Today I travelled to England, comfortably sitting on my Buenos Aires armchair. The British Council organised the "Focus on Global English" event and streamed it live all the way from London.
This event was aimed at exploring issues regarding the role of accent and identity in different ways. Whereas Richard Cauldwell (whose brilliant book I'll be reviewing here soon!) set out to report his experience and views on how accent, identity and prejudice are intertwined, Laura Patsko and Katy Davies have taken English as a Lingua Franca into the classroom and provided us with practical ideas to teach it.
Below you will find a sketchy summary of what was presented, with some comments of my own, and the link to the playback, once it is made available.
(Digression alert!) (Speaking of accents, by the way, the BC presenter's accent was lovely! Sorry, couldn't help it! Picked out some things such as [i:vnɪŋk, rɪ?tʃəd], worth commenting on some other day!)
The BC presenter also made a point of the British Council partnership with Google for this interesting resource: https://spellup.withgoogle.com/
(Version 2. Since its publication, some typos and minor errors have been corrected)
Richard Cauldwell - Accent and Identity, Prejudice and Insecurity
Richard began his talk as a "personal journey on accents", and made a point of how people's feelings about accents may affect our own self image, and in spite of the fact that we may control or overcome them, "insecurity lives inside".
He refers to Part 3 of his (brilliant!) book, Phonology for Listening, as some of the audio samples and issues raised are (thoroughly) developed there.
The talk begins with a few definitions:
|Definition of accent - I particularly like the idea of "flavouring" and "colouring".... :)|
|Identity - Richard's selected definition - The issue of self-worth and sense of belonging were delved into in the talk|
|Interesting definitions for "prejudice"|
After presenting these definitions, Richard went on to re-visit his own history of accents, from his early Irish beginnings, to public school in England, to Oxford, to his current home in Birmingham. Certainly a story of accents!
There are some funny and interesting remarks in the fact that Richard's parents were born in 1926, the year of the "birth" of the BBC, as well as on the "official christening" of Received Pronunciation.
Richard's next step involved the discussion of reference models. We know about the current "embarrased" (sic) status of Received Pronunciation, all the prejudice associated with it as a prestige accent, and no wonder, given some of the (thought-provoking) quotes selected by Richard:
Richard reported a teacher's "protective" attitude towards a Scouse-speaking student, warning him of the how you may "lose marks" if you use your Liverpool accent. This type of prejudice is also taken up in a quote from the 19th century:
This idea of prejudice is ingrained and as the table below shows, which is far different from what many people may believe now, attitudes to accents and the role of accents may change and are, in fact, changing. Richard makes a hilarious remark on this table, saying that probably the order would change if the question was "Who would you like to have on your side in a fight?"
Richard moves on to present a number of successful professionals, with a high level of proficiency in English, who may have some sort of self-loathing or a lowered self-image because of their accents, or because of the reception towards their accents. Some of these quotes show the role of accent and identity and the "perpetuation of the prejudice":
After listening to different non-native and native accents of English, and drawing on intra-speaker variation, Richard makes a point that accents are variable within the same speaker, and that they can be used for accommodation in different situations. He makes it really clear that we "should be allowed to be who we are".
The next point raised is that of reference models. Received Pronunciation does not have the "status" it used to have, particularly its "refined" version, and hostility towards RP is clear in many areas, as it reveals a "stigmatisation of privilege" (Geoff Lindsey). Richard makes a point that these models should not be attainment targets, just references to where students may want to approximate. But most importantly, "any accent of English is acceptable as long as it is intelligible"
A few other useful reminders Cauldwell has drawn our attention to:
- English is no longer the property of the native speaker
- attainment models are achievable learning targets, reference models are not and there are not too many native speakers of those models (Refined RP just for some Royal Family members and the Navy!)
And some thought-provoking conclusions by Richard, which I post in his own "voice":
A short Question & Answer session ensued:
1. Audience: What accent should we teach? If teachers teach with their own voices, isn't this confusing for learners? The member of the audience retells an experience of teaching with her own RP accent alongside another Irish teacher. Don't we need some sort of model?
Richard: There are lots of resources online to choose voices learners can aim to attain without having to go for a reference model. Learners can choose how to establish their identity as speakers of English.
2. Audience: To what extent can you modify your pronunciation?
Richard: It depends on own personal capacity to handle the input that comes in and moderate what comes out. But most importantly, there are some emotional filters that may give people high motivation, or maybe lead them to resist the acquisition of a target accent.
3. Audience: We have to admit there are many Englishes. So pronunciation is not very important for English at a basic level (sic).
Richard: We need to distinguish between production and perception. We have to prepare people to encounter many accents and produce something reasonably consistent.
4. Audience: Teacher working with multilingual classes. I modified my speech for my students, I don't use norhtern accents. If students change their vowels completely, that is not all right for me, that is my line. Spelling definitely affects pronunciation.
