Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is there a proven, better pronunciation teaching method than HICP?

Not, yet! There has been virtually no empirical research comparing pronunciation teaching methods in the last couple of decades. Linked is a widely quoted article by Derwing and Munro from the 2005 TESOL Quarterly special issue on pronunciation (p.387) that in part explains why:

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"It is somewhat surprising that so few studies have evaluated the efficacy of pronunciation teaching . . . It is all the more remarkable because a popular current paradigm in applied linguistics is the assessment of various approaches designed to have an impact on learners’ productions in other areas of language development . . .We are not suggesting a return to a comparison of methods of the type carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. Rather, we are concerned with matching instructional content to ESL speakers’ needs. That is, we would ask whether the aspects of a learner’s speech that cause problems for intelligibility are the focus of instruction, regardless of the teaching methods employed.

Do you get that? In other words, from that perspective, and I think that represents the general approach of the field, method in the current "Post-method" era, is (nearly) irrelevant--or there are so many ways that are seemingly equally effective that it probably makes no difference how, as long as you have the right what. The HICP/EHIEP perspective, on the contrary, is that the what is the relatively easy part; good advice on what should be taught for any given population is now readily available. The most pressing question today is how to best assist learners in getting and integrating new and "improved" sounds.

It is comforting to know that we don't have to prove the efficacy or superior effectiveness of HICP methods but we can and we will, nonetheless. Research in a wide range of related fields and several years of experience using it with many different populations suggest that it works exceedingly well. But for the time being, please do take Derwing and Munro's word for it--it's at least as good as any other method out there. Actually . . . there's no comparison!

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