An Interview by Martina Bednáriková
All teachers know that teaching by example is the only thing that never fails. Our students may not remember what we try to teach them, but they will definitely remember who we are. Beata Borošová, one of the speakers at ELT Forum 2014 chose to live her life in such a way. She inspires others to never forget that this life is for learning, sharing, caring and helping… but most of all, for loving. For as Thomas Carlyle said,”a loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge”.
Slovak Chamber of English Teachers (SCET): Can you tell us the story behind your teaching career? Have you always wanted to teach at university? What do you like about it, and is there anything that you do not like at all?
Beata Borošová (BB): Before starting teaching at university where I have been for almost twenty years, I had worked as an English teacher at secondary school. I had been teaching there for four years and then an opportunity came to fill the vacant place of phonetics teacher at The English Department at University. As I have always liked linguistics I obviously took the offer and here I am, teaching university students for 20 years. I love my profession, it’s a challenging work as you have to always study and read and prepare for classes, but it keeps me on my toes. The work with students can be rewarding especially if you see good results but of course demanding even frustrating sometimes. But all in all I am happy to do the teaching.
SCET: Can you please tell us more about your research? How did you get to phonetics and phonology and why did you choose to focus particularly on this area?
BB: Though initially I had the desire to teach English literature, I ended up doing phonetics and phonology. But I am very grateful because this branch of linguistics deals with speech and speech is a living organism, always subject to change and variation. It never gets boring for me. Isn´t it quite fascinating that whenever you speak to someone, the way you sound creates a big percentage of the whole message? People judge you based not only on what you say but how you say it. Many failures in communication may result from mispronunciations or wrong stress placement, incorrect rhythm or even inappropriate intonation. Teaching phonetics for a long time and observing and analyzing pronunciation errors of my students I naturally started being interested in the way how your mother tongue hampers good pronunciation skills in a foreign language, how learners are affected by negative transfer from their mother tongue into a foreign language on the level of individual sounds as well as suprasegmental features like stress, language rhythm or intonation.
SCET: How do you prepare your university presentations and lectures? Please give us an insight into the first lecture you ever gave. How have your preparation and style improved since then and what helped you mature?
BB: Of course being a university teacher you need to study constantly. My primary specialization is English phonetics and phonology and there has been so much going on in the latest research in this area, especially regarding suprasegmental features like rhythm where new and new theories appear. Preparing for lectures includes reading outputs of various researches, books on pronunciation, and articles in journals. Dealing with pronunciation and accents supposes a great deal of exposure to spoken word so you have to listen to native speakers as much as possible. I listen mainly to radio stations broadcasting from different parts of either the UK or other English speaking countries. I still recollect my first lecture. I remember giving it was an awful experience for me because having seen a hundred students in front of me, looking at me, waiting for me to say something meaningful made me so extremely nervous that during the lecture I struggled not to stutter and speak fluently. But of course to do something the first time is always difficult. You get used to having a larger audience and I hope throughout the time I have gathered enough expertise to make my lectures interesting for students!
SCET: Let’s go back in time a bit, to the time when you were a learner. What kind of a learner were you as a student of English? When and how did you master English pronunciation (to the point when you were able to say “I did it”)? What would you recommend the students to do in order to avoid pronunciation problems?
BB: I started learning English at a late age compared to chances students have nowadays. In the past (around 40 years ago) it wasn´t uncommon to start a foreign language only after entering secondary school. I had attended though an elementary school where German language was taught intensively. At secondary school by mistake I ended up in an English class instead of German so I was around 15 when I took up English. Naturally it´s harder to master the sound system of a foreign language at the age of 15, I would have preferred to start English as much younger learner. At that time we had a limited access to English, perhaps only in English classes, and there was practically no chance to listen to the speech of native speakers. Due to political reasons we couldn´t travel to western countries or tune in radio stations or TV channels in English. Not being exposed to native English, there was a lot of space for improvement especially regarding my pronunciation. And frankly, I have never reached a point to say to myself I am satisfied with my English. There is constantly a room for improvement. Throughout the years I have trained my ears which became sensitive to pronunciation nuances. My advice to students to develop good pronunciation skills is to listen to English as much as possible, to practice perception of a foreign language because only after that good production skills can come.
SCET: What do you do to develop your own teaching skills? Where do you get new ideas for your own teaching (especially as far as pronunciation at the university level is concerned)?
BB: I have been teaching long enough to feel quite comfortable with it. I mean you do a lot of things intuitively taking advantage of years of teaching experience. But I do read articles from conferences in which teachers share their experience of teaching pronunciation or publish their research results. They can be thought-provoking and motivating for me as a teacher.
SCET: With increasing globalization and widespread use of English as Lingua Franca, do you as a university instructor feel the improvement of your students’ pronunciation? Are your students’ language skills better now than when you started teaching?
BB: Definetely their pronunciation has improved. Students are exposed to English on a daily basis nowadays. They watch films or popular sitcoms in English, they listen to songs in English, and they have a direct contact with the language and its spoken form. This all has a positive impact on their pronunciation.
PhDr. Beata Borošová, PhD. is a full time teacher at the English Department of the Faculty of Arts, Comenius University in Bratislava, Slovakia. She teaches courses of English Phonetics and Phonology, Practical English and Sociolinguistics. She is currently working on her research in language interference. In her workshop entitled “Pronunciation Problems in the English Classroom” she is going to provide practical examples of exercises and drills that help Slovak students of English overcome common pronunciation errors.
Workshop: PRONUNCIATION PROBLEMS IN THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM
PRON – LOWER Secondary – A1-B1 – ALL TEACHERS
FRIDAY 16:30-17:30 in CANBERRA