Friday, July 13, 2012

The "Nocebo" effect in pronunciation teaching.

Clipart: Clker

Clipart: Clker
I wrote an article in 1997 entitled "Seven suggestions of highly successful pronunciation teaching." It began with a quote from the introduction of a then popular pronunciation book (no longer in print):

"Acquiring good pronunciation is the most difficult part of learning a new language. As you improve your articulation you have to learn to listen and imitate all over again. As with any activity you wish to do well, you have to practice, practice, practice, and then practice some more . Remember that you cannot accomplish good pronunciation overnight; improvement takes time. Some students may find it more difficult than others and will need more time than others to improve (Orion, 1988, pp. xxiii-iv)." 

My point in quoting that rather foreboding piece was to illustrate the sometimes "less than encouraging"  language (and attitude) used by instructors to orient learners or attempt to motivate them during pronunciation work. At the time I didn't have a term for it; now I do: a "nocebo"--as contrasted with a "placebo." In the research summary by Winfried Häuser and co-researchers of the Technical University of Munich, summarized by Science Daily, defined 'nocebo' effects as " . . . adverse events that occur during sham treatment and/or as a result of negative expectations . .   or by unintended negative suggestion on the part of doctors or nurses. . ." The above "nocebo" may, for many, be at face value a realistic prognosis, but there is almost certainly a less "nocebic" way to put it. So, along with "noticing" we need to add the term "nocebo-ing" or "nocebo-ation" to our haptic toolbox--or try to eliminate it!

1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

Just got another recommendation: a "YessireeBo!" That completes the continuum, from Nocebo to Placebo to YessireeBo!" Any other "Bo's" you can think of?

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