Essentials of Communication in English Module 1: Speaking SkillsOUTLINE Introduction Varieties Of Spoken English Sounds of English Materials For Spoken EnglishAssessment QuestionsA. INTRODUCTION With people who have learnt English as a second language it may appear strange that spoken language should come before written language, and that therefore it is normal to learn to speak English fluently before learning to write or even to read it. The reverse is often the case in primary or even secondary schools of countries where English is a foreign language. There, at the primary school level, very little Spoken English is taught or even used by the teacher. In fact it is becoming the fashion and often the rule in these countries to teach primary school subjects including English in the children’s vernacular. As a result of this practice very little spoken English skills are acquired by the school learner in those countries. Similarly the school teacher is rarely good at spoken English. Even the little she might have learnt during her teacher-training, if he had any, is often left to deteriorate for lack of practice. In-fact he often finds it difficult to communicate officially in good English and when speaking with colleagues in un-official settings, she would rather use pigeon or localized English.But as a matter of fact, the spoken form is the heart of the English language as it is of all known languages. It is from the spoken form that the written form of English was derived. The written form is actually a more or less accurate representation of speech forms. People who wrote down English in the early days of writing were simply trying to imitate what was spoken. It was only later that written English started departing from spoken English. But even so, the resemblance is still obvious. Besides, native speakers of English always learn the spoken form first before learning to write or even to read in English. This is the same with every language. Children or babies of between two and five years learn to communicate orally with their parents and other members of their family. As they grow up to school age they progressively perfect their oral language skills, so that by the time they reach school age they hardly have any problem using or understanding the spoken form of their mother- tongue. It is therefore not surprising that a large number of citizens of non-native English-speaking countries today are so deficient in English that incidentally is their national language. It is however unfortunate that these children are allowed to go through primary and even secondary schooling without acquiring fluency in spoken English that forms a large percentage of the medium of communication in the world of work or academics in which most of them are expected to spend the next stage of their lives. This sorry situation underlines the need for learners and teachers of English to pay special attention to the acquisition of spoken English skills. This is all the more important because most school textbooks are written in English and students need oral explanations of the contents of these books from teachers. This lecture will seek to provide a clarification of the following aspects of English speech: Varieties of spoken English Sounds of EnglishMaterials for spoken English B. VARIETIES OF SPOKEN ENGLISH One of the major problems of learning spoken English is that users do not seem to agree on what constitutes standard usage. Not only that people from different geographical areas do not speak English in the same way, you can even observe differences in the way individuals from one place speak. Not only do the British speak differently from Americans and Indians, even the British themselves do not appear to speak English in the same way; there is Irish English Scottish English, Queens’ English and Cockney. Sometimes the differences are so remarkable that one group finds it difficult to understand the other. So you may wonder what brand of English to learn to speak as a non-native speaker. Standard English To solve this problem there have been attempts to fashion out a sort of common English sometimes called world standard English (WSE) designed to be intelligible to users of English all over the world. Examples of this model is BBC English, the English used by voice of America and infact the English used in broadcasting all over the world. However, it cannot be said that standard English has solved the problem of differences in spoken English usage. In spite of world standard English people in different parts of the world or even of one country have continued to use spoken English peculiar to them. This practice has given rise to localised usage existing side by side with standard usage and making it difficult for every user of English to stick to one variety of the spoken form. This means that a learner of spoken English could start with a local Variety and graduate to world standard English or alternatively, move straight to the learning of world standard English and after add the local variety which answers his needs. But even local varieties have standard patterns which all users should observe if they must understand one another. Language as a means of communication is, in-fact, based on agreement as to standardized meanings of recurring patterns of words and expressions. The point being made here is that the variety which is admissible in spoken English is limited to elements which do not upset the basic system of the language as determined by current usage. Such elements may relate to intonation and accent. But variety in these elements, when carried too far, may constitute an obstacle to comprehension and communication. This means that the learner of spoken English still needs to adhere to certain