Op Ed

| September 30, 2004

Op Ed.

From time to time we will present an Editorial Opinion written by one of the editorial staff or from selected submissions.

The field of SLA is rapidly changing. New theories are emerging that call into question well tried and tested beliefs. This forum allows Opinions to freely explore this changing area of Academic Study.

1. Paul Robertson June 2004 Volume 6. Issue 2

2. Pedro Luchini September 2004 Volume 6. Issue 3

Volume 6. Issue 3 Article 11

Pedro Luis Luchini

Incorporating Task-Based Instruction into the Teaching of English Pronunciation: a new global trend

For a long time now, some pronunciation teachers, particularly in the People’s Republic of China, have been using what some would typify as a traditional methodology for teaching English pronunciation. By using mechanical exercises; namely, repetition and imitation, the results obtained so far have revealed that many students, though they have worked hard, still retain some critical deviant first language (L1) phonological forms in key phonological features – specifically the production of some particular sounds combined with nuclear stress – when they communicate in a second language (L2), a problem that sometimes threatens mutual intelligibility.

A concern such as this may imply a need to generate a change in the methodology used for teaching pronunciation whereby tasks function as a central focus in a supportive and natural context for language study. Indeed, the type of task-framework suggested here underpins a meaning-form-meaning progression that seeks to manage shifts in attentional focus as tasks are unfolded. Along these lines, learners are presented with a set of semantically as well as linguistically enhanced input data where, they are implicitly exposed to the target forms they will later have to produce. Next, in groups, learners are put to work on tasks to notice gaps in their current interlanguage repertoires, thus a linguistic need is created. The challenge then is to guide the learners ´ attention from meaning to form in a way that enables them to see and feel their relation (Samuda, 2001).

Through this type of tasks, it could be said, the students are expected to recognise their gaps in their current interlanguage while in the process of making meaning which is, then, filled out in subsequent language focus sessions by generating hypothesis, comparisons, and discussions, always focusing on phonological target forms.

Task-based instruction, as opposed to other more conventional approaches, emphasises three main aspects. Firstly, the framework for task-based methodology is generally based on naturalistic language use since it asserts the view that learners do not follow the progression of sequences that are typically expected in classrooms. Secondly, second language acquisition advocates that language improvement involves the development of an interlanguage – the speech of non-native speakers from different L1s as they engage in interaction – which mirrors the learners ´ needs for mastering those patterns of the target language that have not been internalised yet. Lastly, there is an increasing need for individualisation of instruction, so that the students at different learning phases can benefit in relation to the point which they have arrived at (Skehan 2002).

This innovative pedagogical proposal for the teaching of pronunciation has an organised focus on specific phonological forms and it offers the possibility of using different types of tasks which function as a central focus in a supportive and natural context for language study. The aim of these tasks is three-fold: first, to raise the students ´ awareness of key phonological aspects of English pronunciation and their contribution for establishing both receptive and productive intelligibility, second, to function as a vehicle for individualization since learners, when engaged in collaborative tasks, are enabled to pool resources and thus go beyond their individual competences, aptitudes, motivations, and even different stages in development (Skehan 2002) and, lastly, to create a real purpose for language use where teachers can work with their learners to actively promote a focus on form while tasks are being performed (Willis 1996).

Under this new approach to teaching pronunciation, it might be argued, learners are expected to reduce the L1 interference in core phonological features (mainly some sounds and stress or both combined) in the language they acquire thus guaranteeing both receptive and productive intelligibility. Yet, there is still room for further research in this field so as to be in a position to claim that this methodology is truly beneficial for the teaching of pronunciation skills in English as a Foreign Language or English as an International Language contexts. Optimistically, the ASIAN EFL JOURNAL will provide a further research forum to articles on the plus and minuses of this contention.

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