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Challenges of foreign language instruction in the university context


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of Foreign Language Instruction

in the University Context



of Foreign Language Instruction in the University Context

Edited by

Danuta Gabryś-Barker

Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Śląskiego • 2019



Ewa Piechurska-Kuciel



Introduction (Danuta Gabryś-Barker) Arkadiusz Rojczyk, Andrzej Porzuczek

EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors Agnieszka Solska

Puns as tools for teaching English grammar in a university context Dagmara Gałajda

Developing speaking skills in conversation classes Krystyna Warchał

Academic Writing instruction – some missing links Dorota Lipińska

Teaching translation as part of a practical EFL course in teacher training groups

Danuta Gabryś-Barker

Developing language awareness through students’ conceptualisations:

Metaphoric approach in content courses Ingrid Bello-Rodzeń, Aida Montenegro

Teaching Spanish as an additional foreign language to experienced learners Katarzyna Bańka

Challenges of the Chinese language teaching in the university context












This volume entitled Challenges of Foreign Language Instruction in the University Context aims to present experiences of teaching a foreign language in a modern languages university department. The texts are based on the teaching practice of lecturers at the Institute of English, University of Silesia, where most instruction in the programme of stud- ies offered to students is in English. This is assumed to be possible as the students entering the programme are expected to have mastered English as a foreign language at an advanced level and are able to function in it in philological content courses, such as linguistics, methodology of teaching, and literary courses, among others. Thus, the challenges observed and discussed here relate to teaching English to students at a rather high level of language competence and to using English in content courses as a language of instruction. These challenges are also found in teaching additional foreign languages in a way which should reflect that fact that these students are experienced language learners and so their previously-gained FL competence in English can be of assistance in learning further FLs. This characteristic should be taken into consideration by FL instructors of the further languages which are chosen as minors in neophilological studies.

The collection of texts presented here comes from experienced university teachers of practical English classes and other foreign lan- guages and from university lecturers in content courses run in English.

The teaching approaches presented range from more teacher-centred ones in the areas which require a stronger theoretical focus, to more learner-centred ones in the areas which aim at skills development. These approaches also express the individual preferences and teaching styles of individual teachers developed over their professional careers. Each of the texts opens with a theoretical background discussing the major


characteristics of language acquisition/learning processes involved in developing a given aspect of language competence or a language sub- system and their teaching implications. The authors discuss the major issues and challenges they face in their instructional practices in rela- tion to approaches and methods used, as well as syllabus construction or the forms of assessment employed. Each text aims to offer effective and tested teaching solutions in given contexts as derived from expert practice over years. Additionally, readers are presented with sample questions and tasks, which can be used directly in a FL classroom in teaching a specific aspect of a FL discussed in the text. Each article is accompanied by an extensive references section embracing a whole range of available theoretical and practical sources on teaching and learning a foreign language relevant to the topic focus of the particular article.

We hope that the present volume will be a valuable source of didactic advice and guidance for Ph.D. students involved in university teaching as well as for novice teachers and lecturers in modern languages uni- versity departments. On the one hand, all of them can most probably identify with the variety of challenges described by individual authors in their daily teaching of a FL. On the other, they can benefit from the expertise found in the texts of experienced and accomplished university teachers in responding to the challenges encountered in their recently embarked upon professional lives, and use it to their advantage. The texts in this volume may also be of value to those of us who have been teaching for a longer period, have gained extensive experience, and are successful, but who would also like to try something more innova- tive perhaps, more creative, or just different to break out of a settled routine.

The Editor

Danuta Gabryś-Barker


Arkadiusz Rojczyk, Andrzej Porzuczek

EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors

Abstract: The article discusses selected issues in teaching English pronunciation to Polish learners at the university level. The main assumption is that metacompetence and practical training are inseparable in that they interact effectively in successful pronunciation pedagogy. We discuss segmental issues, such as vowel category learning and teaching stop aspiration. Next, we proceed to suprasegmental elements, such as intonation, stress, and rhythm. We attempt to show how integrating students’ general knowledge of linguistics with various training tasks in speech perception and produc- tion may lead to improved production and perception in English.

Keywords: teaching pronunciation, metacompetence, segmentals, suprasegmentals, speech perception, pronunciation pedagogy

1. Introduction

Traditionally, teaching FL phonetics focuses on segmental and supraseg- mental phenomena. However, different views of their mutual relations and interaction have not led to a balance between the two strata of the physical manifestation of language in pronunciation pedagogy. This ar- ticle presents the authors’ view of the objectives and methods to be used in the teaching of practical English phonetics to university students.

Although we argue that it is not desirable or even possible to separate the two aspects of FL pronunciation in the teaching/learning process, we address them in two separate sections for better clarity.

Another dualism to be mentioned in the context of language teach- ing in general is related to the learning setting, defining the process as


either L2 acquisition or FL learning. Even if Krashen’s (1982) distinction between language acquisition and language learning is no longer as influential as it used to be and the distance between the two processes seems to have shrunk lately with the appearance of new communica- tion technologies and travel opportunities, a lot of language education is still taking place in artificial classroom conditions. Needless to say, these learning conditions strongly determine the choice of an adequate teaching approach, which may differ considerably from the options that appear more appropriate in various other settings.

Moreover, given the character of their studies, even the most profi- cient philology students need a considerable amount of awareness and knowledge about the language. Typically, Polish English studies majors are still in a position to improve their FL skills, including pronuncia- tion. Easy access to authentic materials and much better opportunities to contact native English speakers allow learners to use learning strate- gies characteristic of L2 acquisition, but some carefully selected explicit instruction may not only develop the required metacompetence but also enhance their practical phonetic skills.

