Juan Soto-Franco

Intro

After teaching EFL (English as a Foreign Language) in the Dominican Republic for more than a dozen years and ESL (English as Second Language) in the United States for more than five years; the researcher realized that most beginner and intermediate students tend to make the same pronunciation mistakes here and there. Part of the mispronounced sounds include /j/ vs. /X/ as in John vs. Young; /b/ vs. /v/ as in best vs. vest; /m/ vs. /n/ as in same vs. sane; /θ/ vs. /t/ as in three vs. tree; epenthetic /ԑ/ as in Spanish, speak; and /ↄ/ as in restaurant, autograph. His experience, observation of mobile devices proliferation, and the use of mobile applications motivated him to carry out this classroom research. This research included Dominican participants who used their smartphone to record six statements and WhatsApp to share their audio files. The researcher utilized Audacity (an audio recording and editing software) to edit the audio files. The goal was to help participants enhance their pronunciation in English.

Brief Literature Review

Using smartphone features regularly is so ubiquitous that it has become second nature. Consequently, trying to incorporate them in our learning process should result in a normal activity that benefits learners. According to dos Pereira (2018), “utilizando as ferramentas à que estão expostos diariamente, poderiam adquirir o conhecimento de forma a aprimorar sua produção escrita e oral em Língua Inglesa…” (p. 505). [utilizing the tools that they [students] are exposed daily, they can acquire knowledge and refine their written and oral production in the English language… (my translation)]. Furthermore, Andújar-Vaca & Cruz-Martínez (2017) added that “…through authentic interaction and feedback. Voice-based MMC [Mobile-mediated Communication] constitutes a powerful tool for developing second language speaking proficiency” (p. 50). These authors support the idea that the use of MMC along with feedback certainly help in the development of second language speaking skills.

Hypothesis

  • Participants will improve their pronunciation after recording statements, listening to feedback, and practicing their faulty sounds
  • Participants would like to follow the practice model utilized in this project

Methodology

  • Participants

Six Dominican Republic natives living in Santo Domingo (2) and La Vega (2), Dominican Republic (DR) and in the Bronx, New York (2) participated in this mini-pronunciation project. They are young learners in intermediate level of English. They freely agreed to participate after their respective instructors spoke and explained to them the purpose of this project.

  • Instruments

To conduct this study, the researcher utilized two specific instruments to collect data. One was participants’ smartphone, and the other instrument was a Google Forms survey with six questions (five closed-ended and one open-ended). They collected participants’ level of difficulty in reading the statements and understanding the researcher’s feedback. Other questions aimed to determine their opinion about the technique the researcher utilized to give them feedback. The last two questions inquired about their willingness to participate or recommend other students to participate in similar projects. As secondary instruments, we used the mobile application called WhatsApp and Audacity (an audio recorder and editor).

Procedure

Based on the observation that most Dominican English learners tend to fail to pronounce certain sounds (read introduction above), the researcher purposefully made up six statements that covered these sounds. They are as follows: 1. My friend Jong is very young. 2. Vanessa has a beautiful TV. 3. After the accident, she is not the same sane person. 4. Hey they’re thinking we’re sinking. 5. I see Steven can speak Spanish. 6. The author is signing autographs in the restaurant. With these statements ready, the researcher contacted three colleagues (two in the DR and one in the Bronx) and explained to them the idea behind the project via email. They agreed, spoke with their students and they freely agreed to participate. Participants received the statements above via email. Next, they used their smartphone to record them; after that, they shared the audio files with researcher via WhatsApp. Once the audio files were received, the researcher uploaded them to Audacity and listened to them to determine where improvement needed to be done. Wherever there was a mispronunciation, the researcher inserted his intervention, which consisted of recording this command, “Please repeat!” That was followed by the word with the correct pronunciation and a blank space or pause for participants to repeat the recorded word. The word was inserted again with its respective blank space after the pause for practice. One the audio files were finished, the researcher sent them back to the students for practice via WhatsApp. After they practiced the words, they re-recorded the same sentences and sent them back to the researcher. Finally, a Google Forms survey with six questions was sent to the participants via email to collect their feedback about the pronunciation project.

