A broader view of pronunciation

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Submission Summary

Diagnostic tests show deficiencies in the basic decoding and coding abilities of new arrivals, even after years of learning Swedish. The traditional view on pronunciation training needs to be expanded towards development of the code level abilities in reading, writing, listening and speaking.

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Traditional pronunciation instruction primarily involves articulation and listening comprehension. We argue that this is too narrow a view of what role pronunciation should play in the education of speakers of Swedish as a second language. Pronunciation should be directly concerned with the literarisation of learners, directed at the development of coding and decoding skills associated with all of reading, writing, listening and speaking. 

Diagnostic tests given within the development project Intensivsvenska (IntensiveSwedish) show that there are often lingering problems at the basic literacy level for second language learners (age 16–19), even after three years of courses in Swedish as a second language. This holds even when the students are literate in their first language. In fact, it is commonly the case that immigrants never acquire some of the phonological distinctions of the Swedish sound system and their attendant correspondences in the (alphabetic) orthographic system. Typical exponents of this are the distinctions between /y/ and /i/ or /ø/ and /e/ (both long and short), the distinction between long and short consonants (mata vs. matta, lada vs. ladda, etc.), and the connection to the sound referents of letters <å, ä, ö. u>. Decoding issues like these can be addressed by combining pronunciation training with literarisation training.

We hypothesise that the reasons why many students remain poor readers even after several years in the Swedish school system is that phonological distinctions are not acquired and that students are unsure of the relationship between phonology and orthography. If unaddressed, deficient decoding abilities may in turn hamper the development of sight reading, and more generally limit the amount of information that the students can absorb from reading, since much of the energy will be taken up by decoding efforts. A better balance between the broader view of pronunciation and reading for content may resolve problems caused by insufficient literarisation.

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