Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clear advice: Love your (pronunciation teaching) method!

Have recently "discovered" the popular blog of James Clear who, to quote his self description:  . . . writes about science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick.

I was, of course, immediately hooked when I got to the last word there--and great haptic metaphor! Full disclosure: He is also a weight lifter. Sports and exercise coaches are simply the best when it comes to developing systems that involve movement and discipline--like pronunciation teaching.

He concludes an intriguing post entitled "Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead" with the striking line: "Fall in love with systems!" (Required reading!)

Clear is not referring to "Aims and aspirations" that provide motivation and passion, as described by Wells (2003) :

"What are the student’s personal aims and aspirations in language learning? . . . Some just want enough English to communicate at a basic level, or indeed just enough to pass some examination. Others aim to achieve the best they possibly can. We must cater for both types and for those who fall somewhere between. Speaking personally, I must say that my own aspiration in learning languages is NS-like proficiency. I acknowledge that I may be unlikely to attain it. But that doesn’t stop me aiming for it. I try to inspire my students with the same high ideal. If it were suggested that I should not even aim so high, I should feel short-changed. "

Many describe today's language teaching as "post method," meaning that there are no longer any generally applicable systems that work in a broad range of contexts. Very true. That does not mean, however,  that a "local" method is not necessary. On the contrary . . .

Balancing "high ideals" and feasible process is the trick. For example, the "wrong" kind of goals for learners working on pronunciation are often simply unrealistic, given the time, talent and resources available. Nothing wrong with aiming at NS-like level, unless you are an intermediate-level student with only three months to get there, etc. Even a goal such as "fixing" use of "th" or a particular vowel in a week or two by the same intermediate student can be at best counter-productive. That is especially true without a very rigorous practice regimen handy to direct energy and effort.

Do your students "fall in love" with your system or one that they have adapted from yours? Do you provide them with a "clear" framework detailing their part in the process, understanding of what is behind it and how it facilitates progress? Do you follow up with them consistently on how they are doing and how they working in it?

Clear's point is that making change "stick," which demands discipline and limiting attention and focus, also requires commitment to a set of principles and consistent scheduling--along with having confidence and trust in both the system and the provider of it. Once a learner's general, realistic goal has been articulated and locked in, attention (and passion) must shift to the systematic "heavy lifting" of the day-to-day training process and stay there. Trust, love (and obey) the method, the system! (See his framework for getting started in that direction.) What an absolutely radical, "retro" notion today!

Do you have a "clear" one-page description of your system that students can easily understand, follow--and love? A quick review of published pronunciation textbooks didn't turn up anything close to that. I am working on one now (for haptic pronunciation teaching) that will serve as a model for my graduate students in applied phonology this semester to follow as they develop their own.

I'll share that shortly here, too,  a "loveable" system of sorts. If you have a good one now, please pass it on. I'll create a "Love-my-methods" page off the blog to display them.

Love to see yours . . .

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