sábado, 31 de agosto de 2019

SCEP100: 100 years and 85 iterations of the Summer Course in English Phonetics

It's really crazy to see that a whole year has gone by since I wrote my last blog post. A whole year, four conferences, two awards, three terms of teaching, 140,000 words written on my thesis, and -let's confess-, three blog post drafts that never saw the light of day later, here I am again.

And yes, I'll be talking SCEP (Summer Course in English Phonetics), a super intense and intensive two-week course on English Phonetics (everyone's dream, I know!). I was once again blessed with the fabulous experience of being invited to be a tutor, and on a very special year: SCEP has turned 100! It's not the 100th iteration, though, because of several interruptions, but the first SCEP happened in 1919, believe it or not!

Former SCEP Director, Michael Ashby, and Judith Crompton compiled this lovely history of SCEP sheet, which you can see below (zoom in to read better):

As usual, this is a blog post written in almost one sitting (during a train journey from London to York, and one breakfast slot!), so do forgive any typos and the overall rambling style. I have also collected a few pics, whose authors will be properly attributed. If you want to get a sneak peek of some of the highlights, I would totally recommmend following SCEP on Facebook or Twitter, or checking out the #SCEP2019 hashtag.

The usual disclaimer: The opinions presented here are my own, and do not represent the views of the organisers.

I have discussed my experience as both a student and a tutor at SCEP in the past, so you can read about the structure of the course in those posts. Today, I would like to describe some of the highlights of SCEP this year, and add a few reflections, as usual.

Changes in the venue

My last two SCEP experiences took place in the Cruciform building, opposite the main UCL venue. It was really nice to be in Chandler House this year, though, as it is the current house of Speech Science studies in UCL, and our rooms were cosy, and the right size for our tutorial groups.

The lectures took place in the Eastman Dental Hospital, and it was lovely, in spite of sometimes having to sprint to my tutorials, to walk through the beautiful gardens nearby, chatting to participants and other tutors on our way there.

Changes in the schedule

Student feedback demanded more ear-training, and SCEP listened! This year, there were 2 ear-training sessions most days, one focusing more on segmental, and the other, on suprasegmental features (if you really believe in that separation, that is!). I have not been able to attend many of these, unfortunately, but those I did participate in -as an infiltrated tutor ;) - were lots of fun! Participants were exposed to nonsense words, sequences of syllables with different tones, sentences and passages with different intonation patterns, etc.

As a tutor, it really was a great help to know that participants were covering important aand tricky segmental and suprasegmental contrasts in their ear-training sessions, and it made my job easier, as I could focus a bit more on production.

The intonation lectures were, as a result of this change, put in the afternoon slot, and even though the after-lunch hour may induce some need for napping, the afternoon lecturers were really enthusiastic and energetic, so no one was found to be dozing off -in spite of the heatwave! Singing to different English tunes, or seeing intonation in action in different contexts of use is totally  my own to-go activity after I've had some lunch in the lovely St George's Gardens nearby.

The order of some of the lectures was changed, and I particularly liked this, as I think it made quite a lot of sense to have the lectures on teaching pronunciation (Jane Setter), accents (Geoff Lindsey and Josette Lesser), historical phonetics and phonology (John Harris) and speech science (Mark Huckvale) towards the end. Many of us who have lectured in Phonetics would be shocked to know that by day 3, students had been introduced to voicing, place, and manner of articulation of SSBE consonants, the vowel chart, and a considerable number of allophonic variants, something that any introductory Phon-Phon course would need four weeks (at York, for instance), or almost a whole term (in my experience training teachers and translators) to get to cover!. But that's a Summer Course for you, and of course, trying to cater for the needs of over 90 participants with different backgrounds and degrees of prior knowledge is never an easy task. Having said this, SCEP is really, really good at offering tailored ways of dealing with content in different ways and formats, so that everyone gets theory, training, and feedback, according to their background (more on this below!).

