Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Overcoming pronunciation anxiety II--with (& in) class!

Clipart: Clker
Clipart: Clker
The stress generated by pronunciation instruction, especially the "public" performance side of the process so necessary for integration of change, gets a bad rap. (Anxiety brought to class by the learner, as alluded to in the previous post, not withstanding.) A recent study, summarized in the Wall Street Journal, provides a little more neurophysiological evidence for that principle. What the researcher points out is that the stress should be immediate-task-based, not general fear of failure or longer term existential questions. The article concludes with the following: "We'll say to athletes, 'You're going to be anxious. Great. Channel it and use it," Dr. Josephson says. "Being willing to feel some anxiety and not running away from it is huge." Although I have not been able to find the research piece I discovered earlier on the "advantage" of some types of group therapy, I have for decades been operating on the principle that a balanced "diet" of both the private and public practice is essential for most efficient pronunciation change. (That is why tutoring in pronunciation for some may be relatively ineffectual--if the learner does not also have a meaningful place to practice, especially one where the "new" personna will be readily accepted or at least not noticed!) That, in part, explains why occasionally I encounter a student, especially from China, who has developed extraordinary pronunciation and fluency from having studied back home only in an "all English" college that was exceedingly serious about controlling learner practice 24-7. This is another important dimension of integrated pronunciation instruction not addressed in the pronunciation research literature. To quote the article once more: "You have to embrace the anxiety to overcome it."-- even if only with a quick, 3-second "Shhh!" (See previous post!) 

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