Richard: It is important to teach the issues between spelling and sound. But we should aim for intelligibility as a priority.
That was a brief report on Richard's talk.
You can read more on this in Richard's book and on this blog post: http://blog.britishcouncil.org/2014/06/09/what-does-your-accent-say-about-you/
Link to the presentation handout:
Laura Patsko and Katy Davies: Practical ideas for teaching pronunciation and listening in an English as a lingua franca (ELF) context
Laura and Katy introduce themselves as teachers working in multilingual context, with non-native learners of English from different L1s. English is their communicative medium of choice, and at times, their only option. They teach "English as a Lingua Franca", which represents the communicative reality of use in English accortding to statistics, and the pronunciation aspect is highlighted in their teaching as "pronunciation was biggest cause of breakdown of communication" (Jenkins, 2000)
The presenters covered the following areas in their talk:
- How to know what to prioritise in an ELF context?
- How can you "standardise" your teaching practice within this variation?
- What practical ideas can you apply in the teaching of ELF pronunciation?
Establishing priorities for an ELF context
1. Conduct a needs analysis:
- discussion with students, knowing their needs and motivations for learning English;
- diagnostic work: listening to their pronunciation, identifying gap for intelligibility problems. For example: taking a dictation exercise between fellow ELF users (and not the teacher as the "authorised voice"), using sentences in the coursebook, and asking students to take down what their classmates are saying. This allows the teacher and students to identify areas of "high risk" for intelligibility.
2. With the newly-found data: Apply an ELF filter
Check the areas of the Lingua Franca Core and make decisions. The teaching techniques for pronunciation do not need to differ from those used in EFL contexts: minimal pairs, drilling, etc.
3. Come up with a syllabus, based on coursebook/teaching materials and data from the diagnosis
4. Adapting classroom practice
Some things to be considered for an ELF practice:
- We need to help students become aware of what they are doing and why.
- Students need to be conscious of the fact that accent is flexible, and that in an ELF context accommodation is important, and they should know how to modify their speech if necessary.
- Students should be allowed to make choices.
- Weak forms are not essential in the LFC but may be presented as part of receptive skills to be taught.
- Focus on stress is important and textbook activities or tapescripts may be adapted to this end.
- RP may not be a model in itself, but it is useful to teach spelling patterns and their connections to sounds.
- The learners' needs are taken into consideration and not necessarily the native speaker norm. Students may be judges and models themselves, and teachers should support their choices, particularly if they are "informed" choices.
- It is better, in a multilingual context, to encourage pairwork over groupwork, so as to enable students to improve comprehension on a particular task being exposed to one "ELF" variety at a time.
- It is important to teach learners different chunks of language to ensure a smooth negotiation of meaning, request of repetition, or reformulation.
Use of authentic materials
"Authentic" defined as "materials which have been created in English but not for the purpose of learning English".
These may be used to look for proficient users of English as a Lingua Franca and try both productive and perceptive skills:
- News websites: not necessarily the usual ones, "open your options"
- TED talks, YouTube
- IDEA Accents of English
- Speech Accent Archive
Some conclusions by the presenters, inviting us to reconsider and revisit some assumptions:
Laura Patsko rounds off the session by quoting Robin Walker, and the need to re-think goals and the role of error, rather than modify classroom practices.
Some questions ensued:
Audience: You said you only teach the "bird" vowel, do you teach diphthongs?
L & K: Key thing on the LFC is length, even for diphthongs. Achieving a particular quality for a vowel sound is not important, but a particular consistent quality is, as well as to preserve length.
Audience: Brazilian speakers learn /θ/ by imitating "th" from speakers with a lisp.
L&K: Even though /θ/ is out of the LFC as it may be replaced by other consonants, it is true that we may get "models" and "tips" from unconventional places. It is also important to consider and question notions of "correctness" and focus on "variation". We ought to remember LFC is a set of features, not a model or variety.
Audience: How can we continue improving our pronunciation after finishing a course?
L & K: An example of a good resource, BC ESOL Nexus website. Watching snippets from videos may also help.
Audience: Some learners still expect the native speaker norm.
L & K: Respecting students' choices is part of our job, and asking them why they are making the choices they are making is important to see if their choices are informed. Presenting statistics is important. Those "ELF moments" we have in the classroom can also help us to make a point.
This was my brief report on Laura and Katy's Talk.
Their blog http://elfpron.wordpress.com/ and the link to their handout: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1JbndZPedC5Y2l2VmhjX1A3UU0/edit?pli=1
Hope you have enjoyed this summary of the sessions.
No time for my own input on these today, but I promise a follow-up on this. I think that all the speakers in this session mentioned the reality of English today, but also considered the fact that attainment targets are to be planned by the teacher based on the expectations of the students, and the contexts of use students will be applying their English to. As a teacher trainer, this is a very important point, and I was truly hoping to hear these views made explicit.
Replay link available HERE.
Thanks for reading me!