Jane Setter on her Teaching Pronunciation lecture

It was also really nice to see new faces doing the lecturing: this year, Luke Nicholson joined the lecturing team with really engaging sessions on consonants, with some lovely articulatory animations, and some fun memes. The intonation lectures were in the hands of Geoff Lindsey, Kate Scott, and Jane Setter, and the other lectures on segmentals were delivered by Paul Carley, Joanna Przedlacka, and Shanti Ulfsbjorninn (more on the lectures below!)

Luke Nicholson discussing processes of connected speech

Centenary [ˌsenˈtiːnᵊri] activities

In case you hadn't heard  (this became a recurrent joke), SCEP turned 100. Apart from the now traditional picture at the main UCL building portico, there were a couple of key activities to commemorate the centenary.
The traditional picture (sorry about the quality!)

But first, let me mention the goodie bag. Everything was properly branded with the SCEP 100 logo: a mirror-magnet, a pen, a poster with the history of SCEP, and of course, the tote bag.

One of the most enjoyable moments was the Centenary Bus Tour, the geekiest English pronunciation tour you'll ever see! Imagine a red double-decker bus, songs from My Fair Lady, Samuel Johnson's house, Mary Le-Bow bells and Cockney rhyming slang, and yes, Professor Higgins and Eliza Doolittle! (Check SCEP's Facebook page for proper coverage of the tour!)

The Centenary Guest Lecture was as fantastic as one could expect: the one and only David Crystal talking about paralinguistics, with no powerpoint -who needs slides when you're David Crystal, right!?-, but as engaging as ever!. The lecture started with an anecdotal but really informative account of the interest around paralinguistics in the last fifty years, particularly in terms of what phonetic effects were described more systematically and which were left out of descriptions and models. It felt as if this lecture had been written for me, as Crystal enumerated all the fascinating phenomena that one could study -laryngeal and supralaryngeal settings, laughter, sung quotations - and the challenges of transcription and representation -e.g., how to represent speaking with your mouth full, or the speech boxers wearing their gum shields?. As an interactional linguist -yes, CA did get a mention in the lecture, by the way!-, it felt really reassuring to hear Crystal discussing the kinds of things we've been studying for quite a while, quite systematically. I also share with him the view, however, that more trained phoneticians should engage in this kind of work, and that these phenomena should not be studied away from the pragmatics of it all. (This is my best shot at summarising what went on, but it does not in any way represent the wealth and breadth of Crystal's fabulous lecture. I was clearly too starstruck to make sense of all that was going on!)

We members of staff had a lovely dinner in the main UCL building, which was yet another chance to celebrate the magic and history of SCEP...and for me to talk to David Crystal, by far the most starstruck moment of my life (...only comparable to the time I met my PhD supervisors for the first time, and also, I have to confess, John Local, and Betty Couper-Kuhlen.).

The Lectures

The lectures are always a lot of fun, and I love to see how parts of them change year after year. The great thing is that participants get a handbook with the key content of the lectures, presented in a reallly clear and learner-friendly format, so if you want a copy...you'll have to come to SCEP! I cannot do any justice to all the wealth of content and skill of delivery you can find in the lectures, but I thought I'd mention some of my own personal highlights this year (hope none of my colleagues gets offended!).

I personally enjoyed Joanna's lecture on "how vowels behave", and one of the reasons is that we got to hear Jones, Firth, and Armstrong reading out a dialogue. Oh, the vowels!

I also really liked Shanti's lecture. Some of the participants may have found it cryptic at the beginning, but it was a beautiful illustration of a phonemic inventory task (we do tons of these at York, and I kind of like them, even though I'm not strictly a phonologist!). It was really a nice way to introduce phonemes and allophones without forcing an early definition, a way to get people to reflect on sounds and variants before they actually realise it was all leading towards an understanding of what constitute an allophonic variant, and what is a contrastive segment in the language.

John Harris' lecture is one of my favourites -apart from the fact that I love his accent (well...to be fair, I love all accents, but after a few days of lectures with familiar voices, it is nice to shake up our auditory comfort zone a bit). It was so great to see and hear so many changes in vowels and consonants, going as far as Chaucer's time, and all the way to present day Englishes, including, for example, MLE varieties.

