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Globally competent teachers: English as a second language teachers’ perceptions on global competence in English lessons
Nur syafiqah yaccob.
1 Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan Dato’ Abdul Rahman Ya’kub, Melaka, Malaysia
2 Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Bangi, Malaysia
Melor Md. Yunus
Harwati hashim, associated data.
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
Due to the implementation of global education and global citizenship education in the 21st century, more focus is given to developing teachers’ global competence in English language teaching. This study aims to examine the perceptions of English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers of (1) global competence integration in English teaching and (2) the professional development programs organized by the Ministry of Education (MOE) for their global competence development. A web-survey questionnaire was distributed to 172 Malaysian ESL teachers based on selected criteria. The data collected were analyzed descriptively. The main findings indicated that most ESL teachers showed positive perceptions regarding the importance of global competence and integration in English lessons. Although 83.1% of the 172 participants agreed to have attended 10 or more programs related to developing global competence, the descriptive analysis found the ESL teachers’ moderate knowledge and understanding of what constitutes global competence. In contrast, a high agreement was found regarding their perceptions of the importance of global competence in ESL lessons. Also, most respondents revealed the lack of support from the MOE through professional development programs specifically structured to develop ESL teachers’ global competence. The findings served as a template for a larger-scale study that focuses on implementing global competence in the local non-western context.
The English language has become an essential language worldwide. It is the lingua franca in many fields, including education, politics, economics, social sciences, and technologies ( Bullah and Yunus, 2019 ). It holds its position as a widely-used language of instructions. For non-native English speakers, being competent in several languages, including English, is a prerequisite to adapt and be connected in today’s multicultural and mobile society ( Heinzmann et al., 2015 ). Furthermore, Halim et al. (2020) described competent English language users as assets for societal and country development. Since English is the language of knowledge in most schools, it becomes the medium of instruction and information content delivery. Malaysian schools have long used English as the language of communication as it is learned as a second language (L2). However, some scholars expressed concerns about the deteriorating Malaysian students’ English proficiency and literacy ( Halim et al., 2020 ), and the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Malaysia continuously emphasizes the importance of competency in English acquisition among students ( Bullah and Yunus, 2019 ).
Over the last decade, teachers’ responsibilities have expanded to educating students about a complex and interconnected society ( Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2019 ). Therefore, education today requires a new dimension of teachers’ professional development that correlates with global competencies ( Orazbayeva, 2016 ). Likewise, continuous professional development for teachers is to develop proficiencies to meet changing professional demands by regularly involved in various updated programs ( Sukri et al., 2017 ; Vadivel et al., 2021 ). From a language student’s standpoint, students need to be taught English by highly trained language teachers who are constantly ready to adapt to changes in the educational system throughout the world. They must be knowledgeable about global concerns and possess the required abilities to be competent English teachers in various settings ( Orazbayeva, 2016 ; Salzer and Roczen, 2018 ; Diveki, 2020 ; Yaccob et al., 2021 ).
Language education aims to prepare students for effective interaction and collaboration since English constantly evolves, as all languages do ( Othman and Lotfie, 2019 ). Byram and Wagner (2018) identified language teaching as preparation for students to be proficient users of the target language. The authors added that students need to learn to interact with people from various cultural backgrounds with the necessary skills, attitudes, and knowledge. The above mentioned students’ needs are among the global competence elements regarding cross- cultural interaction ( Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2019 ; OECD, 2020 ). Thus, English, precisely English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers, ought to create lessons that will develop students’ global competence. This is why globally competent ESL teachers have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to do so ( Yaccob et al., 2021 ). According to Salzer and Roczen (2018) and Mansilla and Wilson (2020) , globally competent ESL teachers can create meaningful and comprehensive English lessons for students. They can effectively work in diverse classrooms and school environments ( Salzer and Roczen, 2018 ; Diveki, 2020 ; Yaccob et al., 2021 ). It is significant in the Malaysian ESL context since Malaysia is considered one of the most heterogeneous countries worldwide ( Abdullah and Abdullah, 2018 ).
Many researchers have researched teachers’ global competence development and implementation in lessons [e.g., Kerkhoff et al. (2019) ; Sinagatullin (2019) ; Tichnor-Wagner et al. (2019) ]. However, most are from western viewpoints and settings. Hence, it is deemed unfit to generalize those past studies into the Malaysian ESL context. ESL teachers’ teaching of global competence in English lessons influences students’ language development and understanding of world knowledge. Some students may not engage with people and cultures outside their classroom walls ( Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2019 ). Besides, students’ lack of preparation to interact with diverse cultures, ideas, and opinions in the current global society withheld their global competence development ( Fox, 2019 ). When students were not exposed to global knowledge, such as intercultural knowledge, they had a limited understanding of cultural differences ( Popescu and Iordachescu, 2015 ). Consequently, global competence in ESL lessons will highly influence the development of students’ global competence to think of how a classroom should become the lens to see the world.
The practice of educating for global competence responds to globalization demands ( Tamerat, 2020 ). Global competence, as defined by OECD (2020) , refers to the abilities of individuals/students to:
- i. examine local, global, and cultural issues,
- ii. understand and appreciate others’ perspectives and worldviews,
- iii. engage in cross-cultural interactions and collaborations.
- iv. take action for sustainable development and to protect community wellbeing.
However, global competence cannot be developed in students over a short period of time ( Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2019 ). It requires ESL teachers’ efforts to incorporate it into every language lesson. The Programme for International Students Assessment (PISA) by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has already started to measure students’ global competence through assessments ( Diveki, 2020 ). The global competence test reported by Education GPS, OECD (2021) stated that Malaysian students had the lowest awareness level of global issues with the PISA index of-0.41 and ranked 60 among 64 PISA-participating countries. Besides, according to Avvisati et al. (2019) , the students showed lower than the average performance by scoring 54% (Level 2) OECD score, compared to the OECD average of 77%. It reflects the lack of global competence among students. The authors added that the results proved the students’ weakness in reading English materials, such as understanding the meaning and main idea in OECD reading literacy’ texts.
Therefore, getting minimum results in PISA reflects their deficiency of global awareness in real-life. A study by Majzub et al. (2017) on students’ global readiness indicated that ICT usage and problem-solving dimensions had a high degree of global preparedness, whereas students’ communication and environmental awareness were at a moderate level. The authors deduced that students might not be aware of disasters in other countries, such as the earthquakes in Japan, due to their moderate level of global awareness. It highlights the lack of global competence integration into some English classrooms.
Similarly, ESL teachers’ global competence is vitally significant when textbooks contain insufficient global and local knowledge. Although cultural references are prevalent in textbooks and media, they are often restricted to the “American,” “British,” and “European” cultures, ignoring other cultures around the world in which English is not a native language, such as Asian and the Middle Eastern ( Galante, 2015 ; Johar and Abdul, 2019 ). Meaningful language learning refers to contextual learning that includes knowledge of the interconnected world. ESL teachers help students better examine and deal with global issues through active and authentic language learning ( Fox, 2019 ). Another benefit is instilling ethical sensitivity among students ( Stankovska et al., 2019 ). The authors explained that having ethical sensitivity enables students to think critically about social situations, analyze real-life issues, be creative and innovative in identifying necessary solutions, and behave ethically in society ( Stankovska et al., 2019 ). Therefore, professional development programs for teachers and ESL teachers must include methods to integrate global competence in lessons ( Yaccob et al., 2022 ). For teachers to become globally competent as required by the current global education, they need a suitable and structured program across content areas as a guideline ( Tichnor-Wagner et al., 2019 ). In supporting English teachers’ professional quality, Liu et al. (2021) suggested the construction of professional learning communities that maintain and promote their professional development.
This study intends to bridge the gap in the area by examining the perceptions and opinions of ESL teachers on global competence in English lessons. It also identifies the perceptions of ESL teachers on professional development programs by the MOE in developing global competence among English teachers. This study helps inform policymakers of teachers’ perceptions and the crucial factors in integrating global competence into English teaching and learning and, as a result, identifying appropriate actions to assist ESL teachers’ global competence development through programs, workshops, and other suitable platforms.
Thus, the purposes of this study are to address the perceptions and opinions of ESL teachers on global competence in English lessons and identify the factors that affect the integration of global competence in ESL lessons. This study seeks to answer the following research questions:
- What are the ESL teachers’ perceptions of teachers’ global competence in English teaching and learning?
- What are the ESL teachers’ perceptions of professional development programs organized by the MOE in developing their global competence?
This study employed a quantitative method that identified ESL teachers’ perceptions and factors regarding global competence in English teaching and learning. Due to the objectives of this study, this study used a cross-sectional survey design in which the researcher collected data from a questionnaire distributed to respondents. This study provides a primary overview of an actual study on a larger scale.
This study applied a purposive sampling method, seeking responses from the respondents who fit the list of criteria. A total of 172 Malaysian English teachers teaching secondary school students aged between 13 and 18 were the respondents for this study. The criteria for the respondents were: (1) L2 teachers, (2) teaching in public secondary schools, (3) teaching in Malaysia, and (4) having experience attending professional development programs/workshops/courses. For selecting respondents who corresponded to the fourth criterion, the ESL teachers made their judgments based on the descriptions of the criteria included with the Google Form Survey link. The requests for participation in the survey, the descriptions, and links were sent to the ESL teachers via online platforms.
The data collection was conducted between April 5 and April 18, 2021. The teachers who fit the criteria voluntarily agreed to respond to the survey questionnaire during their free time within the period allocated by the researcher in a fortnight.
This research utilized the quantitative research design to identify the perceptions of ESL teachers in Malaysia on global competence. The survey questionnaire was designed to extract information on the perceptions of ESL teachers. The construction referred to the study’s objectives and the research questions formulated. Through surveys, information from many respondents can be obtained and further analyzed.
Before conducting the study, a pre-test was performed to confirm no ambiguity in each questionnaire item and that the respondents could clearly understand the questions ( Memon et al., 2017 ). Five respondents were selected to read the items and fill out the questionnaire in performing the pre-test. It is to verify the clarity of the items as to whether the target sample would understand the questions and respond appropriately ( Memon et al., 2017 ). Since the instrument was not too long, this study followed the recommendation to use 5 to 15 samples ( Beatty and Willis, 2007 ) for the pre-test. The pre-testing provided results on whether:
- Correct wording for the items.
- Correct sequence of the items.
- Clearly understood items (by the respondents).
- Additional items or exclusion of items.
- Clear and adequate instructions.
Necessary amendments were made to improve the items based on feedback from five respondents. Then, the web-based survey questionnaire was submitted for expert checking to further validate the survey items before distributing them for the actual data collection. It is summarized that all the items and the data collected from the survey were reliable. Besides, the web-based survey was appropriate for the safety guidelines of reducing physical contact and heightening physical distancing due to the recent Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. It was also helpful to expedite and improve the process ( Creswell and Creswell, 2018 ). In this study, the 5-point Likert scale items with the scale ranging from 1: Strongly Disagree (SA), 2: Disagree (D), 3: Quite Agree (QA), 4: Agree (A), and 5: Strongly Agree (SA) were used. Furthermore, the quantitative analysis from the survey provided a demographic description of the respondents and the frequencies of multiple responses received for each item.
Data collection procedure and analysis
A web-based survey link or Google Form was given to ESL teachers and posted in English teachers’ groups through social media platforms and messaging applications such as Telegram, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It was the fastest and most efficient way to reach the teachers in different states.
The online data gathered from the Google Form questionnaire were tabulated. The responses for each item were entered into an IBM SPSS Statistics database version 26 for the descriptive quantitative analysis procedure. The descriptive analysis described a particular situation through numerical data ( Mat Roni et al., 2020 ), and all the data were analyzed using frequency and percentage. The mean scores were then rated, referring to the agreement level in Table 1 below.
Five-point Likert scale agreement level (Adapted from Altan, 2018 ).
The data collected from the online survey questionnaire are presented and discussed in two sections, categorized below, with the first section on ESL teachers’ knowledge and perceptions of global competence in English lessons. Finally, the second section elaborated on the ESL teachers’ perceptions of professional development programs organized by the MOE to develop their global competence.