rules governing English accents and intonation. We will therefore discuss these variable elements as well as the standard ones of stress and pronunciation in the rest of this lecture. Accents and Dialects of English As already indicated, accent is one of the elements that differentiate spoken English usages. It embodies individual differences which are either inherited or acquired such as mother tongue or social background. When such peculiarities are based on local usage and shared by a language community they constitute dialects. Sometimes accent may not constitute an obstacle to communication, for instance radio broadcasters in different countries or even in the same country invariably use different accents. But the differences are so minor that they still allow for widespread comprehension among people versed in English. Although I can distinguish between British, American, Irish, and Nigerian accents, I still understand each of them well enough. This is because the differences in accent do not significantly affect the standard pronunciation. Dialects on the other hand often carry differences in pronunciation so far that there is a marked departure from the standard spoken English. This is why English dialects are often incomprehensible to foreign English speakers who are not familiar with them. The lesson to be learnt from this discussion on accents is that learners of spoken English should learn accepted models of the received pronunciation (RP). Such pronunciation is commonly used by radio and T.V. broadcasters in English speaking countries such as Britain and the United States or even Nigeria. It is also often used by trained radio and T.V. discussants and actors or actresses. Good speakers of English can also be found among specialists in English and people who have received special training in spoken-English either from school or from English-speaking families or communities. Intonation in English: Another variable element of spoken-English is intonation. It has been described as “variations in the level of pitch of the voice over a stretch of utterance”. (Adeniran 1984). In English there are basic intonation patterns two of which have been identified as: (a) Falling intonation and (b) Rising intonation pattern. Each of the patterns have also been described and illustrated with relevant sentence or grammatical patterns. For instance under the falling tone we have declarative sentences, why questions or questions beginning with “what”, “where”, “when” etc, and commands, whereas patterns which use the rising intonation include, (i) Yes/No questions such as those beginning with “will you”, or “are you”, (ii) enumeration or the kind of sentence in which a number of items are listed for which the rising tone is applied over all the items except the last one eg in “she went, to the shop to buy sugar, milk, tea and bread, and (iii) Non-finite clauses where in a complex clause type, the first or all clauses preceding the last are said on the rising intonation, but the last is said on the falling tune e.g. in “the teacher came into the classroom, packed all the exercise books together, talked briefly to the class, and left immediately for a meeting”. A variation of intonation within the same classification of patterns is sometimes usual. For instance the falling tone is permissible in enumeration provided that when a speaker uses it he or she must do so over that whole utterance. So you can see that intonation is not merely a matter of style or choice. In fact comprehension depends to some extent on intonation. Users of English do often convey more than the dictionary meaning of words by simply modulating the voice. For instance, the expression, “You know”, may indicate friendliness or hostility depending on the intonation. It is therefore advisable for learners of spoken English to familiarize themselves with the various attitudes and meanings attached to various intonation patterns. Stress in English While intonation refers to the tonality of speech utterances, stress in English refers to the emphasis given to segments of a word or sentence sometimes called syllables. Syllables are single sounds containing at least one vowel and sometimes made up a combination of vowel and consonant. When a syllable receives more oral emphasis than another in the same word or in a group of words, it is said to be stressed. But there are degrees of stress ranging from high to low with an average midway between the two extremes. The most prominent stress is termed primary stress, the next in prominence, secondary stress whereas the lowest is called tertiary stress. All these stresses may occur in one word usually referred to as a poly syllabic word such as examination where there are five syllables E-xa-mi-na-tion that have different stresses. Just like intonation, stresses fall into patterns in English. The pattern of stress however depends on (i) the grammatical function of words, and (ii) the syllabic composition of words. In connection with item (i), every content word bears at least a primary stress and some may in addition bear secondary stress. The content words have been identified as, nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, whereas words which belong to other grammatical categories perform only structural functions. While structural words merely fulfill grammatical righteousness, content words carry the content of the communication. On some occasions however, a structural word may be stressed for emphasis depending on the context and objectives of the communication. In connection with the syllabic composition of words, different stress patterns apply to different compositions ranging from single or monosyllable words to words of five syllables. Stress Patterns (1) Monosyllabic Words If