Sunday, September 9, 2012

The six worst mistakes in pronunciation teaching

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
Stumbled onto a nice list of "the 6 WORST things you can do if you want to ignite your body's own fat-burning furnace and get lean, strong & totally ripped in less time," at When it comes to efficient exercising, these are the people who know what it is about. And, as I have said more than occasionally here, the principles involved in training the body (Lessac 1967) generally apply directly to pronunciation work, both in class activity and homework. So, not surprisingly, do the "mistakes:"
  • Doing isolated exercises - Working on pronunciation out of context has been pretty much discredited by leading theorists. In practice, however, research suggests that most instructors probably don't know how to do that very well. 
  • Working out with machines - Exercise machines isolate muscles. Using "machines" exclusively, at least at this point in the development of computer assisted instruction, still seems to be of marginal benefit to most learners. The EHIEP system does introduce techniques with video but that is done primarily to prepare learners so that instructors can use those techniques in class. 
  • Doing long bouts of cardio - The research on the effects on the body of extended periods of accelerated aerobic exercise such as running are clear: it does "clear" the mind (and conveys some related, long term benefits) but does relatively little in terms of building the body or permanent weight loss. Likewise, in pronunciation work, highly motivating procedures that depend upon inordinately on fun and excitability, for example, are probably not the most efficient uses of the learner's time. (There are several earlier posts that address this issue.) 
  • Doing crunches and sit ups to get six-pack abs - "Abs" are the great cosmetic "Holy Grail" of the exercise industry. Like the first two bullets above, isolated decontextualized, nonsystemic practice of individual sounds generally does not work. A learner with a "th" problem, for example, needs a systemic way to integrate back in all the words that have a repaired "th" in them. In general, that includes a pre-practice warm up of some kind and very focused rhythm work. 
  • Repeating the same workout routines, over and over. There are any number of reasons for that, but the most important is that the body will almost inevitably "beat you" in finding a way to avoid the pain and not continue improving. The same goes for excessive repetition of wordlists, etc. (There are some systems that do a great deal of repetition effectively but those generally involve choral repetition with a very savvy instructor.) The EHIEP system focuses on efficient anchoring, with as few repetitions as necessary, generally 4 or 5, max. 
  • Doing long workouts - One of the greatest breakthroughs in the last decade in physical training has been the discovery that relatively short, highly selective, sequenced and spaced exercise is far more effective than long sessions--and never on consecutive days. We've discovered that short, 1 or 2-minute interventions in class and 20-minute homework practice routines (done every other day) are best. 

If I'm not mistaken, that sums it up pretty well!

1 comment:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

The nasty "th" sound is the bane of most Eastern SLL's. I contextualize it with a weather song by Bill Nye, the science guy!

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