viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

Teaching Segments #1: English /ð, d/ - Part 2: Phonological Processes and "Tips & Tricks"

In one of our previous posts, we talked about the allophonic spit Spanish learners are faced with, from  [ð, ] to English /ð, d/. That is, in English, /ð/ and /d/ are two separate sounds, in Spanish, they are two variables of the only phoneme /d/, with some differences in place of articulation as well.

Interlanguage Processes in the Production of /ð, d/ for advanced learners of English with Riverplate Spanish as L1

Let's take the following phrases from the dialogue "At a Party", from Anne Baker (2006) Ship or Sheep, 3rd edition:

In the dark!
They are dancing under the stars!

The Contrastive Analysis hypothesis by Weinreich (1953) and Lado (1957) would establish that after a thorough comparison of phonemic and phonetic inventories of both L1 and L2 that defines what sounds and variants are present or missing in both languages, we can predict that my learners would apply their L1 allophones Spanish [d̪] and [ð], thus:
(Assuming that learners know about the non-rhoticity of GB)

In ððark!
ey are ðancing unðer e stars!

However, we cannot just assume that students, especially if they are advanced learners (B2, C1 level of the CEFR) will just transfer their L1 sounds to the L2.  They may have motivations to do so, and not just because the foreign sounds are not present in their L1, but also, because they may perceive them to be similar. The presence of "inaccurate perceptual targets" is described in Major’s
Similarity/Dissimilarity Hypothesis (2006), which  contends that those features of a language which are perceived as similar will be more difficult to acquire, since they are perceived and interpreted in terms of L1. As established earlier, Spanish /d/ may be heard to be similar to English /d/, as they are both plosives in nature, and the dental and alveolar articulations are not really far away from each other, and something similar may happen to the dental fricative, there being one allophonic variant of /d/ in Spanish under that description. This hypothesis may also explain why other sounds, such as //, non-existing in Spanish and only closely associated to /ʃ/ or /tʃ/ by Spanish speaking learners, may be more easily acquired or "approximated to" and sustained if students' attention is drawn to it. (I am not denying the difficulties in articulation this sound brings about, I am just contending that students can self-monitor the production of this sound or an approximate target more consistently than the /ð, d/ distinction which, in my experience, remains a consistent "mistake" even after systematised.)

I am teaching advanced learners of English, with many years of exposure to the language -at least inside the classroom-, and with a certain level of proficiency in grammar, lexis and fluency. It comes as no surprise that these students have made their own hypotheses of what the language sounds like, and many of their "mistakes" are, in fact, developmental in nature. This is in-keeping with Major's (1987) Ontogeny Model that predicts the increase of developmental over transfer processes over time.
Adapted from Mayor (1987) in Ioup and Weinberger (1987)

So this is what many of my students produce:

In ark! or In ddark!
ey are ancing uner e stars! or dey are dancing under de stars!

Most students who master the plosive and alveolar aspect of English /d/ overapply it to cover the contexts for /ð/ as well. This is known as hypercorrection, and it counts as evidence that students are actually learning and making judgements as to how the language works! :D

"Tips and Tricks" to teach /ð, d/

The obvious, first: teaching the spellings of both sounds. But the presence of spellings alone is not enough to ensure learners' self-regulation in the production. So some extra tips may be presented to correct or give feedback in order to allow students to realise they should be producing a different sound:

Hand gestures + articulatory tips and tricks: I like using two gestures to represent these sounds (These gestures are not offensive in my culture, but they may be in yours or your learners', so please check beforehand! No offence intended here!)

This is to ask students to produce an interdental sound rather than dental, since in this way, my students manage to produce a better defined /ð/ sound, and they become aware of the "tickling" sensation the friction produces. (It may always backfire, since some students pull their tongues out too much and this obstaculises a smooth articulation, but all in all, the interdental option works pretty well). I have also found it that with all voiced fricatives I needed to help my students to breathe "properly", encouraging diaphragmatic breathing over their usual "chest-lifting" (needed a word for it!) breathing. Many of my students improved on their production of /ð/  and other voiced fricatives when adopting a straight posture, and pulling the upper part of their "bellies" (just below their ribs) outwards when they produced the sound, somehow increasing the amount of air employed for a smooth friction to take place in the mouth organs. This, in turn, allowed them to loosen some unwanted tension on the neck and jaws, as their attention was placed onto the actual breathing process.

