CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
The trend of globalization in every field all over the world has given foreign languages in
general and English in particular a greater role than ever before. As English is largely used
in international settings, the ability to communicate in real-life situations is very important.
Therefore, speaking plays an essential role because without it, communication cannot take
place directly between people.
Dealing with how to improve speaking skills, learners face the problem of pronunciation. A
consideration number of learners’ pronunciation errors and how they inhibit successful
communication is a good reason for the justification of why it is important to teach
pronunciation to learners.
There is a great number of books relating to the teaching of English pronunciation, most of
which refer to specific exercises to help students achieve better pronunciation. However, in
my experience as a teacher of English for three years, I have witnessed many cases in
which students are able to do pronunciation exercises, but fail to have proper pronunciation
in their real-life speaking. Thus, a good mark in doing pronunciation exercises in written
form does not accompany good pronunciation.
In my opinion, the problem lies in the fact that students do not receive adequate feedback
from the teacher on their pronunciation performance. Some students even do not know how
to form certain sounds in English. Therefore, it is impossible for them to have genuine
production of sounds and sentences. Despite this, little can be done about this due to a vast
number of factors, the most serious of which is the high student-teacher ratio in Vietnamese
universities, which is about 25 to one (at universities in which English is a major). The
teachers hardly have enough time to pay attention and give correction to every student’
speaking performance in general and pronunciation in particular. As a result, students are
unable to identify their weak aspects.
All of these motivated me to conduct an action research on the use of continuous feedback
with the aim at improving the first year students’ English pronunciation.
1.2 Statement of the problem
As a teacher at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Hanoi National
University, I have realized the fact that the first-year students have a lot of problems
concerning their pronunciation. It is true that they speak English in all English classes
(twelve periods a week) and teachers are alert to help them with their pronunciation
problems. However, after a year of learning, their pronunciation doesn’t seem to improve
much, not to mention the fact that their frequent mistakes are maintained as the first day
they enter the university. This reflects the fact that the present teaching and learning of
English pronunciation is not very effective.
As O’Connor (2002) stated, “clear, concise feedback matched to standards will promote
student achievement”, feedback plays a very important role in the teaching of any foreign
language skill because without it, students would have a vague picture of what they are
really weak at and what they need to improve. As for pronunciation, feedback is even more
important. This is because only when students are adequately informed about their
particular pronunciation problems, and helped to make genuine sounds before moving on
the more complex issues of pronunciation such as intonation or elision, can they focus more
on what their personal problems are and invest more time and effort to improve them.
Generally, learners of English are required to have intelligible pronunciation. However, for
students at the English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Hanoi National
University, the aim of English pronunciation cannot be limited to that point. It is obvious
that most of these students are becoming teachers of English in the future. Therefore, their
English pronunciation must go far beyond the “accepted level”, as they are going to teach
English for the coming generations of the country. After finishing the four-year curriculum,
it is expected that their pronunciation would be native-like or near native-like.
Therefore, it is essential that the issue of English pronunciation must be raised at the very
first time the students enter the college. These first year students should be taught how to
achieve relatively correct pronunciation, regarding certain aspects of it. This is to lay a
foundation for better pronunciation competence in the next three years. In addition, if
students are not provided with adequate feedback on their pronunciation, the mistakes they
make may be fossilized and it will take a very long time to correct them later.
Those are the main reasons why I would like to propose An Action Research on the Use of
Continuous Feedback to Improve the First Year Students’ English Pronunciation at the
English Department, College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, Hanoi to
be the topic of my thesis.
1.3 Purposes of the study
This research was designed to improve the students’ pronunciation performance by using
continuous feedback. Generally, it has three purposes:
- To find possible explanations for the weak pronunciation competence of the students
- To investigate pronunciation problems among first year students of English at the English
Department, College of Foreign Languages, Vietnam National University, Hanoi .
However, due to the limitation of time, the researcher only focused on English consonant
- To justify the effect of continuous feedback on students’ pronunciation.
1.4 Research questions
With the above purposes, the research questions are:
1. What are the possible reasons that lead to students’ weak pronunciation of English?
2. What are the students’ most common problems regarding English consonant sounds?
3. Can continuous feedback improve students’ English pronunciation? If yes, to what
1.5 Scope of the study
The research was conducted on the first year students at the English Department of CFL,
VNU. Regarding its scope, the research was only aimed at justifying the effect of
continuous feedback on the students’ pronunciation of English consonant sounds. Other
aspects of English pronunciation would not be investigated. Even though the researcher
made use of speaking tests as an important instrument for the research, only issues
concerning the students’ pronunciation of consonant sounds were taken into consideration.
1.6 Research method
The method employed in this study is an action research, with the use of a number of
instruments, namely observation, questionnaires, speaking tests and interviews.
Action research has proved to be the best choice for this study because the study was aimed
at improving the students’ pronunciation within a certain context. The combination of
different instruments used in this research would help to gain reliable data and help the
researcher have a close investigation into the problems that the students were having.
1.7 Significance of the study
Even though pronunciation is troublesome for most English learners, it is surprising that
there is not much investigation into this problem. This research provides an insight into the
common pronunciation problems that most of the Vietnamese students who are studying
English as their major encounter regarding English consonant sounds. In addition, it
suggests a new way which is very learner-centered to help students improve their
pronunciation. The results of the research will be, therefore, much beneficial to both
teachers and students of English.