Table 2 displays the demographic data. One hundred and forty-three female ESL teachers (83.1%) and 29 male ESL teachers (16.9%) teaching English in secondary schools all over Malaysia participated in this study. The majority of the respondents were between 31 to 40 years old, with 67 teachers (39%). Besides, all the respondents had different years of experience teaching English, with the lowest percentage of ESL teachers teaching between 1 and 5 years (8.1%). The highest response was from ESL teachers with more than 16 years of experience (47.1%).
Next, the respondents’ criteria in this study include the experience of attending professional development programs. In the questionnaire employed, one of the items is specific to gather responses on whether the ESL teachers have previously attended 10 or more programs on global competence. Regarding Item 6, 143 ESL teachers (83.1%) answered “Yes,” while the other 29 ESL teachers (16.9%) said “No.”
ESL teachers’ knowledge and perceptions on global competence
In this section, 14 items measured the respondents’ knowledge and perceptions of global competence to answer this study’s first research question (RQ1). The results are presented in Table 3 :
Percentages and mean scores of teachers’ perceptions.
As depicted in Tables 3 , a moderate item-total mean was indicated in the ESL teachers’ consideration of themselves as globally competent teachers ( M = 3.27) and the perceptions that they have the characteristics of globally competent ESL teachers ( M = 3.33). Similarly, a moderate level of agreement was found in the ESL teachers’ knowledge of the global competence definition ( M = 3.39) and elements ( M = 3.10). Another moderate agreement was found among some ESL teachers regarding their knowledge of the difference between intercultural and global competence ( M = 3.38).
The respondents were asked if they believed that global competence is closely related to English lessons. Based on the high mean score of M = 3.71, the majority agreed. Interestingly, most of them understood the importance of global competence in teaching English. The ESL teachers mostly agreed ( M = 4.27) with the notion that ESL teachers’ global competence is essential. Furthermore, the high level of agreement ( M = 4.23) on the ESL teachers’ view of global competence integration in English lessons showed that most ESL teachers strongly agreed and agreed that they have a positive and favorable view of the integration. Most ESL teachers strongly felt that integrating global competence into lessons is crucial ( M = 4.20). Most respondents also agreed that the integration creates meaningful lessons and assists students’ English learning ( M = 4.17).
Moreover, based on the high level of agreement for Items 12 and 13, most ESL teachers noticed that students displayed better engagement ( M = 4.05) and interest ( M = 4.11) in learning the target language when global competence was integrated into language lessons. From the findings, most ESL teachers agreed that English lessons should emphasize knowledge of local and global issues ( M = 4.35); with 8.8% (15) ESL teachers quite agreed, 43.3% (74) agreed, and 46.8% (80) strongly agreed. The strong agreement among the respondents concerning such content to be imparted in ESL lessons showed their perceptions about current ESL teaching and learning. Most were also optimistic about the global competence integration in ESL lessons.
ESL teachers’ perceptions on professional development programs by the ministry of education (MoE) in developing ESL teachers’ global competence
The data gathered from the survey concerning ESL teachers’ perceptions of the particular programs by MoE were analyzed for the mean scores. Table 4 below displays the findings generated from the descriptive statistic test:
Percentages and mean scores of the professional development programs by the Ministry of Education for ESL teachers’ global competence development.
The quantitative data findings provided information regarding ESL teachers’ perceptions regarding the factors for the second research question (RQ2). The survey indicated how the programs and courses by the MOE might affect ESL teachers’ global competence development. A high mean score revealed some of the respondents’ high level of agreement that the CEFR-aligned syllabus and related courses offer platforms for teachers to integrate global competence ( M = 4.23). According to the results, the high score implied that some ESL teachers were keen to learn and develop global competence through various programs. The vital role of programs and courses for ESL teachers’ professional development could not be denied. Based on Table 4 , the high agreement among some respondents on Item 3 indicated some ESL teachers’ belief that the professional development courses have improved their global competence ( M = 3.62). However, the data analysis also resulted in a moderate level of agreement on whether the ESL teachers have received knowledge on global issues from courses organized by MOE ( M = 3.22). The disparity in ESL teachers’ perceptions about the courses organized by MOE ( M = 3.22) showed the scarcity of suitable programs that cater to ESL teachers’ global competence needs.
Global competence knowledge must be embedded in offered courses so that teachers know the interdisciplinary connections of global competence development. The lowest mean score for whether the MOE has helped the ESL teacher develop global competence ( M = 3.16) proves the lack of help from MOE to train globally competent ESL teachers. The respondents had different opinions about it, and 34.9% quite agreed with the claim, 19.2% disagreed, and 7% strongly disagreed. The mixed reactions to the content of Item 5 may require the MOE’s attention on how to better assist ESL teachers in developing their global competence.
In this study, some of the respondents believed that the availability of materials on global issues had helped them ( M = 4.14) widen their content for the ESL lessons. Generally, it boosts their confidence in teaching global knowledge in language classrooms. The ESL teachers’ high level of agreement on Item 6 reflects their ability to find materials on global issues independently.
It can be concluded that ESL teachers generally have positive perceptions toward integrating global competence into English teaching and learning. Most were aware of global competence and its benefits to their students’ ESL learning. Therefore, professional development programs that aim to develop ESL teachers’ global competence and globally competent teaching are needed to strengthen their knowledge, skills, and dispositions toward global competence.
Overall, the study revealed that Malaysian ESL teachers were keen on integrating global competence in English lessons. From the findings, this study uncovers most ESL teachers’ positive perceptions about their global competence and the integration of global competence into English teaching. Most ESL teachers believed that global competence is significant for teachers and students. It is in line with Tichnor-Wagner et al. (2019) that said teachers need to develop global competence to assist students’ global competence development. Global competence is crucial as it enhances numerous skills such as effective communication, logical reasoning, intercultural adeptness, conflict resolution, perspective taking, and adaptability ( Kerkhoff et al., 2019 ; Sinagatullin, 2019 ; Stankovska et al., 2019 ). As a result, ESL students will learn the target language more meaningfully.
The moderate mean scores on the ESL teachers’ knowledge and understanding of global competence may indicate the lack of knowledge of ESL teachers on the definition and elements of global competence. A possible explanation is that some of them were aware of global competence but did not recognize all global competence elements as listed by scholars. Some may know the meaning of global competence but not to the extent of considering themselves globally competent ESL teachers. Interestingly, the results showed a contrasting view from the high number of ESL teachers who agreed to have attended 10 or more global competence-related programs. The programs might be lacking in effectively and specifically imparting knowledge of global competence for the teachers’ development. Thus, providing specific support, guidance, courses, and professional development programs is necessary to enhance ESL teachers’ understanding of global competence. As suggested by Ukpokodu (2020) , enough support will assist ESL teachers in teaching students’ similar knowledge, skills, and dispositions of global competence necessary for the ESL students’ future.
The high level of agreement signified the positive perceptions of the respondents regarding the application of globally competent ESL teaching. Contrary to their specific knowledge of global competence, the findings showed that most ESL teachers agreed on the significance of global competence in ESL lessons. ESL teachers who incorporate global competence in lessons are considered globally competent and practiced globally competent teaching. A study by Tamerat (2020) shared a similar viewpoint that most teachers described global competence with multiple definitions of global education and were influenced by the elements that were personally relevant to their understanding. The author explained that the respondents in the study had interchanged concepts, including global and cultural competence.
Additionally, the findings revealed the ESL teachers’ perceptions of professional development programs by the Ministry of Education in Malaysia. Based on the data analysis, it can be assumed that most ESL teachers believed that professional development programs are needed to improve their global competence. It is due to the high agreement level to their global competence improvement through programs. However, a contrasting perspective on whether the MOE programs have enhanced ESL teachers’ knowledge of global issues showed that most ESL teachers lamented the scarcity of specific programs by MOE. A possible explanation is that the MOE has not explicitly organized programs to prepare ESL teachers for globally competent teaching. Tichnor-Wagner et al. (2019) and Ukpokodu (2020) , in their respective studies, have also found that the programs organized by the authorities or government education departments in their respective countries lacked the specifications to develop teachers’ global competence and globally competent teaching. Generally, continuous professional development programs could hone teachers’ teaching skills and keep them updated with the relevant teaching content ( Vadivel et al., 2021 ). Thus, it is vital for stakeholders and education departments worldwide to create specific programs that are systemically structured to develop global competence among teachers.
Overall, the findings in this study questioned the MOE efforts in developing Malaysian English teachers’ global competence in teaching. The moderate agreement level showed that most ESL teachers doubted the role of MOE in assisting their global competence development. As previously reported, some programs organized by MOE did not achieve their objective based on the discouraging English teachers’ participation and the organizers’ lack of effort to consult teachers and design programs that suit their needs ( Sukri et al., 2017 ). The authors further stated that insufficient programs are conducted to cater to teachers’ global awareness needs. Therefore, this study may provide strong pedagogical implications for English teachers, curriculum and syllabus designers, and ESL teacher education program designers to design suitable programs according to the practitioners’ current needs.
The education programs should be reviewed to provide more inclusive and impactful training, such as strengthening their understanding of global competence element. Chu et al. (2021) supported that “teacher qualities are situated in the setting where teachers positively interact with the surrounding environments” (p: 3). ESL teachers will benefit more from understanding methods to teach worldwide issues, managing stereotypes, multicultural issues, and conflicts. Abdullah and Abdullah (2018) and Chong and Yamat (2021) agreed that critical issues, including managing stereotypes, biases, and discriminatory behavior among students, need to be addressed in ESL education due to the inclusion of global topics in the CEFR-aligned syllabus. Understanding the topics in-depth and addressing more local and global issues in ESL lessons are crucial.
In general, it can be concluded that ESL teachers’ understanding of the importance of global competence was relatively high. ESL teachers need global competence to help meet the challenges inherent in educating students to be linguistically and globally competent in today’s interconnected world. Most teachers emphasized the feasibility of presenting global knowledge and issues to students at any level of English proficiency. This study offers insights into global competence awareness and globally competent teaching among ESL teachers. The data also revealed that most ESL teachers perceived their role in engaging students with local and global content to learn English. Thus, this study has emphasized the need to situate global consciousness in teaching English. The interconnected and interdependent world requires ESL teachers to teach language beyond the linguistics paradigm across the worldwide content and cultures of the language.
From the findings in this study, the MOE can gain insights into creating future programs specific to ESL teachers’ global competence development. ESL teachers’ professional development is recommended to be intimately connected to global competence and globally competent teaching. They should be trained with critical skills to educate students on their roles and responsibilities. Besides, professional learning communities in schools and ESL teachers nationwide are vital to narrowing the global knowledge gap. Positive agreement among the ESL teachers to achieve globally competent teaching will create a community of active educators.
The results obtained are valuable for future research in the same interests in the Malaysian context. The present study summarizes that global competence among ESL teachers is essential, and specific global competence development programs should be systematically organized. This study’s limitation is that the impacts of English teachers’ global competence and globally competent teaching on students’ learning are not identified. Future research could consider looking into these subject matters more profoundly and in a large-scale study. It is even more valuable for future research to use various research designs that could show more intensity in examining ESL teachers’ opinions. In addition, future studies on global competence may compare the perceptions of experienced and novice English teachers.
NSY is a teacher in Malaysia and a doctorate student taking TESL at the National University of Malaysia. She has previously published papers and is interested in the use of technology in ESL classrooms, global competence in teaching and learning, teachers’ professional development as well as teaching and learning pedagogy. MMY is a Professor and Deputy Dean of Research and Innovation at the Faculty of Education, National University of Malaysia. She is best known for establishing the integration of ICT in teaching and learning English. She is active in scholarly journal writing and publishing and has published papers in various Citation-Indexed journals. HH is a senior lecturer and an assistant professor at the Centre for Teaching and Learning Innovations, Faculty of Education, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM). She is an educational technology enthusiast and an e-learning practitioner. Her areas of concentration are ESL, mobile learning, Mobile-assisted Language Learning (MALL), technology acceptance as well as language pedagogy, and the use of technology in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).
Data availability statement
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.
