The purpose of the study was to empirically investigate the effect of mnemonics on Nigerian senior secondary school students’ achievement in English stress patterns. It was also set out to determine the effect of gender and school location as well as the interaction effect of method and gender on senior secondary school students’ achievement in English stress patterns. Four research questions and four hypotheses guided the study. A quasi-experimental design was used. The type was the non-equivalent control group, pretest, post-test design. The sample for the study consisted of 272 SSS II students from four co-educational secondary schools in Nsukka Local Government Area, which was the area of the study. A multi-stage random sampling technique was used, first to draw the four co-educational schools and two intact classes from each school, and to assign schools to experimental and control groups. The instrument used for data collection was a 50-item English Stress Patterns Achievement Test (ESPAT), face validated by five experts in Language Education and Measurement and Evaluation from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The instrument was trial tested on twenty students from Community Secondary School, Uda, Enugu Ezike. The data obtained from the trial test were used to calculate the reliability of the instrument using Kuder Richardson’s (K – R 20) formula. It yielded an index of 0.93. The instrument was administered as pretest before the experiment and post-test after the experiment. The data obtained were used in answering the research questions and testing the hypotheses. The research questions were answered using mean scores, while the hypotheses were tested using analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) at 0.05 level of significance. The major findings of the study were that the mnemonic technique had a significant effect on students’ achievement in English Stress patterns, but gender was not a significant factor in students’ achievement in English stress patterns. School location also had no significant effect on students’ achievement in English stress patterns, and there was no significant interaction effect of method and gender on students’ achievement in English stress patterns. Based on the findings, it was recommended, among others, that secondary school teachers should make use of mnemonics in teaching the stress patterns of English words, while curriculum planners should incorporate the use of mnemonics in teaching the stress patterns of English words in the next review of the curriculum, as well as explore other areas where mnemonics could be useful in second language teaching and learning. The limitations of the study were outlined and suggestions for further research were proffered.
Background of the Study
No human society may be able to thrive in the absence of language. This is so because human beings are in constant interaction with one another and language is an indispensable vehicle for such interaction. Life without language actually would be a miserable one as individuals would collapse under the weight of unexpressed thoughts, feelings, ideas and needs. This is why Akindele & Adegbite (1999) note that language is used by man to communicate his individual thoughts, inner feelings and personal psychological experience. Mgbodile (1999) avers that language is man’s most basic tool without which it will be difficult for human beings to live together, to think, to act and to share ideas together.
In Nigeria, many indigenous languages like Igbo, Hausa and Yoruba have been used through history for the satisfaction of the human need of communication and, even after the appearance of the English language in Nigeria’s linguistic arena through trade and colonization, these indigenous languages are very much in use. However, owing to the kaleidoscopic linguistic diversity that was already in existence in Nigeria before colonization (Akindele and Adegbite, 1999), the English language was naturally enthroned as a second language for the same purpose of maintaining effective interaction across the diverse linguistic groups.
Indeed, several years after the end of British colonization in 1960, the English language has continued to be the dominant language because no indigenous language is spoken by an overwhelming majority of the people (Azikiwe, 1998). Ogbuehi (2001) posits that the existence of many apparently unrelated languages made it imperative for English to be adopted as the official language in Nigeria. Ever since then, it has continued to perform a bonding common service to the multi-lingual, multi-ethnic groups in Nigeria.
It is in the field of education that the role of the English language in Nigeria is glaring. According to the National Policy on Education (FRN, 2004), the English language is not only stipulated to be progressively used as a medium of instruction from the fourth year of primary school, but it is also made a core and compulsory subject at the junior and senior secondary schools. It is a gateway to the learning of other subjects at every level of education in Nigeria. One is required to record a credit pass in it before one can gain admission into any of the Nigerian universities (Adepoju, 2008). Thus, English is not only the criterion for measuring the quality of certificates, but also a yardstick for assessing the depth of one’s learning. This is why Baldeh (1990) claims that research has proved that failure in education is primarily a linguistic failure. In our context, linguistic failure is primarily failure in the English language.