1.8 Design of the study
The study is divided into five chapters as follows:
Chapter one presents an overview of the study in which the rationale for the research, the
research problem, the purposes, the research questions, the scope of the study, the research
method, the significance of the study, as well as the design of the study were briefly
Chapter two reviews the literature relevant to the study, including the definition of
feedback, as well as an overview on the techniques that have been common used to teach
pronunciation. These lay the foundation for the choice of the medium for the research.
More specifically, it presents a number of research in which feedback has been used to help
students make improvement in their language study.
Chapter three is a detailed discussion of the method used in the study. This chapter
presents a thorough justification for the use of continuous feedback and action research. It
also gives a thorough description of the research’s components, as well as the research
Chapter four presents the findings of the study. This part is apparently important because
it justifies the effectiveness of the research.
Chapter five discusses the findings of the study, provides pedagogical implications, as
well as presents limitations of the research. It also makes recommendations for further
research in the same field.
CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW
2.1 Pronunciation teaching and learning
2.1.1 The importance of teaching and learning pronunciation
According to Kelly (2000: 11), it is vital for a language learner to have good pronunciation
of that language. However, pronunciation competence does not go with the mastery of
grammar rules or a good lexis command. Some learners may have already acquired a
considerable amount of grammar and vocabulary, but still fail to communicate effectively
due to their weak pronunciation. A learner who mispronounces a variety of words would
cause great difficulties for a speaker of that language to understand, which is a frustrating
experience. Therefore, it can be concluded that pronunciation plays a vital role in learner’s
speaking ability. Only when a learner is competent in pronunciation can his speaking skills
In addition to that, bad pronunciation inevitably has negative effect on the learner’s
listening ability. When a learner has already been accustomed to the wrong way of
pronouncing particular language sounds and utterances, it is unlikely that s/he will be able
to recognize the authentic pronunciation by native speakers. There are many cases in which
learners are asked to listen to a familiar expression by native speakers with the use of
mainly common words. However, they fail to interpret it because they find its
pronunciation totally different from the way they are used to speaking or listening in their
daily communication. As a result, they cannot understand what the speakers mean.
Moreover, it is obvious that good pronunciation serves as a strong motivation for language
learners. Most language learners show considerable enthusiasm for pronunciation as they
consider it a good way to show that they are competent of the language. Once they have
obtained adequate pronunciation competence, they gradually build up strong confidence for
themselves and are ready to learn new things without hesitation.
2.1.2 Approaches and methods in pronunciation teaching
The history and scope of pronunciation teaching are revised in Teaching Pronunciation
(Celce-Murcia. M, et al, 1996: 2). According to the authors, there are two general
approaches to the teaching of pronunciation in the modern times, namely intuitive-imitative
approach and analytic-linguistic approach.
An intuitive-imitative approach depends on “the learners’ ability to listen to and imitate
the rhythms and sounds of the target language without the intervention of any explicit
information.” This means the teaching of pronunciation depends largely on the teacher’s
turning on and rewinding a cassette player (or any other instrument), and the main activities
in the class are listening and repeating. Of course, in order to do this, there must be the
supply of authentic materials as well as recording devices to use during the lesson. The
teacher has no responsibility to explain how sounds are formed or produced. Learners do
their main task of listening and imitating, and it is expected that they will gradually gain
An analytic-linguistic approach “utilizes information and tools such as a phonetic
alphabet, articulatory descriptions, charts of the vocal apparatus and other aids to
supplement listening, imitation, and production.” In this approach, learners are given
explanation as well as training on how to form particular sounds of the target language.
This approach is actually a further development of the first approach rather than to replace
it because is still makes great use of authentic materials, as well as listening and imitating
phases during the lessons.
Regarding methods of language teaching in general and their philosophy of pronunciation
teaching in particular, it can be seen clearly that each method puts a different weight on
pronunciation, and therefore, treats pronunciation differently.
Some methods, such as Grammar Translation or Reading-based approaches, give no
acknowledge to pronunciation. The teacher use learners’ native language to teach grammar
or text comprehension. Thus, little attention is given to speaking, and almost none to
However, most methods give a genuine concern for the teaching of pronunciation. The
appearance of a method often brings about new approaches towards the teaching of
particular issues, most of which are affected by the time they come into being.
In Direct Method, which first became popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the teacher
provides learners with a model for native-like speech. This can either be the teacher himself
or a recording. By listening and then imitating the model excessively, learners gradually
develop their pronunciation. Some successors to this method are called naturalistic
methods, which mean methods that devote a period of learning solely to listening before
speaking is allowed. Linguists following this method believe that when learners are asked
to listen without having to worry about speaking, they are better at recognizing the sounds
because they are under less pressure. Thus, it is likely that they will be able to produce
correct sounds even without receiving explicit pronunciation instruction.
Other methods, namely Audiolingualism in the US and the Oral Approach in Britain during
the 1940s and 1950s have another way to treat pronunciation. In the class, pronunciation is
very important and is taught explicitly from the start. The teacher (or a recording) models a
sound, or an utterance and students are asked to repeat it. The difference between
Audiolingualism and Direct Method lies in the feature that in Audiolingualism class, beside
the model, the teacher also takes advantage of a number of teaching aids such as phonetic
description, or the transcription system. The most common technique that is used to teach
pronunciation is the minimal pair drills. Learners are asked to distinguish between two
different sounds that might sound similar by listening to the teacher or a tape recorder. This
listening discrimination is followed by oral practice.
