Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Killing pronunciation 5: Deliberate (boring) practice and the Passion-Practice paradox

Pronunciation enthusiasts can be some of the most energetic, entertaining and gesticular among us . . . unfortunately. (Mea culpa!)

Require your students to do boring and repetitive pronunciation in class or homework much? (Do you hold them accountable for quality practice outside of class?) If you have been following the blog for a while, you know that I am a big fan of James Clear. If you need to change something--most anything--and you probably still don't need a coach or therapist to help get you there, his website is worth a visit. His latest post, "The Behavior-change paradox", combined with Eduardo Briceno's TED talk on "How to get better at things you care about" forms a nice program for change of sorts--even pronunciation change!

"Deliberate practice" is back in vogue. One of the great "myths" of our time is that most anything can be learned at near light speed, relatively speaking. The typical pitch from quick-change methodologists (and con artists) such as "change your accent FAST!" reflects that legacy of both behaviorism and technology, especially the latter--and marketing, of course.

The two pieces of the Clear-Briceno model are (simply) consistent, incremental change and focused passion. You need both. Clear's analysis of why we often fail to make change in our habits is simple, but striking, and captures the passion-practice paradox: the more we try to change in the short term or the harder we go at it, the more resistance we encounter. Effective change over time is generally based on disciplined alteration of key practices at the day or even hour-by-hour level.

In other words, in pronunciation teaching, motivating learners, impacting their "cognition", assisting them in planning or thinking about their personal goals and objectives can be pretty much pointless, or worse, unless they know how to practice effectively on a near daily basis. Furthermore, that work is for the most part not sexy or exciting, but often boring--and most importantly--progress at that level is generally not perceptible, although over time it will be.

Do you do that? How is your "passion-practice" balance, especially in assigning homework or getting learners charged up, self-directed and autonomous? If you function in a language lab or do a lot of pronunciation on the web, you may be off the hook somewhat, of course. Now we know why the lab and technology are making a serious comeback in the field--and may eventually replace us all!

In the meantime, if you are having issues with your diet, exercise, budgeting or metaphysical discipline, check out the Clear post (and maybe even download is longer, more detailed instructions on how to get your act together.) Then have a focused, professional talk with your students on incremental, manageable practicing of their pronunciation and their L2 in general . . . regularly.

Before you do, you might also want to check with your local personal fitness training coach or "haptician" on some effective ways to do that!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Killing pronunciation 4: Dis-integrated vs prior schema-based pronunciation change

What does it mean to "integrate" pronunciation work into "regular" instruction? And if you do, how do you know if it "worked"--or why? : Caveat emptor: Without informed, systematic follow up, most pronunciation instruction is probably a crap shoot, dicey at best. 

That thought was again inspired, in part, by a recent article in the new Handbook of  Pronunciation Teaching by Sicola and Darcy entitled: Integrating Pronunciation into the Language Classroom.  

To access the chapter you have to buy the Handbook itself, prices ranging from about $125 to $195USD, plus tax and shipping, or just the online chapter itself for about $35USD--or from about 6 vente carmel frapps up to around 40!

In essence, Sicola and Darcy argue that since there is a range of pronunciation teaching techniques and strategies that have been shown to produce some gain or results in reported practice or quasi-experimental studies, then when integrated into general classroom instruction--as opposed to being taught in a separate class or individualized work online-- they should work in that integrated context, too. Really? I think they are maybe half right, but they have almost no "hard" evidence to support that claim.

An earlier post focused on why figuring out whether or not a method works can be so problematic in education today: basically, integrated instruction can mask the actual impact of individual techniques and procedures, such as homework--or pronunciation. Context of instruction trumps technique, almost always.

The near consensus among researchers investigating in-class feedback and correction, for example, as unpacked in a recent blogpost, is now that for genuine, effective uptake to occur in pronunciation work it must be predominantly in follow up that it occurs not in initial in-class presentation and practice -- or homework, but as it followed up on later and repeatedly (Rosario et al, 2015).

