jueves, 26 de febrero de 2015

A PS to my latest post: Pronunciation goals and models - Part 2: What the experts say

Pronunciation goals and models - Part 2 - What the experts say

In one of my latest posts, I discussed a number of key questions we should ask ourselves when deciding what accent to teach, what we would like our students to achieve, how we would like to go about it, among other issues for pronunciation planning.

In this post, I intend to briefly review what the "big names" in pronunciation teaching have said. As usual, some disclaimers acting as a "foreword":

  • I will be mostly referring to "pronunciation goals", but I will also be including issues connected to "pronunciation models" as well.
  • In spite of the fact that much of the current bibliography does not favour the terms "native" or "non-native", I will employ them in this post, for the sake of clarity.
  • I have organised the information chronologically, from the latest editions of the materials reported, to the earliest.
  • This is by far NOT all the bibliography on the topic, but I have decided to begin by referring to those materials which are very popular in the ELT world.
  • I will not pass (explicit) judgement on the views presented by the authors. As I claim in my previous post, the teaching contexts that exist for English lessons are so vast, that a single answer, a single target, cannot be set as "universal", so I think that all these authors have a great contribution to make to the debate.

Brown establishes three "I"s in the setting up of pronunciation targets: Intelligibility, Image and Identity.

Intelligibility is seen as a "scalar continuum" including notions of both "intra-" and "inter" national range. Brown reviews notions of "restricted intelligibility" (Cruttenden, 2001) and "comfortable intelligibility" (Abercrombie, 1956). The author believes that the difference between these ideas lies on the original authors' standpoints: whereas Cruttenden on Gimson's behalf discusses the notion of intelligiblity from a native speaker's perspective, Jenkins (seen as represented by Abercrombie's view) responds to communication in English among non-native speakers. Brown also introduces another of Gimson's points: high acceptability. This is defined as "a level of attainment in production, which for the native listener, is as readily intelligible as that of a native RP speaker and which is not immediately recognizable as foreign" (Cruttenden 1995: 276). Brown comments on the fact that acceptability is generally put together with intelligibility, and poses the question "intelligible and acceptable to whom?".

The second "I" is "image", and it has got to do with the way non-native speakers of English want to be perceived by others (a sort of "face giving" idea, I guess).

The third "I" refers to "identity", and it covers a very important aspect regarding accents, which other authors refer to "ego permeability": how much of the foreign accent you want to attain in order to keep your "identity", your idea of self. 
Quoting Tabouret-Keller (1985), Brown acknowledges that linguistic behaviour has a role to play in both personal identity and social roles, which is why all these three "I"s are in fact, in tension. This continuum of targets has been presented by Brown, thus:

Cruttenden first acknowledges that even though RP (GB) used to be the native-speaker accent taken as the norm in ELT, nowadays it competes with other native accents, such as General American (GA) or Australian English. The author admits that many English language users have "no realistic possibility or necessity to acquire a standard native-like accent" (p.327). Those learners using English as a Lingua Franca or as an L2 may want to acquire an "Amalgam English" accent, "based on an amalgam of native speaker Englishes, together with some local features arising from a local L1". Likewise, they may want to use what is known as "International English". Cruttenden admits the distinction between these Englishes would not be easy to make, and associates the former variety to a "hybrid between American and British varieties, and possibly varieties from the southern hemisphere and the Caribbean as well....and transfer from the local L1". International English includes features of Amalgam English plus tolerating "a much wider adaptation to features common in other languages".

Derwing, T and M. Munro (2014) "Accent and intelligibility: cracking the conundrum". In Speak Out, Issue 50 (pp. 12-16).