During the 1970s, the Silent Way came to public attention. In classes applying this method,
accurate pronunciation is a focus from the very beginning. The teacher speaks as little as
possible, but takes advantage of gestures to indicate what the students should do. S/he can
do this with the aid of a number of tools such as a sound-colour chart, the Fidel charts,
word charts, and colored rods.
Another method that also came into being during the 1970s was the Community Language
Learning (CLL). This is a method which focuses much on the learners rather than the
teacher or teaching curriculum. A tape recorder is an indispensable tool in this class.
Students sit round a table, and then ask the teacher to translate any utterances they wish to
be able to speak in the target language. The teacher then provides students with the phrase
they need orally. After some time of practicing its pronunciation, when students can
produce the whole utterance fluently, it is recorded on the tape. After that, the tape is played
back and the students are able to compare their pronunciation with the target one provided
by the teacher. It is the students who decide what particular utterances they would like to be
trained pronunciation. The teacher is regarded as a “computer” turning on and off at the
Today, the dominant teaching approach has been the Communicative Approach. Under this
approach, the main objective of language is communication. Therefore, students are not
required to have a native-like pronunciation, but intelligible one. This is a kind of “accepted
pronunciation”, which means students may make some mistakes provided those mistakes
do not affect negatively on the comprehension of the listeners or cause misunderstanding.
How can learners achieve good pronunciation? This has been done by a number of
techniques with the aids of both traditional and modern materials, either authentic or non-
2.1.3 Research into the techniques used in teaching pronunciation
To date, teachers make use of a great deal of techniques to teach pronunciation.
Pronunciation may be taught in isolation or in combination with language skills of
listening, reading, speaking and writing. We would like to mention some common
techniques proposed by Celce, et al (1996: 8) and Kelly (2000: 16).
* Listen and imitate: The pronunciation of the target language is provided by the teacher or
tape recorders, language labs, etc. Students are to listen to a sequence of sounds or
sentences and repeat it. This not only helps students achieve better pronunciation, but
remember new items more easily as well.
This technique usually takes two forms, which are either all-class or individual (Kelly,
2000: 16). These two forms are actually the two phases of the same technique. Normally, at
first, the whole class repeats after certain sounds and phrases. After a certain amount of
class-drilling, individual student take turns and pronounce those items on his/her own.
* Phonetic training: This technique makes use of articulatory descriptions, articulatory
diagrams and a phonetic alphabet. Learners are provided with basic theoretical knowledge
about how sounds are formed. They are also aided by the teacher to make genuine sound
production. However, this kind of technique is not supposed to teach to too young learners
as it is unlikely that they are able to comprehend such a complicated matter.
* Minimal pair drills: These relate to words which differ by only one phoneme. Normally,
learners are allowed to listen to the tape and distinguish between the two sounds. This type
of activities is particularly useful to teach sounds which cause difficulties for learners or
sounds that are easily mismatched. After listening, learners are asked to produce the sounds
* Contextualized minimal pairs: When minimal pair drills seem a bit boring and too
theoretical with separated sounds, their contextualization compensates for this weakness.
The sentence stem serves as a basis for students to produce appropriate responses with
correct pronunciation. When words are put in sentences, it seems to be more useful than the
vague minimal pairs because it is more practical.
* Tongue twisters: When other techniques look serious and sometimes put learners under
much pressure, tongue twisters provide a more delighting way to learn pronunciation.
Sounds which are difficult to differentiate are put together to make meaningful sentences.
This technique rooted from speech correction strategies for native speakers. One of the
most typical examples for this technique is the sentence, “She sells seashells by the
* Practice of vowel shifts and stress shifts related by affixation: This is a useful
technique in which students are taught how stress and vowel shift by affixation. Many
learners have the habit of pronounce a new-formed word according to the pronunciation of
the root one. For example, they tend to pronounce the sounds of Exhibition like the sound
of Exhibit. With the help of the teacher, learners are more aware of some rules for shifting
stress and vowels, as well as are more aware that they should check first before making any
generalization relating to word formation’s pronunciation.
* Reading aloud/recitation: Students are provided with a passage or scripts and then read
aloud, focusing on stress, timing and intonation. This activity is often done with texts such
as poems, rhymes, song lyrics, etc. It is true that reading aloud is not popular in English
class today, due to the fact that it can have negative effect on students’ pronunciation. The
spelling of words can affect pronunciation adversely. However, according to Kelly (2000:
22), reading aloud provides a good chance for students to realize the linking between
spelling and pronunciation. Moreover, it provides a vivid example of how stress and
intonation are related, as well as the importance of linking sounds between words in
* Recordings of learners’ production: Students are asked to record their reading over a
passage or their spontaneous speech in a tape recorder. Then, the tape is played back so that
the students can get feedback from the teacher and have self-evaluation. This activity is
time consuming. However, it gives a true reflection of how learners are making progress in
their pronunciation. The learners’ mistakes can be easily identified, so that learners know
what aspects of pronunciation to focus for improvement.
