Plenary speaker

Dr. Malgorzata Baran-Łucarz (University of Wroclaw, Poland)

‘Show me who you are…’ Re-examining the role of individual differences in L2 pronunciation learning and teaching

Research on individual differences (IDs) in second (L2)/foreign language (FL) learning has a history of almost 80 years. However, in the case of pronunciation, the onset of interest in this area is usually associated with Suter’s 1976 study and the subsequent reanalysis of his data (Purcell & Suter, 1980). Since Purcell and Suter’s study, the range of potential predictors of successful pronunciation acquisition examined by other researchers has been limited to a few, with some discredited too soon or not having been examined at all. Taking into account the fact that “IDs have been found to be the most consistent predictors of L2 learning success (…) and no other phenomena investigated within SLA have come even close to this level of impact” (Dörnyei, 2005, p. 2), it seems worthwhile to examine more thoroughly their importance in reaching an intelligible and comprehensible accent.

The presentation will open with an introduction to the theory of IDs, focusing on different taxonomies. To get a clearer picture of the role of IDs related to L2 pronunciation attainment, we will consider the following:

  1. The context of language learning/acquisition – whether it is in a natural setting (immigrants and second language users), a classroom setting (foreign language learners), or a combination of naturalistic and classroom settings (immigrants and L2 users attending formal pronunciation courses);
  2. The type and amount of pronunciation instruction provided in formal contexts.

Though studies of predictors of successful pronunciation attainment in naturalistic surroundings (the effects of the age of arrival/age of onset of learning, length of residence, extent of L1/L2 use, aptitude for oral mimicry) will be mentioned, this talk will concentrate on the importance of IDs in formal learning settings. The role of IDs in pronunciation acquisition will be presented considering different stages of cognitive information processing, i.e., input, processing and output. In addition, suggestions will be made on how to adapt pronunciation instruction according to the profiles of students, focusing on approaches to pronunciation teaching, presentation techniques and phonological meta-awareness raising, practise activities, feedback, and the use of CAPT.

Among the IDs to be presented are the following: aptitude, particularly phonetic coding ability and working memory; dimensions of cognitive style (field dependence/independence, sensory modality preferences, tolerance of ambiguity); personality (ego boundaries, perfectionism, Big Five); self-perceptions, beliefs and attitudes; motivation and willingness to communicate. Special attention will be paid to pronunciation anxiety (Baran-Łucarz, 2014; 2017). Finally, the relationship between IDs and pronunciation learning strategies/tactics (Szyszka, 2017) will be discussed, as well as the importance of autonomous work and reflection. The talk will close with suggestions for further research in this area, taking into account the dynamic nature and interrelationships among the IDs.