a content word, apply stress; otherwise no stress e.g. ‘boy, ‘go, at. (2) Two Syllables Most English words of two syllables have one primarily stressed syllable, the other is unstressed. The primary (strong) stress is on the first syllable in some words and on the second syllable in some others e.g. (i) ‘female, ‘increase (noun), ‘insult (noun), ‘import (noun) ‘window, ‘over, ‘husband, ‘table, (ii) increase (verb), in sult (verb), import (verb), a lone, arrive, i’nvent, be’hind, re’veal, ab’surd. Note: There are some two syllable words both of which bear primary stress for example ‘fif’teen, ‘pre’paid. (3) Three Syllables The primary stress may be on first, second or third syllable. The may also be a secondary stress. (i) Stress on first syllable, e.g. ‘criticism, ‘cowardliness, ‘kettle-holder ‘educated, ‘capitalize, ‘photo ‘photograph. (ii) Stress on second syllable, e.g. important, e’leven re-’entry, un’certain, en’counter, ex’cessive. (iii) Stress on third syllable, e.g. unders’tand, entertain person’nel seven’teen, maga’zine. (4) Four Syllables Primary stress may be on the first, second, third or fourth syllable. There may also be a secondary stress. (i) Stress on first syllable, e.g., ‘criticism, ‘cowardliness, ‘kettle-boider, ‘educated, ‘capitalize, ‘nationalist. (ii) Stress on second syllable, e.g., re’markable, photography, im’possible, in’credible un’fortunate, es’tablishment. (iii) Stress on third syllable, e.g., insufficient, photo-’graphic, unim’portant, edu’cation. (iv) Stress on fourth syllable, e.g., misunder’stand, misrepre’Sent. (5) Five Syllables Primary stress on the first, second, third, or fourth syllable. There may also be a secondary stress. (i) Stress on first syllable, e.g. ‘capitalism (ii) Stress on second syllable, e.g., ad’ministrative, em’piricism, co’lonialism, im’perialism. (iii) Stress on the third syllable, e.g. satis’factory, aris’tocracy. (iv) Stress on the fourth syllable, e.g. affili’ation, conside’ration exami’nation. The lessons to be learnt by the learner of spoken English on the subject of stress are as follows: (1) When in doubt as to what to stress consult a pronunciation dictionary. (2) The connection between the grammar and stress of spoken English is such that stress pattern can be used to indicate the grammatical class to which certain words belong e.g. in ‘insult-(noun) and in’sult (verb). (3) The way of establishing meaning some-times makes it necessary to stress a normally unstressed item e.g. in ‘I, not you, watched the match. (4) The stress patterns fully apply in the treatment of sentence stress but with demonstrative and interrogative pronouns being normally stressed also with the content words: nouns, verbs adjectives and adverbs, whereas words belonging to other categories are normally un-stressed. (5) Finally English accent or intonation must not be confused with stress. The first describes personal speech peculiarities, the second, the tonality of utterances, and the last, the strength of emphasis given to syllabic sounds, or words. C. SOUNDS OF ENGLISHPerhaps the most striking feature of spoken languages in general and English language in particular is the variety of the individual sounds that a speaker combines into the continuum of speech. It has in fact it has been pointed out that ‘sound variations are such in English that even the same word repeated by the same speaker will not be produced identically on two occasions’ (Wilkins 1974:22). Thus the number of different sounds used by any one speaker may run into hundreds of even thousands. But this almost finite variety of sounds need not frighten the language learner. This is because even in the be-wildering diversity there is some order. The variation is quite systematic. For instance, it is found to be conditioned by position in the syllable in which a sound occurs or by the nature of the other sounds that are adjacent to it. For this reason you find that in practice the variety of sounds an English speaker actually uses is limited. An inventory of significant sounds in the English language can in fact be drawn. These phonemes as they are called constitute the 20 vowels (including diphthongs) and 24 consonants of the English language. Vowels in English Of the two classes of English sounds, the vowels are the nearest representation of sound. Although they are normally represented in writing by only five letters of the alphabet in speech each letter is realized in different ways. Depending on the position of each vowel in the syllable or the nature of the adjoining phonemes a vowel may be pronounced as front or back, open or close, rounded or unrounded, or even central. These nomenclatures refer to the position of the tongue while the vowel is being pronounced, the part of the tongue which is raised, and the position of the lips used for the pronunciation respectively. Besides, intermediate dimensions have been identified for each category. Thus, there is not only back vowels and front vowels as in food (fu:d) and feed (fi:d) respectively; but also central vowels as in bird (bi:d); Similarly you have not only close vowels as in ‘feed’ and ‘food’, and open vowels as in ‘father’, but also half-close and half-open. Finally you have not only rounded and unrounded vowels but also close - lip rounding and open lip rounding. An example of a rounded vowel is u: in food while i: in feed and a: in father are unrounded. Open-rounding and close-rounding are exemplified in pot and book respectively. You even have half - close rounding and half-open rounding as in ‘sit’ and ‘set’ respectively. Diphthongs are vowels which glide between two vowel elements. Eight of these have been identified in English but cannot be accurately represented by any letter of the alphabet considered in isolation. Examples