227 lawrence jun zhang role of discourse intonation

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LAWRENCE JUN ZHANG Role of Discourse Intonation in EFL Curricula in China The role of discourse intonation in EFL curricula varies from country to country depending on the social functions of English. The teaching of pronunciation in China usually starts from the sounds and analysis of minimal pairs (e.g., pure vowels, diphthongs, triphthongs, etc.) at every level in the education system, especially at the beginner level, and discourse intonation has not been given sufficient attention. Many factors can be suggested as explanations for such practice. However, due to space, I think that listing two important reasons might suffice. Firstly, China lacks target-language input, particularly daily use of English. According to KACHRU (1992), three major varieties of English are used respectively in the “Inner Circle” (countries where English is used as the native language), in the “Outer Circle” (former British colonies where English is used as a major language” and in the “Expanding Circle” (where English is learned and used as a foreign language). Following this tripartite taxonomy, China qualifies as a typical “Expanding Circle” country, i.e., an EFL context. Secondly, the philosophy that guides the adjudication of the “English Syllabus for Middle Schools”, whose directive is that accuracy in pronunciation must be emphasised, has a penetrating effect on EFL teaching among teachers (e.g., MOE, 1995). Therefore, even middle school EFL teachers tend to emphasise explicit instruction in the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) in their own classes, regarding this system as a strong tool in facilitating student learning of English pronunciation. However, current popular instructional attention to the accuracy of sound production and to some degree of fluency in speech has not sufficiently enhanced the effectiveness in communication due to teachers’ neglect of intonation (YU, 1992). Intonation is seldom taught, and if it is done, only two types of intonation, the rising tone and the falling tone, are briefly introduced to students. Because of time constraints and EFL teachers’ 228
ITL International Journal of Applied Linguistics 145, No. 1 (2004) inadequate training, EFL teachers in schools generally do not have any awareness of the importance of intonation in the curricula. Admittedly, some TEFL programmes in tertiary institutions in China have given some attention to the teaching of phonetics and intonation recently, but the number of graduates who have received training in English phonetics and intonation is disproportionate with current pedagogical needs. A course called “English Phonetics” is offered in most tertiary teacher-education institutions, yet, most of the courses of this kind concentrate on teaching the basics of English sounds and the like, working within the tradition of analysing minimal pairs. Because of this, most teachers feel that intonation is just a subject for theoretical exploration (CHEN, 1983; LAO, 1983). Consequently, because of the paucity in instruction, many TEFL students will have graduated without

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