Assessing pronunciation

My colleague and I are revising our program’s curriculum, and we’ve hit a bit of stumbling block: pronunciation. At every proficiency level, in the “listening/speaking” curriculum, pronunciation is listed as a curriculum objective. And with great specificity, too. We’re supposed to teach word endings (like -s and -ed), minimal pair distinction, syllable structure, stress, intonation…you name it, it’s in the curriculum.

Now, our rule is, if it’s in the curriculum, it has to be assessed. So, my question is: how do you assess pronunciation? How do you determine that a student has mastered the distinction between /θ/ and /s/? Why would you fail a student for not mastering this objective, when it likely has little effect on his overall intelligibility?

It seems clear that if we’re going to keep pronunciation in the curriculum, we need to state it a little more generally. But how do you write a curriculum objective for pronunciation that’s reasonable and assessable? How do you account for different proficiency levels? How do you keep yourself from getting bogged down in the specifics of “accent” while ignoring intelligibility? I’d like our program to be as far from “accent reduction courses” as possible, while still recognizing that pronunciation is an important component of learning a second language.


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