2. Segments

Segmental units of a sound system of any language make up a funda- mental tier which encodes meaning into physical properties. Segments in their basic form are contrastive in that substituting one segment for another leads to a change in meaning. In this form, we refer to them as phonemes, the smallest units of a language that can carry and change the meaning. However, segments may also have multiple allophonic realisations. It means that a given speech sound may dif- fer in acoustic properties from another speech sound, but still they are both considered as variants of one phoneme. The status of an allophone of a given phoneme results from the fact that, firstly, substituting one allophone for another allophone does not change the meaning, and, secondly, allophonic realisations are predictable from the phonetic context. In foreign-language speech, incorrect productions of speech sounds may lead to either totally incorrect expression of the meaning or impression of foreign-accentedness. Very generally, it may be said that incorrect articulations of phonemes will lead to erroneous expression of meaning, and incorrect articulations of allophones will lead to foreign- accentedness, but the target meaning will be conveyed. For example,


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 11 incorrect production of /i/ in fit as /i:/ will lead to the perception of feet rather than fit. It is because /i/ and /i:/ are separate phonemes. On the other hand, producing /r/ in try with full voicing as in Polish trawa, instead of devoicing as in native English, will lead to the perception of accentedness, but the meaning will be preserved.

Although at first glance it may appear that phonemic contrasts are much more important than allophonic realisations because the former and not the latter result in breakdown in communication, misproduc- tion of allophonic variants may also end in difficulties with decoding the target meaning. For example, English voiceless stops, unlike Polish voiceless stops, are aspirated syllable-initially. Aspirated stops are consid- ered to be allophones of unaspirated stops, because they are conditioned by the phonetic context. Although aspiration is considered as allophonic realisation, it is a robust cue in perception by native speakers. As a re- sult, articulation of the word town without aspiration in /t/ not only will result in the impression of a foreign accent but is also likely to lead to the incorrect perception as down. The reason is, as demonstrated by perception experiments, that native speakers of English are sensitive to aspiration in distinguishing /t/ from /d/, and therefore, the absence of aspiration after the release burst of /t/ is a cue to categorizing it as /d/.

In the following subsections, we discuss how phonetic training sup- ported by metacompetence may be organised in order to train phonemic contrasts and allophonic realisations typical of English. We have cho- sen to discuss phonemic contrasts with an example of vowel category learning and allophonic realisations with an example of voiceless stop aspiration.

2.1 Phonemic contrast – vowel category learning

The vowel system of English is especially difficult for Polish learners. This results from the fact that Polish uses a sparse vowel system with only six non-nasal vowels, and British English exploits as many as eleven vowels in stressed syllables. Such an imbalance has a consequence in that learn- ing of correct production and perception of English vowels is impeded by frequent assimilations to Polish vowels. Such a scenario is predicted by the two most influential non-native speech perception models: the Speech Learning Model (Flege 1995) and the Perceptual Assimilation Model (Best 1995; Best and Tyler 2007). Polish learners’ production and perception of English vowels is characterised by either one-category assimilations or two-category assimilations. One-category assimilation occurs when an English vowel is mapped onto one corresponding Polish


vowel. This is, for example, the case for English /ʌ/, which is assimilated by Polish /a/. One-category assimilations are difficult in pronunciation training, because a native vowel functions as a good equivalent of a foreign vowel, and the learning process is blocked. Learners do not perceive such a vowel as different, and so they do not even know how to modify their articulation. Two-category assimilations are relatively easier to teach, because assimilation degree is rarely equal for the two native vowels, that is, the non-native vowel is frequently perceived as more similar to one and less similar to the other native vowel. In the following two subsections, we will discuss an example of a two-category assimilation of English /æ/ to Polish /ε/ and Polish /a/.

2.1.1 Pedagogical problems

English /æ/ is assimilated by both Polish /ε/ and /a/. As a consequence, Polish learners produce /æ/ as either /ε/ or /a/; however, the assimilation ratio is not equal for the two Polish vowels. The vowel /a/ appears to be a stronger assimilator (Rojczyk 2011a), most likely because many words with /æ/ are spelt with the letter a, and the articulation of this vowel has been observably lowered in contemporary British English. However, a number of words are still pronounced with /ε/. The reason is that the actual pattern of assimilation is confounded by other factors, such as neighbouring sounds or the degree of lexical assimilation into Polish (Gonet et al. 2010; Szpyra-Kozłowska and Radomski 2016). Sometimes it may even be a matter of individual preferences, as in the word Man- chester, which may be pronounced by some with /ε/ and by others with /a/. Figure 1 shows a vowel chart with /æ/ and the two neighbouring Polish vowels /ε/ and /a/.

Figure 1. Vowel chart with /æ/ and Polish /ε/ and /a/


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 13 2.1.2 Didactic suggestions

The starting point for training articulation and perception of any non- native category should be a metacompetence component. Such a com- ponent consists of two parts: phonetic transcription and articulatory instructions. Narrowing it down specifically to /æ/, students are taught to link this sound category with its phonetic symbol and are provided precise articulatory instructions. Introducing from the very beginning a phonetic symbol makes this sound a discreet category, blocking po- tential confusion with other similar-sounding categories, such as /ʌ/. In other words, before the students start practising words with /æ/, they have to know which words have this vowel. Although English spell- ing is far from transparent, we also introduce some general spelling- to-sound regularities to help the students detect this vowel in frequent words. Correct articulatory instructions are a necessary foundation of a new category formation. Polish does not exploit a low-front vowel area typical of /æ/. Speakers of Polish have difficulties with maintaining both low and front position of this vowel. Typically, driven by their na- tive articulation habits, they will either maintain the front position but raise the tongue, which will lead to the production of Polish /ε/, or they will maintain the low position but retract the tongue, which in turn will create a configuration for Polish /a/. Consequently, the students are instructed that the initial gesture for articulating /æ/ is pressing the tip of the tongue against the back of the lower teeth. Such a configura- tion prevents tongue retracting and maintains the front-low position.

