Saturday, July 20, 2013

Inattention to pronunciation (teaching)

Why does pronunciation instruction often not "take," that is why are learners often unable to integrate new and changed sounds and words into their speaking? This new research by Drew, Vo and Wolfe of Brigham Young University, summarized by Science Daily, on "inattentional blindness," suggests something of an answer. One conclusion of the study was that "When engaged in a demanding task, attention can act like a set of blinders, making it possible for stimuli to pass, undetected, right in front of our eyes," At least in classroom-based instruction, for most, the central task in focus on pronunciation is generally linking sound to graphemes or text-based representations of speech, visual images.

Contemporary theorists and methodologists have argued strongly that such "work" should best be highly contextualized, what is termed "focus on form," where the flow of a speaking, listening, reading or writing task is momentarily frozen in time while some aspect of pronunciation is "attended" to, probably explained, drilled and then re-contextualized, back in the "story." The case for that perspective in vocabulary teaching is far stronger, although weakening with recent research as well. In other words, decontextualized work on pronunciation and vocabulary paradigms is now re-emerging as potentially much more effective than meaning, communication, narrative and fluency-biased approaches have suggested. (I realize that is quite a sweeping generalization. Research reported in previous posts has more than established that principle.)

So what is the practical implication for our work? It is this: Highly communicative and engaging tasks may not be the best venue for at least basic pronunciation training in the form of interdictions and "pointing out" errors, etc. At the very least, if we are committed to "in-line" pronunciation instruction, then the treatment must be designed to stick, without having to compete unnecessarily with the visual and experiential  process of storing in memory the main, engaging story. Now how could one do that? (The "haptic" solution in tomorrow's blogpost!)

No comments:

Post a Comment