So, how do you best set up the key pronunciation schema that you need to use in everyday instruction, in little vignettes or mini-lessons inserted into speaking, listening, reading and writing courses, or . . . in something like the old reliable, stand alone "pronunciation class" that provided the basic training that was then followed up on or used spontaneously during incidental "teachable moments"  by any and all instructors in the program at large?

Where are we headed? My guess: back to good "out of class" experience and basic pronunciation  training, either in the form of specific pronunciation-designated classes or something analogous, such as web-based training,  that is then referred back to by instructors in integrated pronunciation work all over the place and curriculum. In other words, pronunciation techniques should be part of everybody's tool kit but ideally the basic training should occur someplace else, before the problem is addressed in class. Our colleagues who do public speaking and voice training have had this right for decades.

The sooner some of what passes for (one-shot-mini-lesson-in-the-middle-of-something-else-with-no-clear-follow-up-based) integrated instruction disintegrates, the better! (It already has in haptic pronunciation instruction, of course, should you need a great model of how to do it!)


Rosario, P., Nunez, J., Vallejo, G., Cunha, J., Nunes, T., Suarez, N., Fuentes, S. & Moreira, T. (2015). The effects of teachers' homework follow-up practices on students' EFL performance: a randomized-group design. Retrieved from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01528/full.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Killing pronunciation 3: Grit

To the "gritty" student, there can be nothing more frustrating than pointless, unproductive pronunciation homework--or even worse, none at all.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know I am a big fan of James Clear. If you need to change something--most anything--and you still don't need a coach or therapist to help get you there, his website is worth a visit. His latest post on "building mental toughness" linked to an earlier piece: Grit: a complete guide on being mentally tough. (Embedded in that post is a TED talk by Duckworth, on "grit" which you should also watch if you haven't already.)

Grit is defined in a number of ways but, basically, it means having the strength of character to persevere to ones goals. 

Grit is a key variable in success in pronunciation, I'm sure, although I have been unable to find a good study to verify that. My own experience with accent reduction clients is that to fix their accent  they need just two thing: grit and money (and time, of course.)

Where that especially comes into play is in homework--my current area of research in preparation for a panel at the 2017 TESOL Convention later this month. If you have a student who has real grit, in terms of pronunciation homework, can you provide him or her with sufficient direction as to what to work on and practice outside of class? I have been asking that question repeatedly of late and the overwhelming response from instructors is . . . No!

In fact some instructors have replied that monitored and required practice outside of class, such as drill and repetition and oral reading is probably not worth the effort. And even if it is, "how am I to know whether it was done well or productively?"

There you have it. One of Clear's key principles, based on current research, is that in developing grit the learner must NOT rely on motivation but on habit, on discipline. But for a student to do that, there must be clear guidance and assignments.

How do your homework assignments and guidance to your students on how to improve their pronunciation stack up with that criteria? Probably not all that well, right? This is big, actually. We are just coming out of a period where focus on motivation and meta-cognition (thought and planning about pronunciation change) have been enormously influential.

One of Clear's other principles in developing it is to: Build grit with small physical wins. There are any number of ways to do that, of course, but it takes a consistent, coherent method at least. In pronunciation work, that is or should be a "gimme!"

EHIEP is based on the idea that embodied (gesture-based) homework/practice is key. The success of the system relies on establishing cognitive schema (haptic cognition) such that subsequent in class or incidental learning or correction of pronunciation will happen efficiently, as the learn relates back to the model or rule learned earlier. (That is one of the most important findings in research on incidental correction in class of pronunciation.) In general, homework is carefully prescribed to help create such schema and students need to "homework" at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes to facilitate that, preferably every day.

It takes "true grit" to do that -- and manage it. If that is not part of your current method and "growth mindset" (Dweck, 2016), "Clear" up your current pedagogical habits and grit back to us!