Monday, May 20, 2019

Killing pronunciation 11: Ortho-phon-a-phobia

Number 11 in the "Killing Pronunciation" series of blogposts.

Ortho-phon-a-phobia or OPP, fear of correcting or correct pronunciation, a term I just coined, was inspired by new research from McComb and Mills of York University on orthorexia nervosa: Orthorexia nervosa: A review of psycho-social risk factors  (To see the previous 10 posts, just enter "Killing Pronunciation" in the blog search field!) The parallel between the two psycho-social "conditions" is, well, near frightening . . . From the summary in Neuroscience News:

"Orthorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder associated with a pathological obsession with healthy eating, has been associated with OCD traits, poor body image, preoccupation with personal appearance and a prior history of eating disorders. Researchers report those who practise vegetarianism or veganism are at an increased risk of developing orthorexia."

Now, granted, I sometimes go pretty far analogically afield in exploring the dynamics of (haptic) pronunciation teaching, but the connection is not as much a stretch as it might at first appear. Two diagnostic questions for you:
  • Are you afraid of correcting pronunciation? 
  • Are you afraid of talking about "correct" pronunciation? (For fear of sounding pedagogically incorrect in suggesting a specific model of accuracy or dialect to learners?)
If so, then, you got it: OPP. My condolences . . . but there is an antidote! Notice the specific features:
  • Obsession with healthy eating (Read: just intelligible pronunciation, instead of aiming at a higher target)
  • OCD (Obsessive compulsive disorder) (Read: need to control every nanosecond of class time or tending to view L2 pronunciation as pathology)
  • Poor body image (Read: dislike of moving body when speaking or doing gesture/kinaesthetic or haptic techniques--or any number of psycho-social or cultural reasons)
  • Preoccupation with personal appearance (Read: neurosis brought on by teachers who worry excessively about relationship of pronunciation to identity, instructor's or learners'--or not quite enough)
  • Prior history of eating disorders (read: past experience with really bad or null pronunciation teaching, either as learner or instructor)
I said there is a cure. Have no fear! The meta-analysis suggests a couple basic principles that apply to both orthorexia and orthophonaphobia; (1) treatment must be multidisciplinary and integrated, psycho-social, and (2) the "problem" must be faced incrementally and systematically, with multiple methodologies, not through simple avoidance or replacement

What that means is that for effective feedback and correction of pronunciation, teaching the sound system in isolation, as a parallel discourse or channel, should be abandoned; it must be blended, instead, into all class work so that "it" becomes a normal, everyday, appreciated and low stress activity. (For examples of how to do that, see Jones, 2016, listed below.)

Most importantly, however, the idea that you can or should "ignore" or shield students from confronting or dealing with pronunciation errors or being corrected on the spot or models of the L2 that for them may not be realistic to aspire to or aim at (at least in the short term) is just fundamentally wrong.  

Instead, effective instruction requires careful, studied exposure to, not stereotypical rejection of these issues based simply on "desirability" or "achievability" criteria. The effect is to basically inform learners and provide them with controlled practice so they can understand and interact better, not the default of avoidance or uniformed biases . . . 

Integration and inoculation, the cure for orthophonaphobia . . . 

You can either "OPP out" or join those of us in field who do know how to do this and can help you do the same. In addition to taking courses or workshops in pronunciation teaching locally, online or at conferences, for starters, I now recommend two sources: Murphy's books and/or HaPT-Eng courses. 
  • Murphy, J. (2013). Teaching Pronunciation (in the English Language Development Series), available from or elsewhere.
And, of course, Haptic pronunciation teaching courses or webinars!

If you have no background in teaching or pronunciation teaching, pick up at least Murphy's inexpensive 2013 book. (The 2017 text is a great reference, too. Full disclosure: I have a chapter in that book!) and then join us hapticians for the real antidote!


 Jones, T. (Ed.) (2016). Pronunciation in the classroom: the overlooked essential. New York: TESOL

“Orthorexia nervosa: A review of psychosocial risk factors”. McComb, S. and Mills, J.  doi:10.1016/j.appet.2019.05.005

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