In a recent post, I shared portions of my video interview with Dr. Tracey Derwing, coauthor of Pronunciation Fundamentals: Evidence-Based Perspectives for L2 Teaching and Research (Derwing & Munro, 2015). Here, I bring you more from that interview, focusing on Derwing & Munro’s early work together and how they went about writing their new book.
I received my copy of Pronunciation Fundamentals just last week, and I can already say this: Derwing and Munro have achieved what seems to elude many. That is, they’ve written a book that communicates their message accessibly and, well, humanly (and therefore humanely, especially if you are a graduate student who will read this book not by choice, but rather by assignment). Indeed, this is a book that should be assigned reading in TESOL education programs.
As Derwing explains early on in the interview, Pronunciation Fundamentals delivers a central message through its 10 chapters, namely, that the time has come for teachers of English to stop teaching for native-like accuracy and instead teach for intelligibility and comprehensibility. (Intelligibility is how much the listener understands of the speaker’s speech; comprehensibility is how much effort is required to understand that same speaker. For more on these concepts, read my related post.)
Like reading her book, listening to Derwing is a pleasure. She reflects on the ideas that intrigued her most during the early part of her teaching career. We get to see how living and working with authentic passion can lead us into the unexpected. In Derwing’s case, she was interested in teacher-to-learner comprehensibility (i.e., how some of her colleagues were more easily understood by their L2 students than other colleagues) at a time when pronunciation research was mostly limited to spectrograms and room-sized computers.
With one simple question, Derwing dispels the myth that teaching pronunciation is inherently an attack on the learner’s identity. “How can you express who you are if no one can understand you?”, asks Derwing, making a case for pronunciation instruction as a matter of professional ethics.
What does this mean for teachers? For one, it means we need to rethink the way we talk about accent with our students. We all have accents, and we all achieve greater and lesser levels of intelligibility (and comprehensibility) throughout a given day. (Think caffeine, think fatigue.) Accents cannot be “eliminated” any more than we can “not have” a temperature. What we can do is help students expand the repertoire of their speech patterns to more effectively reach the listening expectations of the people they speak with most. Note the human component here: It takes two to communicate.
It goes without saying that you should get your own copy of Pronunciation Fundamentals, but let me ask: With what you’ve read and heard here, what are you left thinking about? No doubt you’ve got a few good comments and questions worth sharing.
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2015). Pronunciation fundamentals: Evidence-based perspectives for L2 teaching and research. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.