Constant Practice: 'Old habits die hard' ----- goes the proverb. This is applicable for the grown- ups learning a second/foreign language like English. And in our country learning English concerns this group. Proper habit of speech is not instilled into the learners at the early stage. Because of the wrong teaching at the lower levels of study, the learners form the incorrect habit in speech and it takes indeed a very hard effort to get rid of the wrong habit already formed. Thus learning and unlearning syndrome affects this group of learners and paves the way for indifference to the subject. A deliberate and determined effort in the form of constant practice may help overcome the impediments standing in the way. As Bloomfield puts it in one place, 'The command over a language is not a matter of knowledge. It is rather a matter of practice.'
Practice makes a habit impeccable and the practitioner perfect. Constant practice is required to learn the right position and shape of the speech organs and the proper movements of the tongue and the jaw. Speaking, as a matter of fact, is a muscular action. In order to make oral communication we use our speech organs which are parts of our physical body and are set in motion by muscles. In learning to speak one's mother tongue one has to learn certain specific muscle habits which may not yield any fruit for practicing/learning a foreign tongue. So one has to learn new muscle habits and it is a matter of special training. The urge to use one's speech muscle habits (in respect of one's own mother tongue) must be overcome and a new muscle habit has to be acquired if the sounds of a new language (English) are to be learnt or put into one's grip.
Habit is the second nature of man and it is through constant and structured practice that a new speech habit is formed as a second nature to the speaker. This is absolutely applicable for learning a living language like English. It is, in fact, the key to have the learners'/speakers' entry into the colorful domain of speech.
Adherence to these will definitely improve one's skill in speaking. Anyone who says that one can learn a good English pronunciation without hard work is lying. Minus the limited few to whom English pronunciation may come fairly easily, most of us need to work hard to acquire the habit. Remember how good our oral English is, depends largely on how well we pronounce or how badly we mispronounce a word. The fact that everyone can improve if efforts are on is be borne in mind. In our exposure to articulation we may never sound like a native speaker of English, but at least we can come as close to it as our endeavor can yield. This should be our aim in language learning, especially in speech.
Knowledge of pronunciation together with its application is fundamental to teaching English. But sadly in the context of Bangladesh, the picture takes a different hue. Not only is teaching pronunciation most neglected but it is also totally absent in the teaching of English in our country. Not to speak of English alone, even for Bengali it is not encouraged that much. It is an undeniable fact that the majority of teachers engaged in teaching at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels where English is taught as a compulsory academic subject, sadly not so as a language, are not well trained in this aspect of the discipline. In most of the cases, the teaching staff teaching English are all Greek about the fundamentals of pronunciation. Perhaps we can put it down partly to the teachers' lack of knowledge and interest in the subject, lack of competence and partly due to inattention and indifference. Non-inclusion of any lesson on the fundamentals of pronunciation system in the academic curricula greatly contributes greatly towards this state of affair. Writing about a spoken language is indeed a hard task. The only way to learn to speak is by speaking i.e. only through speaking, can the skill and ability in speaking be acquired. To help the students/learners pick up a correct/standard speech habit, the teachers must know all the sounds of English as they appear in normal connected speech and be able to demonstrate them in isolation as well as in the stream of speech. And they should develop the ability to understand 'broad' transcription if not the 'narrow' one and acquire knowledge of the principles underlying such transcriptions.
So far we have been acquainted with a term 'correct or standard pronunciation'. This term will remain vague if it is not explained properly for the benefit of the learners in the first place. Speaking modestly, there exists no single form of pronunciation that alone can be regarded as correct in English. Even no two humans of the same dialect speak alike. Since this language is spoken quite widely over the globe, it has come to have a large number of spoken varieties, called 'accents'. The commonly known of such accents/varieties are the Educated South-eastern British, Educated Scottish, General American, Educated Canadian, Educated Australian and South African and all these are regarded as correct, acceptable and respectable forms of pronunciation in their respective countries. Nowadays we see that the Indian variety of English is also gaining ground albeit it is yet to have a strong footing like the others. The American variety is also receiving a very fast exposure in our country especially among the educated younger generations, thanks to the satellite culture and the electronic media. However, we need to remember that the Educated South- eastern British, popularly known as the King's/Queen's English, Oxford English, Public School English or the Received Pronunciation (RP) of England is chosen as the standard out of the lot to pick from. But this does not in any way mean that the other forms of pronunciation are abandoned or neglected. Learners are required to acquire certain essential features of RP and thereby they can improve the efficiency of their speech considerably, both within and outside this country (Bangladesh). In Bangladesh, for reasons purely historical, we understand this accent better than we do any other native accent of English. (concluded)
The writer is a vice principal and O levels English language teacher at London Grace International School