Clinical Professor, Program Director for TESOL Education, Boston University
Cognitions, Constraints, and Complexity: A View of the Ivory Tower from the Trenches
A clarion call raised 50 years ago by Allen (1971) and echoed by Levis (1999) awaits our field’s next paradigm shift.
There is much to celebrate in the Ivory Tower: the intelligibility principle vanquished accent remediation and native-like attainment, pronunciation of English as a lingua franca received due attention, listening found its voice, a segmentals and (not or) suprasegmentals equilibrium was struck, webinars, SIGs and Newsletters raised our visibility, and websites made resources like High Variability Phonetic Training available online. A dedicated conference venue and scholarly journal were founded, attracting new scholars and building an infrastructure poised to dispel the tripartite ‘Cinderella, neglected, orphan’ image.
In the trenches, pronunciation training remains sparse. Even when attained, enlightened cognitions falter under institutional constraints (Burri & Baker 2021). With conference access hostage to limited professional development funding, teachers turn to research-informed textbooks, but see little carry-over from practice exercises to spontaneous production. Research-informed teachers are needed, ones who know how the sound system of the language they are teaching works, how to identify the locus of learner errors, and how to efficiently and effectively address these at the segmental and suprasegmental levels.
The 12th annual PSLLT conference is the appropriate forum to take up John Levis’ call to increase access to teacher training and tap the potential of software to address pronunciation holistically. The increasing numbers graduating with PhDs in the field are in position to advocate for pronunciation pedagogy as a core MATESOL requirement, to reach and inspire in-service teachers by contributing to free and dedicated websites such as pronunciationforteachers.com, and to formulate a guiding theory addressing both the complexity and the dynamic nature of pronunciation. PSLLT 2021 is the appropriate time for a vision commensurate to that which laid the foundation, to expand the infrastructure with an organization comparable in reach to AAAL or TESOL but concentrated in scope. Fifty years on is time to bring knowledge from the ivory tower to the teachers in the field and – finally – bridge the theory to practice gap.