of diphthongs are the combination of vowel sounds in veil, road, night, now, noise, ear, air, and poor. English Consonant Sounds English consonants are also related to sound but less so than vowels. They are produced at the point of articulation of syllables or words. Twenty-four consonants or varieties of articulation have been distinguished in English. The consonants are distinguished by their place and manner of articulation. They are dependent on the articulators of the organs situated in the mouth cavity, as well as on the activity going on in the voice box or Adam’s apple. The organs which are involved in articulating consonants include: the lips, the teeth, the tongue, the hard and soft palates, and the glottis. Thus, consonants may be voiced or voiceless according to whether they are produced with or without the vibration of the vocal cords; for instance b and d are described as voiced but the sounds f and s belong to the voiceless class. An open or whisper state results when the vocal cords are just open. Similarly there are lip sounds or labials, dentals, palatals and glottals. Apart from being used by good speakers of English, the correct way to pronounce words is shown in a pronunciation dictionary. But to be able to interpret the symbols used in such dictionaries, you have to master their phonetic transcriptions. A key to these is regularly provided in the early pages. It is often quite difficult to master the correct pronunciation of English. But again this need not discourage the learner as it is enough to acquire a pronunciation that is accurate enough for the significant sounds to be distinctive from one another and pronounced in a reasonably intelligible manner. To approximate to the required standard, the learner should realize that the important thing in pronunciation is not to learn to pronounce English phonemes in isolation but to form the sounds appropriate to the phonological contexts in which the phoneme occurs in the language. A learner of English as a foreign language has also got to be ware of problems posed by the pattern of sound combination of his or her mother tongue particularly as they affect initial and final consonant clusters. For instance, the right distinctions need to be made between the consonant + s/in ‘he eats’ and the consonant + /z/ in ‘he digs or the consonant + /t/ in ‘walked” and the consonant + d in ”screamed” Similarly the learner should bear in mind that it is not enough to learn to pronounce English words in isolation. It is even more important to learn the phonetics of connected speech often characterized by elision and assimilation of sounds and syllables. For instance, in English, the ‘and’ is hardly pronounced fully as when the component letters areisolated. Depending on the context it can be realized as /en/, /n/, /em/, or /m/. D. MATERIALS FOR SPOKEN ENGLISH One important consideration in the development of English listening comprehension and speaking abilities is the selection of the target material or what the leaner will ultimately listen to or say. Two classes of such material have been identified and described as follows: Dialogue (i)Unscripted, spontaneous conversation and discussions (informal dialogue) with a great deal of repetition and hesitation, perhaps a variety of accents to many short forms, unstressed words, elliptical sentences and perhaps unfinished sentences. Speed of delivery greatly and may sometimes be rapid. (ii)Scripted conversation e.g. dialogues in plays and films, often trying to simulate authentic conversation but with usually much less redundancy and often tending to be better organized. Monologue (i) Prepared but unscripted talks such as lessons and lectures delivered from out-line notes and characterized by some repetition, rephrasing and hesitation, but not as much as spontaneous conversation. Accent and speed will vary though very rapid speed is unlikely. (ii) Spoken instructions and public announcements which tend to be high in information density but usually fairly short and often repeated in identical form, may be difficult to hear if public address systems are used or there is a lot of general noise. Accents may vary but speed will be fairly uniform and moderate. (iii) Formal scripted talks, lectures and news bulletins read aloud (spoken prose) - very similar to written texts, have high information density and little repetition-usually delivered at moderate speed in a fairly deliberate style. The speaker will usually use whatever accent is considered standard in his part of the world. The first principle in the teaching and learning of listening comprehension is therefore that of selection of material and gradual exposure to a variety of material, Two ways of teaching and learning the skills can be identified. One way is to use plenty of graded practice the other way is to isolate more specific sub-kills and focus on carefully selected activities and exercises on the development of these sub-kills. Although the latter appears more scientific, both ways would appear recommendable as there is little understanding of what precisely are involved in the process of comprehension. Thus both general practice and a focus on specific sub-kills should be used for the teaching and learning of listening comprehension. D.Assessment questions 1. Give reasons why the learning of spoken English should precede that of written English. 2. Identify attempts made to solve the problem of spoken English usage. 3. Identify the difference between accents and dialects in spoken English usage. 4. Explain the various intonation and stress patterns which characterize spoken English usage. 5. Explain with examples the characteristics of vowels and consonants and show how they are pronounced in standard spoken English usage.