viernes, 31 de marzo de 2017

Phonetics for linguists, Phonetics for teachers

(I am still pressed for time, but I got this post drafted some time ago, so here it goes!)

I have always been curious about how linguists get trained in Phonetics -as my initial training is in English Language Teaching-, and these two terms I got a "taste" of what it is like, in different ways. I have found this first period truly fascinating, and of course, it opened up a lot of questions as to the way we teach Phonetics in Argentina to our future teachers (and a lot of praise, you know I am very proud of the way many of us work in my country!). So today, I would like to make a brief comparison between the way I experienced Phonetics as both a student and a lecturer in my courses in Buenos Aires, and what I have been able to experience here as a "module auditor" (i.e. "oyente", in Spanish).

The usual disclaimers:
  • Any incomplete or inaccurate information is entirely my fault.
  • I am making this comparison for information purposes, but I do not intend to make any assessment of the choice and structuring of content/textbooks/modules of any of the institutions hereby mentioned. 
  • For the current comparison, I have decided to choose the ISP Dr Joaquín V González in Buenos Aires because this is the institution where I graduated, and where I developed my lecturing career most widely. I am aware other Training Colleges in Buenos Aires may have a similar or different structures of modules and choice of materials. (And, needless to say, I am soooooo grateful to all the other four institutions in Buenos Aires where I got the opportunity to lecture in Phonetics!)
  • I am not writing this post to advertise any of the programmes, nor do I get any money out of this. (Just in case!)
  • This is is just a sneak peek into two very different undergrad programmes in two very different institutions in two very different countries: one where I did my undergrad, the other where I am doing my PhD (though here I'll describe the BA programme). As I have audited a few modules but I have not been a BA student here, I will include info which is readily available on the Uni website, plus a few anecdotal comments of my own.

Degrees & Course duration
  • Instituto Superior del Profesorado "Dr Joaquín V González", Buenos Aires, Argentina. Degree: Profesorado en Inglés (Graduate degree in English Language Teaching).
    •  4 or 5-year course, if done full time. (minimum duration: 3,120 clock hours).  A considerable majority of students take this course part-time and graduate after 5-8 years.
    • Tertiary level degree (since 2005 the law establishes that tertiary-level, 4-year-course degree holders can access postgraduate studies. Thus, this is a Higher Education degree with graduate status). 
    • Cost: free (a minor yearly collaboration is suggested, but not compulsory). The college is state-run, though students need to pay for their own stationery, books, photocopies and commuting. 
    • Entry requirements: High School completed (if you are under 25), and a passing grade in the English entrance exam (the level is generally B2(+), and there is capping, so not all students who pass the exam make it)
    • The college facilities for students to study at are open during termtime and during the day only.
  • University of York, United Kingdom: BA in English Language and Linguistics  (Based on info available at UoY website. Any misinterpretation is my own)
    • 3 years full-time (around 40 hours of study a week). (No info in my power as to how long it takes to complete it part-time)
    • Cost: around £9,000 per year (UK and EU students).
    • Entry requirements: A-Level marks: two As, one B. (Other possibilities are available)
    • Many University spaces are available 24/7 for students to study, including the library, where students can get hold of a copy of their textbooks.
What follows is a comparative chart between the compulsory and elective modules available to students during their course of studies:

University of York – BA in English Language and Linguistics

(Based on 2016-2017 module offer)
(1 hour=60 minutes / 1 term= roughly 8 weeks)
(Note: there is a credit system, but I am not entirely familiar with it. Except for the 1st year subject, all other subjects can be opted out of if students decide to follow other paths)
ISP Dr Joaquín V González – Profesorado en Inglés

(Based on the 2015 curricula)
(1 period= 40 minutes / Annual module= around 32 weeks)
(Note: all the modules hereby listed are core modules)
1st year
Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology (2 hrs a week -3 terms)
Fonética y Fonología I (Phonetics and Phonology I) (Annual module - 4 periods a week)
Práctica en Laboratorio de Idiomas I (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab I) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
2nd year
Intermediate Phonetics and Phonology (2 terms) (Elective: but it has to be taken if the other elective, Intermediate Syntax, is not chosen)
Fonética y Fonología II (Phonetics and Phonology II) (Annual module - 4 periods a week)
Práctica en Laboratorio de Idiomas II (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab I) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
3rd year
Forensic Phonetics (1 term)
Phonological development (1 term)
The prosody of English (3 hours a week - 1 term)
Advanced topics in phonetics and phonology (2 terms)
Articulatory and impressionistic phonetics (2-3 hours a week-2 terms)
The phonetics of a modern language (2 terms)
The phonetics of talk-in-interaction (2 hs a week - 2 terms)
Fonología en Laboratorio y su Didáctica I (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab III and Phonology Teaching) (Annual module - 3 periods a week)
4th year
Fonología en Laboratorio y su Didáctica II (Pronunciation Practice at the Lab IV and Phonology Teaching (Annual module - 3 periods a week)

At York, the modules vary in terms of content, but in general (and very broadly speaking, of course!), the following content is covered: articulatory phonetics; phonological patterns and processes and phonotactics; phonological models and typologies; experimental phonetics; acoustic phonetics; interactional phonetics; phonological acquisition and development; phonetic profiling & speaker identification (forensics); sociophonetics; theories of prosodic analysis; description of prosody; prosody in interaction. Phonetics and Phonology of English and other languages and varieties around the globe.