Funds received for open access publication fees, from my institution (grants), National University of Malaysia/ Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia with grant no. GG-2020-024.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
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Proceedings of the International Conference on Cognitive and Intelligent Computing pp 1–9 Cite as
Teaching English as a Second Language: Improving Digital Literacy Skills
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English language teachers need to work and act to change efficaciously and call for current ways of teaching. Empowering teachers’ professional knowledge helps them to understand contemporary educational practices and policies that are required for education. COVID-19 pandemic forcefully amended traditional learning environments to online teaching. The study investigates Information Communication Technology (ICT) as an alternative to traditional classrooms. The findings are significant that knowledge, interactions, and communities are pertinent and steered widely by innovations in portable computers and nominal price of information technology. Teaching methods may include classroom blogs, wikis, vlogs, glogster, podcasts, etc., transforming the personality of an individual connecting globally that are typically of the students’ area of academics. The results suggest that understanding and acquiring English language become an active learning skill. It leads to progress, critical for a nation to build a skilled workforce, and also to help people improve their livelihoods as the country grows economically.
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Rajeswari, S., Madhavi, E. (2023). Teaching English as a Second Language: Improving Digital Literacy Skills. In: Kumar, A., Ghinea, G., Merugu, S., Hashimoto, T. (eds) Proceedings of the International Conference on Cognitive and Intelligent Computing. Cognitive Science and Technology. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-2358-6_1
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Phenomenology as a research methodology in teaching English as a foreign language
- Alireza Bonyadi 1
Asian-Pacific Journal of Second and Foreign Language Education volume 8 , Article number: 11 ( 2023 ) Cite this article
Considering the fact there is no single research approach capturing the nature of multi-faceted educational phenomena, phenomenology, as a research method, can be employed in educational settings to explore the essence of a certain phenomenon from the perspective of the one who has experienced it. Advocating positioning this methodology in EFL context, the present paper initially, delineates the basic principles of the approach. Then, it illustrates how a phenomenological approach can be applied in language teaching drawing on one of the author’s own case studies in the field of EFL context entitled as EFL student’s perception on her academic failure. The paper concludes that an appropriate application of phenomenology to EFL issues will help language teaching practitioners to broaden their understanding of pedagogical issues through learning from the experiences of teachers and students making them to re-evaluate their presuppositions on numerous educational issues.
Historically, research in education has commenced through employing quantitative or empirical approaches focusing on those areas and issues that empirically investigated (Valle et al., 1989 ). Even now, it has been reported that between 1991 and 2001 as many as 86% of the published research papers were quantitative while only 13% were of qualitative nature (Lazaraton, 2005 ). In spite of the fact that recently a broader multidisciplinary perspective has been taken in research methodology resulting in publication of some qualitative studies, quantitative research still is dominant in at least applied linguistics (Dornyei, 2007 ).
In line with prior studies (e.g., Liu & Brown, 2015 ; Plonsky, 2013 ; Plonsky & Gass, 2011 ), Amini Farsani and Babaii ( 2020 ) in their study on the methodological issues in the field of applied linguistics indicated that t -tests (72%) and ANOV (47%) received more emphasis than other statistical tests revealing that authors mainly opted to test the differences between group means. Extending Hyland's call-for-further research by examining the cross-breeding of research orientations and academic citations, Farsani et al. ( 2021 ) argued that paradigmatic orientations may shape rhetorical mechanisms of academic citations in keeping us abreast of research trends in the field.
In spite of the strong emphasis on these methods, there is a growing interest in employing qualitative researches. In fact, rejecting the idea that quantitative tradition is the only superior research method, proponents of a new school of thought, namely phenomenology, believed that the phenomenon should not be measured through the lens of its accepted reality; rather they focused on the participants to explore how they make sense of their everyday world (Eddles-Hirsch, 2015 ). In fact, Husserl (1952/1980), one of the leading figure in phenomenology, criticized psychology asserting that it had gone wrong by attempting to apply methods of the natural sciences to human issues. He further stated that people are not simply reacting automatically to external stimuli, rather they respond to their own perception of what these stimuli mean to them. Husserl, consequently came to conviction that those researchers who attend only to external, physical stimuli not only miss important variables but ignore the context and thereby create a highly artificial situation (Laverty, 2003 ).
This methodological approach has mainly been influenced by tenets taken from the writings of Husserl and Heidegger. As a mode of qualitative inquiry, phenomenology attempts to understand a phenomenon from the perspective of participants who have experienced it. In other words, through avoiding any preconceived perception he may have of the phenomenon being studied, the researcher presents a detailed description of the phenomenon. This school of thought is usually referred to as transcendental phenomenology which can be attributed to Husserl.
Subsequently, besides focusing on participants’ descriptions of the phenomenon, another school of thought in phenomenology, namely hermeneutic phenomenology, attributed to Heidegger, argued that the researcher should try to make an interpretation of the data deduced from the live experience of the participants (Eddles-Hirsch, 2015 ).
Phenomenology, as a research method, has already been employed in greater abundance in fields such as psychology, nursing, and health science (Farrell, 2020 ). The method, however, has not been fully exploited in the field of foreign language education. It is my conviction that taking such an approach, phenomenology, would enable EFL practitioners to delve into the complex processes of learning and teaching. Thus, the purpose of this paper is to outline the basic elements of the approach while presenting concisely excerpts of a phenomenological study (Bonyadi, 2019 ) already published in EFL context.
Phenomenological studies and EFL learning and teaching
Only in some cases, researchers have employed this approach to examine certain issues in EFL teaching and learning, including underachieving students and their teachers (Oreshkina & Greenberg, 2010 ), the student experience of other students (Sohn, 2016 ), students’ and instructors’ experiences with online education, and teachers’ experiences of integrating new technologies in their teaching (Cilesiz, 2020 ), Iranian EFL learners’ experiences of an effective English language classroom at the tertiary level (Drood et al., 2020 ), and maintaining students’ foreign language proficiency (Namaghi et al., 2017 ) to cite just a few examples.
Nevertheless, phenomenology as a research approach is not usually employed by researchers compared with the other methods (Halling, 2002 ). This can be attributed to the underlying philosophy associated with this research method which is intimidating to some novice researchers (Sohn et al., 2017 ). This underlying philosophy has prevented some researchers from taking phenomenology as a research method which is so unfortunate taking into account the wide range of research questions such an approach can address in education (Farrell, 2020 ).
However, acknowledging that ‘reality’ is not directly accessible to the researcher and that it might emerge in interaction between the phenomenon and the participants (Van der Mescht, 2004 ), practitioners in Education can employ phenomenology as a research method. In EFL contexts, there are certain structural, normative and usually taken-for-granted assumptions about EFL teaching and learning. Through conducting phenomenological research, it is possible to challenge the assumptions by bringing to the force the live experiences and perceptions of the main agents of EFL teaching/learning endeavor, namely policy makers, teachers and students. These experiences can be subsequently incorporated into curriculum. Indeed, phenomenological research can capture the distressful lived experience of both students and teachers in a way that no questionnaire-based research can do. Figuratively speaking, phenomenological studies enables the researchers to walk in the shoes of the participants across their natural settings, campuses and classrooms (Sohn et al., 2017 ).
A phenomenon in EFL context can be the role of a university teacher as perceived by college authorities, a new textbook introduced to the curriculum as perceived by teachers, and topic selection in writing classes as perceived by the students, just to name a few.
In conducting any phenomenological study, the EFL researchers should try to observe the main features of the approach as delineated below:
The emphasis should be placed on eliciting the lived experience of participants through certain data collection instruments such as interviews, verbal or written reports and diaries.
Bracketing is putting aside the researchers’ expectations lest they might influence the descriptions provided by research participants throughout the course of the study. Without bracketing, the researcher might formulate research or interview questions in a way that reflects his own preconceived assumptions on the phenomenon at hand “rather than what stands out in participants’ perceptions” (Sohn et al., 2017 , p. 130).
Purposeful sampling ranging from 1 to 20 is opted for in phenomenological studies; the participants are expected to have first-hand experience of the phenomenon at question. Furthermore, the participants’ willingness to reflect on their perceptions through the specified mode of data collection (interview, written report, diaries) should be ascertained by the researcher. Furthermore, the participants’ willingness to reflect on their perceptions through the specified mode of data collection (interview, written report, diaries) should be ascertained by the researcher.
An inductive approach is taken for the analysis of the collected data. Meticulous analysis of the data is required as to capture the essence of the phenomenon being researched; every specific words and phrases in the data referred to as micro aspects of discourse should be coded. Even, in some cross cultural studies, there is a need for an insider to reflect on the special literary devises employed by the participants throughout the data collection phase of the inquiry.
Then, the recurring patterns in the data referred to as the macro aspects should be sorted out and labeled as the main themes of the data. The rich descriptions of data be evidenced by securing qualities such as vividness, richness, accuracy, and elegance (Neubauer et al., 2019 ).
To seek for validation of the findings, the researcher might both consider the findings of the other related researches or refer to the participant(s) of the study at hand. Based on this validation, the researcher, then, would be in position to share the findings.
Although validating the findings of phenomenological studies through member checking has been disputed by some phenomenologists arguing that the participants understandably lack the needed expertise to judge research findings (Giorgi, 2007 ), the participants’ affirmation of the emerged meaning and themes resonated with their lived experience would be of great value. In fact, based on the collective experience, participants usually suggest minor changes in researchers’ interpretations of the meaning of the experience (Sohn et al., 2017 ).
Revisiting a phenomenological study in EFL context
Language teaching in Iran, understandably, has followed the global trend of language teaching. That is, it has gradually shifted from positivistic method bound language teaching paradigm to the recent post method paradigm (Frahady, 2007 ). Influenced by constructivism, language teaching focused on helping EFL learners to activate their mental resources. In fact, it “shifted from product oriented quantitative approaches to process oriented qualitative approaches” (Frahady, 2007 , p. 87).
This paradigm shift in language teaching was subsequently reflected in language research methodology indicating the dynamic nature of research methods. The researchers, then, tried to investigate language learning and teaching processes from epistemological perspectives (King & Mackey, 2016 ).
As a further illustration of how a phenomenological approach can be applied in language teaching, I draw on one of my own case studies in the field of EFL context, namely an EFL student’s perception on her academic failure.
Problem statement and research question
Failing a course at the tertiary level can be considered as one of the major problems threatening students’ future academic success. It “not only leads to the waste of current expenditure and time but also generates mental-psychological, social and family problems for the university students” (Najimi et al., 2013 , p. 1). However, students’ failure in an academic course is usually considered as a common phenomenon in the eyes of instructors. Luckily, in recent years some scholars, (Mortenson, 2006 ; Najimi et al., 2013 ; Perry et al., 2005 ) have attempted to reconsider the issue trying to investigate students experience and perceptions on their academic success and failure.
Involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world, all qualitative research designs aim at studying things in their natural setting “attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003 , p. 5). From this perspective, diary studies, as a kind of qualitative research, “can offer insights into processes that are not otherwise easily accessible or open to investigation and thus provide useful information to language teachers, learners and researchers” (Curtis & Bailey, 2009 , p. 70). A diary has been defined as “a first-person account of a language learning or teaching experience, documented through regular, candid entries in a personal journal and then analyzed for recurring patterns or salient events” (Bailey, 1990 , p. 215).
If an important part of teachers’ responsibilities is to care for their students’ feelings after experiencing a failure in their academic courses, then it would be quite logical to find a way into their feelings and taking them into account especially when we, as teachers, are on the verge of assigning them a Pass or Fail based on their performance. The relevant literature fortunately indicates that focusing on students’ perceptions has already found its way into the field. In line with this almost new trend, the present case study addresses the following research question on a student’s perception of her course failure.
What is the perception of an EFL student on failing a course and retaking it?
Involving an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world, a phenomenological approach has been employed. The study aimed at exploring things in their natural setting “attempting to make sense of, or to interpret, phenomena in terms of the meanings people bring to them” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2003 , p. 5). In particular, the paper has used a diary case study; this type of inquiry “can offer insights into processes that are not otherwise easily accessible or open to investigation and thus provide useful information to language teachers, learners and researchers” (Curtis & Bailey, 2009 p. 70). A diary has been defined as “a first-person account of a language learning or teaching experience, documented through regular, candid entries in a personal journal and then analyzed for recurring patterns or salient events” (Bailey, 1990 , p. 215).
