Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Why pronunciation practice regimens fail

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Stress . . . according to a 2010 study by Bale at the University of Pennsylvania on the long-lasting effects of dieting . . . on rats. Biochemically, the changes affected by just a 25% decrease in calorie intake for a limited period made the mice substantially more susceptible to stress--which then drove them to overeat long after the course of the diet was over. Being on a diet while working on pronunciation would appear to be a double whammy! The effect of stress on general health and performance--and pronunciation--is well established. What is different about this study is that it makes more explicit the role of chronic stress, in this case created by a diet, in disrupting integration of behavioral change, in this case, weight loss. In other words, the impact of relatively short-term stress on any aspect of the learner's experience generalizes to all functioning--and may be exceedingly difficult to moderate. (The researchers' recommendation is to at least consider, for example, drugs to manage the stress created by diets to up the chances of success.) This is an interesting argument, one that was central to much of the thinking behind language teaching methodologies in the 1970s and 80s: Deal with stress decisively before beginning a lesson, manage it carefully throughout and train learners in stress management systems for use the other 23 hours a day. Often the rationale for a technique was not obviously related to language objectives--it didn't need to be. Affective concerns were key to learning and performance. The shift to communication, content and task in language teaching that followed has backgrounded or at least deemphasized the place of explicit affective procedures. Rats! Turns out, we were on the right track. (And, of course, so were Lessac and many others.) Simple. To make sure homework gets done consistently: Train the body first--to experience the felt sense of sound--which should help it manage stress in other aspects of its life and recent experience as well . . . or stick with donuts. 

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