At ISP JVG, students are introduced to applied or practical English phonetics and phonology: articulatory phonetics; English rhythm; processes of connected speech: assimilation, elision, linking, weak and strong forms; spelling-to-sound rules. Intonation: components, systems, functions: tonality/chunking, tonicity (nucleus placement rules and word stress), tone (functions), key and termination, intonation in discourse and speech styles in English. Broad characteristics of different accents of English. Pronunciation teaching: techniques, approaches, principles.

Reference accents
The first-year introductory courses on English Phonetics and the Prosody of English modules at York use SSBE/RP as a reference and starting point, but there is a lot of comparative work on features of other accents and languages.

The English Phonetics and Phonology courses at ISP JVG generally work on SSBE/General British. Some professors do some introductory work on General American in the first year courses. The fourth-year module includes an introduction to accents of English around the world.

As I do not have all the relevant information available, I will just list the most widely consulted textbooks for the courses in both programmes, without specifying what courses they are used in:

BA in English Language and Linguistics
Profesorado de Inglés
  • Ogden, Richard (2009) An introduction to English phonetics. Edinburgh University Press.
  • Catford, J C. (2001). A practical introduction to phonetics. Oxford University Press.
  • Ladefoged, Peter and Keith Johnson. (2015). A course in Phonetics. Seventh Edition. Cengage Learning
  • Nathan, G. (2008). Phonology: a cognitive grammar introduction.Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Hayward, Katrina. (2000). Experimental phonetics. Longman.
3rd year modules generally have as part of their bibliography a vast collections of chapters and papers. I cannot include a full biblio here, but it is pretty varied, as you can imagine!

Cruttenden, A. (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English. 7th ed. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Mott, B. (2011). English Phonetics and Phonology for Spanish Speakers. 2nd ed. Barcelona: Publicacions i Edicions Universitat de Barcelona.
Mees, I. and Collins, B. (2008). Practical Phonetics and Phonology: A Resource Book for Students. 2nd ed. United Kingdom: Routledge.
Roach, P. (2015). English phonetics and phonology. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Brazil, D., Coulthard, M. and Johns, C. (1981). Discourse intonation and language teaching. 1st ed. Harlow, Essex: Longman.
Brazil, D. (1997). The Communicative Value of Intonation in English. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Wells, J. (2006). English Intonation: An Introduction. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Tench, P. (1996). The intonation systems of English. London: Cassell.

Most courses supplement these textbooks with papers and chapters from other sources.

Goals, approaches, and other comments
  • As a postgrad at Uni of York, I have audited three of the Phonetics modules and worked as an exam marker for another. What I can include here is merely anecdotal, but I think it is interesting to share: 
    • Lectures and Seminars: students here are trained as linguists and future researchers, so even though there are content-ful lectures, the focus is on developing bibliographical, reflective and field research. So even though the lecturers present information in their classes, the focus is on research and analytical procedures. Students are expected to get the knowledge out of extensive bibliography reading, and to make the most of the seminars and practicals to ask questions and to learn the know hows. Students can use the Virtual Learning Environment to test their knowledge with some self-assessment quizzes, if they want, but summative assessments are formatted as research or analytical papers or essays.
    • Oral and Aural practice: Students are not asked to produce the sounds of any particular language (except for those who choose to take The Phonetics of a Modern Language), but they are expected to produce and be able to recognise and decode all the sounds represented by the symbols and diacritics in the IPA chart.Resultado de imagen para ipa chart 2015 As for intonation, I have found it interesting to see how hard it was generally for students to learn to decode their own intonation, or that of other native speakers of English. This is an ability that goes beyond your L1, I guess. A big difference with my own training is that students here decode real-life interaction (telephone calls, radio shows) during the practicals and do so pretty much on the spot, and because they work at their own computers, they can work on the material many times as long as they comply with the time limit (something I would have loved to be able to do for my Phonetics II final exams).
  • As a lecturer at ISP JVG, I was supposed to train my students to produce, as naturally as possible, the sound and intonation systems of General British English. 
    • Lectures are really heavy on content, because not all students comply with weekly reading (the truth is that the vast majority of students work full-time and study part-time) and because in a way that is the way lectures are conceived of, and mainly because at times we are not entirely happy with some of the materials, and we develop our own ways of making the content "teachable" and gradable. 
    • Oral and Aural training consists in getting students to perceive, produce and transcribe the sounds and intonation of (mostly General British) English (which is most cases is our students' second or foreign language), in very controlled settings in the first years, based on the professor's own production, or on a graded set of materials. Approximate decoding and production of more authentic material is generally an expectation for 3rd or 4th year students. 
    • We also train students in pronunciation teaching as they work in their own production and perception as, after all, we are expected to help them develop their teaching skills (though secretly, I think we are training them to be linguists of English as well...and I sort of like it!)
Some final remarks
This "information sheet", as it were, presents some differences in terms of how Phonetics as a discipline is presented to future BAs in English Linguistics and to future graduate teachers of English in training. 
At first glance, you can see how thorough Phonetics training is in both programmes. Students are trained in the use of phonetic and phonological jargon, and they need to consult specialised bibliography. They have to develop precise transcription skills, and enhance their perception of segmental and suprasegmental phenomena. Future BAs and teachers are equally assessed in their analytical skills and in their ability to identify, explain, and apply phonetic and phonological phenomena. The main difference, perhaps, lies in terms of what abilities and reference accents and languages are foregrounded.