2.2 Problems in pronunciation teaching
Inevitably, when teaching pronunciation to students, teachers have to encounter a lot of
problems. These may not only come from the nature of pronunciation itself, but from
various subjective and objective factors. In the following part, we exploit some important
issues that teachers have to pay attention to when teaching pronunciation.
2.2.1 Aspects of pronunciation
The question of “What is pronunciation?” has been answered by a number of different
definitions. Generally speaking, pronunciation is simply defined as “the way in which a
language is spoken” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Encyclopedic, 1992: 718). According to
Jones (1998:5), pronunciation is “the way in which people pronounce words.”
Pronunciation is a complicated concept that involves many aspects. Generally, it can be
broken into the following components:
1/ Vowel sounds and consonant sounds
The word vowel comes from the Latin word vocalis, meaning "uttering voice" or
"speaking". Vowels usually form the peak or nucleus of a syllable, whereas consonants
form the onset and coda. Vowels can be defined as “sounds in the production of which
there is no obstruction to the flow of air as it passes the larynx to the lips” (Roach,
2000:10). According to Roach (1998), vowels can be classified in terms of:
(1) The height of the bulk of the tongue in the mouth
(2) The front/back position of the tongue in the mouth
(3) The degree of lip-rounding
(4) The length of vowels
(Roach, 1998: 13-14)
As for consonant sounds, Roach (2000:10) defined them as “sounds in which there is
obstruction to the flow of air as it passes the larynx to the lips.” As consonant sounds were
the main issue of this research, we would like to propose the classification of English
consonant sounds in Table 1 below.
Table 1: English consonant sounds
Dental Alveolar Palato-
Palatal Velar Glotal
Plosive + b
Fricative + v + ð + z
Affricate + f - θ + dʒ
Nasal + m + n + ŋ
Lateral + l
Approximant + w + r + j
Note: + is for voiced sounds
- is for voiceless sounds
2/ Word stress and sentence rhythm
According to Randolph Quirk and Sidney Greenbaun (1973: 450), stress is the prominence
with which one part of a word or of a longer utterance is distinguished from other parts. For
example, the word Domination‘s stress is on the third syllables, whereas the word Where
and been can be considered to be the stressed words in the question: Where have you been?
Rhythm is the pattern formed by the stresses perceived as peaks of prominence or beats,
occurring at somewhat regular intervals of time, the recurring beats being regarded as
completing a cycle or “measure”. It is characterized by the alternation of strong and weak
syllables. Kenworthy (1987: 30) claimed that rhythm is a product of word stress and the
way in which important items are foregrounded through their occurrence on a strong beat,
and unimportant items are backgrounded by their occurrence on a weak beat. English is a
language with a tendency for “stress-timed” rhythm. Therefore, when speaking English, the
time interval between the peaks of an utterance is normally the same. For example, the
rhythm of the sentence “What did you do at school today?” can be marked like this:
‘What did you ‘do at ‘school to’day?
Intonation is an important part that most teachers have to deal with when teaching
connected speech. According to Kelly (2000: 86), intonation refers to the way the voice
goes up and down in pitch when we are speaking. It plays a vital role in helping people
express their opinions, as well as understanding thoughts of others. Intonation is such a
sensitive issue that it involves practice rather than theory. Therefore, it is always necessary
to have a certain context to decide what words to stress and how to raise a specific part of
an utterance. Learners have to be made fully aware of the fact that despite how correct their
grammar is, their wrong intonation may cause misinterpretation to the listeners. In addition,
one sentence’s meaning can be altered by different types of intonation a speaker uses. Thus,
learners should be taught how to achieve sensible intonation so as not to let it interfere with
the meaning of what they really want to say.
However, it is not an easy task to teach intonation to learners as it is largely affected by a
number of factors, among which one of the most important factors is the learners’
competence of language. If a learner is unable to find an appropriate word in time due to his
lack of vocabulary, then he cannot have a smooth intonation. This results from the fact that
he will have to spend a certain amount of time to think of a particular word.
4/ Other aspects of connected speech
The master of pronouncing English sounds is not enough to achieve good pronunciation as
it is a complicated issue. Apart from the individual sounds, learners have to be competent
on the use of intonation and a vast number of other aspects relating to connected speech. If
English is spoken in a very careful and slow way, such as when delivering a speech, or
having a lecture, these aspects do not appear much. They are most used in casual and rapid,
everyday speech. That is the reason why it is much more difficult to teach learners these
aspects in the class, where the environment for listening to authentic communication is
Kelly (2000) defines assimilation as the modification of sounds on each other when they
meet, usually across word boundaries, but can also within words. Assimilation is said to be
progressive when a sound influences a following sound, or regressive when a sound
influences one which precedes it. In other words, this means in the preparation steps for
pronouncing a coming sound, the previous sound is often altered. It is not pronounced in
full, but only partly. That is the reason why as stated before, assimilation does not receive
attention in careful speech, when utterances are spoken at a very slow speed.
The term elision means “the disappearance of a sound” (Kelly, 2000: 110). This
phenomenon, once again, usually refers to rapid speech rather than careful one. In saying an
utterance, some sounds are deleted due to the fast speed and also due to the economy of
effort, when people do not want to try hard in pronouncing every single sound. In addition,
it would be impossible to maintain a regular rhythm and speed if speakers are to put certain
consonant sounds together.
