miércoles, 9 de agosto de 2017

Brief report: PTLC 2017, part 1

I'm still conference-crawling, and this time, I'm at UCL, in London, for the lovely Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (PTLC), held every two years (hashtag for all the live-tweeting: #ptlc2017). The "Argentinian Delegation" is quite large this time, which makes me really happy and proud, so I got to be reminded of some of our everyday struggles and challenges when teaching Phonetics in my country.

Here's a brief report on Day 1 (click on the presenters' names to access their academic websites), with my usual "comment bites". As always, any error or mis-representation/misunderstanding of the content of the talks is entirely my fault!

Jane Setter "Research-led teaching in phonetics: an exercise in research literacy"

Prof. Jane Setter made a review of the work she has done in her undergraduate courses to contribute to developing students' awareness and literacy of everything involved in research, which is also part of the University of Reading's own strategy. The paper illustrated a few ways of involving students in phonetics research by conducting "research-led teaching", that is, teaching based on someone's (in this case, Jane's) own research on Global Englishes. I once again enjoyed the reference to Dale's Cone of Experience (1969), that estipulates that students retain only 5% of what is presented in a lecture, and 90% when the content is to be taught or applied immediately. Prof. Setter's students made a few interesting remarks after the experience that reveals that they are better acquainted with the challenges of good phonetic research, such as problems with obtaining good quality recordings, liasing with other collaborators, and setting up the technology.

Marina Grasso "Reflecting upon students’ problems in phonemic dictations"

Grasso (whose paper was read by Daniela Martino) discusses a very familiar picture to us, Phonetics professors in Argentina: the number of failed written transcriptions and dictations because of segmental features in Phonetics II exams, where the focus and training is on suprasegmentals. Grasso's list of errors included the misuse of strong and weak forms, overgeneralisation or lack of application of transcription rules, spelling-to-sound and grammar errors. Part of the proposal for improvement consisted in asking students to follow three steps during the transcription revisiion period: 1) Go top-down: reread the transcription to make sense of meaning; 2) Go bottom-up: review rules; 3) after marking intonation: go over weak and strong forms. Error correction activities may also help the reactivation of information presented.
During the question period, two interesting comments came up. RA Knight mentioned that surprisingly, those native speakers of English she has taught make the same type of phonemic transcription errors, which means that there could be some other sort of underlying problem. M Ashby suggested the possibility of doing transcription copying activities, basically, doing some "scribe-like" work of copying a transcription, since errors do also come up in these activities and they can tell us a lot about what processing issues may be at play.
I still think there are quite a few factors involved in the problem that Grasso discusses and which at least those of us who have taught Phonetics in Argentina know very well about, and I think these problems lie in a multiplicity of factors. It's quite fascinating, in any case, to see how common these issues are, and how we can, perhaps, find a way of researching them together, given that we all seem to encounter the same issues!

Mirjam J.I. de Jonge  "Spectrogram reading as a tool to teach acoustic phonetics"

This presentation by de Jonge was really enjoyable. We were challenged as an audience to do spectogram reading several times (oh, yes, audience participation! Scary!), first to guess a mystery word, then to match spectograms to the pronunciation of Dutch numbers. de Jonge proposed a sequence of introduction to the acoustics of English and Dutch, beginning with the introduction of vowels (not from a spectogram, but from a waveform, in order to show how periods work), and diphthongs. Later on, plosives are best introduced, which reveal that even gaps in the spectogram can be useful information to consider, and finally, fricatives, recorded in different audio qualities and sampling rates, to show how problem recordings can really spoil the output and the readings. I particularly enjoyed the fact that students in these sessions at the University of Amsterdam are invited to record themselves and bring spectograms to class. I also found it really impressive that they get to introduce tone, intonation, acoustics, speech perception and production, and quite a few other big topics in just 12 weeks (with a three or four session-a-week frequency).

Claire Timmins "Online video assessment of clinical phonetic transcription skills in Speech and Language Pathology"