If they choose to follow a Phonetics-based path, BA students get a wider view of accents and languages, and they get a taste of different phonetic sciences and contexts where phonetics has a role. They are not expected to produce the sounds or intonation of any language or accent in particular (except in The Phonetics of a Modern Language that prepares students for their year abroad), though they need to be able to reproduce the sounds and sound+diacritic combinations in the IPA chart, irrespective of language.

Teacher trainees have their own production as perhaps one of the most important skills to attain, and they are trained in also decoding class materials and some authentic audio as well. However, they are obviously trained in English phonetics and phonology, and not in other languages (though, to be honest, I wish I could have done more work on a lot more varieties of English). As teacher trainees work on their own process, they are also exposed to different pronunciation teaching techniques and approaches, apart from getting specific lessons in pron teaching. 

As an EFL teacher, I have to admit I am really grateful for my linguistic and phonetic training. Of course, when I see the type of training students get here, I often wish I had had a full-fledged training in phonetics, all aspects of it, as these students are lucky enough to get here (which, obviously, I can appreciate because I'm 15 years older than they are and I know how hard it was for me to get the basics of English phonetics!). However, as a researcher in linguistics, I can confirm I would not be here if it had not been for my initial training, even if my undergrad was not (explicitly) meant to be a degree in linguistic research. And as both a teacher and a researcher, I need to say that having been taught to teach, and having been trained in how to explain things to students, is definitely an invaluable skill that both linguists and teachers alike should develop if they want an academic career that involves communicating knowledge to others.

PS to this post: After publication, I got some really interesting comments and suggestions, so I would like to make the following additions:

  • I obviously love the training imparted in both institutions - I would not have engaged in a public post otherwise-. I have been, and I am shaped in my learning and in my past -and hopefully future- teaching by the professors and colleagues I have encountered here and at home. I also find it fascinating to have the best of both worlds, so to speak, and to be able to audit modules as a student and a former teacher makes me value my professors' efforts here even more.
  • It is clear that the organisation of Higher Education in Argentina and in the UK is totally different. The issue of fees is obviously something someone might want to pick on, but I would not like to discuss this here. The systems are very different, the politics are different, and my mentioning the fact that one is (partly) free, and the other is not, is not really something I want to make something of in my blog. And since some of my readers are not aware of how things work in Argentina, I thought I would mention the fees aspect. 
  • Related to this last point is also my mentioning of the fact that it takes students longer to complete their degrees in Argentina. And this is, to a certain degree, a result of the need that all adults in education have of making a living, which forces many students to decide to devote more hours to work than to study. I wish governments would be more sympathetic to and supportive of students in this respect.
  • Also in connection to this point, I wish to clarify the point I made on lectures and bibliography. As a lecturer, I have always seen the need to help teachers make language content "graspable". Our content-ful lectures are meant to be attempts to help students approach the bibliographical materials from some solid ground. Furthermore, I also wanted to show my trainees ways in which these contents can then be made "teachable" for their own students. I know I gave my students a wealth of material to read, and I knew that even though I would have loved them to read it all, I had to be realistic (most of my students worked full-time) and act as a sort of "bridge" between the books and the content I wanted them to learn and I needed to assess them on.
  • Plus, I am aware that I compared a tertiary level college with a university course, and perhaps many of those points I raised would work differently if I had described the course of studies of one of the National Universities in Argentina. Still, from what I have seen in conferences, there are quite a few similarities between what we do at JVG and what many professors in National Unis do.
  • There is, clearly, a separation in my title between teachers and linguists, and perhaps it was not the happiest of divisions, I agree!. I certainly think that teachers are linguists in the traditional sense (the Oxford Learner's Dictionary defines it as 1. A person skilled in languages 2. A person who studies linguistics). Teachers do a lot of linguistics in their everyday teaching: they teach syntax, semantics, pragmatics, phonology; they do psycholinguistics when they ponder on or experiment on reading /listening / speaking processes and processing and learning; they do sociolinguistics when they discuss different varieties. And I am happy to see that recently there have been some research teams and conferences set up at Teacher Training Colleges in Buenos Aires that encourage linguistic investigation. Perhaps the separation I tried to make lies in that in the BA here, the training  is inclined mostly towards research (though the career path that opens up after graduation is really wide) , whereas at Teacher Training College the priority is training teachers for teaching at kindergarten, primary or secondary school, or for EAP in Higher Ed (though of course I believe teachers need to be trained in formal research for reasons you already know from my previous rants!). 

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