Another instruction is that the mouth should be open in articulating /æ/. It is our experience that students tend to articulate this vowel with insufficient jaw lowering, which significantly masks the target quality of this vowel. It is also recommended that the students practise sustaining muscle tension throughout the whole portion of the vowel. Although /æ/

is classified as a lax vowel, it is relatively tense and long. It is frequently the case that the students may be able to set the proper articulatory configuration, but are still unable to maintain the stable quality and duration.

Once the metacompetence component has been introduced, percep- tion and production training is provided. The first step in teaching /æ/

is dissimilating it perceptually from the two neighbouring Polish vowels /ε/ and /a/. The learners need to make sure that /æ/ must not be substi- tuted by either of the two Polish vowels. To this end, we recommend a cross-linguistic discrimination task in which the learners hear pairs of Polish-English or English-Polish words and are required to indicate if they hear same or different vowels in the presented sequences. The


pairs may be, for example, POL mak – ENG mack, POL pet – ENG pat, ENG lass – POL las, ENG man – POL MEN. This is followed by a cross- linguistic identification task in which the learners are asked to indicate whether they heard a Polish or English word. When the learners gain confidence in perceiving different quality of /æ/ from Polish /ε/ and /a/, they are provided with within-language discrimination exercises which engage the neighbouring English vowels /e/ and /ʌ/. Relatively good ef- fects are achieved with contrasting standard /hVd/ sequences, such as / hed/ – /hæd/ – /had/, and then proceeding to other consonantal con- texts. Finally, identification tasks are introduced in which the learners have to indicate which word they heard. Here, we require the learners to transcribe different syllables with tested vowels. They are informed that they must not concentrate on the potential semantic context of those syllables, but they should solely attend to the phonetic make-up of the syllables. For example, nonsense syllables may be used, such as /spæl/ or /dʌps/. Moreover, we use a number of syllables which may resemble real words but are pronounced with a different vowel, for instance, /blʌk/

instead of /blæk/. Such training is expected to enhance correct vowel categorisation and make it more independent from top-down lexical effects.

2.2 Allophonic realisation – aspiration of voiceless stops

English aspiration of voiceless stops is phonologically considered to be an allophonic realisation of a voiceless stop phoneme syllable-initially when followed by a vowel. However, when considered from the point of view of speech perception, aspiration turns out to be a very robust per- ceptual cue. In purely acoustic terms, English frequently does not have voiced stops syllable-initially, but rather only voiceless unaspirated and voiceless aspirated. It stands in contrast to Polish, which has acoustically voiced and voiceless stops in syllable onsets. As a result, Polish learners produce English syllable-initial /b, d, g/ with excessive prevoicing and /p, t, k/ with insufficient aspiration. While excessive prevoicing does not impede successful perception of /b, d, g/, insufficient aspiration leads to the perception of /p, t, k/ as /b, d, g/, because native speakers of Eng- lish are sensitive to the presence of aspiration as a cue to voicelessness.

Training aspiration of voiceless stops is one of the challenges in teaching English pronunciation to Polish learners, because here the L1 habits of producing unaspirated /p, t, k/ are observable even in very proficient learners.


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 15 2.2.1 Pedagogical problems

Teaching aspiration is relatively easy in the initial stages of training.

This feature is perceptually robust, and many learners can imitate it after the model talker with only limited theoretical instructions. The difficulty lies in generalising aspiration into regular speech habits with other syllables and words. To put it simply, the learners will quite suc- cessfully aspirate in a phonetics laboratory, but they will not outside a phonetics laboratory. This is a major problem in aspiration training and can only be remedied by recursive retraining and self-monitoring.

Using an illustrative example, when a learner practises aspiration in the word pat, the production of aspirated /p/ will be very good. However, when he or she is asked to correct the vowel /æ/ in this word and say it again, the production of /p/ is likely to be unaspirated in the second production. This results from reorienting attention from the trained fea- ture and shows that the habit of aspiration is not generalised. Another problem which is observed with the learners who have already acquired a satisfactory level of automatic aspiration is generalising to sequences where aspiration is blocked. For example, the learners who correctly aspirate /p/ in port are also likely to incorrectly aspirate /p/ in sport. The failure to block aspiration after preceding /s/ is a characteristic feature of even highly proficient learners. In this case, pronunciation training ben- efits greatly from metacompetence instructions and additional practical exercises with tokens with sequences /sp, st, sk/.

2.2.2 Didactic suggestions

Instructions for aspiration are relatively straightforward, and the learn- ers are fairly quick in correct imitation. This results from the fact that aspiration is psychoacoustically salient and easily detected by a percep- tual system. It is advisable to start with graphic representations of the realisations of the words tu in Polish and two in English. In Polish, the voicing of the vowel commences immediately after the release of /t/, while in English, the portion of an ongliding vowel is masked by glottal airstream. The practical instructions may be supported by blowing a little slip of paper from the palm in producing English two.

In this exercise, the aspiration airstream is exaggerated, but it is fairly illustrative of the differences between Polish and English voiceless stops.