* Linking and intrusion
Normally, when a word is finished with a consonant and is followed by another word with a
preceding vowel, the final consonant of the first word will join with the first vowel of the
Example 1: You must be quiet and mysterious. (no linking)
Example 2: You must end telephone conversation first. (linking between /t/ and /e/: /tend/)
2.2.2 Class setting
Class setting poses lots of problems relating to pronunciation teaching. Firstly, the class
size is often too big for the teaching of pronunciation. Even in universities of foreign
languages, the number of students in one class is normally from 22-27. With such a high
student-teacher ratio, it is almost impossible to make sure that students are having proper
pronunciation in speaking class, whereas pronunciation is not paid much attention in
writing, reading or listening lessons.
Besides, the quality of the teaching staff is also a big problem. Most teachers of English are
non-native speakers, and few of them can have a native-like pronunciation. As a result, the
language input that students receive every day is from non-native people. Therefore, it is
impossible to require students to achieve perfect pronunciation when even the teachers are
not perfect speakers.
2.2.3 What pronunciation model to teach?
We cannot judge students’ pronunciation without regarding the model of pronunciation that
we apply during the teaching process.
According to Kelly (2000), in the past, the model for teaching English pronunciation was
usually Received Pronunciation (RP), which is the pronunciation of people in the southeast
England. Whereas other kinds of accent usually say something about the geographical
regions, RP is different in the way that it is perceived as the accent that shows a person’s
status and education.
However, today, there are a vast number of English, such as American English, Australian
English, etc. They are also employed in all fields of life. Even within countries where
English is the native language, it has a great number of variables. Take the UK, for
example, people in the North and in the South have different accents.
Thus, it is vital to decide what model of English pronunciation to teach, and for what
reasons the teacher makes such a decision. However, the truth is that the teacher himself is
often unable to produce a “perfect” accent without being affected by his own language.
Some teachers may modify their accents, but actually this can only be to some certain
extend. Another troublesome problem is that one student is taught by many teachers, with
different accent. In addition, each student may have his/her own preference due to some
inner motivation. Some of them may want to study Australian English because they wish to
study further in Australia, for example. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to state what is
the “correct accent”, what is not. Normally, the teacher would allow the students to choose
whatever accent they want to develop, provided that it is widely comprehensible. The
teacher should teach the accent that they can use the best, and adequately inform students
about the existence of other varieties.
Apart from identifying clearly the kind of pronunciation that will by employed and taught
to students, another important issue that needs raising is the question of the pronunciation
goal, i.e. the level of pronunciation required from the learners. Locke and Latham (1990)
claims that human action is caused by purposes, and goals have to be set and pursued by
choice so as for the action to take place. Without a clear goal in mind, people do not know
what to work for. Another important issue relating to goals is that goals should be
attainable, but not easy to achieve. This means approaching a goal must be a difficult
process, so that people have to try hard. However, if it is an impossible goal, they will
gradually lose motivation and do not want to continue the pursuit.
As stated before, it is virtually impossible to require students to have a “perfect English
pronunciation”, because this seems to be also impossible even for the teachers.
Furthermore, what is considered to be “perfect” is of much controversy. Therefore, the aim
of pronunciation cannot be the “perfect” one. With the prevalence of the communicative
language teaching approach, whose target is communication, the most common goal for
learners’ pronunciation is Intelligibility.
Kenworthy (1987: 13) defines intelligibility as “being understood by a listener at a given
time in a given situation”. In other words, although the foreign speaker doesn’t make
precisely the same sound or use the exact feature of linking or stress, it is possible for the
listener to match the sound heard with the sound (or feature) a native speaker would use
without to much difficulty. Therefore, the matter is “counts of sameness”.
However, pronunciation intelligibility is affected by a number of factors. It is actually
affected by other aspects of speech. For example, if a person is not confident about what he
is saying and has lots of hesitation, the utterances he produces will not be easy to be
perceived, not to mention the fact that he won’t be able to achieve sensible intonation.
Besides, familiarity with the speakers’ accent also affects the listener. This is the reason
why Vietnamese teachers of English may find it easier to comprehend what Vietnamese
learners say than the other speakers of English. It is also likely that learners will find it less
difficult to listen to people from their country speak a foreign language, rather than those
from other countries. For example, a Vietnamese learner will find listening to Vietnamese
people speaking English much easier than Italian people speaking English.
2.3 Research into factors that affect pronunciation learning
A vast number of researches have been carried out to find out and justify factors that may
affect students’ pronunciation. These are briefly summarized in Teaching English
Pronunciation by Joanne Kenworthy (1987).
1/ The native language
It is inevitable that learners’ native language has a great impact on their ability of
pronouncing English. The “foreign accent” is therefore easy to identify. Even in some
cases, it is possible to identify what country and what region a speaker comes from based
on his/her way of pronouncing English. Furthermore, the native language may cause
difficulties, as well as advantages for learners. Take Vietnamese learners, for example,
learning English may be easier than learning Chinese, because of the fact that both English
and Vietnamese are Latin ones, whereas Chinese is a hieroglyphic language. However,
some English sounds do not exist in Vietnamese such as /ʒ/, /∫/, /θ/, /ð/. Therefore, many
Vietnamese learners are unable to produce those sounds correctly.
