Getting into pronunciation, or not

On the same Diploma course last month Anna Malik was wondering about how people get into teaching pron, or what might put them off it. She asked these two questions, and this is what I replied:

AM: I was wondering how you became interested in phonology and teaching pronunciation in the first place?

AU: I found how attention to pron, esp demanding a much higher standard all the time, transformed the class, the attention, the sense of joy and the success with grammar and vocabulary. There was such a high benefit and pay back. I discovered that teaching without pronuncition handicapped the whole lesson, as if students actually had a thirst for pronunciation, as if only with pronunciation could they really have the sense of ‘inhabiting’ the new language.

AM: Why do you think teachers are reluctant to teach pronunciation?

AU: I think that maybe teachers, native and non native speakers alike, do not really consciously know in their own bodies how to make the new sounds, and thus cannot really help their learners to contact the muscles that will make the difference. I mean ‘know’ in the sense of direct kinaesthetic awareness of the muscles they are moving to make a sound (see post on Proprioception on this blog) not ‘know’ in the sense of theoretical cognitive knowledge from reading about pronunciation. Anyone who does not ‘know’ what they are doing cannot really hope to teach another what to do, they can only say “copy me” . A dance teacher who can dance well but does not ‘know’ what she is doing cannot help a learner, even if her performance is inspiring. Such teachers cannot teach pronunciation as a physical activity, and so either teach it as a cognitive activity like grammar and vocabulary, or offer variations on “copy me”.

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