Mark Huckvale's lecture was as good as last year's. I really admire the clarity with which he explains complex things like resonance, formant frequencies, and harmonics, for instance. It is all really neatly illustrated with the always fabulous and super useful suite of RT (real-time) visualisation software , which shows participants who have not done speech research before what can be "seen", and measured, and how the information the software throws at us may bear a relation (however complex) with articulatory processes. This year's surprise was the application of speech recognition to language learning in one particular app: SpeechAce. I was really impressed by the mini-demonstration of the workings of the app's pronunciation error recognition!

Question time was particularly good this year. There were lots of super interesting questions, including the role and nature of RP today, issues around pronunciation teaching goals and models, the always fascinating articulatory settings and voice quality topics, among others. I really enjoyed the fact that the panel members really had the opportunity to answer at length, which I think was really nice!. 

The Tutorials

I think that one of the very best things of SCEP is the magic of the tutorials. The tutorials are spaces where we build communities of participants who have been grouped according to prior experience and knowledge, background, and interests (or at least, the organisers' best guess as to what those could be based on application forms!). Tutors then propose pronunciation and intonation activities according to participants' needs, which means that each group will receive some tailor-made tuition. 

I don't know if all participants can appreciate this, but I think that the fact that each tutor has their own style and their own baggage of teaching experience and research expertise makes for the richness of SCEP. This year's tutors, for instance, included researchers of sign languages, typological issues in phonology, pragmatics, or interactional phonetics, as well as accent coaches, pronunciation lexicographers, experienced EFL teachers, and all of us have been involved in pronunciation and phonetics teaching for a considerable amount of time. Each of us has a unique angle to things, and an experience-informed view of how to approach pronunciation and intonation work. We also have the challenge to tune-in to a number of different languages and voices in a really short period of time, and to cater for the varied needs of each of our group members, which we try to address in creative ways.

I always find it challenging to plan for SCEP because I often don't know what my students' prior level of knowledge will be -we do have a rough idea, of course, of how advanced they could be in their expertise-, and even though I do research on my group members' first languages, I cannot predict what they will need until I get to hear them on the first day. From a tutor's perspective, the first day is adrenaline-inducing, as we listen to 8-10 different voices in less than an hour and we try to assess which of the teaching paths we'd planned in advance would work for the group. And we re-adjust our goals and planning every day, so it's really a demanding job!

Because I think the uniqueness of SCEP lies on the tutorials (I shall never forget the tutorials I had with Jack Windsor Lewis and Jane Setter as a student, and I knew they were different from what other groups were doing) I just thought I'd think about what I have done in my groups, which I know is different from what other tutors have offered in response to their own groups' needs. 

For the segments group, my top priority is always vowels. I know I can safely choose material to work on based on the transition from my students' L1 vowels into some SSBE target, and then I strategically select practice tasks that will inevitably introduce consonants and/or allophonic variants: for example, the FLEECE-KIT texts always lead on to work on pre-fortis clipping and full length; the material for DRESS-NURSE invites work on dentalisation, and so on, until glottalisation, forms of plosive release, elision, assimilation, difficult clusters, have all been introduced and practised. I also propose a transition that goes from work on isolated words that illustrate phonesthesia (sound symbolism), into minimal pair practice, and then into short texts, and ideally into role plays -but at times we don't get to do the last bit (if I'm invited to be a tutor again, I'll be tweaking things a little bit in this respect). By the end of the two weeks, I was happy to have gone over quite a lot of sounds, and to have offered quite a lot of feedback in small doses. Some students have asked for an end-of-course "prescription", so if I'm at SCEP next year, I'll do that a bit more systematically (after all, I have the feedback/prescription templates that I used in Buenos Aires for so many years, it's only a matter of bringing them along!).
Having fun with my Segments group. We had Praated our own aspirated plosives and were making sure there was enough frication noise to separate those plosives from the vowels. Then we turned analog and did an aspiration race (an adapted version of a game by one of my Buenos Aires students in 2009 > my most sincere apologies I don't remember your name, whoever you are, creative former student!)
Image credits: Masaki Taniguchi (Thanks!)