2/ The age factor
It is often assumed that the younger a person starts learning foreign languages, the better he
is at pronouncing it and therefore, a greater chance of having a native-like accent. Oyama
(1976) conducted a research whose subjects were sixty male Italian-born immigrants. They
were tape-recorded reading aloud a short paragraph and telling a story about a frightening
episode in their lives (completely unprepared or rehearsed). Their pronunciation was judged
by two experts based on a five point scale, ranging from “no foreign accent” to “heavy
foreign accent”. The results showed that the younger a person was when he started learning
English, the more native-like was his accent.
Nevertheless, other researches showed opposite results. Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle (1975)
conducted a research which had two parts. The first part was a laboratory study in which
136 subjects (British English people who were learning Dutch as a second language in
Holland) were asked to listen and imitate five Dutch words. The results showed that the two
oldest groups of learners (eight 17-year-olds and seven 21-31-year-olds) had the highest
achievement, whereas the youngest groups had the lowest scores (ten 5-year-olds and ten 6-
year-olds). The second part was a long-term study in which the subjects were tested in
much the same way at intervals during their first year of studying Dutch. This time, at first,
older learners seemed to get better results. However, after four to five months, there seemed
to be no significant age difference among the results of those subjects.
Therefore, we can come to a conclusion that there is no trusted evidence relating to the
relationship between age and a person’s ability to pronounce a new language. Even if the
age factor is a problem, nothing can be done for the learners. It is the learners’ choice when
to start learning a foreign language and therefore, virtually impossible for teachers to
3/ Amount of exposure
People who live in the country where the target language is spoken and is surrounded by an
English-speaking environment may have some advantages over some who do not.
However, it is difficult to measure the exact amount of exposure to English. Some may use
English at work, but use their own language at home. Some may live in the UK, but work
for companies from other countries. Even if these people use English everyday, it is not an
easy task to measure the length of time they use English, and it is even more complicated to
decide what kind of English it is. It may be business English, or just informal English in the
market. Furthermore, exposure is not the only important factor, but the way people take
advantage to listen to and use English is also essential. Therefore, there is still no clear
evidence that an English-speaking country is a necessary factor for a foreigner to have good
4/ Phonetic ability
Researches have shown that some people naturally have a “better ear” for foreign languages
than others. They may benefit most from exercises such as imitating, drilling, or
distinguishing sounds. Others may have more problems and find it difficult to be able to
realize specific sounds. However, this is an innate matter, which means the teacher can do
nothing about it. All the teacher should do is to provide a variety of exercises so that all
learners can benefit.
5/ Attitude and identity
Results from many studies have shown that learners who have a positive attitude towards
speakers of a foreign language tend to have a more native-like pronunciation. This is due to
the fact that when people like something, they are more likely to pay more attention to it.
That brings benefits to learners who are really interested in not only the language, but also
in the people and the culture of that language as well. In this case, the teacher may increase
the learners’ positive attitude towards the foreign language by providing vivid information
about that language’s culture, or making use of authentic materials to make the lessons
6/ Motivation and concern for good pronunciation
It is essential that in order to learn a language in general, and pronunciation in particular,
motivation plays a vital role. If learners really care much about their pronunciation, they
will become more careful with their speaking, and gradually build up good pronunciation
competence. Moreover, it is the truth that many students have great concern for their
pronunciation. They always seek for feedback from the teacher on how they speak.
Sometimes, it is the fact that they feel unable to pronounce a word correctly that inhibits
them from the desire to speak any more.
7/ The teacher’s role
In teaching pronunciation, the teacher is expected to play an important role in guiding and
helping learners. According to Kenworthy (1987: 1), the teacher has to perform the
* Helping learners hear: The teacher has a mission to provide appropriate input of the
target sounds for learners to hear. If such a provision is not available, learners are likely to
have misconceptions about the target language and perceive the sounds in a wrong way.
Thus, they will be unable to produce genuine sounds and utterances.
* Helping learners make sounds: It is true that some English sounds do not exist in the
learners’ mother tongue. Some learners may be able to imitate the target sounds if they are
provided models. However, for those who lack such ability, it is the teacher’s task to
explain the way those difficult sounds are made and provide aid to help learners produce
* Providing feedback: Like any other aspect of teaching, feedback is very important in the
sense that it helps learners know where they are standing, how much they have gained and
what they need to improve. As for pronunciation, this is of vital importance because in
many cases, learners may make overgeneralization about the way English is pronounced
based on the way English words are spelt. Besides, learners may be unaware that they are
persistently making the same pronunciation mistakes. The teacher must, therefore, provide
necessary and appropriate feedback to learners.
* Pointing out what is going on: In many cases, learners fail to realize what and how they
are speaking. As speaking is for the most part unconsciously controlled, learners may
sometimes make mistakes in the way they produce a particular sequence of sounds, or put
stress in an incorrect place, leading to misunderstanding. It is the teacher’s role to specify
the area that learners have to pay attention to so as not to cause miscomprehension.
* Establishing priorities: Native-like pronunciation is not easy to achieve. Therefore,
learners need a guide to tell them about what aspects they should master, what aspects they
do not have to be “perfect”. Inevitably, when learning a foreign language, it is ideal if
learners master every aspect of it. However, as this is somehow unrealistic, learners should
learn to satisfy at an accepted level of those aspects which are not vital. The level at which
learners can feel satisfied with depends on different situation for different individuals.