It would seem that since the English language occupies a pride of place in educational, political and social settings, and is taught more regularly than other subjects in the primary and post-primary schools, students should display high degree of proficiency in it at the internal and external examinations. But this is not the case. In spite of this important and pervading influence of the English language, performance in it at the Senior School Certificate Examination is poor (WAEC, 2005). The Chief Examiners’ Report (WAEC, 2005) reported that despite the fact that the English language questions were well within the learning experiences of the candidates, most candidates still performed poorly. Lending support to this, Uwadiae, quoted in Financial Standard on-line newspaper of December 2, 2008, reported that from available examination statistics from the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the May/June 2008 WASSCE result was the worst performance in the last seven years, as over 80 percent of the candidates did not make credit in English language and mathematics. Uwadiae attributed this poor performance to lack of adequate preparation, shortage of qualified teachers, inadequate teaching materials, poor school environment, inability to understand questions requiring high level thinking and shallow, poor answers to questions due to poor command of the English language. Particularly, the mass failure in English language is attributable to poor grounding in the four major language skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing. The acquisition of these skills is very expedient for the total language development and, by extension, language performance of any person.
The listening skill ushers in other language skills. As children listen to members of their immediate environment, they imitate their speech habits which gradually build up until they are able to use their first language correctly. Okonkwo (1998) maintains that listening is a prerequisite for speaking.
On the other hand, speech is a skill which is fundamental to language, for according to Mgbodile (1999), “Every normal human being needs to communicate with his fellow human beings through speaking and any person who is incapable of this is regarded as having a natural speech defect.” p.22.
But not all people have literacy skills of reading and writing. Azikiwe (1998) opines that every language has a spoken form, but some languages do not have written forms, indicating the supremacy of the speaking skills.
Reading is the third in the order of language skills. It is seen by Mgbodile (1999) as the ability to interpret written or printed words and to make meaning out of them. He further points out that reading is an important language skill because through it human beings are able to unlock the world’s treasures of knowledge thereby participating in world’s universal culture and civilization.
The writing skill is the last in the order of language skills. According to Uzoegwu (2004) it is a means of expressing one’s feelings and thoughts with the aid of appropriate graphic symbols that are acceptable to the target language. Writing is a higher-order skill (Mgbodile, 1999). Unlike listening and speaking which can be informally learnt, writing must be formally taught.
In all, speech stands as the primus interpares among other language skills since language is essentially speech. Being the primary mode of language, according to Wallwork (1985), speech must be given a pride of place in any language programme. At the secondary school level correct speech habits are taught as the oral English segment of English language.
At a time, oral English was relegated to the background. This continued to be the case until D.W. Grieve’s review of the English examination syllabus in 1964. Grieve, quoted in Ezeadichie (1995) categorically stated. “As for compulsory oral tests, it may be said right away that no examination in English language which does not include an oral test as an integral part of the examination can really be regarded as adequate.” p.4. This report increased people’s interest in oral English. However, oral English continued to be optional at the senior school certificate examinations in Nigeria, where it was offered as a subject, separate from English language. It was only in 1987 that it was made a compulsory part of the English language paper for the teacher-training colleges in Nigeria and later at the West African School Certificate Examination (Ezeadichie, 1995).
The main aim of the spoken English syllabus at the secondary school level as enunciated by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (1985) is to “provide systematic training towards the acquisition of speech skills which will enable the learners to communicate intelligibly in English in addition to being able to listen to and understand the spoken English of other speakers of the language.” p.4. In order to attain this broad objective, the English language curriculum by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (1985) intends to achieve among others the specific aim of making students “understand the stress patterns of English… as an inherent feature of the pronunciation of English and also in terms of its contrastive use to provide information in some aspects of grammar and meaning in English.” p.4.
Provision for the teaching and learning as well as testing of stress is made by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), the National Examinations Council (NECO) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in their syllabuses. For example, at the West African Senior School Certificate Examination conducted by WAEC and the Senior School Certificate Examination organized by NECO, stress is tested as part of the oral English paper where it takes fifteen out of the sixty questions of the oral English paper. Candidates are expected to recognize where the primary stress falls on words and answer questions on emphatic stress. Secondary stress and sentence stress from personal observation are not tested.