Next, we proceed to practising lists of words with initial voiceless stops, and we encourage the students to aspirate in an exaggerated manner as a way of habit formation. One more exercise that yields satisfactory


results is English accent imitation in Polish (Rojczyk 2015). The learners produce words in Polish with aspiration, which gives a comical effect and helps the learners to attend more accurately to this cross-linguistic difference. As mentioned in the previous section, the problem with aspiration is habituating this feature in spontaneous pronunciation. The learners must learn to self-monitor their pronunciation until aspiration becomes automatic and spontaneous. Self-monitoring may be assisted by spectrographic analysis of one’s unprepared speech. As an example, the learners prepare a short story without orthographic representations and record themselves telling the story. Subsequently, they find tokens with syllable-initial /p, t, k/ and listen back or measure their aspiration.

Aspiration produces visible spectrographic marks which are easy to find, and thus using speech-analysis software is an effective tool in teaching aspiration (Rojczyk 2011b).

3. Prosody: theoretical background

Despite several publications devoted to prosody (for instance, the popular intonation textbooks by Cook 1968; O’Connor and Arnold 1973), it was only the development of pragmatics and the communicative approach to FL pronunciation teaching (e.g., Brazil 1975, 1978; Brazil et al. 1980;

Celce-Murcia et al. 1996) that drew more attention to largely neglected prosodic issues. Prominence and pause distribution and realisation on lexical and phrasal levels, speech timing, voice pitch variation patterns, and even voice quality manipulations (Kenworthy 1980) were increas- ingly recognised by teachers as vital for communication. It was noticed that stress and intonation cues are often more indicative of the true meaning of an utterance and the speaker’s intentions than the seman- tics. Numerous studies (e.g., Anderson-Hsieh et al. 1992; Jilka 2000;

Trofimovich and Baker 2006) confirm the impact of prosodic deviations on both comprehensibility and the level of foreign-accentedeness of L2 speech. Moreover, the use of inadequate intonation patterns may cause misunderstandings and lead to negative evaluation and even discrimina- tion of the speaker (Munro 2003).

Stress, rhythm, and intonation are usually mentioned as the basic prosodic phenomena, but they are by no means independent of each other. Stress, if understood as prominence in general, is realised not only by increased articulatory effort resulting in rising loudness, but also, not less importantly, by specific speech unit duration and voice


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 17 pitch arrangements, which determine, to a large extent, the timing and the melodic shape of speech. On the utterance level, the speaker stresses a speech unit in order to draw the listener’s attention to the most important elements of the message, and robust prominence in- dication is regarded as vital for communication (Kenworthy 1990;

Bogle 1996; Celce-Murcia et al. 1996; Jenkins 2000; Pennington and Ellis 2000; Hahn 2004). On the word level, some languages, including English but not Polish, use specific prominence relations between the constituent syllables as an important cue to word identification (Cutler 1984; Kenworthy 1990; Cooper et al. 2002; Hahn 2004; Field 2005), and lexical access often depends on the correct stress pattern realisation by the speaker (Brown 1990; Field 2005).

The local, lexical prominence patterns are incorporated in larger prosodic constructions, using, as already mentioned, apart from articu- latory dynamics, temporal and melodic means of speech organisation.

Together with the focusing function, Wells (2006:11f) distinguishes six important functions of intonation, clearly indicating its communicative power:

– focussing (highlighting informationally important units);

– grammatical (signalling grammatical structures and unit boundaries);

– psychological (organising speech into cognitively manageable chunks);

– discourse (interaction management, for instance, turn taking);

– attitudinal (expressing attitudes and emotions); and

– indexical (indicating the speaker’s personal or social identity).

The last aspect of prosody to be mentioned, relatively independent of pitch variation but based on prominence distribution and timing, is speech rhythm. There is a lot of disagreement about the relevance of speech rhythm for communication. The influential, intuitively convinc- ing Rhythm Class Hypothesis (Pike 1945; Abercrombie 1967), dividing languages into stress-timed and syllable-timed ones, has not been con- firmed empirically (e.g., Dauer 1983). Still, more recent studies do not reject the Rhythm Class Hypothesis as long as it refers to cross-linguistic variation between stressed and unstressed syllables (Wiget et al. 2010) rather than strict isochrony of speech units.

3.1 Pedagogical problems

The growing awareness of the communicative power of prosody and the fact that it is “held responsible for numerous instances of miscom- munication between native and non-native speakers” (Grabe et al. 2008:

311) has not changed the well-grounded conviction that it may be the


most difficult aspect of FL learning. This difficulty arises for several reasons, such as the objective complexity and variability of intonation patterns (cf. Roach 2000, Grabe et al. 2008) and the subjective feeling that “it is somehow less perceptible and less tangible than other areas of language” (Underhill 2005:75), which brings us to the physiological aspect of the perception and production of prosodic patterns, relying on the ability to discriminate pitch variations and motor control of the speaker’s own articulatory system. In fact, most people, though they

“vary in their ability to hear intonation patterns, and there are quite often disagreements between trained listeners about what they hear in a speech sample” (Cauldwell and Allen 1997: 2), can use prosody effi- ciently in L1 but in a rather subconscious, intuitive way (Bradford 1988;

Brazil 1994; Kelly 2000). Therefore, Roach’s (2000) advice that “the attitudinal function of intonation is something that is best acquired through talking with and listening to English speakers” (after Setter 2008: 367) is very useful for L2 learners but less useful in classroom teaching conditions.

Conscious control, not vital in SL acquisition but strongly desirable in the FL learning setting, appears far more difficult. Classroom condi- tions, far from a natural discourse setting, suppress learners’ natural prosodic intuition even in contexts where universal prosodic patterns could be used (Chun 1988). Furthermore, “the teaching of intonation seems to have been characterised by an even greater uncertainty and lack of confidence than the other areas of practical phonology. We do not have a practical, workable, trustworthy system through which we can make intonation comprehensible to ourselves” (Underhill 2005:75).

