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VII. Student Strengths and Weaknesses in Phonology
o determine the general level of Korean high school student understanding of the theory of English pronunciation, I gave a written test to 22 first-semester college freshmen English education majors at Jeonju University. They were asked several warm-up questions about their study of English during middle and high school, and were then asked the questions below, which were accompanied by a Korean translation. The first four were fill-in-the-blank, and the last four were multiple choice. Responses are given as percentages.
1. In school you used to write English with hangul, as in He can go, . Using hangul the same way, write the following:
2. The English letter h is usually pronounced similarly to (h = ).
3. Remember, in has one syllable, after has two, Korean has three, and university has five. How many syllables do the following words have?
4. Using phonetic symbols, write the following words:
5. Which Korean vowel equals /a/?
6. Which Korean vowel equals //?
7. How are the following written phonetically?
These results are largely what any long-term English teacher in Korea would have predicted. The sample size is not large, but the 22 subjects graduated from 18 different high schools in nine different cities, which suggests a general validity for Korea. In addition, the patterns of answers were generally clear cut. From the results, which are striking in their broad consistencey, I have drawn the following conclusions: Based on questions 1-3, new freshmen have a well-defined view of both English pronunciation and how English and Korean pronunciation relate, the view has considerable consistency from student to student, and the view contains flaws. (The English a is by and large pronounced //, and the English o is most often /a/, and overwhelmingly so when not paired with another written vowel or followed by a "final e.") Based on question 3, the students view English syllables as directly relating to a Koreanized pronunciation that breaks up consonant strings by inserting the vowel . Based on questions 4-7, new freshmen have a reasonable acquaintance with phonetics and the IPA, although there are problems, as in distinguishing between // and //. Finally, based on question 8, entering freshmen have little concept of the English schwa, the "unclear vowel."
[It is not within the scope of this paper to test the effectiveness of the lectures on teaching the theory of English pronunciation. I have always presented the lectures in a pronunciation course in which students also work extensively with the pronunciation text Clear Speech (Gilbert, 1993), which includes simplified rules of phonology, so learning by those students would not be due to just the lectures. However, intuitively the material in the lectures is easy to grasp, and further, students perform well enough on the written portion of the course's final exam to make typical grades, and the questions, all on the theory of English pronunciation, are short answer rather than multiple choice.]