Stress, according to Lamidi (2003), is the degree of prominence that is given to a syllable. Syllable as used here is the phonological division of a word, such that each division contains one vowel sound and an optional consonant sound. It is according to Lamidi (2003) “a unit of utterance which is produced with one chest pulse.” p. 105. Chest pulse or breath-pulse is referred to by Ngwu (2003) as the quantity of sound that can be produced at one puff of air during the pronunciation of a word. He explains further that during the pronunciation of a word, the air rushes out of the mouth in bits, each of which represents one syllable. The following words are divided according to the syllables they have, that is, according to the number of chest pulses used in producing them.
1. SEE (one syllable)
2. a-RRIVE (two syllables)
3. ba-NA-na (three syllables)
4. e-VA-po-rate (four syllables)
5. pa-ra-DO-xi-cal (five syllables)
6. e-co-NO-mi-ca-lly (six syllables)
The syllables in the words above are not realized in the same way. Those written in capital letters are stressed while others are not.
The use of stress is a characteristic feature of English compared with many African languages. In any English utterance which consists of several syllables, one of the syllables must be strongly stressed while others must be weakly stressed. To say that a syllable is strongly stressed means that it is uttered with great energy such that the air from the lungs is ejected with more effort, while the other speech organs perform their actions with more vigour than is the case in the pronunciation of an unstressed syllable.
Three things are involved in stress, according to Jowitt (1999). These are the amount of energy exerted in producing a particular syllable, the level of pitch given to this syllable and the duration of the syllable. These features bring about a contrast between a stressed syllable and an unstressed one. The stressed syllables are produced with greater energy, pitch and length than the unstressed syllables. For this reason, the correct deployment of stress enables speakers of the English language to achieve the required minimum intelligibility in oral communication.
Commenting on the nature of stress in the English language, Okwor and Abonyi (1999) point out that African languages are mostly tonal, not stress-timed, and because of that stress poses a very great problem to learners of oral English. Bright and McGregor (1978) observe that most foreign learners of English find stress “a very strange feature of English.” p.187.
Also commenting on the problem of stressing words in English, Akindele and Adegbite (1999) remark that most Nigerian languages are tonal, while English is a stress-timed and intonational language. Because of this sharp disparity, Nigerian English bilinguals have problems in stressing many English words. There is the tendency for them to stress every syllable in the utterance they produce in English as in Ichar-Iac-Iter instead of Ichar-ac-ter. They also place stress wrongly on some syllables, for example, ma-Idam instead of Ima-dam.
Corroborating the assertions made in the foregoing, Onuigbo (1997) observes that “stress is an important feature of speech which creates special problems to many Nigerian speakers of English.” p.85. Yet, like other supra-segmental features of rhythm and intonation, stress is so important in speech that it affects not only the quality of the vowels but also our messages when we speak. Stress performs not only the important grammatical functions of distinguishing classes of words with the same spelling, but also has the capability of inputting meaning to a sentence. By changing the stress pattern of an utterance, one can change its meaning completely. For instance, ‘August’ when stressed on the first syllable means “the eighth month of the year,” but when stressed on the second, it means “majestic.” Also, the word ‘converse’ when stressed on the first syllable means ‘the opposite’ as in ‘Happiness is the converse of sadness.’ But, when stressed on the second syllable, it means ‘to share opinions’ as in. “They will converse with him tomorrow.’ Furthermore, the following words: import, record, export convert, conduct, increase, permit, progress, etc are nouns when they are stressed on the first syllable, but verbs when they are stressed on the second syllable. Example:
1. Can you conIvert decimal to fraction? (Convert is used as a verb.)
2. The Iconvert is jubilating. (Convert, taking a different meaning altogether, is used as a noun.)
Onuigbo (1997) therefore advises that “anybody who wishes to speak English correctly should learn the stress patterns of words.” p.90.
Each word in the English language with more than one syllable has a fixed stress pattern. For example, glamorous always has primary stress on the first syllable, while begin is always stressed on the second syllable. There are several stress patterns of English words. Some words are stressed on the first, second, third or fourth syllable. Unfortunately, however, Onuigbo (1997) comments that “there is no rule guiding the stress patterns of words in English.” p. 86. Usually, what is given are guidelines that would help the learner to assign primary pitch prominence to the correct syllable. O’ Connor (1990) also observes that there is no simple way of knowing which syllable or syllables in an English word must be stressed.
