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Taiwan Journal of Linguistics

Vol. 11.2, 43-66, 2013




Kun-Ting Hsieh1, Da-Hui Dong2, and Li-Yi Wang3


The University of New South Wales


Chang Jung Christian University


National Institute of Education, Singapore


The current training techniques on English pronunciation put emphasis on isolated words or sentences, resulting in the lack of opportunities for EFL learners to practice intonation. It has been noted that the importance and necessity of intonation training have been undervalued, and empirical studies on developing second language (L2) intonation pedagogy are urgently needed. This preliminary study aims to find out whether shadowing technique from interpretation practice can be used to promote English intonation acquisition.

Fourteen non-English major students from National Taiwan University (NTU) were recruited and divided into control and experimental groups. The result from a SPSS Independent Sample T-test revealed significant differences between the two groups in intonation, fluency, word pronunciation, and overall pronunciation.

The paper ends with a discussion on the implication of applying interpreting skills to intonation training and directions for future research.

Keywords: shadowing technique, intonation, pronunciation instruction, EFL  We would like to give our appreciation to the participants of this study for their generosity and contributions. Also, we would like to thank three reviewers for their insightful comments.

43 Kun-Ting Hsieh, Da-Hui Dong, and Li-Yi Wang

1. INTRODUCTION The study of pronunciation, with the fall of audiolingualism, has been neglected for a long time since it was believed that native-like pronunciation was merely a utopian goal which can never be achieved by speakers of other languages. Some researchers relocated their research interest in the intelligibility of pronunciation rather than native-like phonics (Derwing & Munro 2009). In the field of language teaching, pronunciation instruction is either put off, undervalued or even forgotten (Celce-Murcia 1996; Gilbert 1994).

Back to the time when audiolingualism, where accuracy outweighed fluency, was still trend-setting (Morley 1991), the ultimate goal of pronunciation training was to eradicate or suppress the L1 accent in L2 (Celce-Murcia 1996; Larsen-Freeman 2000; Lightbown 2006). In the era of audiolingualism, pronunciation was a central component in language teaching and was identified with accurate production of isolated sounds or words (Pennington & Richards 1986). Several techniques and methods for teaching pronunciation were developed atthat time, and most of them focused on getting learners to “perceive and to produce distinctions between single sounds (segmentals) in minimal pair drills” (Lightbown & Spada 2006: 104), which largely restricted the domain of pronunciation to the segmental level (Lado 1957). A typical pronunciation class at that time could be described as the one that “gave primary attention to phonemes and their meaningful contrasts, environmental allophonic variations, and combinatory phonotactic rules, along with structurally based attention to stress, rhythm, and intonation”(Morley 1991: 484-485).

In the mid-1980s, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) was introduced as a revolutionary L2 teaching school which placed emphasis on L2 teaching using authentic texts, the intelligibility of the language expression, and a more student-centered classroom. Since then, pronunciation and intelligibility have been viewed as important goals of L2 teaching under the framework of CLT (Derwing & Munro 1997;

Field 2005; Morley 1991; Munro & Derwing 1999). More emphasis was placed on rhythm, stress, and intonation (supresegmentals), areas

44 Shadowing Technique in English Intonation Instruction

considered more likely to affect communication (Celce-Murcia et al.

2010; Lightbown & Spada 2006). Arguably, the era of CLT witnessed the shift in instructional focus in teaching pronunciation, where a redirection of priorities to a focus on the critical importance of suprasegmentals and how they were used to communicate meaning in the context of discourse, as well as the importance of vowels and consonants (segmentals) and their combinations. This direction was observed and described by Yule (1989) as the prosodic (or suprasegmental) approach.