Prof. Timmins discussed a pilot experience meant at testing the validity of their final exam in a module in the training of speech and language pathologists. The final exam situation is meant to be quite close to a real speech assessment situation where professional faces the client and needs to phoneticially transcribe their speech in real time. Timmins highlighted the need for speech therapists to be aware and use the IPA and the extension to the IPA for disordered speech in order to take down as much detail as possible regarding the child/adult facing speech difficulties (I was immediately reminded of the transcriptions in Local and Kelly's "Doing Phonology"!).
What I found interesting (and which I keep insisiting I would have looooooved to be able to do in my own final exams) is that students were each given a PC, and the audio sample was played in each computer, so that students could listen to the sample through their headphones, and do the transcription (in one go, however! Just one, fleeting, listening chance!). A considerable number of students who tried the pilot enjoyed the experience and valued the possiblity of listening to the sample on the PCs (previous exam experiences consisted in live dictations, a speaker dictating in one room with all the students there). Technical issues were always there, ready to spoil the whole thing, as some students reported, but this was just a pilot, and it was great, in my humble opinion, that the professors at Strathclyde were considering ways of changing their exams and were setting up pilot trials to that end. 
An issue which also came up is that of the actual assessment of these transcrptions. Triallers were given "competent" or "non competent" as a grade, and Timmins mentioned that as a sociophonetician she was more demanding in her expectations than speech pathologists.
My own, humble, personal opinion, is that speech therapists should have great control over the IPA in order to make observations and find common patterns..

Hyunsong Chung "Review of the Lingua Franca Core for English pronunciation teaching in Korea"

Chung started his presentation by reviewing some of the basics of the Lingua Franca Core (Jenkins, 2000, 2007), in order to address issues that Korean speakers find problematic when speaking English: vowel qualities, and liquids-rhotics, for example. Some interesting audio samples were presented that illustrated some of these problems. Chung mentioned several points, among them the fact that the LFC as an idea appears to be appealing, but in practice, many learners may not want to be trained for intelligibility in the terms proposed in the LFC, and also that what is intelligible for a group of speakers may not be for others. Chung makes a bold proposition (which I cannot truly assess because I am not familiar with his context), which is, training learners in different world Englishes for listening purposes, but with a native-like aim for production purposes, leaving the LFC priorities for more advanced leraners, who are then in a position to make all the possible accommodations. 
The need to work on "GloCal" Englishes came up, which also seems to have been discussed by David Deterding, and in other materials (which to be entirely honest, I am not familiar with, so I will not comment on further!).

Lilián Ariztimuño "The expression of emotion in fairy tales: a multimodal approach to improve EFL students’ oral renderings"

Lilián Ariztimuño shared some of the findings of her MA research on fairy tales and the expression of emotion. On a corpus of stories (read by the same speaker), the presenter used the model of Appraisal developed by Martin & White, and the constructs of Inscribed Affect as described by Bednarek (2008) to trace all the emotion-related tokens in the stories that were part of the corpus. Using the description of Emotional Speech and the phonetic features described for it by Roach et al (1998, 2000), Ariztimuño put together a framework that relates the expression of un/happiness, in/security, dis/satisfaction, un/expectedness, dis/inclination with their realisation in the prosodic parameters of pitch height and range, loudness, tempo and some "paralinguistic" features such as voice quality, vocal effects and voice qualifications. This framework has been found to be useful to help students ( teacher trainees) make their readings more expressive.
When asked about whether the "voices" in the texts were considered, the presenter explained that these prosodic parameters were heightened when the voice of the character was evoked. There was also a remark made about different readers possibly choosing different parameters, which is why some of these features may not hold true if compared with other samples.
I think that working on a genre-based type of approach to prosody is something that some of us advocate, and using real English speech to make observations, find generalisations, and translate those into teaching, is always something to be celebrated. There are always things we can do differently, or perhaps be more precise or systematic about, but I agree that this is the way to go.

Christelle Exare "Intrusive tokens of aspiration in French learners’ L2 English"

I enjoyed this presentation very much, but I don't think I can do justice to it, because there was a lot of important and fascinating information I could not take down (soooo looking forward to the proceedings!). Basically this presentation was about French learners of English adding [h] (aspirating, from a Gestural Phonology perspective) to initial vowels, in combinations like "I ate" (as "I hate") . [h] intrusion was done either through aspiration noise, or via a breathy vowel segment. Acoustically, these intrusions were characterised by undetected F0 trace, aspiraton noise in mid frequencies, F1 weakening, and F2 and F3 clear continuous transitions. They would not happen after a fricative or a plosive, and this could be explained through gestural configurations of the larynx and the vocal tract. Perception and production tests were carried out to explain this phenomenon and contrast it to initial glottaling. Some interesting possible explanations included the reconstitution of a CV type of syllable, also gestural mistimings (Davidson and Stone, 2003).

There was a lot more going on in this presentation, but I am sure that the paper in the proceedings will provide all the information I have not been able to provide here.

There is a very exciting line-up for tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be as effective as today, but do expect more live-tweeting on tomorrow + Friday's presentations, and a post like this some time next week!

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