Thus, the researcher suggested that the participant, with the pseudonym Neda, initiate writing a diary in the first person recording her experiences on taking a class for the second time. Considering the fact that “the limited language proficiency will not allow [diarists] to express their thoughts confidently and fluently” (Curtis & Bailey, 2009 , p. 72), Neda was asked to write the journal in her native language, Persian, so that she could freely jot down her ideas without too much concentration on style and mechanics of her writing in a foreign language. I informed her that the diary would be studied and responded to as a classroom procedure.
However, in an effort to minimize “data contamination” (Allwright & Bailey, 1991 , p. 192), it was not until the last day of the class that the researcher informed her of using the diary for research purposes and she immediately gave her verbal consent. Thus, at the end of the semester, the researcher focused on a2592-word diary hardly dividable to any specific entries. However, to capture the emerging themes, the researcher initially tried to divide the diary into manageable entries based on discourse markers such as “first”, “second” and “today”.
An adult female EFL student, with the pseudonym, Neda, consented to participate in this dairy case study. Neda had already taken her BA in English translation studies. As a master’s student enrolled in a Teaching English as a Foreign Language Master’s course in an Iranian university context, she took a Linguistics course as a requirement for the MA degree in the first semester of the 2017 academic year.
However, despite her active participation in the classroom, Neda, along with three other classmates, failed the course that semester. The researcher, as their teacher, asked the failed students to attend a private meeting to discuss the newly announced outcome of the Linguistics course. Two of the students attended the meeting and discussed their failure of the course. However, Neda refused to attend the meeting. The following semester, the same course on Linguistics was offered to the new batch of students.
On the first session of the class Neda and the two other failed students were spotted taking a seat in the class meaning that they were enrolled in the course for the second time. As Neda had already refrained from expressing her feeling on the issue, the researcher decided to focus on her as a case trying to elicit her perceptions on her failure.
Essential theme 1: failure as a lasting personal emotional shock
Neda exposes her initial perception to her failure in the Linguistics course. Extract No. 2 reveals this point:
Extract No. 2 (Data 8) So many times I was thinking of it [failing the course] I can remember how much I cried when I got my score. My mom was looking at me wondering either to laugh at me or fight with me. She told me I didn’t used to pay any damn to my scores before and went on saying that I would give another try and would make it up again.
The above-mentioned dairy entry is suggestive in that it actually signifies how a mundane act of announcing students’ scores becomes such a complex, emotionally loaded process. First of all, one can infer that failing a course is a lasting experience which has been signaled by the diarist through the initial phrase “so many times”. This is in sharp contrast when compared with announcing the scores by the teachers on the site which takes a few seconds.
Essential theme 2: failure as a socio-psychological shock
The second theme emerging from Neda’s account of her perception on course failure is evident in the following excerpt:
Extract No. 3 (Data 8b) I told her “Mom, score isn’t so important for me at all. I feel like I’m a retarded student having a lower IQ”. I started hating everything. I thought that all my classmates would make fun of me. The other thing, I started getting jealous of them!!! … Oh, something else, when I saw my score on the site kids [classmates] started posting me messages asking me what my score was. How much I hate this. It is none of your business.
As one can envisage it was not the score itself that disturbed the diarist as evident in the sentence “ Mom, score isn’t so important for me at all ”. Rather it was the backlash from the diarist over getting a low score in the course. This backlash can be subsumed under the general term, namely socio-psychological factors. In other words, for Neda the low score on the course was associated with some negative emotional feelings such as: retardedness, being made fun of, getting jealous of and losing face. Besides such negative emotional feelings, a sense of regret was evident in the diary as indicated in the following entry.
Essential theme 3: feeling regret
Having a feeling of regret was found to be one of the major themes in the account as perceived by Neda.
Extract No. 4 (Data 11) I wish I had dropped the course the day before, retaking a course was not a problem for me but this score gave me a sense of bad feeling
Of course, regret is considered to be a common and inherent phenomenon of human development (Landman, 1987 as cited in Wrosch & Heckhausen, 2002 ) and is often associated with negative emotional states (Gilovich et al., 1998, as cited in Wrosch & Heckhausen, 2002 ) that might affect one’s quality of life. Considering the fact that “undoing the consequences of regrettable behaviors is not always possible” (Wrosch & Heckhausen, 2002 ), we can assume that the diarist in Extract No. 3 has started, at least verbally, to adapt to her regrettable behaviors (failing the course).
Essential theme 4: resurge of socio-psychological shock
There were traces of socio-psychological shock resurgence after Neda retook the course as required. As indicated earlier, her first entries in her diary was generally dealing with her initial reaction to her course failure. However, one could detect a second phase in the diary namely her reaction towards taking the course again. In Extract No. 5 Neda exposes her perception on the issue:
Extract No. 5 (Data 13) On the first day of Linguistics, I was standing at the class door waiting or the Teacher. You cannot imagine. Everybody came to me asking me “Why are you here?”. Then I had to say that I hadn’t passed Linguistics the semester before. This initiated a series of questions and answers. And then the same negative feeling came all over me. I should say that I did know they were all happy at the bottom of their hearts. Ok, let’s move on. The first session of the class was really terrible. I didn’t like to take the class at all. Looking at the text-book made me really nervous. … That very day, the teacher started speaking to us on our failure last semester. Still, I didn’t want to accept that. But, later on I realized what he was saying.
As is evident in the entry, Neda in her first session is over-concerned about her classmates’ reaction to her failure and fears derision by her peers. This over concern about others’ opinion has been considered not only as a feature of anxious language learners but of perfectionists as well (Tsui, 1996 as cited in Gkonou, 2013 ). In other words, Neda’s over-concern about her classmates can be attributed to her personal anxiety as she herself in several entries had referred to this trait. Extract No. 6 is an example of the case:
Extract No. 6 (Data 16) I’m getting so happy when I’ve classroom presentation as it makes one follow the issue and conduct a research on. But it makes me nervous as it is so hard to speak to the kids [classmates]. I used to say” She say”. I had some problems in using simple grammatical structures. I’m very stressful. I want to control it though.
A sense of absolute pessimism was evident in this phase which surfaced through her sentence “The first session of the class was really terrible.”. This sense of pessimism was still associated with rejection of failure signaled by “Still, I didn’t want to accept that”.
Essential theme 5: sense of optimism
Unlike the absolute pessimism indicated above, a sense of optimism gradually started emerging as the researcher moved on through the entries.
Extract No. 7 (Data 18) Last semester I didn’t understand the section on Presupposition. I don’t know why. This time while I was presenting the chapter I asked him [the teacher] to explain more and he did. I think this time I got it. Extract No. 8 (Data 21) Throughout the first few sessions I felt like humiliated and mentally retarded but at the end of the semester my nervousness got cooled. Now I’m quite sure why the teacher asked me to write down whatever I was studying. … Without any reason, I was a little bit angry with the teacher? All in all, If I want to speak frankly, I should say that retaking this course was very beneficial to me.
Extracts No. 7 and 8 clearly demonstrate the change of diarist’s mood from absolute pessimism to optimism. This also indicates that Neda’s failure perception is not stable. Initial total rejection was changed into regret leading to resurgence of socio-psychological shock and then surfacing a sense of optimism and hopefulness. This suggests that EFL perceptions of their failures are not a static process but a dynamic one vulnerable to fluctuations based on few contextual factors. This is reminiscent of Dornyei’s ( 2007 ) words that “diary studies are appropriate for looking at temporal variation in dynamic processes, investigating for example how people change or respond to certain stimuli” (p. 157).
As one of the main challenges of interpreting qualitative data is said to be “its potentially questionable reliability and internal validity” (Nunan & Bailey, 2009 , p. 306), the researcher in the present study resorted to “methods triangulation” (Nunan & Bailey, 2009 , p. 212). That is, after finalizing our analysis of Neda’s diary entries, we set a short oral interview with her sharing the results of the analysis. She verified the emerging themes and patterns.
Discussion and pedagogical implications
It is possible to draw an analogy between Neda’s perception on her course failure with taking an emotional journey as depicted in Fig. 1 .
The dynamics of essential themes for the phenomenon (course failure)
This graphed representation illustrates Nada’s journeys from her early perception of the phenomenon to the last one. Early on, she experienced a personal lasting emotional shock which initiated her journey. A socio-psychological shock was experience followed by a feeling of regret. The journey continued by resurgence of socio-psychological shock which later was transformed into a sense of optimism.
The findings of the study indicated the diarist, Neda, attributed her exam failure to anxiety, family problems, her health problem and lack of proper studying. Anxiety stood out as being the most widely cited attribution for exam failure. This reaffirms the findings of the study by Fry and Ghosh ( 1980 ) who claimed that Asian students assumed more personal responsibility for failure and attributed success to luck. This is also in partial agreement with the results of a study conducted by Gkonou ( 2013 ). Based on her study “socio-psychological constraints raised by diarists [in his study] included undesirable teacher-learner role relationships, negative self-evaluation, examination anxiety, deficient study skills, and obstacles to independent learning” (p. 1). However, Gobel and Mori ( 2007 ) found a significant relationship between exam scores of EFL students and the attributions of ability and task difficulty with attributions for their failures. None of these factors (ability, task difficulty) was identified in the present study.
Moreover, further scrutiny of the data entries revealed that for the diarist getting a low score on a course was associated with some negative personal/social emotional feelings such as: feelings of mental retardedness, being made fun of, jealousy and losing face. However, after retaking the course and attending the class for a few sessions, the diarists’ negative perception of her failure was gradually changed into a kind of optimism. It was as if there was a clear pattern of failure perception. That is, an initial emotional reaction characterized by strong affective status (crying, rejecting the failure) which was later on changed into at least a neutral or in some cases positive mindset (being hopeful, accepting the failure) on course failure.
The diarist’s points of view on her course failure in the present study raise some pedagogical implications to be considered by EFL teachers. Awareness of students’ course failure perceptions and exercising caution on evaluating students’ final course performance can be considered two practically relevant issues in classroom teaching.
Identifying the causal attributions of students’ course failure is of significant importance. If we find that causal conditions for students’ failure are unstable like effort, then we can expect that they are likely to change. That is, the failure might not be repeated. Students’ should be informed that even stable reasons for course failure like exam anxiety can be changed provided that they cooperate on the issue. All in all, teachers’ awareness of students’ course failure attributions might result in students’ future academic success.
EFL teachers should exercise caution while evaluating and assigning test scores on students’ course performance. As was indicated in the diary, the assigned scores by the teachers might have a lasting negative influence on students’ emotions and their subsequent academic performance and motivation as well. If the evaluation is carried out improperly then it would become somehow difficult to stimulate the interest of the EFL learners.
In sum, the lived experience of the participant on the course failure provided insight into the phenomenon. The emerged themes may serve as lessons to EFL teachers making them to contemplate on the possible consequences of their evaluations. On the other hand, it should be taken into account that success and failure are two inseparable aspects of any educational system. In fact, there is no guarantee that one would accomplish an academic degree without experiencing any of them. That being said, teachers should remind the students who failed a course that their negative feelings are natural and subject to change for the better in the end.
Social realities are different from the natural world because they depend on human action for their existence. Thus, taking this as a framework, qualitative research methods such as phenomenology can be used to investigate the lived experiences of the participants in certain social events (Riazi, 2016 ).
The results attained through represented case study illustrated the application of phenomenological methodology in education. As a research method, phenomenology holds great promise for exploring a variety of issues in the field of education in EFL context. It can shed light on the complex phenomena involved in language learning and teaching experiences as perceived by EFL learners and teachers. In fact, appropriate application of phenomenology to EFL issues will help language teaching practitioners to advance and broaden their understanding of numerous pedagogical issues through learning from the experiences of teachers and students. Looking at the pedagogical issues through the eyes of those lively involved in the learning/teaching processes is expected to provide validated experience for the others (Barrow, 2017 ). Furthermore, exploring the participants’ perception would make their voices heard by others in power, such as policy makers, school authorities and the like. This, in turn, would make them to revisit their taken-for-granted issues from educational planning to curriculum development.
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The author would like to thank Neda who participated eagerly in this study. Definitely, her generosity in sharing her feelings have contributed to the body of knowledge on EFL language learning and teaching.
