Choosing an appropriate pronunciation model for the ELT classroom in Hong Kong: A sociolinguistic inquiry

Jim Chan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis


The globalisation of English in recent decades has focused scholarly attention on the choice of an appropriate pronunciation model in the English language teaching (ELT) classroom. Traditionally, native-speaker (NS) pronunciation such as Received Pronunciation (RP) and General American (GA) has been regarded as the only goal for second-language (L2) learners in most ELT contexts and has thus been widely adopted in ELT listening and speaking materials, curricula and teacher education around the world. One consequence of regarding the exonormative NS model as the ideal learning target and, presumably, the benchmark for English proficiency has been the routine teaching practice of correcting students' inevitable mother-tongue influenced English accents, which are considered as pronunciation 'errors'. Over the past two decades, the NS model has been criticised in the field of sociolinguistics and applied linguistics on the grounds that it not only neglects real language use and needs in multilingual settings, but also takes little account of local culture and identity (Kirkpatrick, 2007). To overcome these limitations, two other pedagogical models have been proposed by World Englishes (WE) (e.g. Baumgardner, 2006) and English as a lingua franca (ELF) scholars (e.g. Jenkins, 2000) respectively, namely the endonormative nativised model and the ELF approach which potentially are more appropriate in the outer and expanding circles respectively (see Kirkpatrick, 2007). Against this background, the purpose of this study is to evaluate the appropriateness of adopting the aforementioned two pedagogical proposals in the ELT classroom in Hong Kong, where English serves as an indispensable tool for international communication. From a sociolinguistic perspective, it explores the (dis)connection between the sociolinguistic reality and school practices in Hong Kong in two dimensions: (1) the stakeholders' experience of using/learning spoken English and (2) their attitudes towards accents and pronunciation teaching. These stakeholders include students (of different academic levels), teachers (using English to teach ELT and content-area subjects), and the professionals (in diverse disciplines) who contribute to the real use and long-term development of English in Hong Kong. In order to capture a more holistic picture of the issues being investigated, the study adopted a mixed-method approach which involved the triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data collection methods. The quantitative methods included structured questionnaire surveys and the verbal-guise technique (VGT) whereas the qualitative methods consisted of semi-structured focus groups/individual interviews, document analysis and a school case study.
The discussion of the findings is divided into four main parts. The first section focuses on the education reality of pronunciation teaching and modelling at both policy and practice levels via the document analysis of the most recent ELT curricula, public assessments and three sets of local commercial textbooks as well as a school case study. The findings suggest that Hong Kong's new ELT curriculum is shifting towards a more WE/ELF perspective, which aims for communicative competence while downplaying the importance of conforming to NS pronunciations, but it is not fully implemented at the level of examination and textbooks which are apparently still guided by NS norms. In the classroom context, however, students were to a great extent exposed to different degrees of HKE pronunciation (over 70% on a weekly basis) by their ELT as well as content-area teachers who adopt English as the medium of instruction. The second section draws on findings derived from large-scale structured questionnaire surveys and VGT, which provide an overview of the stakeholders' English-using expenence and their attitudes towards accents and pronunciation learning. In addition to a general NS Anglophone-centric attitude among the participants, two important discoveries include, firstly, the contextual variation in the participants' acceptability of the non-native-speaker (NNS) (also HKE) vis-a-vis NS accents in that they had less adverse reactions to NNS accents in less formal and more interactive situations and, secondly, there was a tendency that English learners at a high education level perceived the HKE accent more negatively than those at a lower academic level (and the reverse for NS accents such as RP). A more in-depth comparison of the participants' English using/learning experience in relation to their attitudes towards a learning target among the various groups of stakeholders (i.e. professionals, English learners, teachers) are discussed in sections three (the professionals) and four (English learners and teachers), which draw on findings of semi-structured interviews and focus groups. In terms of the use of English by the stakeholders, the data illustrate the complicated sociolinguistic reality in Hong Kong that is quite different from what is portrayed in the education context, where students learn English. Based on their experience of using/learning English, the participants have suggested their challenges in communication (e.g. accent variation), strategies to overcome these challenges and, recommendations for English teaching/learning. Furthermore, the diverse groups of participants have also provided reasons for their choice of a English learning target mainly in four dimensions, namely its (1) perceived attainability, (2) intelligibility, (3) instrumental value (in relation to its social status) and (4) integrative value. Having evaluated the (dis)connection between the sociolinguistic and education reality as well as the stakeholders' diverging (and converging) attitudes towards their pronunciation target, the study concludes by providing recommendations for multiple levels of education such as the language-in-education policy, curricula, assessments, teaching materials and teacher education so as to help future learners to promote a pluricentric view of English.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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