Intonation, which is also called pitch sequence, is a well-known phenomenon in oral linguistic production. It conveys grammatical meanings, and learners who can master intonation, are proven to be more proficient in English (Wennerstorm 1998: 4, 20). Given that CLT has been overwhelmingly adopted in Taiwan (Hsieh 2011; Liao 2002, 2006), it is justifiable that English educators should attach more importance to pronunciation training. Wong’s (1993) study shows the connection between pronunciation and listening comprehension, implying that spoken English can only be comprehensible if it follows a certain rhythm and intonation. If a listener has difficulties understanding spoken English, it can be attributed to misinterpretation or unexpected comprehension of rhythm and intonations.

Pronunciation was viewed as an important component of English language teaching curricula since the 1940s. Morley (1991) argues that the question doesn’t lie in ‘whether’, but ‘what’ and ‘how’ pronunciation should be taught. Baker (1992) contends that advanced English learners realize while overall English proficiency can be improved, that it is impossible to eliminate some repeated mistakes and accented pronunciation. Although the pronunciation of adult L2 learners cannot be native-like, it can be improved with constant exposure to L2 (Flege 1988;

Flege & Liu 2001; Riney 1998; Trofimovich 2006). Munro and Derwing (2008), for example, observed students with Mandarin and Slavic as their first languages in ESL classes and found that their pronunciation was significantly improved with mere exposure to L2. It denotes that constant exposure to L2, rather than L2 pronunciation instruction, is the main reason leading to intelligible pronunciation.

Where education is concerned, what has been termed as ‘exposure to target language’ requires a constant input and output of the language in

45Kun-Ting Hsieh, Da-Hui Dong, and Li-Yi Wang

daily life, which is the most ideal learning environment for language learners. In Taiwan, English is taught as a foreign language for all tertiary students. Despite the realization that intonation instruction is essential for language learning, English pronunciation is still not taught as an independent course for most students who are not English majors.

According to the 2010 statistics from the Ministry of Education (MOE), among the total 1,240,814 students majoring in various fields in Taiwan’s tertiary education, only 47,138 (3.79%) were English-related majors (MOE, 2010). It can therefore be assumed that most of the nonEnglish major students lack pronunciation training. As the main support for pronunciation learning is still restricted to the classroom in Taiwan, general pronunciation instruction for adult learners is also lacking, let alone advanced pronunciation training for them to obtain an absolutely native-like pronunciation.

It is worth noting here that despite the critical debate on the ‘ownership’ of English (e.g., Kachru 1992; Widdowson 1994; Jenkins 2006), there is still an “unquestioning submission to native-speaker norms” in EFL/ESL classrooms (Seidlhofer 2005: 170). In the teaching of pronunciation, despite the fact that overall intelligibility has become a primary goal in pronunciation pedagogy since the early 1980s and the importance of suprasegmentals in determining perceived comprehensibility or intelligibility of L2 speech has come to be recognized by many scholars, many EFL/ESL instructors today still tend to focus on foreign-accent reduction or elimination in instructional exercises, with a tendency to emphasize lower-level features as discrete units or segmentals (Nagamine 2002). Arguably, the acquisition of a native-like accent should no longer be the ultimate target of pronunciation teaching (Jenkins 1998). Pursuing native-like pronunciation is difficult to justify in the era of World Englishes (WEs), when English is used as a lingual franca by individuals with different first languages and cultural backgrounds in the global community, and the variety of phonology, lexis, and syntax in English is not seen as inferiorities (Jenkins 2006). However, the belief in native-speaker norms is still thoroughly entrenched throughout East Asia, and teachers and students tend to be horrified by the suggestion that they do not need to aspire to native-like pronunciation (Deterding 2010; Kirkpatrick 2006).

–  –  –

Hence, it is worthwhile to understand that the whole process of accepting WEs should take place in the presence of its international intelligibility.