Even though the stressing of words is a difficult area of oral English, English language teachers have adopted many methods and techniques to teach the English stress patterns. Educationists hold that the method used in teaching is the major determinant of success or failure of any teaching or learning task. The key method that has been in use is the traditional lecture method, whereby the teacher stands before the class and teaches the students the stress patterns of English language. This is usually a teacher-centred approach which does not take account of the individual differences of the learners and the fact that learning input must be organized in such a way as to aid recall. The technique usually employed here is to hand out a lot of guidelines or rules which must be memorized. It involves the listing of words that have two, three, four or five syllables and showing how they are stressed. For instance, words of three syllables that are stressed on the first or second syllable are listed and the students are made to learn them. This is the major technique used in the recommended textbooks like Intensive English for Senior Secondary Schools and also the pattern of teaching prescribed in the English language curriculum (Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 1985).
Another method is the audio-lingual approach whereby the teacher positions a cassette tape recorder before the students who are then made to listen to the model pronunciation of the native speakers. Sometimes, this method may not be effective in teaching stress at the senior secondary schools. First, it does not within the time frame of thirty-five or forty minutes allotted for a lesson at the senior secondary school level, provide enough listening and practice activities for the students. The recording of the tapes are sometimes faulty to the effect that they detract rather than instruct the students. Besides, enough self practice outside school hours is not created for the students who do not have the cassettes, resulting in lack of continuity or permanence of learning.
A major technique that is used by some teachers along with the audio-lingual method is the discover-it-yourself technique, whereby the students are asked to listen to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the Voice of America (VOA), the Cable News Network (CNN) and other international channels, where they can acquire the correct stress patterns of words. But, unfortunately, this may not yield fruit as few students may listen to these channels, and when they do, there may not be any form of organized listening, whereby attention is focused on learning the stress patterns of words.
The researcher observes that another technique used by the English language teachers is to instruct the students on how to identify primary stress in the dictionary and ask them to discover for themselves words that are stressed on the first, second or third syllable as the case may be. The blind spot with this method is that it lacks organization, whereby students can organize the stress patterns of words in ways that are amenable to easy recall.
The other technique which is most useful is the use of word endings, that is, the suffixes of words as indicators of the stress patterns of English words. In this wise, the students are made to understand that words with suffixes like -ic, -ics, -ion, -ial, etc are stressed on the penultimate syllable. This technique does not claim to teach all about stress, for no technique may be able to achieve such a purpose, but to provide guidelines that will enable the students to properly stress English words. This technique is used by Onuigbo (1997), Lamidi (2003) and Ngwu (2003). But in the works of these writers, the suffixes are not organized in such a way as to aid recall. The present study intends to go an inch further by organizing the suffixes in ways that they can be easily recalled.
It is the desire to address this yawning gap that this study was envisioned. Here lies the value of mnemonics. A mnemonic, according to Hall (1982) is a technique or strategy which is used by individuals as a memory aid. Mnemonics are mostly verbal, example a word, each of whose letters helps the user to remember the first letters of items in a list. There are many types of mnemonics as there are mnemonists. However, every mnemonic relies on associations between something that is easy to remember and something that is harder to remember. Sometimes, mnemonics are chosen to directly relate to the target information, and at other times, they are arbitrary. One of the popular mnemonics is the first letter mnemonic, “Roy G. Biv,” which is an effective mnemonic for remembering the colour sequence in a rainbow. It stands for “Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet.” It is the combination of unlikely elements: “Roy” is a legitimate first name, but there is no actual surname ‘Biv’ and, of course, the middle initial “G” is arbitrary (Hall, 1982). Another popular mnemonic is “30 days hath September, April, June and November…” This is used to aid the memory in remembering the number of days each month of the year has.
The mnemonic technique proposed in this study intends to organize the suffixes of words in such a way that they can be easily recited, remembered and applied in learning the stress patterns of English words. The principle of organization on which mnemonics rely upon is, according to Hall (1982), “a construct that refers to the tendency on the part of the individual to integrate or arrange the stimulus material so as to provide the material with greater coherence, unity, and/or understanding.” p.172. The human brain is capable of remembering only a limited number of arbitrary items. Chunking these items permits the brain to hold more of them in memory. Therefore, the effectiveness of mnemonics lies in the grouping of information to reduce cognitive overload.
