Use of computer-based technologies in teaching English pronunciation and intonation

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

Author: Melnikova Tatyana, Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan

The development of modern world requires fast development of new technologies. A great number of different modern appliances have already been invented and are constantly used by humans. Every day there appear quite a good number of computer-based programs, telephone-based programs which can easily be used by everyone at any place and any time they want. This modern tendency has a great impact on all spheres of life including education.

Nowadays teaching cannot be imagined without modern technologies. Students are given lectures and shown slides at the same time, they watch videos about the topics they study, prepare presentations as a part of their homework. Those students whose major is “Translation studies” use different computer-based programs to improve their translation, to do it in a shorter period of time, to make it easier.

Speaking about teaching foreign languages we must emphasize that no teacher or professor can do it today without modern technologies. They facilitate the process of teaching. There are various approaches to teaching languages, but none of them can be imagined without computer-based technologies nowadays.

Learners read books via computer-programs, type their compositions and essays (almost no one writes them today), learn new words with the help of programs or sites, watch videos or films to improve their language skills, etc.

Summing up all the written above, we can say that computers have changed teaching and learning process almost 100%. The advantages of using computer-based technologies in the classroom or at home when learning or teaching a foreign language are numerous.

First of all, we must mention its convenience. There is no need to buy any books; there can be found everything on the Internet. When writing an essay there is no need to rewrite it several times when a mistake is found, or learners have come up with more ideas about a paragraph. Learners can change the sentences as many times as they need and want. If students need some information to use or to cite it can be easily found within some minutes or even seconds. They do not have to go to the library, take a lot of books, read them, etc. If there is access to the Internet, it can be done much faster. So, a computer is a time-saving device.

Secondly, there are much more opportunities for language learners now. They can learn a language not only using text-books, but also through communicating with native and non-native speakers of that language thereby improving their pronunciation and speaking skills. Such technologies as cassette-recorders, video-recorders are out of date today, learners use computer-based programs and different websites that can offer such an opportunity. Computer technology is used nowadays to encourage communication and provide more opportunities for speaking for learners to improve their language skills [1].

Moreover, computers make finding and translating new words and phrases easier and faster. There exist many different programs which can be used when translating words, phrases or even sentences and texts. Different dictionaries can supply a learner with transcription or even pronunciation of a word. To press a special button is enough to hear and learn the pronunciation of a word. This can help the learner to hear and to practice saying the words in the target language.

Speaking about the most important reason why to use computers in the classroom we must say that today any person (a learner, a teacher, a professor, etc.) is quite interested in working with modern gadgets that without any doubt influences our work, studies and life itself. That is why it of utmost importance to use computer-based programs and the Internet when teaching a foreign language.

As practice shows students of any university prefer using online dictionary to the paper dictionary. 97% of them consider it more comfortable and faster. Moreover, almost 50% point out the opportunity to hear the pronunciation of any word they are looking for in the dictionary rather than trying to read it with the help of the transcription suggested by a paper dictionary. A great number of modern students believe that online dictionaries provide us with up-to-date vocabulary, as it is updated regularly, whereas a paper dictionary is published every some years and sometimes the words are not as up-to-date as they wish.

When teaching a foreign language it is necessary to pay a great attention to phonetics and intonation. As recent research shows, pronunciation is the basics of any language. Learners of a foreign language can understand the speech only in case they have acquired the pronunciation skills of that target language. If they have not improved their pronunciation it is quite difficult to understand the speech flow in the language which is completely different from their mother tongue. When listening to a foreign speech every learner compares it with the knowledge they have already got. That is why we must train and improve pronunciation and intonation. It is becoming more and more important to follow modern technologies, therefore researchers recommend using computer-assisted language learning applications.

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) applications are a useful tools for both language teachers and learners. CALL applications offer individualized environments where learners learn at their own pace making independent decisions on the order of study topics, lesson reviews, lesson repeats, etc. In fact, CALL applications both promote language learning objectives and overcome traditional language classroom constraints. Some of these applications are for the enhancement and practice of oral skills such as pronunciation teaching.

Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training (CAPT) systems, as an example, are designed to provide learners with private, stress-free practice with individualized and instantaneous feedback on pronunciation. The introduction of CAPT applications has initiated a debate on the relationship between pedagogy and technology, and the role of the language teacher in the classroom [2].

The components of any pronunciation training course should cover several important elements: intonation, stress (word stress and sentence stress), rhythm, consonants, and vowels. Most of the advanced pronunciation training aids, which are computer-based audiovisual language systems, deal with these elements. Among these systems are "Pronunciation Power", "American Sounds", "Phonics Tutor", and "Eye speak" that include the following components [3]:

- Speech analyzing windows or frames,

- Internet-based features like email answering, online help and chat sessions with human tutors,

- Animated views of the articulator mechanics, video clips showing jaw, lip and tongue movement and waveform patterns of sound samples.

Users are able to record sound files and to acoustically compare a graphical representation of their sound utterances with the instructor’s one. A few systems, such as Fonix, iSpeak and Pro-Nunciation, include synthesized speech or other solutions. During the last decade, speech recognition technology was implemented into innovative interactive systems like ISTRA and PRONTO [4].

The benefits of CALL are much agreed upon in terms of its potential to strengthen learning motivation [5] and provide immediate feedback that encourages subsequent learning [6]. It is therefore claimed that CALL is able to renovate traditional language classroom practice and provide more efficient instruction in pronunciation training [7]. An extensive review of the literature, however, reveals that only a limited amount of research investigates the effect of perceptual training for English vowels via computer-based instruction [8, 9]. Research where acoustic data were used to provide visual aid for Japanese learners in order to improve their perception and production of English consonants was proved to be effective [8]. Similarly, when audio vs. audiovisual media were employed for perceptual training of English consonants, it was found that the audiovisual presentation was superior, and additionally the improvement of pronunciation corresponded to perceptual enhancement [9]. More research relevant to the present study was conducted by Wang and Munro (2004). By drawing language learners’ attention to vowel quality, rather than to vowel length, they selected three sets of vowel contrast for perceptual training. Synthetic word pairs were generated as experimental stimuli and learners of Mandarin and Cantonese speakers chosen as participants. The results of identification test showed that significant difference was obtained between pre- and post-testing for the experimental group, but not for the control group, and that a retention test three months later also presented a similar difference between the pre-test and retention test for the same group [10].

The main aim of teaching pronunciation and intonation is to form learners’ skills in pronouncing foreign words and sentences. In this case it is really useful to use the Internet and computer-based programs. There are different sites that can provide a learner with exercises aimed at training pronunciation and intonation. The exercises train pronunciation skills via repeating sounds, words, sentences after the speaker; in this case a microphone is necessary. When doing such exercises the learner’s pronunciation and intonation is compared with the speaker’s intonation and pronunciation. If you need higher motivation you may assess the learners’ work.

There exist many different kinds of exercises which train learners’ ability to hear sounds:

- Listen to a number of sounds / words and press the button when you hear an exact sound;

- Listen to a number of sentences and press the button when you hear an interrogative sentence;

- Repeat the words after the speaker and compare your pronunciation with the original;

- Choose one correct answer (e.g. which of the words given below has the stress on the first syllable? Which word sounds different? Which word doesn’t rhyme with the others?);

- Listen and repeat the words and answer some questions about the pronunciation of these words;

- Listen and make a note of the words you hear. Then listen and repeat;

- Listen to the words and write down the odd one, etc.

Computer-based pronunciation training has emerged thanks to developments in automatic speech recognition (ASR) technology [11].

ASR is a cutting edge technology that allows a computer or any other gadget to identify words that are pronounced by the learners aloud or spoken into any sound-recording device. The main purpose of ASR technology is to allow exact accuracy with all words and phrases that are spoken by any learner regardless of vocabulary size, background noise, or speaker variables [11]. However, most ASR engineers admit that the current accuracy level for a large vocabulary unit of speech (e.g., the sentence) remains less than 90%. Dragon's Naturally Speaking or IBM's Via Voice, for example, show a baseline recognition accuracy of only 60% to 80%, depending upon accent, background noise, type of utterance, etc. [11]. More expensive systems that are reported to outperform these two are Subarashii, Edu Speak, Phonepass, ISLE Project and RAD [11]. ASR accuracy is expected to improve.