Intonation tasks are always my favourite thing to design, but I remember getting overenthusiastic last year, and totally overplanning for just 9 tutorials. This year I decided to take it easy and follow the "less is more" motto, particularly because in my experience, intonation happens to be the area most participants have been less systematically exposed to before coming to SCEP, and at times, getting a couple of key things right is better than trying to go on a tour around a whole syllabus. My first two days are always an overview of everything involved when it comes to suprasegmentals, with short discovery tasks that introduce rhythm and weak forms, contrastive focus, stress shift, basic fall vs rise distinctions, tonicity changes leading to changes of meaning. The next sessions generally have a balance between some practice on tones and pre-nuclear patterns, and the application of tonicity and tone patterns on carefully-designed contexts. I like to supplement the lectures in this respect, so I generally do work on, for example, the fall-rise and its role in contexts where people do concession, anticipate contrasts, do preparatory work, create implications. I have realised that the extent of what I get to cover in the intonation tutorials is generally less predictable, and it seems to always end up setting up priorities around rhythm, high falls, and fall-rises, as well as on the deaccentuation of given information.

Me, my digital pen and tablet, my extravagant gestures, and my trying to explain, if I remember correctly, how stranded prepositions take the strong form but are not necessarily accented....

I have heard students and tutors from other groups talk about the super cool things they do in their own tutorials, so no matter what group you end up in, you can most certainly guarantee that you will get some quality feedback -constrained by the time we have and the need to keep the whole group engaged, of course-, the answers to your questions, oral practice, maybe some transcription practice, some homework, and really rich theoretical discussions.

I am really deeply grateful for the groups I got this year as well, and I learned so much from their first languages, their questions, and suggestions, and we had so much fun working together. I also want to especially thank them for trusting my teaching expertise and my knowledge of phonetics, as I know that it's clear when I open my mouth (or overgesticulate!) that I am not a native speaker of English, and I know some people might want to get their pounds' worth listening to native speakers do the talking instead...though I'll give myself credit for my vast experience doing this kind of work, and teaching phonetics in Argentina and in the UK (which, hey, got me a Vice-Chancellor's Teaching Award in York, after all), and to the work I've done on my accent (which of course has traces of Spanish and of Yorkshire....proudly!). So thank you all for being so great, so open, and so active!

Come to SCEP, it's great!

I am not saying it because I'm involved, and I don't get any extra money for saying this, so believe me, if you are a teacher of English, a lecturer in Practical Phonetics, an MA student of TESOL, a professional in any area of linguistics, or a professional who is not a linguist at all, SCEP is for you. You will get the basic theory and practical skills for the study and teaching of pronunciation and intonation, you will get feedback on your production, you will feel at home with fellow phon-geeks, and you will be around people all around the world who share an interest in teaching and learning phonetics. And yes, you'll get access to teaching on "contemporary" SSBE accents (get Geoff Lindsey's English After RP book to learn more on what this means).

In a time in which Phonetics is really super popular, in a time which instruments are allowing us to visualise speech in multiple ways and are helping us understand so much, but also in a time when Phonetics at times seems to be overwhelmingly dominated or defined by R-stats and Praat scripts, it is really refreshing to see people wanting to learn to use their ears and fine-tune their perception skills, learn to hear by producing crazy noises, by comparing, by reading further, by watching the mouth do the trick, and feeling the larynx move, or the resonances in the head... Those of us who have taught English for so long know that we need our ears to work and tune in to different voices in a matter of seconds to do our work right, those of us who study phonetics as one of the multiple resources in interaction know so well that we don't go around praating people's speech and still naturally orient to each other's phonetic detail in so many ways, those of us who work alongside people who do different kinds of applied phonetics in so many varied ways know that there should not be a single way of doing or defining what phonetics is or how it should be done. And SCEP is a really nice place to remember how this whole phonetic enterprise started, and to understand why Practical Phonetics should not be replaced nor effaced, but rather, be there as an indispensable foundation for all the professional and/or scientific work we will then, of course, instrumentally validate in a number of ways. 

sábado, 25 de agosto de 2018

Full circle: Summer Course in English Phonetics...again!