This is to remind students of /d/. I have chosen to focus on either keeping the teeth "softly clenched" or the back molars for the production of /d/. In spite of the fact that the transition from Spanish dental to English alveolar merely implies placing the tip and blade of the tongue further back in the mouth (going from just behind the teeth to the "balcony of the mouth", the alveolar ridge), I have found that the more I ask my students to focus on the tongue for this sound in particular, the more the tongue "reacts" by getting into the dental position. So I have found that asking my students to build a "fortress" in the mouth with the teeth or the molars prevented them from "going dental". (This is not a tip I may exploit with all students, as many students have a very stiff jaw due to stress or tension, and this slight "teeth-clenching" may "spoil" their overall performance and create some distortion in sounds. I'll talk about "stiff jaws" and "flabby tongues" and their effect on articulation and voice quality in some other post)

Some other common tips for /d/ include (sorry if I could not trace the sources here):
  • Exploration: exploring the teeth ridge area, playing with the tip of the tongue in different positions from the back of the teeth to the post alveolar area, and attempting different sounds till the right alveolar articulation is found. It allows students to become familiar with the alveolar area, a bit "underused" in Riverplate Spanish. It would sound something like this:

  • Marking the territory: I remember reading somewhere about the suggestion that students could define the alveolar area by either putting a finger or pencil or straw behind their teeth (maybe not too hygienic!) to make sure students' tongues produce contact with the alveolar ridge only, or a piece of chewing gum on the right articulatory point (this is a contribution by my colleague Andrea P.) to identify the "right spot". Some people would say this is a bit "invasive", but if treated as a game and in the right conditions, it should be all right.
Now a few tips for /ð/:

  • The "tongue" greeting": my trainer always presented this tip which is useful in kinder or primary classes. It involves travelling to an imaginary country, where people greet each other by showing the tip of their tongues, and students walk around the classroom saying "th" as a means of saying "hi" to each other.
  • The "tickling" competition: students may be asked to pull the very tip of their tongue between their upper and lower tip and blow slowly, producing a "tickling" sensation. After a short while, this feeling begins to "bother" the lips, the friction and the vibration it produces at times makes students drop the sound. So the competition involves trying to "put up" with the tickling for as long as you can. This is just to draw students' awareness of friction, and what it involves.
There are some videos and tutorials on the web for this sound:

  • Two home-made videos I made for my students: /d/ and /ð/ (used to looking ridiculous on the web by now! Sorry about the sound quality!)

  • BBC Learning Tips, /d/ and /ð/
  • Some other videos for Spanish speakers (here and here). Some may be more "effective" and "accurate" than others. You will decide!
Hope you have found this post useful!

  • Quilis, Antonio (1993). Tratado de Fonología y Fonética Españolas. Madrid: Gredos
  • Mott, Brian. (2012) English Phonetics and Phonology for Spanish Speakers. UB: Spain.
  • Moyano, G. (1996) A Comparison between English and Spanish consonants. Buenos Aires.
  • Major, R.(1987) A Model For Interlanguage Phonology. In Ioup and Weinberger (1987) Interlanguage Phonology. The Acquistion of a Second Language Sound System.Cambridge: Newbury House Publishers
  • Monroy Casas, R. (2001) Profiling The Phonological Processes Shaping The Fossilised Il Of Adult Spanish Learners Of English As Foreign Language. Some Theoretical Implications. University of Murcia
  • Finch, D. and Ortiz Lira, H.(1982) A Course in English Phonetics for Spanish Speakers.London: Heinemann
  • García Jurado, María Amalia y Arenas (2005) La fonética del español: análisis e investigación de los sonidos del habla. Buenos Aires: Quórum
  • Ioup, G., & Weinberger, S. (1987). Interlanguage phonology: The acquisition of a second language sound system (Vol. 8). Newbury House.

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