* Devising activities: Teaching pronunciation is not an easy task. Therefore, the teacher
must be able to identify what exercises will benefit learners most, what types of activities
will engage the most learners in the class. In devising them, however, it should be kept in
mind that certain activities are more suitable to some students than others.
* Assessing progress: This is actually a form of feedback, but more official and has more
weight. Learners need to know at what level they are in pronunciation. Tests allocated at
appropriate times will serve as a strong motivation for students. When they look at their
marks, they have a clear sense of how much they have gained. Judging learners’
pronunciation performance is very complicated. However, this should be done accordingly.
2.4 Research into the use of feedbacks and learners’ improvement
2.4.1 Definition of feedbacks
As defined in Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics
(Richards et al: 137), feedback is “any information which provides a report on the result of
behavior; for example, verbal or facial signals which listeners give to speakers to indicate
that they understand what the speaker is saying.” In teaching, feedback is defined as
“comments or information learner receive on the success of a learning task, either from the
teacher or from other learners.”
Feedback plays an essential role in any language learning and teaching environment.
Without proper feedback from the teacher, learners would be at a loss of specifying their
own position in the process of studying a foreign language. Davies (2000) stated that
“Specific, descriptive feedback that focuses on success and points the way to improvement
has a positive effect.” He also pointed out that the purpose of providing feedback is to
“provide opportunities for the learner to make adjustments and improvements toward
mastery of a specified standard.”
A further investigation finds out that there are some kinds of feedback, also specified in the
dictionary, namely auditory feedback, delayed auditory feedback and kinesthetic feedback.
As for the purpose of the research, for the sake of improving the students’ pronunciation,
we would like to present the first two ones.
When a person speaks, they can hear what they are saying, and can use this information to
monitor their speech and to correct any mistakes. This is called auditory feedback.
This means this is a type of feedback that comes from the learners themselves, or we may
call self-feedback. It is particularly common in speaking. When students make some
mistakes, they discover it immediately after they speak. Then, they provide correction
immediately. This type of feedback does not involve the role of the teacher. For example,
one student says:
“I would like a room for two nights /laits/.”
She may discover that she has mispronounced night right at the time she speaks.
Then, she can continue to say “I mean nights. /naits/”
Another type of feedback which we find particularly effective in the teaching and learning
of pronunciation is delayed auditory feedback. This is “a technique which shows how
speakers depend on auditory feedback (i.e. hearing what have just said) when speaking. In
studies of delayed auditory feedback, speakers wear earphones through which they hear
what they have said, but after a short delay. The effect of this on speakers is that it is very
difficult for them to speak normally.” It is commonly observed that students find it difficult
to identify the mistakes made by themselves. It is the fact that we seem to discover mistakes
made by other people rather than those made by our own. For example, in peer-checking
lesson in a writing class, some students are very good at pointing out the mistakes made by
their partners when they edit their partners’ writing versions. However, they themselves
may make the same mistakes in their own writing drafts.
This problem gets worse with speaking skill in general and pronunciation in particular. If
one student makes mistakes in a writing draft, when the teacher or another student points
them out, that student will be able to identify them immediately. However, it is totally
different for speaking. When a student is making a presentation, for example, s/he seems to
focus more on fluency (i.e. the ability to keep on speaking) rather than accuracy. It takes
students time to think of what they are going to say. Finding words and phrases to express
their thoughts is already a difficult task, so they may spend little time thinking of how
precisely those expressions are used. Therefore, they may make a lot of pronunciation
mistakes. However, if there is no recorder to show how the students were going with their
presentation, it is sometimes difficult to persuade them that they actually made those
mistakes. Thus, with the use of a recorder, it makes it easier for both teachers and students
to identify mispronunciation. This will be very effective in serving as a background for
further analysis, leading to further improvement.
Another type of feedback which is widely used in almost any language classes for the
teaching of any language skills is corrective feedback. It was defined by Lyster and Ranta
(1997) as “the provision of negative or positive evidence upon erroneous utterances, which
encourages learners’ repair involving accuracy and precision, and not merely
comprehensibility.” This kind of feedback is mostly provided by the teachers and is
normally given right after the students make any mistakes, particularly in speaking.
However, to minimize the risk of making students lose confidence and at a loss of knowing
what to say, some teachers may wait until the students have finished their speech to provide
Despite the inevitable importance of feedback, there have been very few researches
focusing on the use of feedback to improve students’ performance. Most of the researches
so far have been largely exploiting other aspects such as assessment or testing. Feedback
seems to be ignored. This may be explainable for two reasons. First, feedback is something
that teachers do everyday. It is the normal task of the teacher to provide feedback to his/her
students. Therefore, maybe it is such a familiar concept that many people think does not
worth looking at. The second reason may come from the fact that feedback is actually a
very complicated concept. Despite its clear and evident meaning, there are various types of
feedback, and the questions of which feedback types is the most suitable in a specific
situation, or how should teachers provide feedback to students are not easy to answer.