Consequently, intonation is “one of those territories where many lan- guage teachers fear to tread” (Setter 2008: 367), and many researchers (e.g., Taylor 1993; Jenkins 2000) consider it hardly teachable.

Indeed, certain pedagogical approaches incorporate the idea that the difficulty of the topic should make teachers consider leaving intonation out of English pronunciation curricula for two main reasons. Firstly, given the difficulty in categorisation and description, let alone the vari- ation and inconsistency of patterns, it is a great challenge to elaborate a consistent model of English prosody that might form a learning objective for the learner. Secondly, especially in classroom conditions, teaching prosody requires, apart from the knowledge, a good ear for voice pitch changes and the ability to demonstrate various prosodic pat- terns on the part of the teacher in order to provide the learners with necessary feedback. Needless to say, the learner also needs to possess or develop such abilities. As a result, teachers may try to reduce prosody issues to word stress placement, which, unlike tones, is hardly ever con-


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 19 sidered redundant for communication. The problem is, however, that stress, or prominence in general, is strictly related to pitch changes, and neglecting intonation may also lead to the learner’s inability to control word stress.

3.2 Didactic suggestions

Typically, philology students are learners with above-average language aptitude and particularly high language awareness developed through their descriptive grammar, phonology, and general linguistic courses.

Therefore, even though conscious prosody learning is a difficult task, the teacher may try to resort to their metacompetence to the students’

benefit in both theoretical and practical aspects of English phonetics.

In this section, we propose the main issues to be taken into account in teaching suprasegmental phonetics to university students of English.

These comprise metacompetence, including the knowledge of phono- logical and phonetic terminology, and practical skills, including the perception and production of English prosodic patterns.

3.2.1 Prominence

The successful recognition and indication of prominence in speech is crucial for all prosodic issues. Learners should be made aware of the role of intensity, duration and pitch variation in signalling the promi- nent speech units. We suggest that the concept of prominence should be introduced very early in the course, beginning with the notion of word stress (cf. Porzuczek et al. 2013: 46–53). Practical training is preceded by explanation and demonstration of the main word stress cues, and references to how lexical stress is used across languages. Learners must also be made aware of the relativity of prominence, which results in equal attention paid to the strengthening of stressed syllables and the reduction of unstressed ones. At this point, we focus particularly on qualitative vowel reduction, which, absent from Polish, often proves to be the decisive factor in the native English listener’s word stress recogni- tion (e.g., Field 2005). Such instruction supports a coherent presentation of the English vocalic system by explaining the special status of schwa among the English vowels. Practical exercises include ear training in word stress recognition and articulatory control, using both the percep- tion and production of real English words and stress position manipula- tions in nonce words. It is also useful to explain the relations between


word stress assignment and the phonological structure of the syllable (light and heavy syllables) on the one hand, and the morphological structure of the word (stress-fixing, stress-attracting, and stress-neutral suffixes; compounds, etc.) on the other.

3.2.2 Rhythm/Timing

In our view, speech rhythm is not a necessary constituent of a pro- nunciation course. Instead, we suggest exercises in phrase and sentence level prominence recognition and indication (cf. Porzuczek et al. 2013:

155–163). The timing of larger prosodic units may be treated as a result- ant of prominence relations within and between their constituents. The realisation of this topic relies on the extension of the previous, word- stress-related knowledge and skills. The same aspects of prominence appear in relation to larger stretches of speech, where learners need to observe prominence level relations (primary and secondary stress), while, as we make clear to the students, the knowledge of unstressed syllable reduction applies to the weak forms of function words. Rhythm exercises are also useful if they aim at better articulatory control of stressed and unstressed syllables on the sentence level.

3.2.3 Intonation

Considering that most people, even amusics, are capable of using in- tonation efficiently in their native language, we suggest that the major problem in intonation teaching is to match the knowledge with physi- ological control and translate the pragmatic impressions into phonetic metalanguage, hoping to be able at further learning stages to employ learners’ explicit knowledge of intonation for practical communication purposes. The awareness of intonation may be built using examples of melodic patterns which are common to Polish and English. These include the basic application of falling and rising intonation to contrast, respectively, statements and questions or completion and continuation (cf. Porzuczek et al. 2013: 164–166). Conscious associations between the pitch change direction and its familiar pragmatic functions may be used by at least some students to learn the most characteristic FL-specific contours that differ from L1 patterns. In the case of standard British pronunciation (SSBE), we focus on wh-questions and question-tag intonation (Porzuczek et al. 2013: 170–172). Finally, apart from pitch change direction, we draw the students’ attention to the pragmatic


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 21 significance of relative pitch change amplitudes (Porzuczek et al. 2013:


Generally speaking, in teaching prosody, the teacher tries to bridge the learner’s subliminal, intuitive practical knowledge of intonation patterns with explicitly defined pragmatic functions and the technical description of contours in terms of nuclear accent realisation, direc- tions, and amplitude of pitch change. Certainly, the difficulty of the topic makes us regard any success in this field as an added bonus of the course.

3.3 Teaching aids and techniques

Throughout the paper, we have advocated the idea of balance between metacompetence and practical skills in a course addressed to English studies majors. Therefore, the students become acquainted with the most important theoretical issues via explicit presentation, instruction and explanation provided by the lecturer, supported by self-study at home. The classroom part of the instruction is naturally based on audi- tory stimuli, but the efficiency of multisensory approach to teaching encourages the teacher to refer to the other senses as well. Phonemic and phonetic transcriptions are the most obvious visual aids in phonetics courses. Besides, visualisations of articulation mechanisms, intonation contours, and prominence patters are employed. Furthermore, particu- larly in university conditions, the availability of speech-analysis soft- ware, such as PRAAT (Boersma 2001) or SFS/WASP (Huckvale 2003), offers new possibilities to visualise and thus help students understand and better perceive speech processes (Gonet 2016), including the elusive prosodic patterns (Anderson-Hsieh 1992, 1994). Introduction to speech analysis may also encourage the students to start their own research in the future.

