A truly explanatory theory or model of the phonological competence of second language learners must provide an explanation of how learners could construct the phonological representation used in their pronunciations....In particular, the types of representations posited for competent native speakers could not be assumed to be available to second language learners. (p. 257)
Ard's argument does usefully point out that we should not presume L2
learners to be like native speakers in terms of underlying competence.
Unfortunately, it does not go into any great detail about what implications
L2 learners' psycholinguistic construction of the L2 phonology (such as
it is--incomplete, negatively influenced by L1, etc.) might have for auditory
and bottom-up language processing, phonemic awareness, and listening and
reading L2 texts/discourse for meaning.
Since beginning level ESL and EFL students are not going to have an internalized native speaker competence with English phonology, their development must take a different path. This makes their ESL or EFL language and literacy development somewhat analogous to the learning disabled--at least in the senses that their development will not follow the fairly smooth path of the majority of native speakers and may require highly individualized, linguistically enlightened approaches to instruction and remediation.
Non-native language and literacy students must: (1) learn and/or acquire an adequate interlanguage phonology that compensates for the lack of native competence and then learn and/or acquire the phonemic awareness that is considered a necessary step in learning to read English or (2) learn and/or acquire an adequate interlanguage phonology while at the same time learning and/or acquiring the phonemic awareness necessary to read English.
Indeed, it could be logically concluded that effective phonemic awareness
training can not precede the development of a sufficient, internalized
interlanguage phonology, though it might be hoped that training and practice
in both could prove mutually reinforcing (e.g. with a well thought out
approach for adapting phonics to ESL/EFL). What seems to be most regrettable
and confusing is the way written texts are often forced on absolute beginning
level ESL/EFL students (such as in junior high schools here in Japan),
with little or no attention given to their learner needs in (1) interlanguage
phonology development, (2) phonemic awareness, or (3) phonic skills.
Spoken English across major dialects and as spoken for international communications has about 40 distinct sound segments called phonemes. We can become more conscious of these phonemes by using minimal pairs (i.e., they differ in pronunciation by only one sound) to deduce their existence. In English, the minimal pair, 'lip' and 'rip', are two different words with different meanings. So, we can infer that the /l/ sound is a different phoneme than the /r/ sound. But to speakers of Japanese, the distinction is not so categorically clear; in both perception and production, they tend to confuse an English /l/ with an English /r/ because to them both sounds seem equally similar to their one native sound, a tapped (and possibly rolled) /r/ similar to the /r/s of Italian or Russian. English's relatively large sound inventory leads to many other analogous problems for Japanese learners of English.
For the purposes of non-native LL and literacy, phonemic ability as it has been discussed above is not the only concern. Since the sounds that give substance to human languages are more than a linguist's abstraction, non-native students must develop a phonetic talent, too. This could be argued just for the reason that there are many other sounds humanly possible outside the set of phonemes of one's native language, a basic metalinguistic understanding that could helpfully precede trying to learn a second or foreign language. What's more, any native language as it is actually realized in communication involves more different sounds (called allophones) than the set of phonemes described by linguists. Phonetics is about how all sounds, so long as humans are capable of making them with their vocal tracts, are physically produced and received in acoustic space.
As native speakers we tend to limit categorically how we perceive and monitor the production of sounds in order to decode and encode messages and make meaning in a given language; but, outside of our heads and brains and the linguistic intelligence we constantly project from the top-down, sounds in the external world are still just sounds, noises, disturbances. We think that the stressed, aspirated (with a puff of air) /p/ sound we hear at the beginning of the English word 'pot' is the same sound as the unaspirated /p/ (or possibly a glottal stop) at the end of the word 'top'. Phonemically speaking, it is, as we force both sounds into the same /p/ category. This categorization is no doubt reinforced by the phonemic aspects of written English, which does not distinguish between the phonetically different /p/ sounds, spelling them both <p>.
Phonetically speaking the word final /p/ is not the same as the initial
one, because all sounds are in actuality both uniquely realized and predictably
affected by the sounds that precede and proceed them in the stream of speech.
However scientifically interesting such variations and effects are, if
we attended only to them, we would never make sense of utterances as meaning
something. We also need to remember, however, that beginning ESL/EFL learners
will not be able to categorize the sounds phonemically with anywhere near
the selective efficiency of a native speaker; therefore, phonetic variations,
because they complicate and distract, help turn the stream of sounds into
even more of an acoustic blur for the beginning FL learner.
