Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Incidental Correction of Pronunciation

MA Thesis defense here (Trinity Western University) today by Rebeka delaMorandiere: Incidental Correction of Pronunciation: Beliefs and Classroom Practice. The thesis itself will be accessible later this spring. Very good work.


In English language teaching, pronunciation is making something of a “comeback”. Since the late 1970s, in part as a response to structural methods, pronunciation has generally been downplayed. Today, it is being integrated back into communicative and task-based teaching, with the recommendation that it be addressed according to an “intelligibility”, rather than “native speaker”, model. With these developments have arisen new questions about error-correction.

In the past, it was expected that errors be immediately corrected, whereas today, errors tend to be corrected when they interfere with intelligibility, providing teachable moments for learning. With a focus on intelligibility, incidental correction occurs based on observed student needs during meaning-focused tasks; this kind of error correction is well known as a subset of “focus on form” instruction (Long, 1991). It is suggested that feedback is effective if it is salient, systematic and engaging for the student. Despite several recent studies suggesting effective techniques for correcting pronunciation (Saito and Lyster, 2012; Saito, 2015; and Lee and Lyster, 2015), studies focusing on incidental correction of pronunciation in an integrated, task-based program are lacking (cf. Foote et al., 2013).

A qualitative study was conducted at an English for academic purposes institution in Vancouver, British Columbia. About six hours of instruction were observed, 54 students were surveyed, and five instructors were interviewed regarding their beliefs about pronunciation-related incidental corrective feedback in the classroom.

Overall, results suggest that incidental correction of pronunciation targeted segmental errors (e.g., consonants and vowels), mainly in student-fronted contexts such as presentations or read-aloud activities. Incidental correction focusing on suprasegmentals (e.g., focus words and connected speech), though minimal, was evident in discussion activities. The survey revealed that students prefer pronunciation correction that involves negotiation rather than direct recasts, i.e., students prefer to be prompted for the correct answer rather than being provided with it. Students, especially in the higher proficiency level classes, tended to be wary of correction that might interrupt their “thoughts”. Surprisingly, without directly being elicited, the predominant theme that arose from the instructor interviews was the need for comfort and trust in the classroom, with instructors believing that correction is necessary and important, but not if it will increase student stress and anxiety.

Based on these findings, a preliminary framework for incidental corrective feedback of pronunciation is outlined, including suggestions for when and how feedback could have occurred in the observed classes. In conclusion, the contemporary definition of “incidental” is revisited, suggesting directions for further research and practice in incidental pronunciation correction.

There is even a "touch" of haptic pronunciation intervention as well!

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