miércoles, 12 de agosto de 2015

Report on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (#PTLC2015) at UCL. August 5-7th, 2015 - Part 2

My previous post briefly commented on the sessions I attended at PTLC 2015 on Day 1. I am now going to report on a very busy day at the conference, Day 2, before it all flies away from my short-term memory and all my teaching duties take over! 

(My usual disclaimer: all misinterpretations of the presentations are my own, and totally unintentional)

Day 2: August 6th

The opening plenary was by Dr. Eleanor Lawson, who struck me as sooo knowledgeable and so young! She made a fascinating report of a few studies on Scottish postvocalic /r/, and what different types of measurements (impressionistic, MRI, UTI) contributed to the study of coarticulation. The presentation continued with the description of the whole development process for these two amazing online resources: Seeing Speech and Dynamic Dialects. It was, simply, an amazing presentation.

And after that, we had the fabulous experience of trying ultrasound imaging on our own tongues! 

Trying my Spanish alveolar trill! :D Sooo exciting!

The second session of the day started with a very entertaining presentation of teaching ideas for laboratory phonetics by Timothy Mills, Karen Pollock and Benjamin V. Tucker from the University of Alberta. One of their techniques involved getting students to create their own "Frankeintracts" of the vocal tract, making use of any material of their choice (apparently some students even attempted models that could actually utter sounds!). Other very interesting activities consisted in the students' plotting of their own vowel formants and a few designs of tests for the perception of neutralisation of items such as "latter/ladder". 

Mercedes Cabrera-Abreu and Francisco Vizcaíno-Ortega were up next (represented by Mercedes on this ocassion), and their presentation was a discussion of their classroom assessment tasks for their courses on acoustics, and the results obtained. From spectogram and waveform recognition tasks to the actual hand-drawing of spectograms, students were assessed on numerous aspects of acoustic phonetics, with different levels of success. I found the tasks particularly interesting (and difficult, given my really basic knowledge of acoustics!), and this presentation opened my mind to a other ways of testing.

I, Marina Cantarutti, was the following presenter. I discussed a very humble classroom experience on intonation teaching through speech genres (the lecture genre, in this case) and on my students' treatment of tonality, tonicity and tone in connection to thematic structure in a pre- and post-instruction tests. I have basically found that my students actively assigned different degrees of relevance to the various thematic elements in the text given by either conflating Themes and Rhemes in the same IP (lowering the relevance and possible contrastive value of the thematic element) or by treating them obliquely. I also made a point that contrary to my own expectations, students initially produced more cases of transfer from Spanish in terms of their treatment of focus, rather than of tone.

After lunch, two attempts at a group picture, and a tour round the labs and the library, we were all ready for more.

The whole #PTLC2015 bunch! (Credits: PTLC, FB page)

Smiljana Komar from the University of Ljubliana introduced her results in perception tasks for the fall-rise tone. She found some interesting cases of mistaken perception of fall-rises for falls, and then for rises. Her findings in a way appear pretty similar to the ones I believe we would find over here in Buenos Aires, if we tried the same tests, which makes the whole thing really intriguing, given that we have different L1s!

Yusuke Shibata, Masaki Taniguchi and Tamikazu Date presented an experience with junior high teacher and students, connected to notions of tonicity and focus. They have found these features to be highly teachable, and they expect to be able to "persuade" and also train teachers towards the active integration of pronunciation and intonation work at schools.

Junko Sugimoto and Yoko Uchida carried out an analysis of the government-approved ELT books in Japan in search of pronunciation tasks and training. They have found that there were activities connected to vowels, consonants and well as articulatory explanations and resources on phonics and Katakana. In my opinion, the books they analysed presented a number of very interesting contents and tasks, and they far exceeded the number of activities and pronunciation training available in the EFL textbooks that we have on this side of the world.

Nikola Paillereau presented a comparison between some specific Czech and French vowels as produced by students acquiring French as L2. The focus on this presentation was the assessment of L2 vowels using a piece of software called VisuVo -which, unfortunately, is not open to the public yet-, which was designed by the presenter and a collaborator . The program allowed for measurement and plotting of vowel formats and comparison of other variables across speakers and in an intra-speaker manner. 

Rungpat Roengpitya discussed the design of different Phonetics courses at different departments at her university in Thailand. I found it particularly interesting that the inclusion of Phonetics for training in some medical sciences, such as Dentistry, was aimed at helping the future professionals become aware of how they can improve a patient's quality of life by knowing how their intervention may affect speech.

Pekka Lintunen and Aleksi Mäkilähde (represented by the former on this occasion) carried out a very interesting study regarding what students prefer, like and find motivating about the Phonetics courses they attended. Their survey revealed that students find accents and intonation topics more engaging than other themes in the course. Part of their study also assessed whether students' view of Phonetics as highly benefitial to their future career had changed, and in most cases, students agreed that Phonetics was necessary for their professional development. There were a few caveats and self-objections that the presenter made to the survey and its delivery, but it was overall a very interesting, and easily replicable study, worth further thought!

The closing prenary was by Professor David Deterding, and it was aimed at discussing misunderstandings and the role of pronunciation for intelligibility. We participants had a lot of fun decoding many instances of English as an L2/FL speech from different locations (Brunei, Nigeria, among a few others), and in the end, it turned pretty challenging to make sense of many words. (This may seem quite obvious and ordinary for people teaching in multilingual environments, but in my teaching setting, where most of my students' L1 is Spanish and where English is only used in the classroom, activities like these really open up your mind!) . Deterding's talk included a review of the Lingua Franca Core, and some comments regarding attempts at revised versions in different environments. Apart from the well-known objection to stress-timed rhythm as a feature making speech less intelligible from an international perspective, there were a few comments regarding the role of consonant clusters in the blurring of comprehension at word level. Event though David did not perhaps tackle upon this explicitly in his talk, later personal communication made it clear that of course, we need to make a distinction between aims we may have regarding perception, and those for production. We all agree that perception and exposure to all accents of English, including "international Englishes" is essential if we want our language teaching training to be enabling and empowering for communication.
This is the end of Day 2 (because, of course, I will not report on the wine-tasting session!). Just in case: I'm just the messenger here, so I am merely reporting on the sessions, and adding a few comments, but of course, any objections or remarks on the presentations should be addressed to the authors themselves (do note that I have, in most cases, added links to the speakers' institutional affiliations!).

 I'll be wrapping up my discussion of PTLC on my next post on Day 3, which will probably be out during the weekend. Thanks for bearing with me!

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