2.1 The Importance of Teaching Intonation It has been argued that apart from instruction in pronunciation for isolated words and sentences, more attention needs to be paid to intonation training because learners who have better understanding about prosodic features are shown to be more proficient in English. According to Lin, Fan, and Chen (1995), instead of intonation and rhythm, English learners pay more attention to the sounds (word pronunciation), vocabulary, and grammar when they are listening to English. This is the reason why many English learners complain about the speed of the listening texts being too fast from time to time. Gilbert (1994) contends that intonation allows people to follow the flow of information in spoken English. Researchers have also proven that the instruction of pronunciation should be aimed at suprasegmentals, such as pausing, word stress, and sentence-final intonation (Derwing, Munro & Wiebe 1997; Derwing & Rossiter 2003; Derwing, Munro & Weibe 1998; Hahn 2004). Pickering (2004) and Wennerstorm (2004; 1998) argue that if the speaker can use appropriate intonation structure at the discourse level, recipients will perceive the speaker’s English to be more intelligible.

Derwing et al. (1997) also indicate that with the use of intonation structure at the discourse level, not only is intelligibility increased, but learners’ fossilized pronunciation is also found to be improved.

Therefore, Wei (2006) suggests that pronunciation instruction should also place emphasis on intonation, stress (word and sentence level stress), and rhythm.

–  –  –

2.2 The Instructional Techniques for Intonation Scarcella and Oxford (1994) contrasted traditional and researchbased approaches for pronunciation instruction and outlined the differences between these two approaches (shown in Table 1).

–  –  –

Their study shows that there exists a gap between the ‘ideal’ approaches and the actual approaches carried out for intonation instruction in language classrooms. They suggest that the class size, limited time for the courses, and the necessity for teachers to help students pass examinations are the reasons behind this gap.

Scholars, such as Levis (2002; 2004) and Jenkins (2004), suggest that intonation should be taught at the discourse level. Celce-Murcia et al.

(1996) further point out that shadowing, together with repetition, mirroring, and imitative conversation techniques (Goodwin 2004), is considered one of the oral teaching methods used for imitating native speakers’ intonation patterns at the discourse level. In practice, shadowing is widely used in the training of Simultaneous Interpretation (SI). Before entering SI training, the trainees are asked to undertake intensive practices of shadowing as the way to understand the rhythm

48 Shadowing Technique in English Intonation Instruction

and prosodic features in real speech. The basic skill of shadowing is to follow the utterance produced by Native Speakers (NSs) as closely as possible (Luo, Yamauchi & Minematsu 2010). A major feature of the shadowing technique is that it emphasizes less on repetition because the learners do not have to spend time listening to the whole sentence.

However, many learners might find the shadowing technique more challenging attributing to its requirement for capacity and focus on the multi-tasks of listening and speaking. In Taiwan, pronunciation instruction, whether at public schools or cram schools, mostly places emphasis on individual vowels, consonants and isolated sentences. The authors assume that the reason for neglecting shadowing in intonation training is that shadowing is actually a skill which is widely adopted in interpreting training, not in prosodic training. Furthermore, the most widely adopted technique of pronunciation instruction in Taiwan is repetition in which words or sentences are spoken by native speakers, and the learners repeat after what they heard. Nonetheless, it is noted that there is no consensus regarding which of the techniques are the most effective ones in the teaching of intonation (Celce-Murcia et al. 1996).

2.3 The Gaps and the Research Questions

Although the methods for carrying out the techniques of teaching intonation are known to ELT teachers, the experiments on the efficacy of these techniques need to be conducted (Celce-Murcia et al. 1996). It is noteworthy that shadowing seems to be the technique which draws the attention of some scholars in Asia in recent years. Hori (2008) concludes that learners’ speaking and listening can be improved if shadowing technique is implemented in pronunciation instruction. It has been proven that shadowing is not only helpful, but also evaluative and measurable (Luo, Qiao, Minematsu, Yamauchi & Hirose 2009; Luo et al.

2009; 2010). In a more recent study, it is found that students’ English proficiency based on the results of their TOEIC scores correlated with the fluency of their shadowing recordings. Some participants paid attention to the segmental phoneme features of the text, others focused on the content of the text but forgot the prosodic utterances, and vice versa (2009). It is argued that the learner understanding of the text would

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