These authors present a number of studies aimed at discussing perceptions of non-native accents of English. They discuss the notion of intelligibility as "the degree of a listener’s actual comprehension of an utterance", and cross-compare it with perceptions of comprehensibility "listeners’ perceptions of how easy or difficult it is to understand speech" and accentedness, the "the result of differences in speech patterns compared to a local variety". They have found that many samples of speech rating high in accentedness were also highly intellibigle, thus, both features are seen to be independent. Comprehensibility, however, is more closely connected to intelligibility, though still retaining some independence as well. The authors summarise the role of these three variables, thus: "accent is about difference; comprehensibility concerns the listener’s effort; and intelligibility is the end result: how much the listener actually understands (Munro, 2008)". 
Derwing and Munro advocate explicit pronunciation instruction but with the right focus on intelligibility and comprehensibility, as at times focusing on reducing accentedness may lead to a neglect of these other factors, more essential for communication, or threaten a learner's identity, the authors claim. Plus, the authors believe that many features of accent are non-volitional, and thus, "outside the speaker's control". Therefore, they believe that "ione is intelligible and comprehensible, one’s expression of identity will be more effective", so in other words, training on these first features will enhance the possibilities for self-expression. Derwing and Munro also point out that communication is two-way, and listeners also have an important bearing on the whole process, so their willingness to contribute to the process and leave aside prejudice is essential. 
More research is needed, the authors conclude, to establish the weight of the different variables in different contexts of communication and instruction.

This author invites us to ask ourselves a few questions in order to reflect about our "gut feelings" regarding foreign accents:
  • Imagine you are talking in your first language to a NNS. The person doesn't speak your language ver well and is difficult to understand. What do you do?
  • What do you say when the NNS apologises for their poor accent?
  • How do you feel when a NNS pronounces your name wrong?
  • How do you feel when you meet a NNS who speaks you language with a near perfect accent?
Rogerson-Revell acknowledges the complexity of the targets issue, and reminds the reader that "pronunciation can be a more sensitive area of language learning than other areas, such as grammar and vocabulary, in that it involves modification of accent which can raise issues of attitude and identity". Rogerson refers to the view of Kenworthy 1987 and Roach 2000 regarding the "need for teachers to acquire a high level of proficiency in target language pronunciation", while "willing to consider ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) goals for students". These conflicting interests add to the goal of intelligiblity, the ideas of performance and proficiency as well.

Walker vastly reviews bibliography and statistics that prove that English is a global language, and that non-native speakers of English are by far more likely to communicate with other non-native speakers of English than with speakers of English as an L1. This author believes that "the primary goal of teaching pronunciation must now be to make learners intelligible to the greatest number of people possible, and not just to the native speakers of the language". Added to this, Walker remarks that "many users from Expanding Circle may want to retain their local accent as a mark of their identity". (BTW, the "Expanding Circle" refers to one of the layers of Krachu's 1985 model describing the profiles of English users, consisting of "those countries where English is neither a first language, a second language, nor an official language" (Walker, 2010:4)).
As regards the ideas of intelligibility and identity, Walker refers to Kirkpatrick's (2007) continuum of functions, going from "mutual intelligibility" towards "identity". Apart from these two goals, Walker includes Dalton and Seildhofer's (1994) reference to the notion of "teachability". These three goals need to be considered in an ELF approach, as the "Lingua Franca Core", the set of features of pronunciation set up as essential to ensure successful communication among non-native speakers of English also ensures teachability (as they can be achieved through classroom teacing) and identity, as learners can retain features of their local accents, Walker states.

More on ELF and the LFC:
Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson's blog: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/

The authors review a number of groups of English learners that require a high level of intelligibility: "foreign language assistants; foreign born technical, business and professional employees; international business people and diplomats; refugees in resettlement and vocational training programmes; teachers of English as a foreign language who are non-native speakers of the language (who expect to serve as the major model and source of input in English for their students); people in non-English-speaking countries working as tour-guides, hotel staff, customs agents."

However, they acknowledge that in spite of this need for high intelligibility, a native-like pronunciation can be an unrealistic goal. The authors believe that learners should be able to "surpass the threshold level so that their pronunciation will not detract from their ability to communicate" (p.8)

Donna Brinton's numerous presentation slides: http://es.slideshare.net/brinton

In the introduction to the really valuable set of activities in this book, Hewings presents a number of questions. One of those questions is related to the accent that students should be taught, which depends on:
  • the contexts that the students will be using English at
  • the low or high status of certain varieties in the teaching context
  • the inclination students may have to speak a certain variety
  • the teaching materials available
  • the accent the teacher her/himself happens to have.
Hewings presents a distinction between a model as a "target" (a pronunciation standard to which students or the teacher select or aspire to), and one as a "point of reference" (a model presented as an acceptable guide, as long as it does not interfere with communication)

