Caracas. The average size of the two courses is 30 students. Males often surpass females in the engineering careers. The student population mostly comes from low class neighborhoods. Considering that the learners’ academic background at the arrival is not that excellent as someone would normally expect, applying candidates, with an average age of 18 years old, must take up one-month-length pre-university study to become acquainted with the university standards.
Only first and second semester students of Aeronautic engineering will take up English I and II. An ESP course for beginners is officially planned in two weekly sessions of two academic hours during eighteen weeks. A curriculum for English as a foreign language is mandatory in Aeronautic Engineering. The syllabus for the two semesters is designed and approved by a national academic staff appointed by the Unefa university chairman, General Jesus González González. Teachers in all state venues are expected to abide by the national syllabus in terms of the contents, procedures and assessment. Unefa does not usually offer academic training for teachers. Educators, depending on the area of teaching, are required to show at least a Bachelor’s degree.
As far as the work we teachers have to do in the classroom, it can be said that there is some flexibility in terms of the teaching resources and methodology. Any kinds of text-books, magazines, classroom activities and strategies are accepted as long as the aims and topics of the course syllabus are fully developed. Learners are never obliged to buy any materials, books, copies, etc. as a condition to study the course.
The ESP course syllabus is basic. It focuses only on writing abilities and some grammar, and it is not long or profound. It appears to have been especially adapted to students who have scarcely seen EFL in high school. The Aeronautic Engineering students are encouraged to take up additional EFL courses on their own in other institutions so that they can sort of become better skilled in the domain of an important subject matter such as English as a foreign language.
The “elementary” ESP course for semester I and II is, nevertheless, very relevant to the learners needs, despite some limitations, such as the absence of fully equipped classrooms, language and computer lab, technological resources such as video beam, laptops, access to internet and an adequate library.
Due to the fact that quite a few Aeronautic Engineering students will usually have to take up additional EFL courses on their own in other institutions so that they can sort of become better skilled in the mastery of the most important linguistic skills, such as, pronunciation, speaking and listening & comprehension, an additional English course, level III, should be incorporated to the official program approved by the Unefa national academic staff.
The idea of including the teaching of phonetics using ICT in the Aeronautical Engineering EFL course is wonderful and imperative. I still can remember my teachers, in my EFL class, back in my college days, saying insistently repeat after me, but they wouldn’t write on the board any phonetic symbol to explain or clarify the problems we went through when we had to differentiate the English consonants and vowel sounds. The method was based on repetition and imitation of words and phrases which the teachers uttered with the characteristic Spanish accent. I have always held that the practice of phonetics should be implemented at the early stages of learning English as a second of foreign language. I also think that every EFL/ESL instructor should be trained not only in phonetics but also in the use of ICT in the classroom and in a variety of topics concerning Sociolinguistics, Psycholinguistics, and some other subjects relevant to the area of Applied Linguistics to the teaching of English as a second or foreign Language. Phonetics is as important as grammar. Studying the English sound system will help learners to understand the nature and complexity of vowel and consonant sounds not only when these are uttered in isolation, but when they are uttered formal and informally in a stream of words and phrases in any given context.
As far technology is concerned, the use of postcasting and screencasting should be considered an invaluable resource tool to reinforce the learning process. Making use of Audacity, a program that allows the creation of high quality mp3 audio files, -and which is free and easy to use- students can record, edit and produce a podcast depending or focusing on their content. On the other hand, screencasting will help learners capture what is on screen to record procedures, answer common questions, do oral exercises, pronunciation drills. It will also give students audio-visual feedback, record lessons that students can access anytime, anywhere. Video files recorded via screencasting not only may be sent via email, but also may be uploaded and stored to popular places, such as YouTube, and Dropbox.
An additional EFL course proposal focusing Pronunciation and the use of ICT will pursue the following objectives:
1. Provide training on English Phonetics to the Aeronautical Engineering EFL students at Unefa.
2. Implement Information and communication technologies in the teaching of English as a foreign language in the Aeronautical Engineering Faculty at Unefa.
1. Familiarize the Aeronautical Engineering EFL students at Unefa with the English Phonetic alphabet and other significant features of the English sound system.
2. Practice digital skills while using technological artifacts, such as wikis, blogs, podcasts and screencasts, in the implementation of a syllabus course project at the Aeronautical Engineering Faculty at Unefa.
PLAN OF ACTION
1. COURSE SYLLABUS PROPOSAL
Considering my beliefs, a need analysis and context related to Unefa, I have designed a course syllabus proposal to be implemented in the classroom using some Web 2.0 artifacts and other traditional teaching resources:
UNIVERSIDAD NACIONAL EXPERIMENTAL
POLITÉCNICA DE LA FUERZA ARMADA
FACULTAD DE INGENIERÍA AERONAÚTICA
2. STEPS TO IMPLEMENT TECHNOLOGICAL RESOURCES:
a. Learners should access to the World Wide Web. Click on an educational wiki previously created by the course facilitator; open an account on www.pbworks.com, join the wiki page and expect for acceptance.
b. Attend face-to-face sessions at the university classrooms and follow the guidelines on how to combine traditional classes with computers and Online learning.
c. Guidelines include:
- creating a Gmail, WiZiQ, Podbean and Youtube account.
- Downloading the appropriate version of Audacity and Lame: software for producing podcasting.
-Downloading the appropriate version of Camtasia Studio: Software for capturing and editing video from your PC screen.
The central activity in terms of which this course will be taught is the minimal pairs practice. Contrasting vowel and consonants sounds considering their similarities and differences will result in gains for the learners to distinguish and recognize the innumerable and significant features of the English sound system. The traditional pronunciation drills will be done using the minimal pairs technique in class and out of it by using some artifacts such as podcasting and screencasting. A routine activity for teaching a class would be following directions like these:
1. Examples of minimal pairs will be pronounced by the teacher before writing them on the board. The students will listen carefully and try to note any difference in the words pronounced.
2. Then, some examples of minimal pairs will be written on the board. The teacher will demonstrate the correct pronunciation. A podcasting recorded by a native speaker might also work fine.
3. The teacher will reproduce the minimal pairs, having students repeat together in chorus.
4. Students will work in pairs taking turns reproducing the minimal pairs.
5. Each student, then, will also be given a piece of paper with a different minimal pair to practice and exchange with their classmates.
6. Students will pronounce the minimal pairs chart practiced or sample texts containing minimal pairs and then record a screencast and post it on youtube.com.
7. The teacher will access to websites specialized on EFL/ESL podcasts and will share them with students.
The course will implement a formative and summative assessment. Pronunciation drills and phonetic transcription quizzes using screencasting will be taken into account during and at the end of the course.
Training in phonetics should be regarded as important as other skills of the English language, such as listening, speaking, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary since it is a crucial aspect in communication. This means that pronunciation activities need to be incorporated in the educational material types, not only traditional, but technological tools as well.
Teachers also need to be trained in phonetics and the use of ICT in EFL teaching, and students should not use digital tools only for information and recreation. It should be everybody’s interest that our students enhance their competencies by using technological tools and implement them productively and responsibly while searching and organizing information, solving problems, doing collaborative work, and improving the communication processes.
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