Medical supports for practical phonetics; potential applications of phoniatrics and logopedics to foreign language pronunciation pedagogy

Magdalena Wrembel (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)

Current trends in foreign language pedagogy have been affected by visible influences from other disciplines such as psychology, psychotherapy, neurolinguistics, theatre arts or technology. This multidisciplinary approach has spurred the emergence of innovative teaching practices, which became supplementary to mainstream classroom procedures. Modern pronunciation pedagogy has been no exception to this trend (cf. Celce-Murcia et al. 1996, Wrembel 2001 for an overview of interdisciplinary trends in pronunciation teaching).

In the present contribution the focus falls on the interface between language and medicine, and this interface is investigated from the perspective of L2 practical phonetics. A claim advocated in the paper is that medical sciences, in particular phoniatrics, logopedics and vocology, apart from being of assistance in voice rehabilitation/habilitation and speech therapy, can offer valuable insights for the teaching of foreign language (L2) phonetics. It is suggested that selected exercises used in the treatment of speech defects of disorders as well as techniques of voice projection and hygiene may be incorporated in L2 pronunciation teaching curricula as they offer efficient means of developing new speech habits.

The reasons for postulating the application of therapeutic and diagnostic methods adapted from logopedics and phoniatrics to L2 pronunciation pedagogy are based on the following assumptions:

1) The language-medicine interface is particularly relevant in the case of the teaching of phonetics due to its anatomical and physiological bases. Phonetics should thus be studied as embedded in the framework of related medical disciplines such as anatomy, physiology, audiology, phoniatrics, and voice rehabilitation.

2) The incapability to control speech organs properly, that manifests itself in speech disorders and defects, bears some resemblance to the struggle that L2 learners have to go through when acquiring the pronunciation of a foreign language.

3) Psychological factors such as inhibitions, self-esteem, language identity are particularly at play in the acquisition of L2 phonetics as pronunciation is the most salient aspect of language ego (cf. Guiora et al. 1980). Therefore, the attempts to manipulate the ego boundary permeability in L2 acquisition require a special approach and predispose this aspect of language learning to assume a form of a therapeutic treatment.

4) A similar idea has been embraced by some computer software systems designers offering audio-visual feedback and training for speech or hearing handicapped persons. Hopes have been expressed for the systems' application to the learning of foreign language phonetics (cf. e.g. the Hungarian Speechcorrector project or the Colorado Virtual Tutor and Therapist).

The major goal of this contribution is to raise awareness of the importance of imparting practical skills for pronunciation work through a range of exercises and activities for improving posture, breathing, phonation, pitch range, articulation and modulation. Such therapeutic and diagnostic methods adapted from logopedics and phoniatrics, that will be discussed at length in the actual contribution, include among others:

- the choice of a breathing tract to ensure proper voice control and projection

- coordination between breathing and phonation

- breath support (monitoring the tension of breathing muscles)

- relaxation exercises to reduce muscular tension present e.g. in attempted L2 production

- physical strengthening exercises e.g. in the form of articulatory warm-ups

- lengthening of the phonation time

- logopedic exercises for proper enunciation and clear articulation (e.g. tongue twisters)

- proper use of resonators essential e.g. for L2 voice quality setting

- avoiding hard glottal attack (adapted from Maley 2000 and śliwińska-Kowalewska 1999).

In conclusion, it is hoped that the present paper may contribute to a closer integration between pronunciation pedagogy and related medical disciplines and, consequently, to a more efficient teaching of L2 practical phonetics.


Celce-Murcia, Marianne -- Donna M. Brinton -- Janet M. Goodwin. 1996. Teaching Pronunciation. A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Guiora, Alexander Z. -- William Acton -- Robert Erard -- Fred W. Strickland. 1980. "The effects of benzodiazepine (Valium) on permeability of language ego boundaries", Language Learning 30: 351-364.

Marley, Alan. 2000. The Language Teacher's Voice. Oxford: Macmillan Publishers Limited.

śliwińska-Kowalska, Mariola. 1999. Głos narzędziem pracy. Poradnik dla nauczycieli . £ódŸ: Instytut Medycyny Pracy.

Wrembel, Magdalena. 2001. "Innovative Approaches to the Teaching of Practical Phonetics", Proceedings of the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference PTLC2001 , UCL, London, 63-66.