This was the subject of my Master’s dissertation, which I finished in 2003. To be more accurate, my focus was on communicative pronunciation and how 14 best-selling elementary level course books almost completely ignored it. Seven years on, the same is happening with today’s courses.
Yesterday, I came across an article by Adrian Underhill who argued similar sentiments. He said:
“… pronunciation teaching has been neglected and that … In spite of the development of interesting teaching materials … it remains the poor relation of language teaching, poorly related to the rest of what happens in the language classroom.”
Underhill compares how pronunciation has been left behind, compared with other skills:
“While much has changed in the last few decades in how we teach grammar, vocabulary, collocation, context and meaning I suggest that pronunciation is still rooted in an essentially behaviourist paradigm of listen, identify, discriminate and repeat.”
His most striking comment for me was this:
“Teachers do their best to integrate pronunciation but for many it remains a supplement to the main diet of most lessons, often relegated in lessons and course books to ‘pron slots’.”
The research in my dissertation (51 criteria applied to the 327 pronunciation activities in the 14 course books) showed the coursebooks did relegate pronunciation to “pron slots”. More worrying for me is that the way the coursebooks covered pronunciation ran counter to their back-cover blurbs that they present “communicative pronunciation”. This was not evident in any of my research.
A brief summary of my findings shows:
Key indicators supportive of this are that in most activities there was…
- a minimal regard for communication and communicative competence
- a massive segmental to suprasegmental imbalance (80.43% to 16.21%)
- an extensive use of listen-and-repeat and other mechanical techniques and absolutely nothing on analyzing discourse
- a more or less total disregard for discourse competence and intonation – no activities contextually based on the listening activities in the books
- an isolated and fragmented nature of pronunciation
- a lack of comprehensible input in listening activities
- a non-communicative design and presentation method
How this manifests itself in course books:
A few very short activities per unit that are based on sounds, word stress and a formulaic sentence stress. Rarely are any of these related to anything else on the page.
What should happen:
The above, plus elision, juncture, intrusiveness, etc, weak forms, intonation, and most importantly (?) the function of intonation in discourse and the reason for taking intonational choices.
My recommendations for change:
- pronunciation needs to be integrated with the listening activities in coursebooks rather than being standalone, isolated activities
- activities on intonation focusing on making intonational choices with confidence and success
- moving from the overuse of minimal-pairs to working on sounds in communicative contexts
- a greater focus on observing rapidly spoken speech
- focus less on prescribed patterns in sterile contexts and more on real patterns in real speech
- move from word-by-word citational forms to tone units
- less mechanical recitation to increased awareness of what constitutes the linguistic blur of streamed speech (elision, juncture, etc.)
- from reciting syllables to counting syllables, from making a sound longer to recognizing its saliency of length, and from guessing to recognizing rises and falls in intonation
- from alphabetized transcription devices to ones involving greater sensory involvement, especially phonemic charts
True? How can we rectify this?