The 2018 CEFR update has completely new descriptors for the area of phonological control. The goal of native-speakerness has been rejected in favour of intelligibility. But what exactly does it mean to say that somebody is intelligible? And what are the consequences of a goal of intelligibility for pronunciation teaching in ELT in the 21stcentury? (56 words)
The unwritten goal of pronunciation teaching throughout a large part of the 20th century was native-speakerness. Progress even in sophisticated international exams was usually measured in the presence/absence of any L1 phonological features in the speaker’s L2 accent. Success was the total elimination of all L1 transfer.
The 2018 CEFR update has re-written the descriptors for phonological control entirely, and has eliminated all references to native-speakerness in learners’ accents on the grounds that
the phonological control of an idealised native speaker has traditionally been seen as the target, with accent being seen as a marker of poor phonological control. The focus on accent and on accuracy instead of on intelligibility has been detrimental to the development of the teaching of pronunciation.
This session will start by explaining in more detail the reasoning for this significant change in the goal of pronunciation in the CEFR and then to move on to look at intelligibility. The term appears to be self-explanatory on first encounter, but on closer examination turns out to be fraught with difficulties. Is intelligibility objective, and measurable in ways that are easy to reproduce and carry through into classroom practice? What is the relationship between intelligibility and comprehensibility, or between intelligibility and accent? Is there any difference between intelligibility when using English with its native speakers and intelligibility for international (lingua franca) uses of the language? And how can intelligibility be taught and learned in classrooms around the world?
In the second part of this talk I will be answering these questions with simple suggestion for classroom practice coherent with an intelligibility-based approach to pronunciation teaching and testing.
Robin Walker has been in ELT since 1981 working as a teacher, trainer and consultant. His main interests are pronunciation and English as a Lingua Franca. He has published numerous articles on pronunciation, and is author of Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca (OUP, 2010).
Robin regularly collaborates with Oxford University Press and Trinity College London. From 2008–2015 he was editor of Speak Out!, the IATEFL Pronunciation SIG journal. He is a member of the Oxford University Press Expert Panel for Pronunciation for the 21st-century learner.
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