miércoles, 4 de junio de 2014

Webinar Report #1: Teaching Tips for Pronunciation - Tim Bowen

Today I attended my second pronunciation-related webinar this year. The first one I participated in was by Luke Harding, and it discussed several issues regarding pronunciation assessment. It was truly interesting, since at times it is difficult to consider, when it comes to oral performance, what can be a sort of "fair" grading, and how to give a grade out of a speaking or reading aloud activity. (Worth another post? Or research?) You can watch a repeat of that session HERE and I have copied and pasted the chat bar (which you can't see on the playback) HERE.

To avoid excessive, distractive, wordiness (which by now you should know I am guilty of!), let us discuss some bits and pieces I have collected from this second seminar, "Teaching Tips for Pronunciation", by Tim Bowen, author of The Book of Pronunciation: Proposals for a Practical Pedagogy. The abstract of the seminar reads:

"In this webinar we will look at a series of practical activities designed to raise learners’ awareness of different aspects of pronunciation – sounds, stress, intonation and sounds in contact – and to provide productive practice in these areas."

Below you will find an account of some of the activities presented by Bowen, organised into content/skill areas:

1) Difficult / Tricky Words to pronounce
A list of words difficult to pronounce, and some common mistakes. Plus, a few tips on how to go about them:
  • clothes (same pronunciation as for "close")
  • suit (mistake: pronounced as "sweet")
  • iron (think of earning money, and say: "I earn")
  • queue (think of letter Q)
  • examine (mistake" making it sound as "eggs are mine")
"Test the Teacher" activity: Ask your students to produce a word in the list, and point to the one you think you hear. If your students correct you, then they are probably mispronouncing the word. A great chance to teach the pronunciation of tricky words with /ɒ/ and /əʊ/!

2) Spelling-to-sound awareness: 
These activities introduce students to the complexities of English spelling-pronunciation:

Homophones dictation: Dictate these words to students, then check what they have written (I could not get "Pharaohs" myself!)
Other activities: 
  • provide endings of words (e.g. /aɪn/ and find rhyming words (I would personally suggest playing with rhyming dictionaries on the web as well, such as Rhyme Zone)
  • playing the "Word Categories" game, by which you suggest a list of categories (e.g.: food, countries, colours...) and you produce a sound, and students need to find words with that sound for each category
  • Alliteration: draw on common idiomatic phrases with alliterative patterns, such as the ones below:

3) Word Stress
Tim began his discussion of this section by referring to a study (which I would most certainly like to read!) in which someone changed the stress of the word "normally" to "norMALly" and asked people to write down what they heard. They were driven astray by the stress pattern and apparently, no one got to the word "normally" at all. 

Some tasks presented by the speaker included:
    • Spot the different pattern out of a list of London placenames  (they were all double stressed except "Oxford Street")
  • Stress in compounds and longer phrases: Bowen explained the tendency of N + N patterns to be single stressed (though we all know this cannot be a hard-and-fast rule at all!) and ADJ + N combinations to be double stressed. 
(Nerdy comment: As Tim was explaining this, I couldn't help taking this down: "the stress is always in the first ONE". I was reminded of Wells' (2006) Chapter 3, where a point is made about the accentuation of "one" in phrases like "the first/last/only one". I remember recalling this while watching the last Harry Potter film, with Harry saying "the last ONE" of the Horcruxes. I am still not entirely persuaded because I do hear contrastive accents on "first", "last" in many lectures, for example, but I must admit that as I am not a native speaker myself, I need corpus work!)

4) Connected Speech

  • Weak Forms in common phrases: "accenting all words is not fluent", Tim reports. He suggests dealing with weakening through "doing away" with sounds: "a" and "d" in "and", "o" in "to", in the phrases below:
  • Elision: Spot the "disappearing sound" in other common daily phrases
  • Linking: Link the final consonant to the vowel in other common phrases and phrasals:

5) Intonation
  • Nucleus placement and contrastive accent: Speaker A says "I thought she liked Peter" by selecting a particular nucleus, and the rest of the students select the right answer:
  • Rhythm: Bowen suggests using poetry, and Googling "fun poetry" to find samples with clearly-defined rhythm.

6) Student errors : Tips and Tricks
  • Getting rid of onglide in initial /s/ + consonant clusters: Go from bus estation to bust ation and produce it faster.
  • Teach /h/ and avoid its elision in content words by asking students to produce "happy", "here" by whispering the words.
  • Correcting the sequence /w/ + /ʊ/ sometimes realised as [gʊ]: break /w/ into its constituent parts: Say "uuuuuu + aaaa" and speed up: "uuuuuaaaaaud" for "would"
I have more or less summarised most of the ideas presented, and if you would like to read about a rationale for them, or get further ideas, Tim Bowen's textbook is filled with theoretical and practical ideas and thoughts.

The recording of the webinar now available HERE.

I have personally enjoyed the webinar, as it is always good to have new ideas, or be reminded of issues I sometimes take for granted in my lessons, and I consider that most of Tim's activities fit in perfectly with the idea that pronunciation CAN and SHOULD be integrated within other areas and skills of language teaching.

Thanks for reading me and I hope you will find this useful!

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