Results, Analysis and Conclusion

Table 1 below illustrates the participant’s name, original audio file, the edited audio file, and the number of mispronounced words. While it is true that in most of the cases, there were three mispronounced words or less; it is also worth noting that in the other two cases, a total of six and 14 mispronounced words, respectively.

Table 1: Participants original and edited audio files with the number of corrections

The first five questions of the questionnaire were closed-ended and the sixth one was open-ended. The charts below illustrate the different responses given by the participants. The last question includes a summary of their opinions.

Fig. 1: Difficulty level to pronounce the sentences

Figure 1 above illustrates participants’ response regarding their difficulty to pronounce the sentences they recorded. Most of them responded that they found it “Very easy” and “Easy.” Their combined total was 100%.

Fig. 2: Difficulty level to understand the researcher’s feedback

 

When asked about the difficulty of understanding the researcher’s feedback, all participants (100%) stated that it was “Very easy” (Figure 2).

Fig. 3: Helpfulness of researcher’s feedback

 

The third question asked participants if the feedback technique utilized by the researcher to help them enhance their pronunciation was helpful, they all (100%) responded “Very helpful” (Figure 3).

Fig. 4

 

Fig. 4: Willingness to participate in future project

Fig 5

 

Fig. 5: Recommending others to participate

 

Figures 4 and 5 show that participants are not only willing to participate in future projects like this, but also, they are willing to recommend other students to do it. Participants unanimously agreed 100% on their responses on both questions.

 

The last question on the survey asked participants to say what they thought about the project. Overall, their responses show that they enthusiastically found it helpful for their English pronunciation enhancement. Moreover, they are willing to participate again and recommend this project to other students because they noticed how beneficial this activity was. Below is a list of their direct responses to question six.

  • Helpful!
  • From my point of view, this project was very good and helpful to improve my pronunciation.
  • I think It was very helpful, I liked It and I think that It could be done more frequently mainly with those students who are starting the career to help them to improve their pronunciation.
  • Helpful!
  • It was really good because it helped improve my technique when im [I am] talking [speaking] in English.
  • These projects have good benefits, since it helps to understand the complexity and at the same time how simple the understanding, pronunciation and technicalities of English can be.

The results of this classroom research show that using current pieces of technologies such as smartphones, WhatsApp and Audacity; participants can improve their pronunciation skills when a good intervention and feedback is given to them. One aspect worth mentioning is that this asynchronous modality to assist participants in their pronunciation skills lends itself to the current times we live. That is, they were able to record the statements, send the audio files and later practice the corrected sounds at their own time and place. The two hypotheses above were confirmed as participants expressed that they found this project helpful and improved their pronunciation skills. They also informed that they would be willing to participate and recommend other students to participate in a similar project.

Recommendations

Founded on the results expressed by the participants, this researcher makes three recommendations: One, a follow-up study is recommended with a larger sample size. Two, include Dominican students from the five boroughs of New York and more provinces from the Dominican Republic. And three, include other sounds that might be detected by the researcher to offer an ampler opportunity to improve the pronunciation of the English language.

 

Contributors

  • José Luis Rodríguez, Adjunct Lecturer at Bronx Community College (BCC) English Department and his students
  • Berlina Henríquez, Assistant Professor at Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) English Department and her students
  • Heidy Fernández, English Instructor at Universidad Católica del Cibao (UCATECI) Linguistics Department and her students

 

References

Andújar-Vaca, A., & Cruz-Martínez, M.-S. (2017). Mobile-Instant Messaging: WhatsApp and its Potential to Develop Oral Skills. Comunicar, 50(15). 43-52. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1168743.pdf

dos Pereira, C., Idalgo, L., & Dutra, A. (2018). O WhatsApp como ferramenta para a prática oral e escrita em língua inglesa. Brazilian English Language Teaching Journal, 9(2), 492-507. DOI: https://doi.org/10.15448/2178-3640.2018.2.31140

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