Sound barriers: influences of social prestige, peer pressure and teacher (dis)approval on FL oral performance

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Department or Administrative Unit

World Languages

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Social pressure and prestige have been viewed as barriers to oral performance in the L2 classroom, but their impact has not been extensively examined in foreign language (FL) contexts. Learner decisions to accept or reject prescriptive pronunciation norms may confer prestige, which may both privilege and marginalize novice classroom learners. This paper examines how adult, monolingual FL learners’ oral performance is affected by the degree to which they associate prestige with classmate and teacher (dis)approval. We explore relationships among the following variables: (1) learners’ views of their own and their peers’ pronunciation skills; (2) values associated with native-like speech; (3) beliefs about social conditions favourable to target-like speech; and (4) the accuracy of learners’ perceptions of desirable pronunciation patterns. Data are drawn from 11 audio-recorded FL class sessions, 10 ethnographic interviews, and questionnaire responses supplied by 282 students in French and Spanish cohorts. Analyses reveal that participants profess a strong desire to attain ‘standard’ pronunciation. However, findings also highlight striking disjunctions between learners’ perceptions and their observed production, reflecting a concern for social status and solidarity. Finally, results expose a tendency to inflate oral performance self-assessments, which may conceal learners’ inability to notice mismatches between their production and target norms.


This article was originally published in Language Teaching Research. The full-text article from the publisher can be found here.

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Language Teaching Research


© Arnold 2002