Input and the acquisition of suprasegmental phonology in English by Thai school children
This thesis discusses an experimental study whose aim was to find out whether English pronunciation teaching can be improved in Thai schools, where English has recently been introduced at the primary level. The main study was first underpinned by a baseline study conducted to confirm the low level of achievement in English phonology in Thailand. Data were collected from a relatively small cross-section of Thai English learners (34 in total) from three levels: beginning (primary school), intermediate (secondary school), and advanced (university, both English majors and non-English majors). The results from the baseline study helped guide the direction of the experimental study. Results revealed that all across-levels, Thai learners share similar problems in English pronunciation including 1) mispronouncing the clusters in English either in initial or final position; 2) not pronouncing the final sound of English words; and 3) misstressing disyllabic and multi-syllabic English words. These non- target pronunciations lead to undesirable unintelligibity (Kenworthy, 1978). The thesis next considers the reasons for such problems and the conclusion is that this is due to the variety of English Thai learners are exposed to, that is from Thai teachers whose accents deviate from native English speakers (see Young-Scholten, 1995).How pronunciation is dealt with in Thailand inspired the main study. The experiment exposed two groups of learners to two types of English language lessons presented on tape, with voices of English native speakers the same age as the Thai learners. One type of lesson involved only primary linguistic input, similar to how a language is naturally learned (through interaction with English native speakers) and the other added awareness raising to this. Both lessons minimized the use of Thai. The content of the lessons was based on English syllable structure and primary stress and included 60 English words from the Thai national curriculum. These lessons were implemented with two different groups of 23 and 27 Thai first year primary school learners not yet exposed to English. The idea of investigating young learners was based on the grounds that the introduction of English to Thai learners has recently shifted to primary school. As a control group, a class of 30 learners who were the same age and at the same class level was selected to represent those who were learning English in Thai school fashion. Each experimental group had a 20-25 minute lesson every day for four weeks with the experimenter after a pre-test was administered. A control group who were learning English from Thai teachers received five to ten minutes of additional general tuition a day. Production test results from an immediate post-test and a one-month delayed post-test indicated the experimental groups performed significantly better on English syllable structure and stress than the control group. The errors produced showed the experimental group learners were similar in development to how first language learners of English acquire their native language and also closer to approximating the target language when compared with the control group. The study showed that both types of lessons using recorded native speakers input for the development of English phonology seemed to work equally well with young Thai learners. This indicates that pronunciation teaching for Thai learners can straightforwardly be improved. The large-scale development of lessons is recommended where the primary source of language input is from recordings from native speakers similar to those implemented with the two experimental groups.