ELF10 report: Teaching productive phonological accommodation in monolingual classes

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This is one of a series of short guest posts written by researchers who presented their work at the 10th annual ELF conference in June 2017.

The following post was contributed by Christie Heike. You can read a short biography of Christie and her work below.


Right on Target: Teaching Productive Phonological Accommodation in Monolingual Classes

Jenkins (2000, 2002) proposed that learners who are preparing to engage in English as a lingua franca (ELF) need to be taught not only how to pronounce specific features, but also how to accommodate phonologically – that is, how to make adjustments to their pronunciation where they receive signals from their interlocutors that their pronunciation is causing problems for intelligibility. In examining how phonological accommodation manifests itself in ELF situations, Jenkins observed that where speakers from different L1 backgrounds are motivated by a desire to be intelligible to one another, they will adjust their pronunciation of core features toward their only shared resource: target-like pronunciation.

Therefore, Jenkins proposed that the teaching of productive phonological accommodation in multilingual classes should be a relatively straightforward process. All work on phonological accommodation should be prefaced by instruction and controlled practice of core features to ensure that learners have these features in their productive repertoires. After that, the key element for teaching accommodation in multilingual classes is to create situations in which learners can communicate with a classmate from another first language background. Preferably this should take place in information exchange tasks involving a measurable outcome (e.g. learner-learner dictation, describe-and-draw tasks, giving directions, information gap activities), since Jenkins found that this increases the saliency of intelligibility and thus encourages the use of accommodation. This allows learners to notice for themselves where their pronunciation has caused problems for intelligibility and gives them the chance to practice replacing problematic pronunciation with more target-like pronunciation.

But what do we do with largely monolingual groups, in which most or all of the learners come from the same linguistic background?

In classes like this, it is patently impossible to arrange the learners into pairs or groups in which each learner comes from a different first language background. And Jenkins observed that when learners from the same L1 background engage in these same communicative tasks, they converge not on more target-like pronunciation, but rather on their common L1-influenced pronunciation.

While this actually does increase their intelligibility and allow them to complete the task successfully, it is undesirable for ELF-oriented teaching for two reasons: First, it does not give learners practice in the kind of accommodation they will actually need to engage in as speakers in ELF situations. Second, it actually undermines pronunciation teaching in that it reinforces the learners’ L1-influenced accent, leading them away from the development of more target-like pronunciation of core features. Therefore, the parameters that lead to successful accommodation practice in multilingual classes will not lead to success in monolingual ones.

So how can we give learners in monolingual learning groups practice in the kind of phonological accommodation they need to be able to engage in in actual ELF talk?

To date, very few solutions have been proposed to this problem. One solution, proposed by Walker (2005, 2010), involves the use of learner recordings. In many ways, this task is similar to the tasks Jenkins recommends for multilingual classes: it is prefaced by instruction and practice, it involves learner speaking to learner, and it features a task with a measurable outcome. However, the key parameter here seems to be a focus on a limited set of features. Walker posits the idea that by focusing on a limited set of features in which learners have received instruction and practice, we can trust them to converge on target-like pronunciation rather than L1-influenced pronunciation despite the fact that they are working in monolingual groups (Walker 2005: 554).

As part of my doctoral research project on integrating an ELF orientation into tertiary-level practical English courses, I hypothesized that this key principle – constructing tasks in such a way that they focus learners’ attention on a limited set of features – might allow teachers to use other kinds of tasks that would encourage learners from monolingual learning groups to practice adjusting their pronunciation toward the target in response to peer feedback. I built several such tasks into a pilot course held at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern in 2013.

In analyzing the transcripts of these tasks, I found that, where the students’ attention was drawn to a specific set of pronunciation features both by previous instruction and by the task parameters, students did in fact adjust their pronunciation toward more target-like pronunciation despite working in monolingual groups. This often took the form of students negotiating together the target-like pronunciation of pronunciation features targeted by that lesson.

For example, in a twist on the card game Old Maid (Maurer Smolder 2012: 25), students had to find pairs of words featuring the same sound from a set of six consonant sounds that comprised the focus of the lesson.

This led to a lot of discussion within the groups as the students tried to decide which words constituted a pair and which did not. In considering whether the words peas and beans could be a pair, one group was able to converge on a more target-like pronunciation of the word-final /z/ in both words.

In other tasks, task parameters also led students to adjust their pronunciation toward the target in response to requests for confirmation from other students. This happened particularly where tasks were constructed around minimal pairs, such as during the game Pronunciation Round-up in a lesson on voicing final voiced consonants (Maurer Smolder 2012: 38).

It would appear, then, that communicative pronunciation tasks designed around a limited set of features in which learners have had previous instruction and practice can facilitate practice in adjusting pronunciation toward the target in response to peer feedback, even in monolingual learning groups.

While it is in some ways problematic to call this type of adjustment accommodation in the full sense of the term, it nevertheless provides learners with practice in important pre-requisite skills for the kind of phonological accommodation they will need to engage in in actual ELF interactions.

References

Jenkins, Jennifer (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, Jennifer (2002) A sociolinguistically based, empirically researched pronunciation syllabus for EIL. Applied Linguistics 23/1, 83-103.

Maurer Smolder, Christina (2012) Be Understood! A pronunciation resource for every classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walker, Robin (2005) Using student-produced recordings with monolingual groups to provide effective, individualized pronunciation practice. TESOL Quarterly 39/3, 535-542.

Walker, Robin (2010) Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

About the author: Christie Heike

Christie Heike is a lecturer at the Europe-University of Flensburg in Germany, where she received her Master of Education in English and music in 2011. She is currently working on her dissertation, entitled “Reevaluating the Teaching of English for International Communication”. Her study focuses on how insights from ELF research might be applied to practical English courses at the tertiary level in order to better prepare students for using English as a lingua franca. In addition to her research, she also teaches in the English department in the areas of linguistics and teacher education.

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