Monday, November 14, 2011

Merton's law of unintended consequences and why there is more and more demand for pronunciation teaching . . .

Clip art:
Tried to get into a (potentially credible) pronunciation session at a conference lately? If you have, you know that attendance continues to increase. But why? In this our "post-communicative, post-method" era, isn't the goal "intelligibility," not pronunciation accuracy? Surveys of graduate and post-graduate certificate programs reveal that there is still relatively little formal training available. It is perhaps easy to understand why the prevailing methodological paradigm does not involve much commitment to pronunciation: there are other priorities, including communicative, task- and problem-based classroom activities--and, of course, reading, writing and listening comprehension.

The primary reason for the resurgence of interest in pronunciation is at least in part an unintended consequence of the continuing complications evident from our "communicative language teaching" binge of the 80s and 90s: genuinely communicative classroom activities. We see it throughout the academic curriculum, not just in English instruction; oral, group-interaction-based instruction has become nearly the norm in contemporary Western education--for any number of reasons. In other words, to the degree that nonnative's are now forced to talk in class, pronunciation and accent tend to  become more problematic. (No matter how much one may try to coerce "natives" into accepting less-than-intelligible pronunciation.)

So, to paraphrase the great line from the comic strip, Pogo: We have met the enemy (of those who want to dismiss pronunciation instruction) and he is "us" (communicative, task-based classroom pedagogy!)

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