Background of the study
The use of language for verbal communication is what basically differentiates man from the lower animals. In most speech communities, language acquisition begins with the mother tongue. The mother tongue is often conceived as the first language of the child’s parents. Thus, the child usually acquires the mother tongue before being introduced to the learning of a second language.
The learning of any language usually takes cognizance of the phonetic system of the language. This is often identified as the segmental phonemes, made up of the vowel and consonant sound segments. The composition and distribution of the segmental phonemes may however differ from language to language. Studies have revealed that the acquisition of the mother tongue by the child is very crucial because often times it is used as a resource for the learning of a second language. Since the phonological systems of any two languages are never the same, however, the second language learner may take to substituting some elements of the phonological system of the second language (L2) with those of his first language (L1). This phenomenon may impede meaning because in the face of such phonological conflicts, the native speaker may find certain utterances made by the second language learner unintelligible. Language transfer theorists believe that the lexis, grammar and phonology of the learner’s first language impose themselves on the second language habit, thereby resulting in interference problems. Quirk, Greenbaum, Leech and Svartvik (1974:26) observe that “we tend to impose our native phonological pattern on any foreign language we learn.” Based on this linguistic principle, the researcher is convinced that the possibility of Idoma learners of English being phonologically influenced by the Idoma language cannot be disputed.
Obviously, in designing the oral English curriculum for secondary schools in Nigeria, the belief that mother tongue interference negatively affects students’ speaking skills, appears to be the fundamental consideration that informs the content of the senior school certificate oral English syllabus. In acknowledgement of this fact, the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) syllabus (2004-2008:191) clearly states, among other things, that the examination sets out to examine candidates’ ability to “use an acceptable pronunciation that can be comprehended by others.” This statement of objective underscores the need for adequate attention to be given to the teaching and learning of the English segmental phonemes.
Ironically, however, oral English as a language skill has suffered systematic neglect in our schools over the years. This development, to a large extent, has impacted negatively on the verbal accuracy and fluency of majority of our students, to the chagrin of parents, teachers, the government and other stake-holders in the nation’s education sector. This is because of the pivotal role played by the English language in the socio-economic and political life of our nation, Nigeria. For instance, in the words of Mazrui (1971) in Uzo (1999:2), the English language is “the medium of intellectual transformation, occupational and social mobility, and the crystallization of national consciousness”. Consequently, the researcher views the degenerating trend in the spoken English of our students as a negative development that portends negative consequences for our educational system.
Apparently, the factors responsible for the dwindling performance of students in oral English in particular, could be blamed on a number of indices, among which are poor attitudes towards the second language, low investment in education, poor training of teachers, non-availability of teaching aids, poor teaching methods, government take-over of schools resulting in poor supervision and lowering of standards, poor social environment, poor motivation among the learners and the teachers, lack of commitment among the teachers, the explosion in in-take and student population, with consequent pressure and collapse of facilities, and of course mother tongue interference (Akwanya, 2007). While researches have tried to address these problems by offering practical solutions as it were, records have it that students’ deteriorating performance in English in external examinations like WASSCE and NECO (National Examinations Commission) has continued unabated. For instance the WAEC Chief Examiner’s report on English for the May/June (2007:7) states that:
Contrary to expectation, the performance of the candidates was awfully poor. Some of the candidates scored zero in the whole paper, having failed to write an answer that can earn a single mark in any section of the paper. It appears that a good number of schools registered illiterate and unqualified candidates for this test.
In reaction to the content of this report, the researcher has therefore decided to investigate into a crucial aspect of language concept which he thinks could have a fundamental impact on students’ performance in oral English; i.e the incidence of mother tongue interference as it affects the teaching and learning of the English segmental phonemes. In addressing the topic under investigation, the researcher feels that a comparison of the segmental phonemes of English and the indigenous language (Idoma) and an analysis of the similarities and dissimilarities in the phonemic inventory of the two languages would provide a road map for solution to students’ pronunciation problems. Thus, the principles of contrastive and error analysis will be used as parameters to guide the theoretical focus of the work.
In a world that has been reduced to a mere global village by ICT and its related technologies like GSM phones and a huge net work of internet services, communication in modern times should be accepted as increasingly interactive. It is therefore being suggested that, modern language teaching and learning should leave no stone unturned in ensuring that fluency and accuracy are not compromised by whatever techniques and strategies which are blended in any approach that is designed for the teaching of the English segmental phonemes in our secondary schools.
Statement of the problem
Over the years, the dwindling performance of students in oral English has been a source of concern to various stakeholders in the nation’s education sector. Investigations into this phenomenon have variously revealed that most of the spelling errors and misuse of words in candidates’ scripts in external examinations like WASSCE and NECO are actually deficiencies transferred or carried over from the spoken medium to the written medium. Experts are equally of the view that the first step towards accurate pronunciation in any foreign language being learnt starts with the learning of the phonetic system of the language. This will ensure, to a large extent, that the foreign or second language learner overcomes most of his pronunciation deficiencies. Based on this premise, the statement of the problem of this study can be posed thus: to what extent does the mother tongue interfere with the teaching and learning of the English segmental phonemes in secondary schools in Otukpo Local Government Area of Benue State?
Purpose of the Study
The study is specifically designed to achieve the following objectives:-
1. To identify the set of phonemes that pose articulatory problems to Idoma learners of English.
2. To identify and categorize the pronunciation problems associated with Idoma learners of English.
3. To identify some instructional approaches that can be used to minimize mother tongue interference in student’s pronunciation of the English segmental phonemes.
Significance of the Study
If this study is successfully carried out, its findings will be significant in a number of ways to students, teachers and curriculum designers of English as a second language.
For language teachers, the findings of this study will help to create awareness on the common pronunciation errors committed by majority of second language learners in the articulation of the English segmental phonemes. This awareness will help the teacher to organize his materials and strategize his teaching techniques to enhance students’ pronunciation.
Secondly, the findings of this study will also benefit the students of English as a second language. When the students are equipped with adequate knowledge of the similarities and differences in the in the phonetic systems of English and Idoma, it would go a long way in enhancing their communicative competence and therefore help to achieve the objective of the oral English curriculum in our secondary schools.
Thirdly, the findings of this study are also expected to help curriculum planners in formulating, revising and updating the Oral English curriculum based on the latest findings relating to language transfer at the phonological level.
Finally, the findings of this study are expected to ignite further investigation into the influence of mother tongue in the teaching and learning of English as a second language.
The Scope of the Study
The scope of the study actually took cognizance of language transfer at one linguistic level – phonetics. The study was therefore intended to make a contrastive analysis of the segmental phonemes of English and Idoma; analyze the phonemic differences and similarities in the two languages, with a view to identifying the set of phonemes that pose pronunciation problems to Idoma learners of English. The study was further expected to determine the extent to which mother tongue can affect gender achievement in the teaching and learning of the English segmental phonemes and of course examine some instructional approaches that can enhance students’ performance in oral English.
The following research questions are formulated to guide the study:
- What category of phonemes do Idoma learners of English find difficult to articulate?
- How effective is the sentence drilling approach in the teaching and learning of the English segmental phonemes?
- To what extent does the Idoma language influence gender achievement in Oral English?
The following null hypotheses (H0) were formulated and tested at 0.05 level of significance.
H01 Mother tongue influence has no significant effect on students’ perception of the English segmental phonemes.
H02 The sentence drilling approach has no significant effect on students’ achievement in oral English.
H03 Mother tongue has no significant effect on gender achievement in oral English.