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Dr. Alireza Bonyadi earned his Ph.D. in Teaching English as a Second Language from faculty of education university of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Presently, he is an academic member of staff of English Department at Islamic Azad University, Urmia, Iran. His main research interests include: translation studies, language teaching, discourse analysis, linguistics and testing. He has published some papers on scholastic journals such as Discourse and Communication, The Journal of Asia TEFL, SAGE Open and Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability.
Correspondence to Alireza Bonyadi .
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Bonyadi, A. Phenomenology as a research methodology in teaching English as a foreign language. Asian. J. Second. Foreign. Lang. Educ. 8 , 11 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40862-022-00184-z
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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s40862-022-00184-z
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Original research article, teachers’ and learners’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction in tertiary english as a foreign language education.
- 1 School of Foreign Languages, University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- 2 Department of English, Ho Chi Minh City University of Transport, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Recent studies have sought to describe and understand English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL) teachers’ pronunciation teaching practices in different contexts, but much less research has examined how teachers and learners perceive pronunciation instruction at tertiary level, especially in EFL settings. The qualitative study reported in this paper extends this line of research by investigating the beliefs of teachers and learners with regard to pronunciation instruction in tertiary EFL education in Vietnam. Data were collected from individual semi-structured interviews with six EFL teachers and focus group interviews with 24 students (four students per group) at a Vietnamese university. The study adopted a content-based approach to qualitative data analysis. The findings show that both the teachers and students considered pronunciation instruction an important component in tertiary EFL programs, which deserves explicit and systematic delivery. The findings suggest that both groups of participants believed communicative pronunciation teaching to have the potential to improve learners’ pronunciation and facilitate their general communicative purposes. The study has implications for language curriculum design and L2 pronunciation teaching and learning.
Beliefs are conceptualized as “propositions individuals consider to be true […], which are often tacit, have a strong evaluative and affective component, provide a basis for action, and are resistant to change” ( Borg, 2011 , p. 370–371). Teachers’ beliefs play an important role in shaping their pedagogical choices in the classroom, and research into teachers’ beliefs helps advance our understandings about their classroom behaviors ( Borg, 2015 , 2017 ). Equally importantly, learners’ beliefs can influence both their learning process and outcomes ( Ellis, 2008 ). As Ha and Nguyen (2021) argue, incongruence in the beliefs of teachers and learners may lead to negative effects but congruence can facilitate the process and outcomes of learning. Thus, it is important for teachers to “make their own beliefs about language learning explicit, to find out about their students’ beliefs, to help their students become aware of and to evaluate their own beliefs and to address any mismatch between their own and their students’ belief systems” ( Ellis, 2008 , p. 24). Recent decades have seen growing research interest in teacher and learner beliefs about language education generally, but teachers’ and learners’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction in tertiary English as a foreign language (EFL) education are relatively underexplored.
Pronunciation is a fundamental component of communicative competence ( Derwing and Munro, 2015 ; Jones, 2018 ), since it “permeates all spheres of human life […], in which the speaker and the hearer work together to produce and understand each other’s utterances” ( Foote and Trofimovich, 2018 , p. 85). In second language (L2) learning, learners who have pronunciation problems are less likely to be properly understood in oral communication irrespective of their excellent grammar and vocabulary ( Celce-Murcia et al., 2010 ; Thomson and Derwing, 2014 ). Moreover, pronunciation enhances learners’ ability to decode spoken English more efficiently ( Adams-Goertel, 2013 ; Seyedabadi et al., 2015 ), and research has shown that pronunciation instruction improves listening skills ( Ahangari et al., 2015 ; Kissling, 2018 ). In this respect, good pronunciation provides grounds for L2 learners’ subsequent development of oral skills.
Within the context of Vietnamese EFL education, however, research shows that Vietnamese EFL teachers tend to teach toward exams, which mainly test learners’ language knowledge (e.g., vocabulary and grammar) rather than language skills such as oral communication ( Dang et al., 2013 ; Nguyen et al., 2015 ; Ha and Murray, 2021 ). Such an emphasis on linguistic form in teachers’ classroom practices has resulted in many learners struggling with oral communication despite considerable time and effort spent learning English. Pronunciation as part of oral communication skills, therefore, receives limited attention from Vietnamese EFL teachers. Given that Vietnamese learners of English (VLE) face potential pronunciation problems of both segmentals and suprasegmentals ( Lane and Brown, 2010 ; Avery and Ehrlich, 2013 ) and that over 2 million students are currently studying English at tertiary institutions nationwide, it is necessary to look into teachers’ and students’ stated beliefs about the role of pronunciation teaching in Vietnamese tertiary EFL education.
Such beliefs, according to Macalister and Nation (2020) , are valuable for curriculum designers since student wants (what and how learners would like to learn), necessities (what learners need to know to be successful in language use), and lacks (what learners were not taught or did not practice in their previous learning) are all important. As Macalister and Nation (2020) argue, if students’ learning needs are to be met, it is imperative to address all these three important domains in designing a language curriculum. There is, therefore, a strong need for more research to gain more nuanced insights into teachers’ and students’ beliefs about pronunciation teaching in tertiary EFL settings, in which a large number of L2 teachers and learners are operating. The present study is a timely one to address of this dearth of research by investigating teachers’ and students’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction in Vietnamese tertiary EFL education.
Pronunciation: constructs and definitions of terms.
There have been two key views of pronunciation: a narrow and a broad view. A narrow view considers pronunciation, the production of individual consonants and vowels in the phonological inventory of a language ( Brown, 2000 ). In contrast, a broad view posits that pronunciation involves all aspects of the oral production of segmentals (consonant and vowel sounds) and suprasegmentals including stress, rhythm, and intonation ( Setter and Jenkins, 2005 ; Derwing and Munro, 2015 ). This broader view on pronunciation entails the notion that intelligibility and/or comprehensibility is an achievable goal of L2 pronunciation instruction rather than accent reduction. Derwing (2018) defines intelligibility as the extent to which an utterance is actually understood by the listener and comprehensibility as how easy an utterance is to understand.
The question, then, is what type of instruction helps learners achieve intelligibility? One response has been a call for a greater instructional focus on suprasegmentals in keeping with research findings that learners who receive such instruction outperform those whose instruction focuses primarily on segmentals (e.g., Gordon et al., 2013 ). However, there is not much empirical evidence showing suprasegmental instruction to be an optimal way to help learners achieve intelligibility ( Levis, 2018 ). Numerous scholars have concurred that segmental and suprasegmental features are both important for instruction focused on intelligibility and/or comprehensibility, so both deserve to be adequately addressed in classes ( Celce-Murcia et al., 2010 ; Derwing and Munro, 2015 ).
Research on Teachers and Learners’ Beliefs About Pronunciation Teaching and Learning
The past few decades have seen a significant comeback of pronunciation research with particular strands focused on the practice of pronunciation teaching as represented in textbooks, teachers’ cognition, and classroom practices (e.g., Derwing et al., 2012 ; Foote et al., 2016 ; Couper, 2017 ; Nguyen and Newton, 2020 ). From a teaching perspective, teachers hold strongly to a belief that “pronunciation instruction plays a very important or crucial role in the lives of their students across almost all contexts and situations” ( Darcy, 2018 , p. 16). For instance, the teachers in research of Couper (2017) cited that pronunciation is an integral part of English learning that helps their learners achieve communicative success. This finding aligns with previous research, which showed that teachers attached remarkable importance to pronunciation in ESL learning ( Zielinski and Yates, 2014 ). Interestingly, the teacher participants in Nguyen (2019) study reported pronunciation to be the most important of all language skills.
Pronunciation research has extended to examine learners’ pronunciation instructional needs. For instance, research by Derwing and Rossiter (2002) involved 100 adult ESL learners in Canada who responded to statements and questions about their pronunciation difficulties and strategies to fix communication breakdowns. The findings showed that over 50% of the students considered pronunciation problems, mainly of segmentals, the main cause of their communication breakdowns. To fix such breakdowns, more than half of the participants reported using paraphrasing, followed by self-repetition (28%), and writing/spelling strategy (7%). The study further showed that most students (90%) were willing to take pronunciation courses. More recently, Nguyen (2019) study showed that the students considered pronunciation to be important in English learning and that VLE face pronunciation problems of both segmentals (i.e., long/short vowels, consonants not existing in Vietnamese, and final sounds) and suprasegmentals (i.e., linking, sentence stress, and intonation). The research also revealed the students’ strong desire for explicit pronunciation instruction. Other studies have also found that students considered pronunciation to be an important feature in English learning ( Kang, 2010 ; Simon and Taverniers, 2011 ; Levis, 2015 ; Pardede, 2018 ). Overall, these studies suggest that students well acknowledged their pronunciation problems and demonstrated considerable interest in learning pronunciation.
Taken together, the studies reviewed above show that both teachers and students are well aware of the important role pronunciation plays in L2 learning. However, research investigating teachers’ and students’ stated beliefs about pronunciation instruction at tertiary level is limited. According to Dalton-Puffer et al. (1997) , pronunciation teaching and learning is likely more important in tertiary settings. Nevertheless, Levis (2005) holds that the importance of pronunciation teaching in L2 classes has often been intuitive rather than research-based. The present study extends this line of research by investigating EFL teachers’ and students’ stated beliefs about pronunciation instruction in tertiary EFL education in Vietnam. It seeks to answer the following research questions:
1. How do Vietnamese EFL teachers perceive pronunciation instruction at tertiary level?
2. What beliefs do Vietnamese EFL students hold about pronunciation instruction at tertiary level?
3. Is there any (mis)match between the teachers’ and students’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction at tertiary level?
Materials and Methods
The lack of pronunciation research within the Vietnamese EFL context motivated the authors to conduct a research project on how teacher professional learning (TPL) equipped Vietnamese tertiary EFL teachers to better teach pronunciation. This section presents the research design and methodology the authors employed to carry out the whole research project.
Research Setting and Participants
The research project was conducted in a non-major English program at a Vietnamese university. Convenience sampling was employed to select case study participants based on their availability and willingness ( Creswell, 2012 ). An invitation email was sent to all 40 Vietnamese EFL teachers at the university; 15 replied and seven volunteered to participate in the study. One teacher later withdrew, leaving a cohort of six teacher participants (one male and five females), aged 29–52. All the teachers held an MA degree in TESOL or Applied Linguistics and had teaching experience ranging from 6 to 23 years.
To ensure their confidentiality, the teachers are given the pseudonyms Quynh, Phuong, Nguyen, Diep, Khoa, and Na in this report. Twelve student groups of four (six groups in each phase of the research project) taught by each teacher were invited for focus group interviews (FGIs) on a voluntary basis. Each student in each group of each phase was assigned S1–S4 as their pseudonyms. The following sections describe research design and outline how the data were collected and analyzed from which four journal articles have been derived.
The study was carried out within two phases the key findings of which have been disseminated in four journal articles. The phase 1 study established that pronunciation was largely absent from both curriculum documents and assessment and that pronunciation teaching took place in classes but only to a limited extent. The first paper ( Nguyen and Newton, 2020 ) reported on the teachers’ practices and beliefs about pronunciation teaching. The findings showed that the teachers lacked initial training and TPL opportunities in pronunciation pedagogy and that their pronunciation teaching was restricted to error correction through recasts and/or prompts. The second paper showed that students across the six FGIs expressed a strong desire for explicit pronunciation instruction focused on genuine communication ( Nguyen, 2019 ). The results of these two preliminary studies provided grounds for the design of the phase 2 study.
Phase 2 of the research began with the six teachers attending a 3-h TPL workshop focused on the communicative framework of Celce-Murcia et al. (2010 , p. 45) for teaching English pronunciation, which includes five stages: (1) Description and analysis ; (2) Listening discrimination ; (3) Controlled practice ; (4) Guided practice ; and (5) Communicative practice . This communicative pronunciation teaching (CPT) model was chosen because the teachers reported lacking expertise in how to teach pronunciation communicatively. After the workshop, each teacher planned one pronunciation lesson applying framework of Celce-Murcia et al. (2010) with one teacher planning two. In total, seven CPT lessons were designed: (1) /i:/ and /ɪ/; (2) /u:/ and /ʊ/; (3) sentence stress; (4) intonation; (5) /ʃ/ and /ʒ/; (6) /tʃ/ and /dʒ/; and (7) final sounds and linking. The teachers then shared and discussed their lesson plans (LPs) as a whole group. In the following semester, they implemented these lessons in one of their scheduled classes, with two lessons taught on the same day. In the week following each teaching session, a review meeting was held for the teachers to discuss their lessons. Upon completion of all lessons, the teachers were invited for individual follow-up interviews and four students from each class for FGIs.