A larger part of the course, however, is devoted to practical train- ing, which involves elements of traditional drills wherever articulatory motor habit formation is necessary. At this stage, apart from audio-visual materials, the teacher may try using kinaesthetic stimuli, which often boost the efficiency of the multisensory approach (e.g., Celce-Murcia et al. 1996) with respect not only to prosody (Wrembel 2007) but also segmental phonetics (Szpyra-Kozłowska 2015). Kinaesthetic involve- ment may seem a more obvious element of teaching younger learners, but university teachers also report positive response of students to this kind of exercise.


4. Conclusions

The primary objective of a pronunciation course for English studies majors is the same as in the case of teaching other groups of learners.

Approximation to a native pronunciation model should result in at least

“comfortable intelligibility” (Kenworthy 1990), although in the case of prospective English teachers and interpreters, a closer approximation of learner speech to a native-like level is most welcome. Knowing that the most effective way to acquire foreign language pronunciation, especially prosody, is by exposure to real communicative situations and authentic language, which imitates the way we develop our L1 speech, we strongly encourage the students to seize every opportunity of involvement in natural communication in English. However, the most distinguishing feature of a university course in practical English phonetics is the im- portance of metacompetence development, which, along with enriching the students’ general knowledge of linguistics, should lead to significant FL pronunciation level improvement.

Reflective questions

Q1: What are the implications of and the differences between FL learn- ing and SL acquisition for pronunciation pedagogy?

Q2: How is learning of FL vowels influenced by L1 vowel system?

Q3: Why is it difficult to teach English word stress patterns?

Practical tasks

T1: Think about other segments in English which are difficult for Polish learners and try to explain why.

T2: Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of teaching prosody be- fore segmental phonetics.

T3: Make a list of topics you would include in a university course of English intonation.


EFL pronunciation teaching to Polish English studies majors 23


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Agnieszka Solska

Puns as tools for teaching English grammar in a university context

Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of teaching grammar to students who are learning English at the tertiary level, especially those who have taken up English as a university subject. It makes a case for incorporating yet another tool in the extensive toolkit already available to their teachers: puns, an ambiguity-based word- play whose effect springs from correlating two distinct meanings via one linguistic form. The paper outlines arguments for the pedagogical value of using puns in the classroom and presents examples of specific activities that can be employed in the classroom to raise L2 learners awareness of a whole range of grammar-related issues.

Keywords: Explicit and implicit grammar teaching, puns, ambiguity, wordplay, lan- guage play, consciousness raising activities

1. Introduction

In modern language teaching, grammatical competence is recognised as vital to mastering a second or foreign language, though it is a matter of debate what approaches teachers should take to instill it in their students and what kind of materials they should use. The issue at the heart of the debate, whether to “teach grammar, or […] simply create the condi- tions by which learners learn naturally” (Ellis 2006: 83), is of crucial importance to language teachers, except those for whom the choice of the methods and the means is dictated by the specific language-related subjects they teach. Among the subjects followed by university students of modern languages such as English, there are some whose objectives are best attained if grammar is taught implicitly through meaningful


communicative language, and there are some whose main focus is on the grammatical system on which the language is based and which call for teaching grammar in as explicit a way as possible.

The purpose of this paper is to recommend a teaching tool that the teachers of both kinds of students may find useful: the pun, a figure of speech which involves correlating two meanings via one linguistic form. As a type of wordplay which owes its effect to lexical ambiguity, it is usually seen as best suited for teaching vocabulary and for provid- ing what might be called comic relief. I hope to show that some puns, namely, those which exploit the morphosyntactic features of the English language, can be employed in the classroom to bring the students’ atten- tion to diverse aspects of grammar, including the lexical multicategori- ality of English words, the constituent structure of the English sentence, inflectional and derivational morphology, as well as a range of specific constructions.

The paper is organised in the following way. First, Section 2 presents the peculiarities of the context in which English grammar instruction takes place at the tertiary level. Section 3 reports on the pun-related research, especially in ELT studies. Sections 4 discusses the structure- based properties of punning utterances which could be exploited in grammar instruction. Section 5 is concerned with implications morpho- syntactic features of puns have for ELT: it specifies the areas of grammar in which pun-based material can be particularly useful and stresses such merits of puns as their ubiquity and authenticity as well as their focus on the inner workings of languages and their ability to lower the learn- ers’ affective state. Finally, Appendix 1 contains reflective questions that can help grammar teachers consider their own classroom practice, and Appendix 2 provides a handful of specific pun-based tasks that could be employed in the classroom.

2. Grammar instruction in a university context

At the tertiary level of the educational systems in many countries, for instance in Poland, learners of English fall roughly into three categories.

The first one consists of (mostly young) adults, some more, some less proficient in English, whose study programmes include a general EFL course with usually a minimal number of contact hours per week. For these students, learning grammar is merely a means to an end, which is improving their communicative competence. The second category


Puns as tools for teaching English grammar in a university context 29 consists of again mixed-ability students whose study programmes offer an ESP course designed to help them use English in their chosen professions. Though these students are unlikely to consider time spent on learning grammar as time wasted (Nassaji and Fotos 2011), they probably have even less interest in grammar-centered instruction. For them too, communication is the goal and grammar a tool to achieve that goal.

