Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Classless" pronunciation teaching and "miscue-aggression"?

Attended a delightful, engaging, stimulating and very well presented workshop on teaching pronunciation last week--by a charismatic, former drama teacher who had been teaching a twice-weekly pronunciation course for college ESL students for well over a decade. After the session, in the hall, one of the less experienced participants remarked: "Phenomenal presentation . . . but I couldn't possibly use any of those techniques in my class!" No kidding. Why not?

One of the most "striking" techniques demonstrated was when the teacher or student would comically hit a student over the head with an artificial daisy whenever he or she made a pronunciation miscue. The presenter remarked, in fact, that in all her years of teaching pronunciation she had never had a student complain about being corrected. And, after just an hour in the presence of that presenter, I don't doubt that . . .for a minute.

Two reasons most of what was presented was pretty much "in-applicable" to most of us in the audience. First, rapport. The presenter was one of those gifted teachers who almost instantly creates a safe and yet wildly creative milieu where learners will engage in extraordinary risk taking and not be threatened in the least. Second, and related, was the fact that many of the techniques demonstrated required that kind of "wide open" classroom setting to work effectively and especially--efficiently, in the first place.

The point: so often what can be done in a dedicated pronunciation class or language lab, with all its relational and situational constraints and social contracts, cannot be done in an integrated classroom setting where pronunciation is taught or attended to only piecemeal or occasionally or on a more impromptu basis. As research has demonstrated convincingly, instructors and students alike do not generally feel comfortable with much of how pronunciation is taught today. With good reason.
Photo: Dartmouth.edu

The affective and emotional context of pronunciation teaching is critical, even more so than for many other aspects of language teaching. In a dedicated "dramatic" class, strange things may work well; in an integrated "classless" setting, the rules and consequences can be very different. The "take way" from the dramatic, engaging workshop: Very little . . .

John Rassias (1925-2015) where are you when we need you?


  1. John Rassias: should have been cloned. The 60-minutes interview of him was one of their best.

    Hot Dog Man

  2. I attended a John Rassias workshop years ago and enjoyed it very much. But, the problem with the Rassias Method, from my perspective, is that it is too "teacher centered." Most of the work must be done by the teacher in a "dramatic" fashion utilizing a lot of audio-lingual drill. This may be good for starters, but, I believe, encouraging learners to express feeling through sound and language based on their own creative impulses not only engages learners more fully (since they are doing the "work") and makes for more holistic playing in the classroom that leads to well supported (mental, physical, emotional) pronunciation practice.

  3. I, too, attended a Rassias workshop. It was a game changer for me. His theory was that what went on in a Rassias model class freed learners to do what you recommend as well. Our psychological model of how instruction impacts learner identity and learning has changed radically. Used to be we were required to leave it with the learner to put the rest of the pieces together; now we have to provide more of them . . .