domingo, 8 de octubre de 2017

Brief conf report: English UK North Academic - University of Liverpool, October 7th.

Yesterday I got on the train from York to Liverpool (in what ended up being an endless 3 1/2 train-train-bus journey...yes, transport may also fail in Britain!) to attend and present at the English UK North Academic conference (programme here).

It was a really friendly, welcoming environment of teachers of English working in the North of the UK, and there must have been over 100 attendees.  I would like to very briefly report on three of the talks, and then comment on my own presentation as well.

Michaela Seserman from the University of Liverpool discussed the tools she uses in her EAP courses to do pronunciation work. Michaela discussed some important questions we need to ask prior to deciding to use certain apps, and also weighed some pros and cons of each. Seserman proposed a form of integration of the in-built voice recognition systems that smartphones currently hold, the tools that Quizlet offers, and the messaging possibilities of the WeChat platform. Even though it was perhaps not very clear how pronunciation improvement actually came to happen, the idea of teacher and students exchanging audio recordings for practice and dictation via mobile messaging is a very appealing one. As Michaela pointed out, these are tasks that learners can also spontaneously decide to do outside class.

Russell Stannard, the TeacherTrainingVids guy, showed how screen capture software (he recommends SnagIt but there are free alternatives available) can help you give better feedback on written work. So a teacher may videocapture a student's written assignment and give feedback (as we might do face-to-face), by highlighting areas of the essay, for instance, and making oral comments on it, or showing the assignment instructions on screen to point out what may not have been addressed. It reminds me of the type of recorded feedback I used to give my students, and I agree with Russell that this whole idea of personalising feedback and having a sort of "conversation" with the student and the material really does make a difference. It's a way of "being there" when you cannot "be there", while also showing students we care for them individually and that we can address each of their specific strengths and challenges -which in writing we may fail to do clearly, or which may be misinterpreted-.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop on corpus linguistics by Dr. Vander Viana from the University of Stirling. Vander showed us some easily accessible corpora (sorry, readers, but I cannot ensure that this will be freely accessible to you in your context/country) and search engines that we can use to help our students test the frequency, acceptability and likelihood of their lexical choices when writing, or speaking. We discussed collocations, colligation, and semantic prosody (which apparently in corpus ling is different from how we understand it in SFL!), and we reflected on the claim that we actually process speech in an "idiomatic" way (not referring to idioms, but to was such a great intro point to my own talk later, to be honest!). Most of the cited material came from Sinclair (1991); McCarthy et al (2005); and Tognini-Bonelli (2001), and you can read Viana's work if you visit his webpage.

I was invited to make a presentation thanks to the generosity of Mark Hancock, who put my name forward (I've thanked him publicly many times, but I believe we should always be grateful to the ones who do nice things for us)...and to make it even better, he got me a PronPack t-shirt! And also thanks to Nigel Paramor.
Even though I know my stuff, it is always a bit intimidating to stand in a room full of native speakers of English who teach English and theorise about their own language. I know it is a silly fear, but I know many other non-native teachers of English will sympathise. Anyway.

My talk ("Intonation building blocks for more comprehensive speaking skills training") was based on the type of speaking tasks that I designed for my Lab 3 and Lab 4 lessons at ISP Joaquín V González and Profesorado del Consudec during the last few years. Some background: most of the work that is done during the final two Applied Phonetics modules ("Lab") in teacher training in Buenos Aires (at least) is related to the application of phonological theory to the production of different speech genres (and for this, I am grateful to Prof. Silvina Iannicelli, because I got my first lecturing post filling in for her at ENSLV SBS in 2006, and she had a course planned along a sequence of texts ranging from rehearsed to more spontaneous text type production, and that sort of sparked my interest in the prosodic configuration of speech genres). As I became a bit more experienced, one of the things that usually made me uncomfortable about the type of work we did in these courses was that most of the tasks were based on reading, and there was always an assumption that intonation patterns were easily/automatically transferrable to spoken situations of language use. (It's a bit like doing a million fill-in-the-gap past tense exercises, and then expecting students to automatically and spontaneously use the simple past in their written or spoken stories.)
Plus, at times we also forget that reading aloud is an ability in itself, and that reading aloud as a result of previous imitation of a recorded model of the same text is also another type of ability that activates other skills and requirements. These are highly useful and valuable steps in the process, but they do not amount to, nor ensure, that the students will appropriate intonation patterns. In my tutoring experience, I have had students producing English fall-rises in reading and Spanish rise-falls on the exact same phrase, on a similar context, when speaking.