I'm halfway through my PhD and things are getting really exciting. This also means that I'm digging deeper into the areas of knowledge that are more closely related to my research topic, and I have had to leave a few other areas aside. Pronunciation teaching, unfortunately, had been one of those things I hadn't been doing as often as I would have liked...until now!

The usual disclaimers before we continue: this post may get a bit emotional at first, but feel free to skip the first bit if you really can't be bothered with my trip down memory lane!
(Disclaimer 2: these are my own personal views and do not represent the views of SCEP organisers)

Four years ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a bit of a naive post on my experience at the UCL Summer Course in English Phonetics. I attended SCEP in 2010, and it was a life-changing experience for me, as I got to get a glimpse of the type of academic life I wanted to be part of, and let's face it, who can forget their first time ever in the UK, especially if you are travelling exclusively to do Phonetics! (What's not to love, right!?)

So in 2018, eight years later, I was invited to be a tutor in SCEP, and for me, this has been a blessing in many ways. Having the opportunity to teach where I was once a student (I did it at my school, and of course, I also lectured many years at the "Joaquín" I miss so much!) is really a way to give back a little something of all the fabulous input and care I received and to be grateful for all I have been given.

Apart from having a chance to pour some of my pron-passion in, SCEP was also about to give me another great gift: that of revisiting my practice.  Even though I've always been a reflective teacher, and I've been far more critical of myself than of anyone else, when you are not doing what you used to do for such a long time (I've been away from pron teaching almost for 2 years after a decade doing pronunciation and intonation teaching), and when you can take some distance (literally) from it, you start to see things in a different light. Planning my SCEP sessions, knowing I would be teaching students from different walks of life with different L1s and expectations, was quite a challenge, as it meant having to be well prepared, and yet flexible (which, for a control freak like myself, did feel a bit daunting). So each tutorial became an exercise in finding my old pron-teaching self, and reconciling it with my new research perspectives and newly acquired knowledge. It felt good to have the best of both worlds!

However, I feel that the most scary part of the experience was to face my own prejudice: I thought I would not be able to live up to the expectations of my students, as I thought that presumably, attendees would (rightly) expect to be taught not only by expert phoneticians or experienced pronunciation teachers (which I am), but also, perhaps, by L1 speakers of English. I feel really privileged to have been invited to share in my expertise and to have been trusted with the job, as I find it still a bit hard to shake off my non-native speaker feelings of inadequacy (which, funnily enough, I don't project when I'm teaching, as I feel my job is to empower my students as I help them work on their accents. Funny how we can help and encourage others to get better while still battling our self-consciousness about our own shortcomings or fears). Everyone at SCEP has been really respectful and appreciative of my work, including those L1 speakers of English I was lucky to have as students, so all in all, I can consider my prejudice now officially dead and buried.

So it's been really great to see that tutorials were spaces where we all had something to give as a community, where people helped each other with tips and tricks, as we worked on dialogues and role plays, sang to intonation tunes, or tried vocal warm-ups. I was really happy to get my two L1 speakers of English ready to share their perception of how certain sounds or tones "gut-sounded" to them, while I offered my own technical knowledge of phonetics and my trained ear. At least from my own perspective as a tutor, tutorials are part of the "magic" of SCEP, and mine were a real joy (...and while I type this a part of me will inevitably fear my students did not see it this way....but in my heart of hearts, I really hope they enjoyed the sessions and learned as much as I have!).

But enough about me! Let's talk a bit about the course, shall we?

Sorry! Change of plans. I need to take a detour.
UCL SCEP is turning 100 next year. Anyone who has ever heard of Daniel Jones, A.C. Gimson, J.D. O'Connor, John Wells, Michael Ashby, among many other well-known phoneticians (and linguists in general! I need to mention J.R. Firth!), will understand the relevance of UCL to the world of Phonetics, the great contribution to Phonetics as we know it today, in spite of the different, multiple and varied dimensions that make up present-day phonetics.

