Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What teachers must know about pronunciation teaching!

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Found an interesting 2012 study by Wahid and Sulong entitled, "The Gap Between Research and Practice in the Teaching of English Pronunciation: Insights from Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices." Their conclusion is that teachers need to know more and researchers need to be better at talking to them. Amen. One interesting finding was that the teachers in that study identified their "pronunciation" work as follows. (Frequency of teaching activity chart from page 136):

Repeating a sound after the teacher (as in error correction) - 23; Reading aloud - 22; Dictionary work - 10; Oral drills e.g. tongue twisters - 9; Choral reading - 3; Games - 2; Role-play - 2.

Now, granted, that may be a bit "extreme," in that today, at least among those teachers more exposed to contemporary methodology we would expect a wider range of activities and explicit pronunciation instruction (e.g., Baker, 2012.) 

Recently, on a professional discussion board of pronunciation researchers, the question came up as to exactly WHAT teachers should know. (Kudos to Levis of Iowa State University who got the original discussion going.) I later gave my grad students that list and asked them to order and edit it some. Here is basically what they came up with.  (Note the obvious bias on that first item on the list!) 
  • Pronunciation work should be embodied in movement as much as possible.
  • Spoken language is different from written language. 
  • Pronunciation actually does matter.
  • There is always time to include pronunciation. 
  • All well-trained teachers can teach pronunciation effectively. 
  • Any thoughtful pronunciation work is better than none. 
  • Suprasegmentals are pronunciation. 
  • There must be a working familiarity with segmental and suprasegmental features of speech. 
  • Teachers must learn how to put more emphasis on suprasegmentals. 
  • Teachers must understand how to systematically integrate pronunciation into language teaching. 
  • Pronunciation can be included in or integrated in classes for all language skills.
  • Pronunciation is closely connected to receptive skills and should be taught that way. 
  • Some pronunciation issues should be made explicit while others can be left implicit. 
  • Student needs should drive pronunciation rather than pre-selected targets. 
  • Teachers must listen to and identify L2 speech problems, separating pronunciation from other elements of spoken language.
  • Pronunciation work does not disrespect a learner’s L1, home culture or identity.
  • Thought groups/tone units are the basis of all prosody work.
  • Vocabulary should always be taught with elements of pronunciation, such as the stress pattern. 
  • The word is the basic conceptual unit for pronunciation.
  • Awareness of vowel duration and the alternation of long and short syllables is essential. 
  • Stress-timed rhythm and syllable-timed rhythm may both be appropriate depending on the context. 
  • Some errors are more important than others. 
  • There must be practice in marking errors and classifying them according to importance. 
  • Teachers must know how to provide useful feedback. 
  • Teachers must understand how to help learners develop automaticity.
  • Teachers must know how to teach compensatory strategies such as oral spelling.
Interesting list. What do you know . . .

1 comment:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

This list just about summarizes everything important about pronunciation that I've learned over the years. I wonder what is meant by this item: "Some pronunciation issues should be made explicit while others can be left implicit." Would that be related to the fact that some errors are more important than others? What is missing is a hierarchical classification of errors.

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