The students taking courses supplied by English language depart- ments, who make up the third category of learners, differ considerably from the other two groups in terms of their competence, goals, and needs. Their level of proficiency in English is not only more uniform but on average much higher than in the other two groups. Though they too do not perceive achieving grammatical competence as their ultimate goal, they wish to become not only effective communicators in English but also experts in the language. While it is impossible to predict what kind of careers they will pursue when they graduate, the assumption motivating the range of subjects which are offered to them is that their future work will capitalise in one way or another on their knowledge of English. As the backbone of language, in one form or another, grammar is present in all of these subjects, taught either implicitly or explicitly.

Grammar teaching looms big in the intensive course in Practical English, which all of these students follow. It comprises many subjects, among them one unequivocally called Practical Grammar, which spreads out over four or six semesters and which has a two-fold objective, both practical and theoretical. On the one hand, it is supposed to help students become proficient users of English grammatical structures; on the other hand, it is supposed to equip them with well-ordered general knowledge of the English grammatical system and well-grounded specific knowl- edge of particular English grammatical structures. Incorporated in their programmes of studies are also linguistic subjects such as Introduction to linguistics, Descriptive grammar, Contrastive grammar, and even Historical grammar. These are not part of their Practical English course but give them a solid basis in basic grammar-related concepts and equip them with the meta-language in which these can be discussed. In ad- dition, students pursue various content subjects, such as literature and culture, and depending on the study programme they have chosen, a number of courses designed to help them acquire knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to become teachers, translators, or interpreters.

In one way or another, grammar teaching cuts across all of these subjects. It obviously has pride of place in Practical Grammar, but it lurks even in literature and culture classes. After all, the mastery of the English grammatical system is crucial to understanding literary


texts, and success in practically all content subjects where English is the language of instruction depends on the students’ ability to apply the structures they have learned in speech and writing.

Due to the time constraints and entrenched habits, teachers of Prac- tical Grammar classes are not very likely to apply inductive methods or to expose students to authentic texts. Some might incorporate elements of the Grammar Consciousness-Raising approach, advocated by Rod Ellis (2002, 2005), but in general, they tend to favour the deductive ap- proach and often rely on a modified version of the age-old Presentation- Practice-Production (PPP) model. The modification in question involves devoting much time and attention to the first two Ps and hardly any to the last one, which is relegated to other practical English as well as content subjects. The teachers of those other subjects are more likely to choose methods and materials (e.g., coursebooks, authentic texts, lan- guage games) which integrate grammar points into developing various skills a student has to master. Of the vast array of available materials at their disposal, teachers of Practical Grammar typically choose books of exercises.

3. Pun-related research

What I propose is adding puns as an instrument that could be of use in teaching grammar both in the subjects dedicated to this area of EFL/ESL and in other subjects. To the best of my knowledge, this idea has not yet been explored. Indeed in ELT studies, puns remain under-researched, usually meriting only passing mention in the works of scholars inter- ested in language play and its effects on second language learning (Kral 1994; Woolard 1996; Davis 1997; Lantolf 1997; Lopez-Corria 1999;

Cook 2000; Tarone 2000; Tocalli-Beller and Swain 2007).

So far puns have been extensively discussed by literature scholars (Redfern 1984; Culler 1988) and humor researchers (Raskin 1985; At- tardo 1994; Yus 2003; Dynel 2010). Linguists and psycholinguists have pondered the way puns are processed (Yus 2003; Giora 2003; Solska 2012a, 2012b, 2012c, 2017a), and analysed their role in specific com- municative settings, from advertising slogans (Tanaka 1992, 1994;

Goddard 1998; van Mulken et al. 2005) and city promotional slogans (Solska and Rojczyk 2015) to conversational witticisms (Norrick 1984) and newspaper headlines (Goddard 1998; Dor 2003; Chovanec 2005).

Those SLA researchers who have spared their attention for puns have


Puns as tools for teaching English grammar in a university context 31 acknowledged their potential as instruments for instruction or offered proposals for how to exploit them for ELT purposes. Thus, Monnot and Kite (1974) demonstrated how pun-based advertising slogans can be used to clarify and teach vocabulary. Lucas (2005) argued that incorporating puns in language lessons can help enhance the general awareness of the language and language comprehension. Lems (2011) presented lesson plans incorporating puns in order to teach spelling, pronunciation, and meanings of English words in a light hearted way.

The view of the pedagogical value of puns that emerges from these proposals is that they are useful for the motivational purposes (because of their connection with humor) and appropriate for teaching vocabu- lary (due to relying on lexical ambiguity). While these merits of puns are most obvious, their educational potential seems much greater and, as I argued in Solska (2017b), embraces many more aspects of language, including not only lexis, orthography, and pronunciation, but also morphology and syntax, appropriacy and style, text types, as well as discourse and pragmatic competence. Here I would like to focus on grammar alone.

4. Puns: utterances that straddle the lexis-grammar divide

4.1 The lexis-grammar interface in puns

Puns may seem an odd tool to propose for helping students come to grips with grammar-related issues. Among the notions invoked by dictionary definitions of these figures of speech, such as the one below, which captures features of prototypical puns, we find references to meaning, sound, and humour, yet no mention is made of anything that could be construed as structure-related.

The use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more mean- ings or different associations, or the use of two or more words of the same or nearly the same sound with different meanings, so as to produce a humorous effect; a play on words. (The Oxford English Dictionary)

Yet, if we consider the three properties (discussed in Solska 2017a) which set puns off from non-punning utterances, we can see that only one of them is tied up with meaning alone, while the remaining two place


puns firmly at the intersection of lexis and grammar. The properties in question are that:

1. Puns contain a linguistic form (the connector) whose phonetic shape functions as a pivot that allows it to bring together two (or more) meanings.

