A lot is said about the importance of recycling in language learning. By that, we mean that it’s important for students to be exposed to what they learned on previous lessons as a way to, for example, allow for faster retrieval from memory. Not only do we talk about multiple encounters with words, expressions, grammar structures or anything else related to language learning, but we also stress that it’s paramount that such encounters be meaningful. More and more often coursebook writers make sure they include the same expressions in different parts of the book in a way to help the absent-minded (or, in a worst case scenario, the careless) teacher expose his or her students to such item. But there’s one area I feel many teachers fail to get their students to practise after they’ve first been exposed to: pronunciation.
When we learn mathematics, for instance, we are constantly exposed to what we were taught previously. Teachers make sure you remember 2+2, 9*7, or any other basic math for the rest of your school life. Well, it can’t be any different, can it? It is this very basic knowledge that will get you into more advanced maths. However, this doesn’t seem to be true when it all comes down to the teaching of English pronunciation. And the worst part of it is that, in a communicative classroom, there is always a chance for us to have meaningful encounters with an aspect of pronunciation that has been taught in any given lesson. Why is it that this is still overlooked by many teachers?
I’ll give you one example: If a coursebook writer (let’s not even leave it to the teacher alone) presents learners with the correct intonation of information and yes/no questions in the very first unit, and if there are exercises on that to help learners notice such features, why is it that learners still get to the end of the semester without the faintest idea of how to use the correct intonation? One thing that might shed light into that is the fact that after this exercise is done, teachers no longer make sure their learners use the correct intonation to ask questions. Instead, they seem to worry much more about the grammar or the vocabulary involved in asking the question. If one thing is left out, it certainly is pronunciation.
Just like learning and practising that 2 + 2 = 4 is of utmost importance if one wants to solve an advanced maths equation, I believe that learning and practising the correct intonation for questions is important if one wants to understand the many pronunciation features that come into play when using an unreal past conditional (a.k.a. third conditional). If teachers don’t understand that it only makes sense to teach learners one new thing if this one thing is going to be recycled afterwards, then it’s simply a waste of time to spend time teaching that. Teaching doesn’t imply learning. Learning is far more complex than teaching, and as such needs to be treated more carefully. If teachers are not willing to spend time in future lessons revising and correcting learners on something that they’ve learned before, why would you bother to teach that in the first place? If it’s not important enough to be recycled, revisited, and corrected, it’s probably not important to be taught in the first place.