Pronunciation Learning and Teaching: What can Phonetics Research Tell Us?

Murray J. Munro


Contemporary research on the learning and teaching of second language (L2) pronunciation indicates that “applied phonetics” must be defined as something more than simply “phonetics applied.” Rather, pronunciation teaching has evolved into a separate field of inquiry with its own priorities and methodologies. Here I synthesize concepts and findings from adult L2 pronunciation research that can inform teaching practices. In doing so, I take the view that evidence-based pronunciation teaching is both possible and effective, but that it must be rooted in research that is specifically focused on pedagogy, rather than on notions extrapolated from general observations about speech. Such a position requires that we dismiss certain conventional “commonsense” notions about the L2 learning process and replace them with empirically-motivated principles. In the first place learners are more apt to be judged successful in L2 phonetic learning if we take a pragmatic view based on practical communication skills rather than emphasize the achievement of a high degree of phonetic accuracy, which is neither necessary nor likely to occur. Second, while pronunciation instruction can be effective, it must accommodate large variation in individual learning trajectories. Contrary to some popular opinion, particular learners’ segmental and prosodic difficulties are, for the most part, not predictable from their L1 backgrounds in any useful way. Rather, they are subject to a wide range of social and cognitive influences. Consequently, the best pedagogy is not a fixed curriculum that surveys all or most of the L2 sound system, but one that is easily adapted to individual learner differences.  


 DOI: 10.21437/ISAPh.2016-5

Cite as: Munro, M.J. (2016) Pronunciation Learning and Teaching: What can Phonetics Research Tell Us?. Proc. ISAPh 2016 International Symposium on Applied Phonetics, 26-29, DOI: 10.21437/ISAPh.2016-5.


@inproceedings{Munro2016,
  author={Murray J. Munro},
  title={Pronunciation Learning and Teaching: What can Phonetics Research Tell Us?},
  year=2016,
  booktitle={Proc. ISAPh 2016 International Symposium on Applied Phonetics},
  pages={26--29},
  doi={10.21437/ISAPh.2016-5},
  url={http://dx.doi.org/10.21437/ISAPh.2016-5}
}