In education, studies carried out by Idenedo (1985), Okeke (1990), Gray (1997), Fontana, Scruggs and Mastropieri (2007) and Idoine-Shirai (2007) show that achievement in recall is higher among the experimental group than the control group when the mnemonic technique is employed in the recall of input. Though most of these studies are in the area of psychology, the possibility of using mnemonics to organize learning in the area of language education and in teaching and learning the stress patterns of English words is not in doubt.
In examining the potency of the mnemonic technique on achievement in English stress patterns, it is also pertinent to look at the effect of gender and location as well as the effect of their interaction on the achievement of students taught English stress patterns using mnemonics. Gender is seen by Bassow (1991) as a psychological term describing behaviour and attributes expected of individuals on the basis of being born either male or female. Gender is a very important variable because personal orientation and thinking styles play a crucial role in performance. Roberts (1986) asserts that females have general tendencies to think in negative ways about the tasks in which they engage. But one of the chief aims in studying English is to learn to express one’s thoughts effectively. The ability to stress words well is one such way.
In fact, there are conflicting reports on whether gender plays a significant role in language performance. Some researchers (Etim, 1987; Offorma, 1990; Umo, 2001) claim that the female gender performs better than the male, while some other researchers (Otagburuagu, 1996; Ngonebu, 2000; Opara, 2003; Uzoegwu, 2004) claim that the males perform better than the females in language. Yet, other studies (Akabogu, 2002; Oluikpe, 2004; Igbokwe, 2007; Agada, 2008) do not establish any significant difference in the achievement of males and females in language. Based on this disparity of opinions, Offorma (2004) concludes that there is no consensus on which gender achieves higher than the other in language. This study, therefore, intends to contribute to the research in this direction, hence the gender variable in the study.
Besides, school location is a very important variable in teaching and learning, and many researchers have been interested in whether school location has effect on the achievement of school children. According to Uzoegwu (2004) the location of the school determines so many things that are important in learning, such as learning facilities, infrastructure, number of teachers and the class size, among others. Adequate provision for or lack of these facilities may facilitate or hinder learning. This may also affect the outcome of the mnemonic technique in the teaching of English stress patterns. So, there is the need to carry out further investigation in this area.
It is needful, therefore, to test the effect of mnemonics on senior secondary school students’ achievement in English stress patterns, and by so doing corroborate or challenge some of the conclusions already reached by earlier studies, as well as contribute to the widening of the frontiers of knowledge.
Statement of the Problem
A credit in English language is a prerequisite for admission into any of the Nigerian universities. Yet, the result of the 2008 West African Senior School Certificate Examination showed massive failure in the subject. The implication of this is that performance in the three English language papers of the said examination was poor. The oral English paper is one of such papers where questions on stress take fifteen out of the sixty questions on oral English. So, poor performance in stress has overall implications for the success of candidates in an English language examination and, ultimately, in their academic ambitions.
But, not minding the important status of stress in the general performance of candidates in English, and the role it plays in the achievement of general minimum intelligibility in the use of the English language, it has continued to pose very special problems to Nigerian learners of English (Bright and McGregor, 1978; Onuigbo, 1997; Okwor and Abonyi, 1999; Akindele and Adegbite, 1999). This may have arisen from the inadequacy of the techniques employed in teaching it.
There is the need to address this problem in order to reduce the dread of this aspect of oral English and consequently improve performance in oral English examinations conducted by WAEC, NECO, JAMB and allied bodies, and ultimately enhance communication in the English language. It is being felt that the technique used in teaching this aspect of oral English has a great role to play in the alleviation of this problem, and that the use of mnemonics could help to ameliorate the problem of stressing words. Therefore, the problem of this study put in question form is: What is the effect of mnemonics on Nigerian senior secondary school students’ achievement in English stress patterns?
Purpose of the Study
The general purpose of the study is to find out the effect of mnemonics on senior secondary school students’ achievement in English stress patterns.
