Saturday, May 4, 2013

I love it (and me) when I say it that way: Affirming pronunciation errors

The role and impact of mispronunciation are multi-faceted, from how society perceives the lack of fit to the L1, to the learner's attitude toward such forms and how it affects everything from identity to ability to recognize the problem and attempts to improve. The stance of most contemporary theorists is to attempt to downplay the need for high levels of accuracy and help the learner feel more comfortable with errors and general risk-taking, especially if they are clearly developmental in nature, reassuring all concerned that either things will get better soon with some attention to pronunciation-- or society will  eventually "mature" and be more accepting.  

Clip art: Clker
Now assuming that assuming a more "healthy" attitude toward your errors is beneficial . . .  (Who could argue with that or define adequately what that might mean?) . . . how would you, as instructor, best facilitate that? Recent research by Legault and  Inzlicht of the University of Toronto, and Al-Khindi of Johns Hopkins University, reported in Science Daily, looking at the impact of self-affirmation on response to, and productive engagement with, mistakes, suggests some classroom strategies that may be helpful. In the study, subjects that did a paper and pencil exercise where they listed and briefly justified what they identified were their most important values were subsequently able to perform better on a task that required responding quickly to errors and making appropriate adjustments. (Another treatment group did a similar values-based task but focused, instead, on why the values at the lower end of the ranking were not that significant for them. )

Here is where the Cognitive Phonologists and many contemporary embodiment theorists have it absolutely correct. There are any number of good techniques for setting up that "affirmative" frame of mind or attitude, not just toward errors, but general L2 identity. In AH-EPS, the precision upper body movements and vocal resonance should serve something of the same function. (Our students consistently report tangible changes in self-confidence and "body image.") You're going to love it when you do it this way--make no mistake about it!

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