The focus of the third paper was on how TPL assisted the teachers to become more efficient pronunciation instructors. The study showed that TPL led to changes in the teachers’ beliefs about pronunciation teaching and that the TPL workshop successfully enhanced the teachers’ pronunciation pedagogical knowledge and refined their pronunciation teaching skills ( Nguyen and Newton, 2021 ). Following upon the third study, the fourth paper ( Nguyen and Hung, 2021 ) examined the teachers’ implementation of CPT and the value of the CPT approach from both teaching and learning perspectives. The study demonstrated that the teachers constructed their CPT lessons with a wide range of classroom tasks moving from giving explicit phonetic explanation to form-focused and then meaning-focused practice. The study further showed that both the teachers and students responded positively to the CPT model applied across the seven lessons they had experienced, though there were potential limitations for this teaching model to be fully realized.
On the basis of the four papers, the current paper reports on how the teachers and students perceive pronunciation instruction at tertiary level in Vietnam. Although the study was conducted in a particular context of EFL education in Asia, the findings, we believe, will make valuable contributions to the current international literature on English as a second language (ESL)/EFL pronunciation teaching and learning.
Data Collection and Analysis
Data were collected from curriculum and instructional materials, classroom observations, video-recordings and field notes from the TPL workshop, LPs, semi-structured interviews with teachers, and FGIs with students. These various sources allowed for triangulation of the data to obtain in-depth understandings about the state of pronunciation teaching at the university and the participants’ perceptions and experiences. Data collection took place over a period of 6 months.
In phase 1, the representation of pronunciation in the university EFL program were first examined through curriculum documents and instructional materials, which laid the foundations for subsequent classroom observations and interviews. Twelve 45-min lessons were then observed across the six teachers (two lessons each) to obtain a snapshot of if, what, how much, and how they taught pronunciation in their classes. After that, individual stimulated recall and in-depth interviews were conducted with the teachers, which centred on the rationales for their observed pronunciation teaching practices and their general beliefs about pronunciation instruction. Four students taught by each teacher participated in FGIs to reflect on the efficacy of their teachers’ pronunciation teaching and discuss their own pronunciation instructional needs.
In phase 2, an intervention (i.e., the TPL workshop followed by planning and teaching seven CPT lessons as described in Research Design ), was carried out. All CPT lessons were observed and audio-video recorded. In total, 24 classroom observations were made across the six teachers, producing approximately 32 h of observation data. After finishing all lessons, the teachers were invited for individual follow-up interviews to reflect on their experiences with the TPL workshop and the CPT lessons they taught. In the last section of their interviews, each teacher was asked: (1) if pronunciation needs to be included in tertiary EFL education; (2) how much time is needed; (3) which features should be targeted; and (4) which teaching approach would best facilitate students’ learning. The rationales for the teachers’ responses to each of these issues were also elicited. Four students taught by each teacher were invited for FGIs. For their part, the students were first asked to give individual responses regarding their experience with the CPT lessons. In the second part, they were asked: (1) how important pronunciation instruction is and should it be taught at tertiary level; (2) how much time is needed; and (3) which teaching approach would best facilitate student learning. The students were also encouraged to elaborate on the reasons for their answers to each question.
The study adopted a content-based approach to qualitative data analysis, which involved an iterative, cyclical, and inductive process of identifying and refining themes and categories in the data set ( Duff, 2008 ). Curriculum analysis was done with reference to a set of 10 research-based principles in pronunciation teaching ( Beven, 2012 ), while the teachers’ observed pronunciation teaching practices in phase 1 were coded using the four-category scheme of Foote et al. (2011) . Their LPs and subsequent teaching in phase 2 were analyzed with reference to the communicative framework of Celce-Murcia et al. (2010) . The interview data underwent an iterative process of qualitative data analysis following the five steps recommended by Nunan and Bailey (2009 , p. 416–424). Through transcribing and then reading the transcripts, initial themes and categories emerged, and were refined through an iterative process of re-reading and refining the thematic categories.
The present paper reports on findings from the final part of the data set regarding the participants’ stated beliefs about pronunciation instruction in Vietnamese tertiary EFL education, drawing on individual semi-structured interviews with the teachers and FGIs with the phase 2 students.
How Do Vietnamese EFL Teachers Perceive Pronunciation Instruction at Tertiary Level?
Discussing the necessity of pronunciation instruction in tertiary EFL education, all the teachers stated that it should be included and taught explicitly and systematically. They reasoned that since pronunciation was overlooked in secondary classes, teaching pronunciation in tertiary EFL classes makes up for this lack. For example, Nguyen said:
In my opinion, (…) secondary teachers only focused on grammar and vocabulary to help students pass the secondary school graduation and university entrance exams. In the end, students entered universities with poor listening and speaking skills, especially pronunciation. So, I think this [pronunciation instruction at tertiary level] is very important if we want students to use English for oral communication effectively .
The teachers added that teaching pronunciation at tertiary level helps improve students’ pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills, which are essential for their future jobs. As Na commented:
I think it’s very important to include pronunciation in tertiary English programs because it’s necessary for students to develop pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills. They need these for the workplace after graduation. Also, students were not taught and corrected pronunciation at secondary levels, so their pronunciation and listening and speaking skills are very poor. So, if pronunciation is taught at universities, teachers can raise students’ awareness of how important pronunciation is for their listening and speaking skills .
The above quotes show the teachers’ strong belief in the need to include pronunciation instruction at university level, which is drawn from their observations that many VLE enter university with poor pronunciation and communication skills. They reported that one factor leading to such discouraging outcomes is how English is commonly taught at secondary schools. As the teachers described, pronunciation needs to be appropriately addressed once students start learning English (normally from Grade 6 in the 12-grade national education system) but Vietnamese secondary EFL teachers mainly focus on teaching vocabulary and grammar to help students pass the national graduation and university entrance exams. Thus, it is important to include and properly teach pronunciation at tertiary level if students are to use English more effectively for oral interaction.
On the question of instructional timeframe, all the teachers reported that 1–2 45-min periods per week is sufficient. They believed that tertiary students as adult learners have to be responsible for their own studies by proactively broadening their knowledge based on what has been taught in class rather than heavily relying on this as the only source of knowledge. They cited that self-study is compulsory at tertiary level, so students need to do more self-practice on pronunciation apart from exercises and activities in class, as illustrated in Quynh’s response:
I think one to two periods per week is enough. They’re adult learners so mature enough to know what they need to do if they want to be good at English. At university level, they must be more conscious of self-study, not only study what teachers teach in class. Also, if we focus too much on pronunciation in class, I’m afraid students may get bored .
For focus of instruction, the teachers expressed two opposite views: all features (two teachers) vs. only features causing pronunciation problems to VLE (four teachers). The four teachers who held strongly to their belief that only problematic features should be taught reasoned that since self-study is imperative at tertiary level, students could study other pronunciation features at home. They also commented that students need to take in-class instruction as guidance for more independent practice because pronunciation requires a lot of time and effort to improve. For instance, Khoa remarked:
At university level, students cannot only study what teachers teach in class as they used to do at secondary schools. If they want to be good, then they are obliged to do more self-study and self-practice at home. So, I think it’s enough to focus on features that commonly cause pronunciation problems to Vietnamese learners only. Later on, they can base on what teachers have taught to do more self-study and self-practice .
In contrast, Nguyen and Diep believed that pronunciation instruction at tertiary level needs to cover all features because pronunciation was ignored by many secondary EFL teachers and not all students in one class face the same pronunciation difficulties. Like other teachers, Nguyen and Diep also stressed the importance of self-study to tertiary students’ achievement and were well aware of VLE’s potential pronunciation problems. However, they were concerned that without teachers providing basic instruction in class, students’ self-practice of other pronunciation features may be less productive. They added that repeated instructional focus may lead to monotony in classroom learning. Diep elaborated:
As I’ve just said, secondary teachers do not teach pronunciation but grammar and vocabulary. So, teaching all features to make up for this and to avoid repetition (…). I think teaching a variety of features makes a difference from lesson to lesson and so arouses students’ interest. I agree that Vietnamese learners share common pronunciation problems, but not all students in one class have the same problems (…). Of course, at university level self-study is very important but let us suppose students want to practice everything to improve their pronunciation but teachers only give instruction on some particular features, then how can they practice features that have not been taught? So, teaching all features will make every student aware of their own pronunciation problems and with teachers’ basic guidance they can do more self-practice at home .
With regard to teaching approaches, the teachers all stated that CPT has the potential to facilitate students’ pronunciation learning. This belief emerged from the teachers reflecting on their practice of correcting learners’ pronunciation errors through recasts and/or prompts as reported in the first paper ( Nguyen and Newton, 2020 ) and their recent teaching experience with the CPT model in the third and fourth papers ( Nguyen and Hung, 2021 ; Nguyen and Newton, 2021 ). According to the teachers, if pronunciation is taught communicatively, students’ pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills can simultaneously improve through various communication tasks. They believed that fluency in spoken English is essential for students’ future job search as many of them expect to work for companies where English is used for oral communication. Thus, helping tertiary students develop their pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills can increase their opportunity for employment after graduation, and CPT is one of the ways for teachers to do so. For example, Phuong explained:
If we want to help students improve their pronunciation as well as listening and speaking skills, then (…) teaching pronunciation communicatively is the most suitable. Students can practice not only pronunciation but also listening and speaking skills through communication situations. These are very important for students when they start working after graduation. Most students want to work for foreign companies to get high salaries and other benefits. But, to achieve this goal they firstly have to practice these skills during their English learning at university. This is why I suppose we have to teach pronunciation if students’ desire is to be satisfied .
Three teachers further considered that CPT can positively change many students’ lukewarm attitudes toward pronunciation practice. They reasoned that CPT can make students more aware of the importance of pronunciation in oral communication and so they will pay more attention to learning and practicing pronunciation. Quynh added:
I’ve noticed that many students make pronunciation errors in speaking but aren’t aware that they need practice to improve [their pronunciation]. They’re completely wrong when assuming that in communication their messages only need to get through and that’s enough. This really is what makes them ignore pronunciation practice. So, I think (…) [by] teaching pronunciation communicatively, we can make students more aware of how pronunciation improves listening and speaking skills. Then, they’ll realize that pronunciation learning is as important as other language skills .
Overall, the teachers, despite their different perspectives of what to teach, shared some common beliefs about pronunciation instruction in tertiary EFL education including how much time to spend and how to teach pronunciation effectively within this particular context. We will now turn to examine the students’ stated beliefs about pronunciation instruction in Vietnamese tertiary EFL education.
What Beliefs Do Vietnamese EFL Students Hold About Pronunciation Instruction at Tertiary Level?
When asked to rate the importance of pronunciation instruction at tertiary level based on a five-point rating scale (where 1 = not important at all and 5 = most important of all language skills ), most students across the six groups (16/24) chose “ very important ,” followed by “ important ” (6/24) and “ most important of all language skills ” (2/24). This indicates that the students were well aware of the important role of pronunciation and how valuable it is to teach pronunciation at tertiary level. They elaborated that pronunciation teaching helps: (1) enhance tertiary students’ listening and speaking skills, (2) foster their confidence in speaking English, and (3) facilitate vocabulary learning.
Believing pronunciation to be one of the most important factors contributing to their oral communicative success, all the students ( n = 24) explained that when their listening and speaking skills improve, they will be more likely to get a job at foreign companies after graduation. Given their expectation to work for foreign companies where English is used for oral communication, they stressed the potential of fluency in listening and speaking skills in their future job search. This finding lends support to a claim of Newton (2018) that pronunciation, with a close relation to speaking, is essential for work and study. S4 from FGI4 said:
I think it’s very important and needs to be taught officially like other language skills. If teachers teach pronunciation like this semester, we’ll have more chances to improve listening and speaking skills. After graduation, we’ll have more job opportunities at foreign companies because usually they require applicants to be fluent in spoken English. And if we want to be good at listening and speaking skills, then we have to practice pronunciation more because only when we are good at pronunciation can we understand what people say and make ourselves correctly understood .