Specifically, the study is aimed at:
1. finding out the mean achievement scores of students taught English stress patterns using mnemonics and those taught English stress patterns using the conventional technique;
2. determining the effect of gender on students’ achievement scores in English stress patterns;
3. finding out the effect of location on students’ achievement scores in English stress patterns;
4. establishing the interaction effect of method and gender on students’ achievement scores in English stress patterns.
Significance of the Study
In addition to its theoretical significance, this study will also be practically significant to teachers, students, curriculum planners, textbook writers, users of English as a second language and educational research.
The theoretical significance of this study is that it will go a long way to determine which of the two contending theories of language learning has better explanation for the underlying principles of second language learning. The behaviourist theory insists on stimulus-response factors, while the mentalist theory lays emphasis on the place of the mind in language learning. The outcome of this study will also help to clarify issues pertaining to the role of organization of input, memory and recall in language learning, thereby leading to the emphasis or de-emphasis of these concepts in second language learning.
Furthermore, one of the important concepts in the principles of effective teaching and learning is methodology. The educationists hold that the method used in teaching is the major determinant of success or failure of any teaching or learning task. Therefore, the practical significance of this study is that it will help to educate oral English teachers on the techniques that are used in teaching oral English, as well as their merits and shortcomings, thereby giving room for the use of the technique that will yield greater results.
Also, students will find the results of this study useful because it will help them to adopt useful strategies in the stressing of English words, which will enable them approach questions on stress with confidence at the senior school certificate examination. When internalized, these strategies will help them achieve proficiency in the use of the English language.
Besides, this study will make curriculum planners see the need to incorporate mnemonics as a useful technique in the teaching and learning of stress, and indeed to explore other areas where this technique can be useful in language teaching.
Apart from curriculum planners, textbook writers will have an opportunity to compare the effect of the mnemonic technique with the traditional techniques used by them in teaching the stress patterns of English words. This will help them to either consolidate on the traditional methods or try out the mnemonic technique in subsequent editions of their books, depending on the findings.
Furthermore, now that efforts are geared to ensuring international intelligibility, which is made possible, in part, by the deployment of the correct stress in sentences, the mnemonic technique will awaken the interest of users of English as a second language on ways of organizing learning input. By arranging the suffixes of words into a mnemonic that can be recited, the students are taught how to correctly place primary stress on words.
Finally, the study will make its contribution to the inconclusive literature on the effect of gender on second language learning. Some researchers have indicated that gender is a significant factor in second language learning, while other researchers claim otherwise. The outcome of this study will go a long way to support or reject the place of gender in language learning, thereby contributing to educational research in Nigeria.
Scope of the Study
The study was carried out in Nsukka Local Government Area of Enugu State. The subjects were made up of senior secondary school two (SSS II) students from the sampled rural and urban schools in the local government. SSS II was used because it is at that level that stress appears in the scheme of work.
The study examined the effect of mnemonics on SSS II students’ achievement in English stress patterns, as well as the effect of gender and location on the achievement of students taught English stress patterns using mnemonics.
The study was mainly interested in investigating the stress patterns of English words which can be approached from the nature of their suffixes. The study, therefore, tested the efficacy of the suffix-derived mnemonics on SSS II students’ achievement in the stress patterns of English polysyllabic words.
To help guide this investigation, the following research questions were posed:
- What are the relative mean achievement scores of students taught English stress patterns using mnemonics and those taught using the conventional method?
- What are the relative mean achievement scores of male and female students taught English stress patterns?
- What are the relative mean achievement scores of students in the urban and rural schools in English stress patterns?
- What is the interaction effect of method and gender on students’ mean achievement scores in English stress patterns?
The following null hypotheses were formulated to guide this study. Each was tested at 0.05 level of significance.
H01: There is no significant difference between the mean achievement scores of students taught English stress patterns using mnemonics and those taught using the conventional method.
H02: There is no significant difference between the mean achievement scores of male and female students in English stress patterns.
H03: There is no significant difference between the mean achievement scores of students in the urban and rural schools in English stress patterns.
H04: There is no significant interaction effect of instructional method and gender on students’ mean achievement scores in English stress patterns.