This is the kind of headline I can imagine, to go along with all the other obvious headlines that comprise our ‘news’ such as “Homicide victims rarely talk to police” or “Exercise makes you fitter” or “Reading at home helps reading at school” or “Scientists prove that clothes keep you warm” or “Frequent sex enhances pregnancy chances” and so on.

And yet we don’t read that pronunciation halves or even reduces the time taken to learn language, or that it increases the effectiveness of learning. Perhaps it isn’t true. Or perhaps it is. I think it is but I can’t prove it. Nor can it be disproved. Do you think it is true?

The physical, muscular part of language, the speaking and the listening that involves muscles and vibrations and movements and sound and pitch and breath and time and physical coordination and visible motions in faces and lips …… forms a complex and coherent choreography, a subtle dance, that results from physical coordination in certain parts of the brain.

If when we meet a new bit of foreign language we have some approach to organising it and experiencing it physically, then we develop a fresh “grip” with which to hold on to that newness. We give ourselves a set of memory hooks on a different level from the cognitive memory we may use for rules and words. In fact we give ourselves a whole new physical dimension in which to experience the language. If however we do not pay attention to pronunciation, then by default the new language succumbs to the old grip of the mother tongue, which brings no new memory hooks, and no remarkable physicality, and thus the new language is less supported. It slips rather than grips.

I am often aware of how slippery new language is when I try to learn phrases in another language using my English pronunciation. Then I bring no fresh physicality to the new bit language, and I can feel it slipping not gripping in my various ways of remembering. But for this kind of grip we would need a way of attending to pronunciation in each moment, and not just in a pron slot at the end of every third lesson, when it is already too late as the new language has already defaulted to the mother tongue grip….

What is your experience as teacher or as learner?

Language needs to grip, not slip