jueves, 3 de julio de 2014

Ideas on the go #1: Creating a mental image of tone

At one of the Teacher Training Colleges where I work, most second year trainees in their Laboratory Practice II course (the oral practice component of the Phonetics II subject)  are exposed to one of the most widely-used materials in the world of intonation: Intonation of Colloquial English, by O'Connor and Arnold. In my humble and inexperienced opinion, this classroom material works fine to allow students to become aware of pitch changes and basic English tunes but not to help trainees see how tones create or help us negotiate meaning in interaction.  Mind you, none of the teachers in the staff, as far as I know, considers the "attitudinal" aspect in depth to teach the tunes, as the theoretical framework in the Phonetics courses centers around the phonological contributions of Discourse Intonation and Systemic Functional Linguistics (You can read a great article on these ways of approaching intonation by my colleagues Lucía Rivas and Miriam Germani here) In spite of this, I have to admit I have not yet found a set of materials that so exhaustively provides models for different patterns except, perhaps, for the practice sections in the book by Wells (2006)

My experience many years after learning intonation via these materials is that the O'Connor and Arnold "experience" has conditioned by ability to hear and make sense of tunes. I have found it so hard to start "re-adapting" my perception of what is really going on in English, and the materials by Jack Windsor Lewis, and Roger Kingdon, however outdated they may seem to some people, have really helped me "break the mould" when it comes to perception of tones. However, I am a phonetics "freak" myself and I do care about phonetic and allotonic detail, but it is true that the native speaker processes the signal and assigns some meaning to it, he/she has some sort of "action-activity recognition" from a Conversation-Analysis perspective, and that is what matters in terms of the perception of intonation, I guess. An probably, this is what the teachers-to-be I am training need, so a collection of materials for oral practice and theoretical analysis of tones like the ones my colleagues have made at College does seem appropriate, as long as we don't lose touch with the real use of language "out there".
Anyway. Digression again, as I was not planning to get into an informal assessment of intonation materials (this deserves a better post, and I will write about this some time in the future). Today, I wanted to address a set of difficulties some students presented with the modelling of tones.

During my tutorial periods, students were given a set of drills from O'Connor and Arnold  so as to read the patterns presented in the sentences. In spite of the fact that students do have the audio files of the book at their disposal and are supposed to imitate the audio, and do so pretty systematically, many students find it difficult to apply the patterns to a new, unrecorded, drill. Away from the model, there is no mental image to link the tune to.

At times, the image of the tunes in the students' minds are associated to a drill they remember by heart, and this helps, but at times, they find the transfer to a new context difficult. In this respect, I have tried two tips:

a) For students who need a reference drill:

Inspired by the DAR-DOOBY-DIPETY classic task by Mark Hancock, which I have rediscovered thanks to his presentation at IATEFL (also by the reference to the activity Krystina Poesova has made in her great talk at Harrogate!), I have found one out of many possible ways of helping students get a reference for tones. I have asked these students to record a DAR-DOOBY-DIPETY (and a four-syllabled word) DIPETITY version of each of the tones, in a different key, on their mobile phones. This has helped some students to have a ready-to-grasp voice note, recorded in their own voices, to keep as reference for the production of the tone for a different number of syllables as tails. When faced with a sentence with tone marks to read out, students would compare their versions to the DAR language ones on their mobiles (which they can retrieve really quickly!)

Here's an example of what I have asked my students to record on their mobiles:

I believe that the use of non-words for intonation reference may work, as it keeps meaning associations away from the tunes. In many occasions, students see the content of the words and apply a tune which they feel suits the content, but it does not match the pattern written in the book. (This, of course, makes for a great opportunity to discuss the different contexts that different decisions on intonation may project, but  the purpose of the activity in question is mostly to get students to imitate or produce certain patterns in a more systematic way). I should maybe see, in the future, if getting students to use the same reference words for the tunes may backfire and lead to further confusion ( a creation of non-sense words for each different tone may turn out better), but so far, in the limited number of students I have tried this humble tip on, it appears to have worked!

b) For students that may not be aware of what they are producing or have trouble imitating the "master":

In this case, I have encouraged the creation of a sort of "attitudinal image" in the students' minds. Although I have made a point of the fact that attitudes may not always help them make an appropriate choice of tone, I have asked some students to associate an attitude, feeling or reaction to the tune in question. Some of these ideas were also related to Spanish feelings or expressions. These attitudes may or may not match what the tone is "doing" in that particular context, but the focus of this activity is to build a mental image of what the tone sounds like. So, for example, these are some of the mental attitudes that did the trick with those students who were at first unable to reproduce a tune:

High fall: complete refusal of something, as for Spanish: No! Estás loco!. Also for complete surprise: Copaaado!. (Translations: No! You must be mad! and Wicked!)
Low fall: not surprised, it was obvious it was going to happen, as in Spanish: buah. Also sequence-closing, as for an argument: Se acabó. (Translations: Yep, duh, and It's over) 
Low rise: in general, the idea of counting objects with kids works as a mental image here. In order to make students aware of the step-down to begin the rise, I sometimes ask them to remember the voice of the Addams Familiy's butler, a sort of creaky-voice beginning:

High rise: this I have found a bit more difficult to model, and I generally ask students to go for a more "falsetto", "Shakira-like" note on the last syllable of the intonation phrase, mostly asking them to worry less about the starting point of the rise, and focus more on the end-point (avoiding, of course, an unnecesary prominence in the last syllable of the tail):

Fall-rise: Though not exactly the same in Spanish, many students get to associate the idea of a non-committal, insincere Sí, or Puede ser to this tone, in a context like "do you like my dress? (it looks awful).

From these mental images, we teachers start fine-tuning the productions of tones for each student individually till students find their own way of producing the tones on the page, or the tones expected in a particular task. They will, later, with the support of the theory in their Phonetics courses, make their own choices in the un-marked texts and spontaneous speech tasks carried out in their courses.

(Of course, all these initial notions and searches for the mental images needed to produce tones are fine-tuned individually and gradually. It is by no means our intention to harm students' vocal folds in any way or to force unnatural patterns out of them. These tasks are useful for the initial stages when gaining awareness of vocal range and possible glides is necessary, and continuous feedback and follow-ups on the part of the teacher then ensure that learners find a voice and a range that suits them best.)

I have not discussed the step ups and step downs for the onsets in this post, and for this, like some of my colleagues have done, I use the piano or the harmonica apps on my mobile, and encourage learners to do the same. There are other tips "out there" which surely do the trick, so feel free to share them in the "comments" box below!

Hope you have found these tips useful!

No hay comentarios:

Publicar un comentario

Thank you for following this blog!
Your comment is welcome. Please add your name and location to your remarks.
Comments are moderated in order to avoid spam and trolls, so please note that your comments may not show straightaway.