Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Useless pronunciation work

Library of Congress
In looking for research on the value of pronunciation work in EFL contexts where there is realistically little or no possibility of students engaging in realistic speaking practice or even hearing English spoken whether in the classroom or from audio recordings, I came on a proposal for an action research project by a student in Indonesia (as fulfilling a requirement for a bachelor's degree.) In its own way, it states the problem (and the pragmatic solution) well: focus on vocabulary--and probably grammar. We have done three or four recent workshops on using HICP protocols for getting the pronunciation, meaning and usage out of a dictionary. (The upcoming demonstration at TESOL in Philadelphia is on the same basic set of strategies.) Learning the pronunciation of words and phrases in such (use-less) contexts is certainly not ideal but it is the reality for the preponderance of the world's students. There are  two "sides" to our work: integrated pronunciation instruction in the classroom and systematic homework which focuses on both essential phonological processes and targeted short conversations (12-lines long) and vocabulary lists tailored to the instructional program. In ESL settings, learners also, of course, have the L2 culture to function in as well. In EFL settings like the one described in the action research proposal, even our "other half" should be enormously helpful. I only have anecdotal evidence in the form of reports from former grad students who use EHIEP protocols in their classes "out there" to support that assumption, but even "useless" pronunciation instruction done well and with sufficient "joie de pronunciation" can establish a solid foundation for later and a rich, felt sense of what it is like to speak the language. I have met countless internationals whose experience had been exactly that--and whose use of the spoken language was excellent. There are many paths to use . . . 

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