Six students said that improvement in pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills increases their confidence in using English for interaction. They acknowledged that fear of being laughed at pronunciation errors in their speech makes them less willing to communicate. Thus, if their pronunciation improves and people can understand what they say, then they will be more confident in speaking English. As S4 from FGI5 noted:
Although we have been studying English for more than seven years, secondary teachers mainly taught vocabulary and grammar. This is why when we enter university, many of us cannot speak English. I see that many students are scared of speaking English because they are afraid their pronouncing incorrectly makes people laugh at them. So, I think if teachers help us improve pronunciation, then we’ll gradually be more confident in speaking English .
Three students further mentioned that pronunciation teaching enhances their vocabulary learning. Trofimovich and Gatbonton (2006) maintain that learning a lexical item involves learning both its meaning and phonological regularities. It is, therefore, disadvantageous to learn new words without learning their pronunciations ( Cakir, 2012 ). In our study, the students believed that being good at pronunciation helps them memorize the meanings of new words more easily and such memory can sustain over time. For example, S2 from FG1 said:
Moreover, it [teaching pronunciation] also helps me a lot in learning vocabulary. If I’m good at pronunciation, it’s easier for me to learn new words by heart and remember them longer .
In terms of instructional time, 16 students across the six groups said 1–2 45-min periods per week would be appropriate and eight called for as much pronunciation teaching as possible. The students who recommended 1–2 periods per week identified three different reasons: (1) self-practice is important; (2) they are English non-majors; and (3) too much instruction is boring. Those who suggested as much pronunciation instruction as possible elaborated on the nature of crowded classes in Vietnamese tertiary settings. The data are presented in Table 1 .
Table 1 . Students’ reasons for their suggested pronunciation teaching time.
Like the teachers, more than half of the students ( n = 16) believed that allocating 1–2 45-min periods per week to pronunciation instruction at university level is adequate. Of these, most students ( n = 13) reported that such a timeframe is sufficient for teachers to provide phonetic instruction and basic practice in class to help learners do further practice. As S4 from FGI3 commented:
I think teachers only need to spend one or two periods per week teaching basic theory and instructing us to practice in class. Then, students have to do further practice because at university level students are required to self-study rather than only studying what teachers teach in class .
This quote shows the students’ awareness that self-study is compulsory at tertiary level. Implied in the students’ responses is a concern that fully relying on teachers’ in-class instruction is not satisfactory but self-study plays an important part in their learning progress. For this reason, they believed that if learners wish to better their pronunciation, further practice outside the classroom is necessary. This finding aligns with the teachers’ stated beliefs about the importance of self-study at tertiary level in Vietnam as reported in section “How do Vietnamese EFL Teachers Perceive Pronunciation Instruction at Tertiary Level?”
Six students stated that 1–2 periods per week is satisfactory for them as English non-majors who only need basic phonetic instruction and practice to guide further practice outside the classroom. They believed only English majors need in-depth understandings about pronunciation, as illustrated in the following comment by S1 from FGI6:
I think, teachers only need to provide basic pronunciation theory [phonetic instruction]. We’re English non-majors so do not need to understand it as deeply as English majors. Then, teachers instruct us to practice in class as a foundation for us to further practice at home .
Four students said it might not be a good idea if teachers spend more than two periods per week teaching pronunciation. As evident in the students’ comments, a heavy focus on pronunciation can be tedious and stressful for learners. This is consistent with the teachers’ belief that too much pronunciation instruction can be boring. For example, S1 from FGI3 said:
I think one or two periods per week is enough. Sometimes, too much teaching [of pronunciation] can be boring and students will be stressed out in learning. Sometimes, it can be counter-productive .
From a different perspective, the eight students who advocated as much time as possible on pronunciation instruction described the crowded nature of tertiary EFL classes in Vietnam. They reasoned that with a normal size of over 50 students per class, the more time allocated to pronunciation teaching, the more likely it is for all learners in class to have an opportunity for practice. They also said that this timeframe enables teachers to correct learners’ pronunciation errors. The following comment by S2 from FGI1 illustrates such an expectation of communication tasks and error correction:
I do not know how many [periods] is enough but I think the more, the better. If we have more time for pronunciation, we’ll have more chances to practice listening and speaking. Classes are crowded, so if there’s only one or two periods, it’s unlikely that everyone in class has a chance to speak and so teachers cannot help correct pronunciation of each student .
Despite their different views on the instructional timeframe for pronunciation, the students all believed that the CPT approach their teachers recently used would best facilitate student learning. In view of their recent learning experience, the students reported that CPT: (1) provides more communication practice; (2) arouses students’ interest in classroom learning; and (3) provides basic phonetic instruction. We now discuss each of these points in turn.
First, all the students ( n = 24) stated that CPT provides learners with more opportunities for communicative practice. For example, S1 from FGI1 said:
If comparing with my previous teachers, I realize that the way my teacher taught pronunciation in this semester is much more effective. Before, teachers only sometimes corrected errors by having us listen and repeat when we pronounced incorrectly. This semester, we had more chances to practice what my teacher taught right away in communication situations. I saw this very interesting because it can help foster our listening and speaking skills a lot .
This quote illustrates the students’ favorable attitude toward communication tasks CPT presents. Comparing the way their teachers recently taught pronunciation with their previous learning experience, i.e., teachers correcting pronunciation errors through recast and/or prompts, the students considered CPT a more effective approach. Since the opportunity for communication output is attributed to proficiency development in L2 learning ( Ellis, 2005 ), learners need opportunities to practice the new targeted features in more spontaneous interaction ( Nation and Newton, 2009 ). As the students saw it, CPT provides learners with diverse communicative tasks through which they can develop their listening and speaking skills.
Second, most students (18/24) said that CPT arouses learners’ interest in classroom learning. The students’ responses suggest that the classroom atmosphere has an influence on their interest and motivation in learning and practicing pronunciation. Reflecting on their recent experience, the students believed that CPT creates a more relaxing atmosphere via a range of communicative tasks, which makes learners more willingly involved in classroom learning. As S3 from FGI2 clarified:
I think the way my teacher taught pronunciation this semester is more interesting and helpful than teachers only sometimes correcting errors by asking us to listen and repeat in previous semesters. My teacher provided different activities for oral practice in class, making the classroom atmosphere more exciting and so we enjoyed learning more. This way of teaching allows us to practice pronunciation in communication situations, so I feel that our learning is more meaningful. And once students feel they like learning pronunciation, I’m sure they’ll spend more time on practice .
Third, many students (14/24) stated that CPT helps learners understand basic pronunciation principles, which provide grounds to guide further practice outside the classroom. Implied in the students’ comments is the idea that without basic instruction delivered in class, it is less likely for learners to be successful in self-practice. S1 from FGI4 added:
Before, teachers only transcribed words on the board and asked us to listen and repeat. And that’s it. This way of teaching is old-fashioned, boring and not as effective as the communicative teaching my teacher used in this semester. Teaching [pronunciation] communicatively helps us know more about pronunciation although basically. For example, my teacher showed us how a sound is pronounced and how to recognize its spellings. She also taught us sentence stress and intonation. These are the basis for our further practice at home .
Taken together, the teachers and students both acknowledged that pronunciation instruction is an integral component in EFL programs at tertiary level that merits explicit, systematic delivery. They also believed CPT to be a promising approach, which has the potential to facilitate learners’ pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills within this EFL context.
Discussion and Implications
The study shows an alignment in the teachers’ and students’ beliefs that pronunciation deserves a more substantial role in tertiary EFL education. The finding that the students believed pronunciation instruction to be an essential component at tertiary level confirms previous research. For example, the study of Kang (2010) with ESL learners in New Zealand and North America found that most students considered pronunciation an integral part in English learning. Research by Simon and Taverniers (2011) and Nguyen (2019) also showed that a majority of the learner participants believed pronunciation to be an important feature in oral communication. This finding strengthens a claim that pronunciation is an important part in ESL/EFL education ( Foote et al., 2016 ; Darcy, 2018 ; Derwing, 2018 ; Jones, 2018 ). Nation and Newton (2009 , p. 76) have also asserted that pronunciation deserves special attention in the ESL/EFL classroom to help learners “quickly develop a stable pronunciation, and become familiar with the patterns and rules that work within the second language.” In our study, both the teachers and students believed that pronunciation instruction advances learners’ fluency in listening and speaking skills, which are essential for students’ future work upon graduation. However, they reported that pronunciation was neglected at secondary schools and so one possible way to fill this gap is to teach pronunciation explicitly and systematically at tertiary level. On the basis of the study findings, it may be important that tertiary curriculum designers in Vietnam include pronunciation in their EFL programs in order to address the necessities and the lacks in the framework of Macalister and Nation (2020) . By doing this, they also respond to the call for more pronunciation instruction within the language classroom ( Isaacs, 2009 ; Derwing and Munro, 2014 , 2015 ; Couper, 2017 ).
The study also demonstrates consistency between the teachers’ and students’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction at tertiary level. While both groups suggested 1–2 45-min periods on a weekly basis to be suitable for pronunciation teaching in tertiary settings, some students believed that the more pronunciation is taught, the more students can improve their pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills. This finding in part aligns with previous studies, in which learners expressed a strong desire for more pronunciation instruction ( Derwing and Rossiter, 2002 ; Foote et al., 2011 ; Pardede, 2018 ). Despite their common view on how much to teach, the teachers held different beliefs about what pronunciation features need to be targeted in class. Consistent with the functional load principle in pronunciation teaching ( Munro and Derwing, 2006 ), some teachers reported that pronunciation instruction only needs to cover features that cause common problems to VLE in keeping with their belief in the facilitative role of self-study to student learning. This finding lends support to an argument of Timperley et al. (2008) that self-regulated learning is important for all learners. Research by Little (2007) , Schunk and Zimmerman (2008) , and Nguyen (2009) has also highlighted the influential role of self-regulated learning in learners’ language development. In contrast, other teachers believed that teaching all features evades monotony in classroom instruction and accommodates different learners’ pronunciation difficulties. Leading scholars in the field have concurred that for L2 learners to achieve intelligibility and/or comprehensibility, pronunciation instruction needs to address diverse features ranging from sounds to prosody ( Derwing, 2008 , 2018 ; Celce-Murcia et al., 2010 ). Thus, it is necessary that instructors teach different pronunciation features with priority slightly shifted to students’ instructional needs ( Derwing and Munro, 2015 ).
Finally, the study shows that the teachers and students articulated clear beliefs about how CPT can facilitate students’ learning. CPT immerses L2 learners in language use through communication tasks, in which they have the opportunity to practice the newly-acquired phonological features and get feedback on their production ( Celce-Murcia et al., 2010 ; Avery and Ehrlich, 2013 ). Based on their recent teaching and learning experiences, both the teachers and students believed that CPT can help learners simultaneously improve pronunciation, listening, and speaking skills, the fluency of which is essential for learners’ employment where spoken English is required for daily communication. This finding strengthens a claim of Adams-Goertel (2013) that the purpose of teaching pronunciation is for learners to develop oral communication that serves their individual communicative purposes. Since learners may have different beliefs about what is helpful for their learning ( Macalister and Nation, 2020 ), it may be useful that CPT is utilized in the Vietnamese tertiary EFL classroom to expose learners with diverse communication tasks rather than isolated practice of individual pronunciation features. This way, the wants in the framework of Macalister and Nation (2020) would be accommodated.
In short, the study has advanced our understandings about teachers and learners’ beliefs about the role of pronunciation instruction in EFL education in a particular tertiary context in Asia. The study findings provide useful insights for curriculum designers within the Vietnamese tertiary EFL context and beyond together with pedagogical implications for L2 pronunciation teaching and learning. These understandings and insights might also be applicable to similar settings such as EFL education in Asia, which involves a considerably large number of L2 teachers and learners.
