Pronunciation for a Purpose

Introduction to Pronunciation for a Purpose

Pronunciation for a Purpose (PFP) is an intermediate to advanced pronunciation and oral communication text which integrates pronunciation and speaking/listening by using functional and communicative contexts in which pronunciation is important to the success of the message. For students, the book will help develop their ability to accurately and fluently pronounce American English in fully planned, partially planned, and ultimately, spontaneous speech. For instructors, the book will provide flexible, contextualized pronunciation practice that can be used to develop learners' overall speaking ability by emphasizing key areas of pronunciation which most contribute to intelligibility.

Core Beliefs underlying Our Approach

PFP is based on the belief that pronunciation is an essential element of oral communicative competence. PFP also recognizes that pronunciation cannot exist on its own. As part of the larger area of oral communication, it should be taught with constant reference to communicative goals. In support of this view, Joan Morley, one of the most influential voices in the modern movement to teach pronunciation, says that the "proper place for pronunciation in the second language curriculum is as an integral part of communication" and that pronunciation instruction should include "tasks which match the communicative needs students have in real life situations" (1999, p. 2)

Although most adult learners of a second language will not achieve a native-like accent, it is both possible and desirable for them to achieve a level of pronunciation that will facilitate their ability to communicate effectively. This is what language teachers describe as intelligibility. Sandra Hinofotis and Kathi Bailey (1981) said that learners must achieve a threshold level of pronunciation ability in order to be intelligible, and that without this threshold level, learners' language skills in other areas could never lead to communicative effectiveness. PFP's goal is to help learners achieve greater intelligibility.

It has always been fairly straightforward to achieve pronunciation success in isolation, when learners are concentrating on the pronunciation topic, but it has been far less easy for learners to transfer their new skills into less controlled contexts. To this end, pronunciation theorists recommend that pronunciation instruction be integrated with speaking and listening through the use of both genuine communicative tasks and speaking activities that "bridge this gap between reading and speaking, between form and meaning" (Grant, 1995, p. 119). PFP seeks to do this through an emphasis on suprasegmental aspects of English, with approximately two-thirds of the text devoted to phrasing, phrase rhythm, word stress, sentence focus, and intonation. The rest of the textbook provides practice for vowel and consonant difficulties that are both common and likely to impede intelligibility.

In addition to listening and speaking practice, PFP also develops learners' prediction skills to increase learner independence. For example, in regard to word stress, a key feature for intelligibility, PFP provides widely applicable predictive rules for high frequency word groups. This serves to raise awareness of the importance of word stress and to give learners strategies to pronounce unfamiliar words. This approach, which is heavily indebted to Wayne Dickerson's groundbreaking work on predictive rules (1989), is markedly different from most current pronunciation textbooks, in which word stress is barely taught through lists of suffixes with very little actual listening, speaking, or prediction practice.

Content and Organization

Each lesson in PFP is introduced through warm-up speaking and listening practice which helps focus attention both on communication and pronunciation. PFP then provides pronunciation practice in different contexts which may include other communicative and language goals. Finally, each lesson ends with communicative practice in which the focus is on both pronunciation and meaningful communication. This sequence, from global communicative goals to specific pronunciation work and then back to global practice, helps contextualize pronunciation instruction within a larger context of oral communication. The sequence also follows the model for communicative pronunciation instruction advocated by Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwin (2010) in their book Teaching Pronunciation.

PFP's definition of communicative practice is wider than is often assumed in discussing communicative activities and tasks. Not only are traditional activities such as information gaps, role plays, drama, discussions and jigsaw tasks common, but PFP includes activities to work on strategies (such as the use of oral spelling or saying number individually to distinguish number like 15 and 50). In addition, PFP makes extensive use of bridging activities (such as branching dialogues), in which learners can both concentrate on the pronunciation point at hand and on meaning.

PFP is designed to be flexible. Section I of the book, called Basics, provides coverage of the fundamental concepts that are essential to each of the areas in the book. This section could be taught by itself as a supplement in any class on oral communication. Once the Basics topics are covered, teachers are free to move to any topic areas in the book that are important for the needs of their particular classes. For example, a class for International Teaching Assistants may want to pay particular attention to word stress and sentence focus. Instructors can go straight to these sections without worrying about missing necessary information in earlier lessons. A class of intermediate level learners, on the other hand, may need to pay more attention to rhythm and phrasing, and instructors can choose from the lessons in these sections with confidence.

We assume that learners from almost all language backgrounds will have similar needs in learning the suprasegmentals of English. These lessons are therefore intended for classroom practice. Segmental difficulties, that is, problems with the vowel and consonant sounds of English, are likely to be much more individualized, especially in classes where learners come from many different language backgrounds. These lessons are written so that they can be successfully used in self-study or in individualized tutoring. They can also be used successfully in a classroom if teachers have a homogeneous class, but they may need to be supplemented with communicative activities, which are not included with all segmental lessons.

PFP also includes several appendices which may be useful to teachers. There are diagnostic tasks that can be used to pinpoint student difficulties, lists of minimal pairs for vowel and consonant sounds that are not included in the segmental lessons but may be difficult for particular learners, answers to the exercises, and charts that provide a guide to all the symbols used in the book.

Finally, there is also a teacher's guide for PFP. The teacher's guide provides further justification for the structure and content of the lessons, as well as ideas for how to present the exercises. PFP can be taught without the Teacher's Guide, but the Guide will answer many questions and provide ideas beyond what is obvious in the course text alone.

Teaching Contexts PFP was Designed For

PFP is relevant to several teaching contexts. First, it can be used as a pronunciation book which addresses the needs of intermediate to advanced learners who need to quickly develop an ability to speak comprehensibly. Such learners include international students and teaching assistants at North American universities, as well as learners in professional programs and in adult education and intensive English programs. Second, PFP can be used as a primary text for general oral communication classes because of its integration of pronunciation with areas more typically found in oral communication texts. In addition, because of its flexibility, PFP is likely to be attractive as a supplementary text for many kinds of classes in which teachers wish to include pronunciation but do not have time to teach pronunciation intensively.

We hope you enjoy using PFP and find it useful for your classes and for your learners. We welcome any comments on the structure or content of the book or for individual lessons. Contact the authors directly at:

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