Tesol Quarterly 2005 Levis

Tesol Quarterly 2005 Levis - Changing Contexts and Shifting...

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369 TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 39, No. 3, September 2005 Changing Contexts and Shifting Paradigms in Pronunciation Teaching JOHN M. LEVIS Iowa State University T he history of pronunciation in English language teaching is a study in extremes. Some approaches to teaching, such as the reformed method and audiolingualism, elevated pronunciation to a pinnacle of importance, while other approaches, such as the cognitive movement and early communicative language teaching, mostly ignored pronunciation (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, & Goodwin, 1996). Currently, it seems clear that pronunciation deserves neither fate, either to be unfairly elevated to the central skill in language learning or banished to irrelevance. To a large extent, pronunciation’s importance has always been deter- mined by ideology and intuition rather than research. Teachers have intuitively decided which features have the greatest effect on clarity and which are learnable in a classroom setting. Derwing and Munro (this issue), recognizing this tendency toward teacher intuition in determin- ing classroom priorities, make an appeal for a carefully formulated research agenda to define how particular features actually affect speaker intelligibility. That such an appeal is needed suggests, in Derwing and Munro’s words, that pronunciation “instructional materials and practices are still heavily influenced by commonsense intuitive notions” and that such intuitions “cannot resolve many of the critical questions that face classroom instructors” (p. 380). During the past 25 years, pronunciation teachers have emphasized suprasegmentals rather than segmentals in promoting intelligibility (Avery & Ehrlich, 1992; Morley, 1991), despite a paucity of research evidence for this belief (Hahn, 2004). Recent carefully designed studies have shown some support for the superiority of suprasegmental instruc- tion in ESL contexts (e.g., Derwing & Rossiter, 2003). Also, wider availability of software that makes suprasegmentals’ discourse functions more accessible to teachers and learners will encourage work with supra- segmentals (Chun, this issue; Pickering, this issue). However, the impor- tance of suprasegmentals for communication in English as an inter- national language (EIL) is uncertain ( Jenkins, 2000; Levis, 1999). It is also by no means clear that all suprasegmentals are equally learnable. Pennington and Ellis (2000), for example, found that although some
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370 TESOL QUARTERLY elements of intonation, such as nuclear stress, appear to be learnable, other elements, such as pitch movement marking boundaries and the intonation of sentence tags, are not. Even for those who advocate the centrality of suprasegmentals, a more nuanced approach is clearly needed. COMPETING IDEOLOGIES More fundamentally, pronunciation research and pedagogy have long been influenced by two contradictory principles, the nativeness principle and the intelligibility principle. The nativeness principle holds that it is both possible and desirable to achieve native-like pronunciation in a foreign language. The nativeness principle was the dominant paradigm
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