Sunday, June 26, 2016

Why pronunciation should be taught "separately" (and the 15 second rule)!

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The pendulum is swinging back, my friends. A central concern among pronunciation teachers is that what is "taught" in class, in whatever form, is so often not integrated well (or at all) into spontaneous speaking. One reason for that, I am convinced, is the general reluctance to correct spontaneous speech today.

This one is for all of you who teach a successful, stand-alone pronunciation course in the face of current theory that seems argue that pronunciation should generally be integrated in instruction, any skill concentration--not taught in isolation.

When a pronunciation problem just "pops up" in class, what do you do? Correction of pronunciation is again an important focus of research in the field. In fact, it is coming to be seen as more and more central to effective instruction. (From a haptic perspective, as developed in this blog and elsewhere, correction, especially during spontaneous speaking activities, is key to successful pronunciation work.) The other option, I suppose, is still that instruction is done so well early on that few errors in spontaneous speech occur . . . That was the dream of some early structuralist and behavioral approaches. They just forgot to factor in sufficient boredom and fear.

In-class instruction and practice is not sufficient in many contexts. Ongoing, effective feedback is essential. Research, however, has consistently revealed a strong reluctance on the part of instructors to correct learner pronunciation in any instructional context, in part a legacy of communicative language teaching and the current de-emphasis on pronunciation teaching in general (Baker, 2014; Saito, 2016).

Some of the most recent research on spontaneous correction of pronunciation in the classroom (See my blogpost focusing on delaMorandiere, 2016) has begun to point to two key features of effective correction (a) a link back to earlier instruction is "remembered." and (b) that link is used by the instructor in various ways, including a quick reference to the concept or explanation or reminder (or a question to the learner). In other words, correction works best when it is anchored back to an earlier consciously constructed schema, not just by a simple prompt, such as repeating the "correct" pronunciation.

So what does that mean in the classroom? Effective, corrective feedback on pronunciation generally depends upon good "prior knowledge" of the correct form that can be reactivated or reinforced . . . That does not suggest that rhythm, intonation and stress should not be attended to in other areas of language instruction; they should, if only to reinforce learning of meaning, structure and vocabulary. But to CORRECT some aspect of any of those, something other than or in addition to simply "repeat after me" has to be employed. In the case of adults, that should generally refer back to well-conceived explanation and focused practice, both controlled and meaning-based.

Now that can, for example, be accomplished by teaching one chapter of a student pronunciation text occasionally as part of a speaking or conversation course, but the experience of more and more intensive English programs, particularly, is that a designated pronunciation class that is used as a point of reference for all other instructors in the program to refer back to in in-class correction is far and away the best approach. In that context as well, research has identified the types of classroom interaction where such intervention by both instructor and other students is most appropriate (small group discussions, prepared oral readings, impromptu speeches, etc.)

To be in a position to intervene, interrupting the flow of conversation, generally requires an expectation that important errors will be addressed continually in an atmosphere of confidence and trust--and even collegial fun and support. Spontaneous error correction in pronunciation should be received with genuine appreciation and "uptake". The conditions for that to happen consistently are not that complicated but require for some a rethinking of the form of pronunciation instruction and its place in (virtually) every class. I think most would agree, however, that it is often exceedingly challenging to temporarily switch on and off that "safe" classroom mode or milieu in any setting other than one focused only on pronunciation. (Pronunciation classes are generally rated as the most useful and enjoyable by students.)

What research is suggesting is that effective "spontaneous" correction is very important to helping learners integrate changed forms--and that it is actually not all that spontaneous, in the sense that it relies on rapid recall of not just previously taught forms, structures, phonemes and specific words, but a concise, explicit understanding of the issue as well. That level of clarity can require more than just a brief note or simply drawing attention to a feature of pronunciation in class: a previously completed,  designated pronunciation class session or something analogous, such as complete modules, either online or f2f. 

That is a fundamental principle of most public speaking systems and, from our perspective, the Lessac method, upon which much of my work is based: explanation and practice must be carefully partitioned off from performance, so that errors in performance can be efficiently recognized at least post hoc (after the fact) and effectively recast by the learner in real time. For many pronunciation issues--and especially integration of change into spontaneous speaking-- that is best facilitated by a team approach as well, where the instructor briefly refers the learner back to not just the correct sound but also its structure and rationale (SSR), and the learner momentarily "holds that thought" and physically experiences what it feels like to produce words or phrases to be used more appropriately the next time they occur.

It is not necessary to do all three SRR components every time, of course, but the intervention used must in some sense reconnect to the in-class instructional experience in toto. Just repeating a word or phrase might accomplish that on some occasions, but the research suggests that more cognitive involvement accompanying a verbal recast is essential. I could not agree more, only adding that more somatic (body-based) engagement is essential as well.

The best option, I think, despite its limitations, is still something like the "traditional" pronunciation class taught by a well-trained and experienced instructor, where correction of all kinds, done right, is seen as immensely valuable and productive--and relatively speaking, stress-free!

Haptic work attempts to create the experience of that classroom by linking earlier training in systematic gesture to the pronunciation of the word or expression, which could also have been done in a separate class or class meeting or online, independently. The key is that it be conceptually partitioned off, by itself, without demanding thorough content and context integration, and also not requiring a  "seasoned" instructor to do the presentation, instruction and practice. (More later on the importance of such seemingly counter-intuitive conceptual partitioning to subsequent recall and utilization. In the meantime, consult your local neuroscientist or hypnotist!)

Try the 15-second rule: During spontaneous speaking and interaction with students, only pause to correct what can be effectively reconnected to previous (brilliant) instruction--which may include a bit of SSR--and practiced three times in 15 seconds. That will get you a better sense of how well your initial teaching of pronunciation "bits" is going, too.

However you approach correction and facilitating integration of pronunciation change, it should at the very least be more than just "spontaneous."




1 comment:

Selinda E. said...

I really like that 15 second rule. Had never thought of spontaneously interjecting Ss discourse with error correction ... within reason of course.

However, I read Folse (2006) who suggested grammar/speech errors should be corrected after a task, and only select the 'top 3 or so' heard while Ss were engaged in the task. He seemed to suggest directly pointing out individual errors would have a negative motivational effect on the Ss' learning.

How about when correcting pronunciation? Are we encouraged to interfere more quickly?

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