Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pronunciation teaching and learning thresholds

Clip art: Clker
One of the "mysteries" of pronunciation work is the often seemingly abrupt changes that we see in the interlanguage of some learners. There are any number of reasons why that is the case, not the least of which is that we are generally not observing a learner 24-7. The concept of learning thresholds as summarized in Cousin (2006) helps to explain why. According to threshold theory there are seven or eight parameters that characterize such transitions:

(a) transformation,
(b) irreversible change,
(c) integration,
(d) bounded conceptual space--within a restricted field of study or experience,
(e) presence of "troublesome knowledge"-- elements that cannot be easily, logically resolved and synthesized,
(f) being set in a "liminal" space in development -- exists in a recognized transitional phase in the learning process, and
(g) recursiveness -- there are apparent, temporary moves back and forth across the threshold.

We could do a post on any one of those (and I will follow up later on three of them) but let's just consider the  idea of "troublesome knowledge." Pronunciation instruction is filled with all kinds, such as drills, explanations, random associations of sound to bizarre contexts which must be discarded or ignored during real-time speaking. Threshold theory sees those phenomena as potentially both positive and negative. What is critical is how it is managed or accommodated by the instructional program. On that count, in the field we have a "troublesome LACK of knowledge" as to the dynamics of pronunciation change. I could do a clinic on it . . . 

1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

Apologies. Just realized that I had used that last line, the "kicker," once before. Threshold theory is at the very heart of HICP. It focuses on understanding the conditions of and pedagogical techniques relevant to efficient pronunciation change. I'll use it again, too!

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