2. The context against which the connector is processed contains at least two disjunctive elements, which induce the interpreter to derive more than one meaning of the connector.

3. The two meanings the interpreter is induced to derive are clearly distinct from each other.

Only the third feature is purely meaning-related and responsible for the oscillating effect observed in many puns: the interpreter ending up swinging back and forth between two interpretations, unable to entirely let go of either. A quick glance at the meanings conveyed by the con- nectors italicised in Examples (1)–(5) seems to confirm the view that puns belong in the domain of lexis, exploiting as they do lexical am- biguity couched in homonymy, polysemy, perfect as well as imperfect homophony, and homography.

(1) homonymy: Being in politics is just like playing golf: you are trapped in one bad lie after another. [‘untruth’or ‘position of a ball’]

(2) polysemy: We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assur- edly, we shall all hang separately. (Benjamin Franklin) [‘be united,’ ‘be punished’]

(3) perfect homophony: Literacy Hour gives pupils the right to write.

(4) imperfect homophony: May I have the next glance please?

(Wife to husband staring at another woman at a party) [glance evoking dance]

(5) homography: You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish.

Unless of course, you play bass. (Douglas Adams)

The most obvious structure-based characteristic of punning utter- ances is the fact that in the punning utterance, the connector may surface only once (in the so-called vertical puns), simultaneously yield- ing more than one meaning, or more than once (in horizontal puns), on each occasion bearing a different sense. More importantly, however, the potential of the punning connectors to bring together distinct meanings is not limited to the types of ambiguity listed above and, as indicated by Examples (6)–(10), includes categorial, sub-categorial, and syntactic ambiguity, as well as sub- and supra-lexical ambiguity, phe-


Puns as tools for teaching English grammar in a university context 33 nomena made possible by the morphosyntactic features of the English language.

(6) categorial ambiguity: Let us give you some sound advice.

(advertisment at a hearing aid centre) [adjective ‘reliable’ or noun ‘auditory effect’]

(7) sub-categorial ambiguity: ‘What did a Buddhist say when ordering a hotdog?’

‘Make me one with everything.’

(a) make as a ditransitive verb: ‘Sell me a hotdog with all available condiments’

(b) make as a complex transitive verb: ‘Cause me to achieve unity with the universe’

(8) syntactic ambiguity: After he ate the duck the fox got a little down in the mouth.

(a) ‘became depressed’

(a) ‘ended up with duck feathers in the mouth’

(9) sub-lexical ambiguity: Mount Ever-Rest (name of a funeral home)[evoking Everest]

(10) supra-lexical ambiguity: Why did the cookie cry? Because its mother was a wafer too long. [‘a wafer’ or ‘away for’]

What induces the interpreter to derive more than one meaning of the connector is the context against which the connector is processed.

Containing at least two disjunctive elements, each raising the salience of a different meaning of the connector, it prevents the hearer from homing in on just one meaning and one syntactic function/category of the connector. The disjunctors are often extra-linguistic or purely conceptual. For instance, the pun lurking in the promotional slogan for the Canadian city of Thunder Bay in (11) is only obvious to those who know that the city is located on the banks of Lake Superior, and the two meanings of lie in (1) are made salient by the mention of such spheres of life as politics and golf. In some puns, however disjunctive elements are to a large extent structure-based, and it is puns like these that are of interest to us. For instance, when presented in writing, the homophonic pun in (12a) leaves no doubt as to the lexical category of each of its two connectors. However, when it is presented orally, as in (12b), it is the structural frame they are a part of, indicated in (12c), that determines which of them is the noun right and which the verb write.

(11) Superior By Nature.

(12) (a) Literacy Hour gives pupils the right to write.


(b) Literacy Hour gives pupils the /rait/ to /rait/.

(c) Literacy Hour gives pupils the N to V.

Let us thus examine the structure-based properties of punning utter- ances which could be exploited in grammar instruction.

4.2 Puns and structure-induced lexical multicategorialities

In many puns, the homophonous and/or homonymous words which function as connectors represent more than one part of speech. We have already seen this in (6). In (13a), the key words vote(s) and count(s) function as both nouns and verbs. In the pun-based riddle in (14a), the word fast unexpectedly switches not only from one meaning to another but also from one grammatical category (adjective) to another (verb).

What highlights the ambiguity of the key word is the context in which the connector is placed. Both parts of the chiastic pun in (13a) have the same structure, indicated in (13b), in which on its first appearance the connector has to be a noun, and on its second one a verb. In the riddle in (14a), the mention of horses, animals valued for their speed, makes the adjectival interpretation of fast more accessible. However, the question part supports both the adjectival and the verbal interpretation of its last constituent, as indicated in (14b), and this is what turns the riddle into a pun.

(13) (a) In capitalism it is your votes that count. In feudalism it is your count that votes.

(b) It is your N that V.

(14) (a) How do you make a horse fast? Don’t feed him for a while.

(Deneire 1995: 290)

(b) make NP X [X: either an AP or a VP]

4.3 Puns and the morphosyntactic structure of the connector

Though the connectors are prototypically words, they can be larger or smaller than a word. In (15), the connector is a phrase; in (16), the first fragment of (5), the first connector is a string of words; in the punning blend in (17), the connector is a word fragment; and in (18), on its second appearance, it is a morpheme. Connectors like these have an internal supra- or sub-lexical structure, which makes them amenable to a structural analysis at the level of a sentence, a phrase, or a word.


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