The Complex, Dynamic and Co-adaptive Relationship between Pronunciation Teachers’ Cognitions, Pedagogical Practices and Wider Contexts: A Case from Vietnamese Tertiary Education
Although pronunciation has until recently been widely neglected in both teaching and research, there is universal acknowledgment of its importance in effective communication. This applies too in Vietnam, where good English pronunciation is seen as imperative in accessing social, educational, and occupational opportunities (Kieu, 2010; Vallely & Wilkinson, 2008; P. A. Vu & Nguyen, 2004). Because of this importance, attention needs to be given to the way in which pronunciation is taught in the Vietnamese EFL context. Evidence, however, appears to suggest that this instruction is often problematic and peripheral to the teaching of speaking and listening. Although there are many facets to this complex situation, one way to unpack it and explore possible solutions is to increase our understanding of pronunciation teachers’ cognitions, practices and contextual factors that might influence teachers’ thinking and their actual teaching. Despite an increasing research interest in teachers’ cognitions and practices in many international contexts (Couper, 2016a, 2016b; Foote, Trofimovich, Collins, & Urzúa, 2016), relatively little attention has been paid to the mental lives and actual teaching practices of pronunciation teachers at universities in Vietnam.
The study reported in this thesis scrutinized the relationship between teachers’ cognitions of pronunciation teaching, their practices, and wider contexts at the tertiary level in Vietnam using a multiple case study design. The research involved four teachers. The data were obtained through four teachers’ initial interviews, classroom observations, stimulated (post-observation) recalls, and document analysis. This set of data was complemented by focus group discussions with a self-selected number of the teacher participants’ students (n = 20). The study found that the teachers and students held conflicting views on the value of pronunciation and pronunciation teaching at university. The Nativeness principle seemed to dominate in the teachers’ and students’ choice of goals, models and in their view of good pronunciation teachers. The teachers in this study employed traditional teacher-centred approaches to pronunciation teaching; their teaching was textbook driven with most classroom activities being controlled. The teachers’ cognitions and their teaching practices were diverse and influenced by a number of contextual factors at teacher-intrapersonal, micro, meso, and macro levels. Moreover, a complex, dynamic, and co-adaptive inter-relationship was found between the cognitions, practices of the teachers and these multi-layered contexts.
The study has made important empirical, theoretical and methodological contributions. Empirically, it confirms findings of prior studies that (1) pronunciation teaching is often neglected due to teachers’ lack of confidence and training, (2) their practices feature controlled-practice and listen-and-repeat tasks, (3) the teachers advocate intelligibility in theory but follow nativeness in practice and (4) a number of factors mediate the teachers’ cognitions and practices, among others. Theoretically, it confirms the existing conceptualization of teachers’ cognitions as consisting of four constructs: knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and identities, and highlights the interactive nature of the four components. It also confirms that teachers’ cognitions can be explicitly professed or implicitly interpreted from teaching practices; they can also be core or peripheral in nature. Methodologically, the study sees the benefits of incorporating professional conversations rather than interviews in conducting qualitative research. The study provides a number of implications and suggestions for different stakeholders at different contextual levels, including EFL teachers, teacher educators, curriculum and course designers, university authorities, researchers and national policy makers.