The second question relates to "how good" our students' pronunciation should get. This is a key question in the bibliography, as the "native speaker" is no longer the rule when it comes to English for communication, and Hewings also claims that some students may not even find this "desirable", or it may not be really "achievable". This author believes that an "appropriate and reasonable goal is to achieve an English pronunciation which is usually understandable in international communication, but retains unobtrusive features of a non-English accent". 
However, Hewings alerts the readers to the fact that there are a few factors that may influence our choice of features and targets. The fact that younger learners can easily "pick up" foreign accent features, for example, may lead us to aim for a more "native like" variety if we wished. Another feature Hewings considers is the "tolerance or experience" of the interlocutors our learners will be interacting with.

Kelly defines pronunciation model as "the pronunciation characteristics of the language a teacher presents to learners in the classroom". This author makes a point of the fact that teachers need to be aware of different variants and accents of English, and of the present role of RP as well. He concludes that teachers can "work on issues of production and reception independently, enabling students to understand a wide range of varieties, while allowing them to choose their own target model so long as it is widely comprehensible". As a final piece of advice, Kelly suggests that teachers should "teach what they know and use, and be as informed as they can be about other varieties".

Gerald Kelly's Twitter account: https://twitter.com/GeraldKellywork

Pennington adopts a "variationist approach" to teaching phonology, which implies that "learner's individual circumstances should dictate the targets of language learning". The author proposes exposing learners to "multiple models of English phonology" and then involve them actively in "deciding what they will learn and in developing their own learning process" to enhance "collection, not correction" (Esling, 1987).

Pennington believes that the most pressing goal is intelligibility, and that this dictates the need for feedback in the lesson, no matter how much explicit instruction on pronunciation may be given. As the learner advances from beginning to intermediate levels, the author presents the need to consider other goals, such as fluency, and also accuracy in terms of "audience-determined norms". For some speakers, Pennington claims, functioning in the target culture also entails "mastering those aspects of pronunciation that define a person's attitude, mood, orientation to the audience and the topic, and other basic characteristics of the speaker's personal, social and cultural orientation" (p.221). The author goes further to say that these speakers may need to focus on "casual and expressive ability in phonology" to avoid being assessed as "stand-offish" or "unfriendly".

Like previous authors, Pennington considers that the decisions on goals begin from intelligibility and can then be further defined in terms of "what is feasible under the constraints of the course (...) and in the context of other decisions about what to teach and on what schedule" (p.222)

Kenworthy recognises that native-like pronunciation may be an inadequate goal, given that many learners have "practical" aims for learning English. Those who strive for native-like pronunciation may do so because of an occupation-related priority, including teachers, who may want to not only approximate this goal, but who should also become exposed to as many varieties of English as possible.

A realistic goal for the general language learner according to Kenworthy is to become "comfortably intelligible". The use of the word "comfortable" refers to the interlocutor's "tolerance" in trying to understand the message put forward by the non-native speaker. Intelligibility is defined by the author as "being understood by a listener at a given time in a given situation" (p.13), and it is measured in terms of how many words can be understood. Kenworthy believes that this aim may be "close enough" to a native-like goal in terms of contrasts that would enable a native-listener "match the sound heard with the sound (or feature) a native speaker would use without too much difficulty", thus intelligibility is dependent on "counts of sameness". Intelligibility is closely related to successful communication in terms of "efficiency, effectiveness and speaker's intentions".

This humble selection of readings has presented some of the most important points in the "pronunciation goals and models" debate. The key issues raised include:
  • intelligibility: comfortable? restricted? international? intranational?
  • identity and ego-permeability, image and accentedness
  • acceptability
  • comprehensibility
  • native vs non-native interlocutors
  • native-like accent norms
  • model as "target" or "point of reference"
  • efficiency, effectiveness and speaker intentions
  • occupational-related goals
  • perception vs production
  • teachability and attainability
Want to read more?
Have you read other sources? Share them with us in the "Comments" box below!

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