So at some point in my tutoring/lecturing history, I decided to change that a little, and to use reading aloud as one of the steps of the process, but then also create opportunities for use in slightly more spontaneous speech tasks in a way that ensures that students need to use certain intonation patterns that have been found to have a certain regularity in specific speech genres, or in connection to certain lexico-grammatical structures.

So, back to EUKN: My talk was about speech genres, and how several speech genres have higher degrees of "writtenness" in them (Eggins, 1994), and how these have perhaps more easily predictable and stable patterns of intonation and chunking; whereas more interactive genres challenge the intonational descriptions as we know them (such in the case of "list intonation", or the intonation of questions).

I put forward the metaphor of building blocks as a means of proposing that for some speech genres, it is useful to see information units (and some lexicogrammatical collocations) as part of the same block that students can monitor as a whole as they plan their next block (rather than worrying about putting together a string of words, one after the next, when they talk).

I have followed a process that goes from the breaking of the dichotomy between spoken vs written texts, into a continuum of levels of writtenness-spokenness (as SFL scholars have done for a couple of decades), and the use of a building block metaphor consisting of LEGO type blocks that occur in more written-like spoken genres (where the blocks have a set role, position, and the final goal is clear), and TETRIS blocks that we may encounter in more interactive texts (where trajectories are built as we go along, and there are lower levels of pre-planning.

I will only be able to share a few of my slides, as I am writing an article/resource on the whole notion and application of intonation blocks (and I'm also seeking psycholinguistic and further classroom evidence), and I owe the English UK North attendees the preview of the full set of slides (because I have authorised EUKN to do so).

Some comments on challenging, through corpus-study, the notions of "question intonation", and "list intonation". How intonation in real life as manifested in different speech genres does not easily exhibit the intonation patterns described in ELT textbooks.

Reflection upon the fact that we generally don't do speaking training in an integrated manner, as we may do with written genres.
Possible (though never definitive, nor exhaustive, nor always fixed, because language use.... ;) ) organisation of different speech genres along a cline.
The building block metaphor I propose to inform lexico-grammatical, sequential and intonational choices.

An example of a production task (which probably we have done in our lessons a million times!) that we can exploit to teach step-ups in pitch, and contrastive accent.
Examples of lexico-grammatical blocks in initial position that do anticipatory work. These have been found to be quite consistent in LEGO types of texts (the ordering and tone choice works differently in interactive texts)
Example of an outline for student production of short conversational stories that focus on grammatical choices and the preparatory (loop) or advancing (increment) contextualisation by rising or falling tones (respectively)

Example of ways in which we can contextualise reported speech through level tones and contrastive stress in TETRIS-like situations of language use (though also common, with direct speech, in speeches, or lectures, LEGO text types)

Examples of ways in which we can create opportunities for use of level tones in conversational lists (vs counting, or sequences of steps where lists may be found to have rising tones)

During the presentation, I systematised briefly some of these (basically, it was like teaching my whole Phonetics 2 syllables in 50 minutes!) and presented a number of activities to illustrate how we can generate opportunities for use of these building blocks, and then, of course, it is up to every teacher to find ways of helping students monitor their spoken texts, block by block. 

I am sure that the idea of working on speech chunks is not new, or revolutionary, but I wish to emphasise how intonation can be an active, essential, part of each of these blocks of processing and production, and how the notion of a block can contribute to students' awareness that linguistic structures work together, making different contributions in the contextualisation of meaning and structural organisation of speech.

(And the refs!)

All in all, this was a really enjoyable event, and very special for me, as I haven't been teaching for a year (starting this week again, yay!) and I spent this whole year trying to find an excuse to write down the principles and ideas that informed my integrative intonation teaching methods when I was lecturing in Buenos Aires. Hope they make sense to you!

(And now...back to my research. Enough productive procrastination!)

P.S.: this post somehow opened up a chest of memories for me, and I forgot to acknowledge another lecturer, Prof. Claudia Gabriele, who in her own way showed me that there are ways of "creating opportunities" for practice of intonation. I was her Lab assistant for a few years, and I was particularly inspired by her use of role plays and other speaking tasks for a more natural application of intonation patterns. Sorry about this unintentional omission in the original post.

2 comentarios:

  1. Dear Marina,

    Thanks so much for getting this up so quickly. I am thinking about intonation at the moment, especially for listening, and thinking about starting a PhD.

    It sounds like a wonderful conference. Hopefully I will get to it one day!


    1. Thank you, Marc! Oooh, intonation and listening, interesting! Keep me posted on how that goes. Good luck!


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