A possible limitation of the current study is that it only involved a small number of participants from one particular context of EFL education in Vietnam. Therefore, it only provides part of a whole picture of how Vietnamese EFL teachers and learners perceive pronunciation instruction at university level. As such, future research could be conducted at different settings with participation of a larger number of teachers and students so that generalisations can be made to obtain more insights into pronunciation instruction within this particular EFL context.
This study represents an exploratory step in understanding teachers’ and learners’ beliefs about pronunciation instruction in Vietnamese tertiary EFL education. The findings demonstrate that both the teachers and students considered pronunciation teaching an integral component at tertiary level. More importantly, the study highlights both the teachers’ and learners’ stated beliefs about the benefits of a communicative approach to pronunciation teaching within this EFL context. In light of the study findings, it is important that a place for pronunciation instruction be substantially articulated in EFL programs at Vietnamese universities. A practical first step, we believe, is to include more guidance on pronunciation in course books as they are one of the key sources for teachers to guide their classroom instruction ( Derwing et al., 2012 ; Macalister, 2016 ). Given the teachers’ and learners’ strong beliefs about the potential of CPT, it might be useful for pronunciation instruction in the Vietnamese tertiary EFL classroom to be delivered communicatively so as to facilitate learners’ communication needs.
Data Availability Statement
The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.
The study involving human participants were reviewed and approved by Victoria University of Wellington Ethics Committee. The participants provided their written informed consent to participate in this study.
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.
This work was funded by University of Economics Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
The authors would like to thank the teachers and students at the university where data were collected.
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Keywords: pronunciation instruction, tertiary level, English as a foreign language, teacher beliefs, student beliefs
Citation: Nguyen LT, Hung BP, Duong UTT and Le TT (2021) Teachers’ and Learners’ Beliefs About Pronunciation Instruction in Tertiary English as a Foreign Language Education. Front. Psychol . 12:739842. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.739842
Received: 12 July 2021; Accepted: 22 July 2021; Published: 20 August 2021.
Copyright © 2021 Nguyen, Hung, Duong and Le. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Bui Phu Hung, [email protected] , orcid.org/0000-0003-3468-4837
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Learning of a second foreign language is of great importance in the modern world, where a person is considered to be highly educated only when he/she has knowledge in at least one foreign language. Globalization has opened the borders of the majority of countries giving all of us excess to learning foreign cultures, to work and travel abroad. However, without knowing a foreign language it is much more complicated and expensive. Employers do not want to hire new workers if the latter do not know the language of a country they wish to work in. Though traveling agencies offer interpreters and tour guides, who can speak about historic places of interest in a language understandable to tourists, it is more interesting and educative to be able to listen about historical background of a country you are traveling to in a native language. It is possible to speak about the importance of learning foreign languages for a long time, as the advantages that knowledge of foreign languages brings are remarkable, however, before using these advantages it is necessary to learn a foreign language, which sometimes may not be easy, as it may not be very easy to teach a foreign language as well. Generally speaking, learning of any language largely depends on the way it is being taught, making this process a rather subjective one.
Nowadays, teachers of second foreign languages, whether it is English, French, Spanish or German, can always find a market for themselves. Despite of the fact that language can be taught to people of any age or background, it does require certain techniques from the side of the teacher to apply while teaching a language to certain groups of people. Also, there is a significant difference in methods and techniques of teaching when a teacherâs goal is to teach how to write, to read or to speak a foreign language.
The main purpose of designing current study is to speak about teaching a second language. The paper will focus on teaching speaking and pronunciation as the main aspects of language learning, and techniques L2 (second language) teachers should use while teaching a foreign language.
Teaching Speaking and Pronunciation in a Second Language
For many years English was the only language used in business environment as the universal language. Nowadays, English-speaking businessmen and ordinary people find it necessary to also learn a foreign language as the more you know about a foreign environment the better. Purposes behind learning foreign languages may be very diverse, starting with plain curiosity and ending with âexigencyâ to learn a language as it is urgently needed for work or further studying. Very often when knowledge of a foreign language is needed, language âlearning becomes dependent on teaching, for, despite the ease and inevitability of first language(s) acquisition in early childhood, language learning of any other kind turns out to be a complex and difficult taskâ . This is one of the main reasons why âlanguage teaching has increasingly become a significant professionâ . Despite of wide spread of teaching professions, language learning is not an easy process, which requires serious commitment from both a teacher and a learner. Teachersâ task at this point is rather complex too, as it is necessary âto devise methods, to create environments, to understand the processes, to simplify and systematizeâ .
While teaching a foreign language, a teacherâs main goals are to teach grammar, to teach how to pronounce sounds correctly, how to form sentences and to speak a foreign language. It is not enough just to teach how to read words and tell the meaning of the words. When taken separately words may mean nothing to the listener, but when a speaker forms well-considered and clear sentences he/she creates a meaning for the words that have been pronounced.
Pronunciation is one of the key constituents of success while learning and teaching a foreign language. Various techniques may be used by teachers to teach their students how to speak and pronounce correctly the sounds. Some teachers focus their attention on teaching specific sounds of a foreign language; usually these sounds are those that are uncommon for the learnersâ native language. Other teachers may pay more attention to the whole process of speaking rather than concentrating on certain sounds. In this case, teaching speaking is a complex process, during which a learner is studying how to use the words that are learned in oral speech while learning their correct pronunciation. However, some scientific researches prove that âfluency-oriented training is clearly more helpful than a more segmental focus on individual, specific soundsâ . Indeed, constant speaking and listening is what definitely helps the learners to acquire good pronunciation skills. So, after explaining some new material on how to pronounce words and word combinations, a teacher should organize certain activities which would help the students to practice what they have just learned. Pronunciation is closely linked to listening and actually hearing what is being said. Very often students, who have just started learning a foreign language, are not able to discern various sounds themselves, confusing them and the words that are pronounced. For this reason, it is very important that a teacher establishes teaching techniques allowing students to listen and to pronounce, because if students donât hear something correctly they would never be able to pronounce it correctly. Of course perception of sounds largely depends on the adjacency of foreign language sounds to the sounds of the native language, thus, it is essential that a teacher considers what languages his/her students speak as their first languages. Some techniques that might be used by teachers while planning to teach pronunciation include: development of simple exercises, which would allow students to practice both perception and reproduction; communicative exercises with the teacher and with group-mates; repetition of sounds after a teacher, trying to imitate as much as possible and others. At this point repetition refers to two activities; one of them is reproduction of utterances pronounced by the teacher in the closest possible manner, and the other one is word memorization. Teacher-student relationship plays a great role at this point, as it is very important that students are not afraid to speak aloud, hearing their own pronunciation. Some students, mainly adults, are afraid to speak for the first time, thinking that they might make a mistake. Thus, it is necessary for a teacher to explain, that making mistakes is a part of learning, and that he/she as a teacher will help to correct them, and nobody is going to make fun of a person speaking with errors. While teaching correct pronunciation, a teacher needs to identify problem areas for every student and do his best at eliminating them by designing special tasks and oral exercises. Indeed, the more a student speaks, the better, because constant speaking, with teachers corrections, of course, improves studentsâ pronunciation. Thus, foreign language teachers âshould encourage their learnersâ involvement in real-life language situations (for example, interaction with native speakers) where the students are exposed to input-rich contexts . Listening and communication with native speakers appears to be one of the best methods of acquiring correct pronunciation. That is a why, L2 teacher may invite native speakers to the class to communicate with the students or use specially recorded audio tapes for students to listen to the real speech. In order to achieve significant results in teaching language pronunciation a teacher himself (herself) has to constantly enrich his/her knowledge by attending courses for teachers and communicating with the language native speakers.
The use of achievements of technological progress also contribute to effective teaching and learning of foreign languages. Nowadays, electronic dictionaries and training programs are designed, allowing student to enrich their vocabularies while learning how to pronounce the words. Invention of the Internet played an important role in the language teaching by offering such an option as distance learning. Having access to the Internet, teachers may use various web pages created for the purpose of learning foreign languages, as âthere are a number of pages on the Internet that use audio to illustrate pronunciation for language studentsâ .
A lot of teachers and experts in foreign language teaching state that speaking is the best way of learning a foreign language. While practical studies show that indeed speaking appears to be an effective method of learning a foreign language, before a student will start to speak it is necessary to teach him/her how to speak. The main goal of teaching speaking is to increase studentâs communicative efficiency, which means that students need to develop certain skills which would help them to speak so they can be understood. The process of speaking involves several aspects: correct pronunciation, grammar, appropriate vocabulary and the awareness of social and cultural rules used in a foreign language when applied at different situations. So, in order to teach students to speak, teachers should first of all teach them how to pronounce the words correctly by using listening and reading exercises, imitation and repetition. Also, correct speaking means the usage of correct grammar forms and vocabulary, which should be taught before speaking and during the process of speaking, because speaking is the best way to practice a language. The last element of correct speaking, to which a teacher needs to pay attention to, is rules of communication. Every language has certain rules of communication, which should be learned in order not to sound rude or weird. Thus, a teacher needs to explain these rules making sure a student understands why they are important. Obviously, variation of techniques used by a language teacher is more effective than concentrating only on certain aspects of teaching.
Being itself one of the methods of learning a language, speaking has certain benefits. Such benefits include language fluency (how fast a student may use his/her knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation while speaking), motivation for further learning and discovery of gaps in knowledge. When a student says that she/her cannot speak, this means that more of so-called âinputâ is needed; this means that a student lacks knowledge in grammar, vocabulary or pronunciation. In order to teach students how to speak, teachers may adopt âa balanced activities approach that combines language input, structured output, and communicative outputâ . Language input has the âform of teacher talk, listening activities, reading passages, and the language heard and read outside of classâ , structured output focuses on the usage of âcorrect formâ , while in communicative output âthe learnersâ main purpose is to complete a task, such as obtaining information, developing a travel plan, or creating a videoâ .
Some teachers offer their students speaking tasks starting from the first lessons; however, students cannot fulfil these tasks as they do not have any knowledge of a foreign language. For this reason, it is more effective when a teacher gives their students certain input, before making them produce the output in the form of speaking.
Having spoken about some of the techniques that second language teachers should use while teaching speaking and pronunciation it is necessary make a conclusion. Despite of the wide spreading of self-learning programs allowing distance learning or learning without a teacher, it is the most effective to have someone (a teacher) to show students how to learn the language. Nowadays, the profession of second language teachers is at demand, as there are millions of students worldwide desiring to receive knowledge of a foreign language. As it has been stated above, teaching a language is a rather difficult task, which requires a lot of effort and the knowledge of special methods and techniques of teaching. Knowing a language means being able to speak it pronouncing correct sounds and using correct grammar forms, read and write in it, understand it while listening and speaking to native speakers. All of these aspects are important, and the lack of one of them means that knowledge of language is not sufficient. While teaching a language, teachers should make sure that their studentsâ pronunciation is correct, by making them fulfil certain activities and exercises. Actually, when communicating with a person, pronunciation is the first thing that is noticeable, thus, both a teacher and a student should do their best in mastering the skills of the latter in pronunciation. In its turn speaking is the essential goal of language learning. When this goal is achieved, a student would be able to use all knowledge in grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, allowing teachers to estimate their level of work while hearing to the well-considered, correct and fluent speech of students.
1. Byram, M. (2001). Routledge Encyclopedia of Language Teaching and Learning. Routledge. 2. Dalton, D.F. (1997). Some Techniques for Teaching Pronunciation. Retrieved, Noember 24, 2006 from The Internet TESL Journal. http://www.aitech.ac.jp/~iteslj/ 3. Harmer, J. (1991). The practice of English language teaching. London: Longman. 4. Leloup, W.J., Ponterio, R. (2003). Interactive and Multimedia Techniques in Online Language Lessons: A Sampler. Language, Learning & Technology, Vol. 7. 5. Pardo, D.B. (2004). Can Pronunciation Be Taught? A Review of Research and Implications for Teaching. Retrieved, Noember 24, 2006. publicaciones.ua.es/filespubli/pdf/02144808RD22945419.pdf 6. Teaching Speaking: Goals and Techniques for Teaching Speaking. Retrieved, Noember 24, 2006. http://www.nclrc.org/essentials/speaking/goalsspeak.htm
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