Sunday, September 10, 2017

Killing pronuciation 8: Unproductive goals and their "goalees!"

Clker.com
The goal (of this) post is to at least partially relieve you of the burden of meeting many of your pronunciation teaching goals--and suggest a better way to reach them! Or at least "Clear-ify" them!

How would you describe your students' personal goals in terms of their English pronunciation, or their L2 learning in general? What would they tell you? Where did they come from? Do they work? Do they make sense? How do you work with them? Are they clear? Are you clear? Good questions. More research needed . . .

 One of the apparent "problems" with pronunciation teaching we are told is unrealistic or "utopian" goals (Derwing, 2010). There is certainly some of that, to be sure.

The actual problem, however, based on a new piece by James Clear, Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead: Continuous Improvement, may be the practice of (unproductive) goal setting in the first place. (If you, personally, have defective goals, that is a great piece for sorting things out. Clear is good, very good.) Clear's basic point: progress is generally best achieved by following a method, not by simply "keeping your eye on the prize", not by ad libbing your way along with exercises and practice decisions. Good advice, but how do we do that? What's the method?

I am always interested in what pronunciation teaching books recommend to students and instructors regarding goals. Here is a typical example from Learning  English VOA News that really doesn't say much but is actually about half right (The sentence in italics!):

"Start by setting a reasonable goal. Choose one or two sounds that are difficult for you to pronounce. Then, work to improve those sounds. When you have improved, study other sounds. Progress might be slow for you, but don't give up!" There is no clue there or on the website as to HOW you work or practice, but the idea that you commit to an ongoing process of improvement is what Clear is referring to. 

That VOA prescription is still at least as helpful as the typical, high-level, intelligibility-centered goal approach:
  • "Aim for intelligibility, not accuracy"
  • "Model yourself on an articulate educated L2 speaker of English from your L1"
 Or the more entertaining accent reduction approach:
What Clear is talking about, based on research in physical training, motivation and discipline development, is that what works is commitment to a method, in effect letting the method take over and (get ready!) . . . following it consistently. Hence, the conundrum in contemporary teaching, in general.

On the one hand we want students to take responsibility and control over their learning; on the other, we want them to do what we know is best for them. Short of handing it off to the computer, which is on the horizon to be sure, what do you do? The answer is "clear", a method. Here is a little check list, based on Clear's general framework, of what that method should probably include. You don't need all the pieces but probably most of them, depending on your available "tool kit!"
  • Clear sense of what needs to be done.
  • Clear, relatively complete procedures for working on the problem sound/sound process, including recommended time-on-task instructions.
  • Clear feedback from something/body periodically
  • Clear guidelines for out-of class or independent practice and exploration
  • Clear reporting or journaling on work/progress.
  • Clear signs of progress becoming evident.  
  • Clear criteria as to when the goal is achieved.
  • Clear understanding and trust between the learner and the instructor.
  • And, of course, clear commitment to ongoing progress as "the goal", not just some unattainable model. 
Are we clear on that? If not, ask your local haptician (instructor trained in haptic pronunciation teaching) or personal trainer at the gym about her method.


Derwing, T. M. (2010). Utopian goals for pronunciation teaching. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.), Proceedings of the 1st Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference,




1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

The implication of this post reminded me of when I was back in grad school at the ELI at the University of Michigan, probably in 1976 or 1977. All the grad assistants were given mandatory training in Counseling/Community language learning by two of the method's founders. At the beginning of the morning of the first of two days we were told something to the effect that: "I know you are going to have questions about the training and the language practice that we will ask you to do, but we have good reasons and experience in this process and will answer all your questions at the end of the workshop tomorrow afternoon. (You can imagine how that comment went down with the grad students!) In the meantime, please just trust us . . ." Getting to method is tricky. Just ask your local brainwashing specialist!

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