Among several types of speech recognizers used in ASR products, both implemented and proposed, the Hidden Markov Model (HMM) is one of the most dominant algorithms and has proven to be an effective method of dealing with large units of speech. Detailed descriptions of how the HHM model works go beyond the scope of this article and can be found in any text concerned with language processing; among the best are Jurafsky& Martin (2000) and Hosom, Cole, and Fanty (2003). Put simply, HMM computes the probable match between the input it receives and phonemes contained in a database of hundreds of native speaker recordings. That is, a speech recognizer based on HMM computes how close the phonemes of a spoken input are to a corresponding model, based on probability theory. High likelihood represents good pronunciation; low likelihood represents poor pronunciation. While ASR has been commonly used for such purposes as business dictation and special needs accessibility, its market presence for language learning has increased dramatically in recent years [11].

More recent ASR programs that have adopted HMM include Subarashii (Entropic HTK recognizer used), VILTS (SRI recognizer), FLUENCY (Carnegie Mellon University SPHINX recognizer), Naturally Speaking (Dragon Systems), and Flu Speak (IBM Via Voice recognizer). Those interested in more detailed technological descriptions of each ASR program may refer to Holland (1999) and other articles in the Calico Journal, Special Issue, Vol. 16 (1999). Flu Speak (MT Comm, 2002a), which was used in this study, will be described in more detail in an attempt to show how HMM based programs are built and how they score learners' pronunciation. Flu Speak is divided into four types of practice: English Pronunciation Practice with consonants, consonant clusters, vowels, and diphthongs; Intonation Practice; Dialogue Expressions Practice; and a Pronunciation Test that covers the Pronunciation and Dialogue activities [11].

The goal of Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training (CAPT) systems is to provide learners with private, stress-free practice with individualized and instantaneous feedback of information’. And one of the greatest advantages of the application of CALL is that it offers a private environment for working on pronunciation without fear of the number of repetitions needed for full comprehension or accuracy of production. This way of practice enables students to get rid of their fear which is often present. The most interesting thing is that there are many electronic tools for speech analysis. Students can record their voices. Then, they can listen to it and if it is necessary to make some corrections they can do it by recording their pronunciation again [12].


1. Chi-Fen Emily Chen Using Technology to Teach Speaking and Pronunciation Skills http:// www2. nkfust. CALL/ unit6.htm

2. Neri, Ambra, Cucchiarini Catia, Strik Helmer and Boves Lou (2002), The Pedagogy-Technology Interface in Computer Assisted Pronunciation Training, in: “CALL Journal” 15/5, 441-467.

3. Finley J., Pronunciation Power. Educational Software Review, Learning Village homepage. [Online] http: // www. learningvillage. com/ html/ guide. html.

4. Heba Hani Hashim. Pronunciation teaching technology: an overview.

5. Chang, M. M. (2005). Applying self-regulated learning strategies in a web-based instruction: an investigation of motivation perception. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 18(3), 217–230.

6. Heift, T. &Rimrott, A. (2008). Learner responses to corrective feedback for spelling errors in CALL. System, 35, 196–213

7. Pennington, M. C. (1999). Computer-aided pronunciation pedagogy: promise, limitations, directions. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 12(5), 427–440

8. Lambacher, S. (1999). A CALL tool for improving second language acquisition of English consonants by Japanese learners. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 12(2), 137–156.

9. Hazan, V., Sennema, A., Iba, M., & Faulkner, A. (2005). Effect of audiovisual perceptual training on the perception and production of consonants by Japanese learners of English. Speech Communication, 47, 360–378.

10. Wang, X., & Munro, M. J. (2004). Computer-based training for learning English vowel contrasts. System, 32, 539–552

11. Kim, I.-S. (2006). Automatic Speech Recognition: Reliability and Pedagogical Implications for Teaching Pronunciation. Educational Technology & Society, 9 (1), 322-334.

12. Teaching English through the interactive web http://rade-petricevic. blogspot. co. il /2012/ 01/ call-for-teaching - pronunciation.html

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

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