It should be noted, however, that taking an explicit, metalinguistic analysis to the level of the phoneme is not necessarily a notion that is easy to grasp, no matter how well developed a learner's interlanguage phonology might be. Indeed, it is hardly intuitive for native speakers of English. I would guess that if you asked most literate native speakers of English what the distinct sounds of English are they would start by saying the 'ABCs'. There is an intuitive analysis going on here, but only to the level of the syllable: except for the pronunciation of the letter <W> (which is three syllables) , the names of the letters of the English alphabet are syllables that almost invariably contain a target sound of English. An examination of Japanese literacy also reveals that the native literate person's intuitive level of analysis stops at the syllable: the Japanese do not say their 'ABCs', but rather their kana, which are symbols by and large standing for all of the possible syllables of spoken Japanese.
Whether we call it phonological or phonemic awareness, in the form most basic to non-native English literacy, it entails being able to distinguish single and combined sounds occurring initially from the rest of the syllables and words that follow. Take for example the one-syllable word "cat", which joins three phonemes of English (/k/ + /Q/ + /t/) into one unit of meaning. Someone who is phonemically aware at a minimal level can abstract the initial consonant (or onset) /k/ sound from the rest of the syllable and word (the rime, i.e. the vowel /Q/ plus consonant sound /t/).
Unlike Japanese, for example, English can have fairly complex consonant
clusters at the beginning of words, too. A student who is phonemically
aware to a sufficient degree will be able to separate the initial cluster
or onset /str/ from the rime /aip/ in the word "stripe". If presented orally,
such words and their partial segmentation into onset and rime can be used
to test and teach phonemic awareness. If done in written form without an
oral presentation, however, they require an additional set of abilities:
decoding (or word attack or phonic) skills.
In Japan our students are typically well along in developing adult-level
literacy in Japanese by the time EFL is introduced as a junior high school
subject. One problem is that the sort of metalinguistic awareness that
arises from learning to read and write Japanese as a native language and
prestige dialect might be inadequate and even misleading for beginning
level EFL literacy. This characterization could be extended to non-native
teachers as well as students.
Although not usually, for certain purposes, Japanese can be written alphabetically using a system called romaji (meaning roman letters). At least one officially approved form of romaji is quite phonemic and was actually proposed during both the Meiji Era and the postwar Occupation to be a replacement for the complex written Japanese that has evolved and is used today (written Japanese is a mix of logographic and syllabic characters). Another form of romaji exists for pedagogical purposes and is quite well known to JSL/JFL students. It has been designed to be somewhat more phonetic because phonetic representations are helpful to SL/FL students, but not completely so, as it misses the major allophones (predictable variations of a phoneme) of a problem sound in JSL/JFL, the so-called syllabic /N/.
There is no denying that written English is an alphabetic system. It just can not be described as purely phonetic or phonemic, and actually gives a rather elusive twist to the meaning of the category "mixed." It is mixed in the sense that it has evolved into a balance of both phonemic and morpho- or logophonemic elements for setting down into the writing the spoken language. This has important implications for how we actually are able to read written English. As Sampson (1985) states:
Anyone who succeeds in becoming a skilled user of written English must eventually learn to use both 'look-and-say' (or logographic) and 'phonic' strategies in both processing modes, reading and writing. The phonic strategy must be used in reading when one encounters a new word....On the other hand, a familiar word with a thoroughly irregular spelling must be handled logographically even by the writer: no-one could spell knight correctly by 'sounding out' the word and converting phonemes to graphemes....Parenthetically, even a 'phonic' reading strategy, when it is used, need not necessarily involve unconscious resort to a fixed, algorithmic set of rules...for converting letter-sequences to sound-sequences. An alternative view holds that an unfamiliar word is read by constructing analogies between its spelling and that of familiar words which can be read logographically, and guessing at the pronunciation of the new word by reference to the known pronunciations of the familiar words. (p. 209)
Also, as with so many other things we might isolate to teach explicitly
and deductively--e.g., grammar, vocabulary, study skills, and so on--there
is the question of whether or not such instruction leads toeffective learning
for the majority of ourstudents. If phonemic awareness training is to be
a part of non-native literacy, just what are the instructional technologies
and strategies that will allow us to present it to our students as something
they can learn, assimilate, and apply in novel situations? Are either phonics
or whole language approaches, which have been largely developed for middle
class native speakers of English's prestige dialects, adequate for systematically
addressing our students' needs? One thing is certain: There is plenty for
us to explore and exchange ideas about in our reading and professional
development, our classroom research, and our teaching.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sampson, G. (1985). Writing systems. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Williams, J. (1995). Phonemic Awareness. In T.L. Harris and R.E. Hodges
(Eds.), The literacy dictionary: The vocabulary of reading and writing
(pp. 185-6). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Truch, S. (1991). The missing parts of whole language. Calgary, Alberta: Foothills Educational Materials.
Charles Jannuzi can be contacted at Fukui University College of Education, Bunkyo 3-9-1, Fukui 910, JAPAN, and by Email at <email@example.com. fukui-u.ac.jp> or jannuzi@ThePentagon.com>