2.4.2 Research into the use of corrective feedback
The term corrective feedback is considered by some researchers to be rooted from the
Output Hypothesis proposed by Swain (1985). When conducting a research in a class where
school students learn French, she found out that despite the fact that the students hardly
encountered any difficulties in understanding the teacher’s instructions in French, their
production often lacked accuracy. Therefore, she came to a conclusion, which is the Output
Hypothesis, that “comprehensive input alone does not improve learners’ language
acquisition in terms of syntax,” and “the production of output in response to input is
necessary for further language development.” She also argued that modified output is
necessary for second language mastery. Furthermore, modified output could result from the
ample opportunities for output and the provision of useful and consistent feedback from
teachers and peers. More specifically, modified output can be a form of learner uptake, or
learner reaction to corrective feedback given to learners’ error. Therefore, corrective
feedback can be regarded as “a pedagogical means of offering modified input to students,
which could consequently lead to modified output by the students.”
Following this research, Long (1985) clarified the relationship between input, teacher-
learner interaction and acquisition as follows:
(1) interactional modification makes input comprehensible
(2) comprehensible input promotes acquisition
(3) interactional modification promotes acquisition
Another theory which served as a basic ground for the discussion of the significance of
using corrective feedback was proposed by White (1987, 1989). She argued that if second
language learners aim at achieving native-like proficiency, it is necessary that there must be
a provision of negative evidence, which is information about what is ungrammatical. This is
particularly essential when learners seem to over-generalize rules in their first language to
produce the second language. Therefore, it is of vital importance that learners should be
pointed out what is wrong in their original utterances so as to build up better output.
A later issue that is worth looking into is the question of how error treatment should be
given, as well as whether learners’ errors should be corrected at all.
Spada and Lightbown (1993) conducted an experimental research to justify the effect of
corrective feedback in combination with form-focused instructional materials on ESL
learners whose native language was French. Despite positive effects observed, there was
not enough evidence to come to a conclusion whether error correction alone was effective
because in the experiment, it was provided together with intensive form-focused
A significant research aiming at finding out the effectiveness of error correction alone was
done by DeKeyser (1993). He conducted an experimental research for over one school-year
on Belgium high school students who learnt French as a second language. The research was
designed to investigate whether error correction could improve the students’ grammatical
use. Simultaneously, DeKeyser collected data on the students’ language learning aptitude,
motivation and class anxiety. The results of the research did not reveal significant
improvement in students’ grammar proficiency. However, it did show an association
between error correction and learner variables, such as motivation and anxiety levels. Thus,
the researcher came to a conclusion that there may be interaction between the effectiveness
of corrective feedback and learner characteristics.
Apart from all of these, it is also of vital importance to look at the issue of how often and to
what degree learners perceive corrective feedback from the teacher. Mackey et al. (2000)
made an interesting discovery after conducting a research over 17 non-native speakers.
According to the results, learners were more accurate in perceiving lexical, semantic and
phonological feedback, but they were less accurate in perceiving morphosyntactic one.
They also found that morphosyntactic errors were mostly received recasts, whereas
negotiation of form (elicitation, clarification request, repetition of the error, and
metalinguistic feedback) mostly occurred in response to phonological errors. Therefore,
they pointed out that there was a relationship between learner errors’ types and feedback
types, and between feedback types and learner perception.
From the literature review, we can see that despite the fact that feedback plays a vital role
in the learning of a second language, there is still not enough persuasive research evidence
to justify its effect on the students’ performance. As for pronunciation, the effect of
feedback has not been adequately exploited. This, once again, motivated us to carry out a
research on it.
CHAPTER THREE: METHODOLOGY
In the following part, the researcher provides a detailed description of the research’s
methodology. Firstly, we present the argument for the choice of applying feedback to
improve students’ pronunciation and the justification for the use of an action research.
3.1 Argument for the use of continuous feedback to improve first year students’
First and foremost, we would like to justify the reasons for our decision to use continuous
feedback to help first year students of English improve their pronunciation, although the
literature review shows that there is little research carried out in this field so far.
3.1.1 A further analysis on factors that can help improve learners’ pronunciation
As can be seen clearly from the analysis of the factors that affect learners’ pronunciation
(see 2.3), as well as the teacher’s role in helping learners achieve better pronunciation, the
question that should be raised now is: “Which of those factors can teaching and training
have impact on?” If an appropriate answer can be found, we can utilize them to help
students gain better pronunciation.
When we examined the factors again, it is evident that some factors cannot be changed,
such as the age factor, the native language, and the phonetic ability of the students. These
are the factors that no alternations can be made. The teacher also seems unable to increase
the amount of exposure for learners due to the fact that English classes only take place over
a certain limit length of time in a day and in a week. Moreover, the teacher cannot be sure
whether learners have a chance to use it outside the class, as well as whether they want to
do it or not. As for learners’ attitude toward the foreign language, the teacher can stimulate
it by providing more authentic materials so as to raise learners’ love for it. However, this is
often done only to some extend due to the fact that some learners may not be interested in
such provision. In short, these factors are somehow out of the teacher’s control.
However, there is one factor that clearly can be improved so as to bring the most benefits to
learners, which are motivation and concern for good pronunciation. According to
Kenworthy (1987), the teacher can do this in three ways. Firstly, it is vital that learners are
persuaded how importance pronunciation is for good communication. Secondly, it must be
clearly stated that “native-like” accent is not the pronunciation goal. Learners can be