Saturday, June 23, 2012

Fossilized pronunciation: recidivism unanchored

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
A grad student is doing a research paper looking at the conditions under which learners are able to anchor new pronunciation outside of the classroom, in conversation with those around them or strangers. (I may report on that later, too.) This has been a key theme of my work (especially pronunciation classes for nonnative business professionals) for decades. About the time I was publishing my first article on fossilized pronunciation, I became aware of the model for preparing prisoners for return to society developed by Prison Fellowship entitled, Innerchange Freedom Initiative. (That, in turn, was  based on a project created by the Catholic church in Brazil sometime earlier.) That approach to rehabilitation, which continues to have a very impressive record in avoiding recidivism (having to go back to prison after being released) was based on several principles:

  • Participants are assigned a mentor who stays with them throughout and beyond the program. 
  • It begins two years before release and continues for one year after.
  • It is a holistic, involving, academic, vocational, spiritual, life skills, and substance abuse training. 
  • In the post-prison phase, prisoners are assisted in finding employment and getting connected to a local church.

Now not to run too far with the analogy here of "fossilized" learners being "imprisoned" by their heavily accented pronunciation . . . There were two aspects of the IFI framework that caught my attention and became integral to the system I developed for dealing with fossilized pronunciation, other than the holistic, integrated whole person model: the importance of (a) the value of the learner's connection to the local community in ensuring that change lasted, and (b) maintaining a less formal "mentoring" or consulting relationships for at least a short period beyond the program. What I discovered early on was that (a) could often greatly enhance (b), pointing students to quality opportunities for practice and giving them advice on strategies and preparation--something more than "Now go practice your English with your friends or the tourists . . . " 

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