domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

Event Report: PronSIG's Different Voices - University of Brighton

Yesterday I travelled some 500 km to the lovely University of Brighton to attend and present at PronSIG's "Different Voices" event. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues and also to see how pronunciation teaching is "handled" in other parts of the world.

Here's my report on the talks I had the chance of watching (as usual, any misrepresentation of the information here is entirely my fault, and evaluative comments are entirely my own). The full programme is available here, and the live-tweeting/facebooking, here and here. (Otherwise, you can check the storified version of all tweets at the bottom of this post)

The opening plenary was by John Wells. His talk, "Don't be frightened of intonation!" was a brief review of the some of the content and examples in his 2006 intonation book, so to us, many things looked pretty familiar, but there were some people in the audience scribbling non-stop on their handouts, so there was a lot of new content for some attendees. Wells' presentation started with a discussion of what systems of intonation could be said to be universal, and which, language-specific. Among the first, tonality was included (perhaps I will not entirely agree that it is wholly universal, myself, but then, I don't know as many languages as Prof. Wells does!) and then tone was considered to be partly language-specific, partly universal. A large focus of the talk was on tonicity, and there were cases of broad and narrow focus, contrastive focus, event sentences (which Wells called "events and disasters" ;)  ) and some intonational idioms. Regarding tone, Wells reviewed the typical fall vs rise distinctions and their associated typical grammatical contexts (statements, pardon questions) and the implicational meanings of the fall-rise. There was also a mention of major vs minor information (instead of using his reference to trailing and dependent tones), which somehow reminded me of Tench (1996). I think the best tip given was the importance of teaching tonicity through deaccentuation rules. At least for Spanish learners, this is essential!

The second slot was made up of two smaller sessions. I attended Michael Vaughan Rees' "The do it yourself tongue twister kit", which was a truly entertaining and creative workshop on alliteration and rhythm that included a competition and even a final group chant jazz session!. We had fun building rhythmic and alliterative verses based on the idea of "X bought Y", (X=name; Y=product, and the verb "bought" could also be replaced by an alliterative synonym or other verb). Such a simple verse, and so versatile!
BTW, I personally love Michael's book "Rhymes and Rhythm", and I fully recommend it to teach aspects of connected speech.

The next session was by the wonderful Richard Cauldwell. On this occasion, Richard reviewed the use of the software Sonocent's Audio Notetaker to train students for oral examinations and presentations. Through the software, different chunks of audio were colour-coded according to the criteria selected (the choice of tone, for example) and feedback was added to students' recordings. Cauldwell demonstrated how a textbook unit can also be presented in AN, on a single page made up of the combination of text, video, image and the audio panels (this looked like a particularly attractive idea for materials design!). I particularly love Richard's ability to make complex ideas so simple, and the use of metaphors is certainly one of his greatest achievements: the idea of "mountainous" speech (using rises and fall rises, chunking appropriately) vs the flat monotone"valleys" many learners engage into in their reading or speaking activities. Richard specified that his goal was to help students make their speech "listenable" without perhaps going a bit deeper into rules of intonation which could make the speech predictable, but not necessarily "listenable". This last bit reminded me of many of my teacher trainees who were somehow "overadapted" to intonation rules, and overapplied the same patterns in their speech, devoid of all expression and meaning (and I am not talking oblique orientation here, I mean the fall-rise + fall pattern trap, the continuous use of the same pattern over and over again!). At times the overapplication of rules does make machines of us, and we forget about expression, about making words mean....
Richard's handout is available here.

After lunch, we were all looking forward to the always great Adrian Underhill and his very unusual presentation title "...somewhere in the air, floating, not reachable...", based on a lovely piece of reflection Adrian received as feedback after one of his training courses. This is a very difficult presentation to describe, because it was all about proprioception. It is one of those things that you need to film and watch and try over and over again. Just a few highlights that I feel I can communicate in writing:
Underhill's premise is always the same, and it gets more and more real and clear with every presentation I see: we have to take pronunciation out of the mind, and into the body, pronunciation is an "embodied" thing, and a greater part of this is about developing propioception, "the inner sensing of what the muscles are doing, and how much pressure is being applied". Underhill claims that many teachers fail to help students with their pronunciation because they are not aware, physically speaking, of what is going on in their mouths, and they just try to refer back to their books.
We tried a number of metaphors for different parts of the mouth (trees, sky, marshes...), we reviewed the four "buttons" (lips, tongue, jaws, glottis), we tried word choreographies and different speeds and voice qualities that enabled us to feel articulation of words, connected speech as it were, in different ways. We were also invited to try different sound discovery sequences, looking at how one sound can help us discover the others.
I am sorry I cannot do justice to this presentaion, but I guess it's one of those things that need to be "experienced". Some of the pics of the slides will at least give you an idea of the different propioception prep we tried together:

I was up next, discussing some ideas on "pron-tegration". Since I will not be making this presentation any more (and I wonder if there will be more pronunciation teaching presos from me in the future, given my current teaching-less status! *cries a little*), I am sharing my slides with you here (those of you attending my talks for E-Teaching Online and UNSAM will probably recognise some of the proposed activities):

Liam Tyrrell was in charge of the last concurrent session. He discussed "attitudinal intonation" and the challenges that teachers find when trying to teach intonation for attitude, the sort of  reasons behind this "benign neglect". There was a mention of some current and previous literature on intonational descriptions, and how difficult these appear to be when it comes to applying the concepts to practice, and a few remarks on how pitch range is different in different cultures, which makes an intercultural class even harder to teach in this respect. An interesting discussion ensued after the presentation, regarding all the aspects that pertain to intonation, and to whether certain things can, or should be taught, not only in terms of production, but also in terms of being able to read pragmatic meaning (sarcasm, for instance).
My personal take on this is that intonation can be taught, that there are underlying rules, and thus, it is not erratic (otherwise we would not be able to recognise meanings, I believe), but then there is also a lot of variation in the choices made (as with all other linguistic systems!). So I guess there is a standard "intonational toolkit" of meanings that can be generalised, applications that can be made to be "safe", and others, which will definitely depend on context, and on genre. We cannot teach intonation outside genre, outside context, and I believe that is one of the great "sins" in intonation teaching, the presentation of de-contextualised examples that apply as generalisations. (One of the reasons I am doing this PhD, by the way, is precisely to overcome those limitations. Anyway, this has become a very long personal detour!)


All in all, it was a lovely meeting of pron-thusiasts and experts, in a beautiful setting (the Falmer campus is really something!), in an atmosphere of genuine attempts to share in our passion for pronunciation teaching.


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