Extract from The English Language's Tourist Guide to Britain, by Crystal and Crystal, where the mythical Gordon Square 21 is mentioned.

At the famous 20-21 Gordon Square, where Daniel Jones and J.R.Firth (among other famous phon-celebrities) did their magic.

So even though perhaps there is not so much left of that Phonetics world we used to know  at UCL now, since the interests, concerns, and departments are now different, SCEP retains a lot of what we all remember and love about Practical Phonetics, and I am particularly really grateful for all the work Geoff Lindsey, Joanna Przedlacka, and the wonderful administrator Molly Bennett are doing to keep it running and getting better every year.

SCEP 2010 was similar, yet significantly different in a number of ways to the SCEP I found this year.

The structure of SCEP remains the same, with a pronunciation lecture + tutorial, and an intonation lecture + tutorial - 4 hours of hard work every morning!-, and after lunchtime, an ear-training session, and then another lecture (including talks on contrastive analyses between different L1 phonological inventories, the guest lecture, presentations on present-day SSBE and also on speech acoustics, and reflections and resources on pronunciation teaching). I personally love the "school timetable", as it keeps the course dynamic, and the fact that you share activities with the whole cohort as well as with your own small "community" and your two different tutors, makes for the vibrant and positive atmosphere that I experienced throughout SCEP.

The pronunciation lectures are a bit more varied than in the past, and it's a welcome addition that we would have a lecture on Global Englishes, as well as lectures on changes to SSBE. As someone who spent years obsessed with teaching something like "present-day" SSBE in Argentina, looking at the vowel charts we were offered at lectures and in the handbook felt like a triumph: it was amazing to finally get to see in black and white, and disseminated in lectures, those lovely now fronted GOOSE and FOOT vowels, a higher THOUGHT, a lower TRAP, monophthongised SQUARE and NEAR. Hearing so much about the glottal stop and L-vocalisation at SCEP made me feel grateful I had embraced them in my classes in Buenos Aires. Some of the ear-training sessions I sneaked in at were also truly great exercises on perception skills, reminiscent of the Phonetics Hour I have at York where we do all these impressionistic transcriptions and use the IPA as a tool for representation of what is said (rather than focusing on transcription rules of what we "ought to" hear, which is a point I tried to make during the Q&A panel).

The intonation lectures exploited many of the materials and ways of looking at intonation that UCL academics have traditionally developed, so it came as no surprise that there would be references to Wells, and O'Connor & Arnold and to their well-known contributions to intonation teaching. Those who know about my intonation passion/obsession will know I would have loved to make my own intonation syllabus for the course and tweak a few things, but it's impossible to cram so much intonational content in just 10 days, so I obviously understand that we may need to fall prey to simplifications at times, and students did find them very useful!. I think that the energy and clarity that Jane, Geoff, Sam, and Kate put into the intonation lectures really helped students to get a good grip of something that many people find so difficult to understand.

In terms of academic celebrities, it was of course very exciting to see some familiar SCEP 2010 faces, like Geoff Lindsey (course director), Joanna Przedlacka (associate director), Jane Setter, Kate Scott, Margaret Miller, Inger Mees, Paul Carley, and Masaki Taniguchi (or should I say, the official photographer?).

Geoff delivered a fascinating lecture on vowels and the vowel space with admirable clarity and lovely metaphors. Jane contributed to the course with a refreshing perspective on accents by presenting on ELF and Global Englishes, as well as guiding the more practical intonation lectures (And of course, she was in charge of the end-of-course singing, with artistic/composing contributions from Inger Mees and Kate Scott, and the lyrics and background guitar by Tim Wharton, who was not tutoring this year). 

Joanna got us all wow-ing with a recording of Jones and Firth in 1933 and a comparison with present-day SSBE. Kate was in charge of more functional accounts of intonation -referring to syntactic concerns, a few remarks on affect, and also social rituals-, and also delivered a lecture on phonotactics which I really appreciated, as it invited reflection on how rhythmic needs may bring about changes to citation forms at syllable level. Margaret presented on Spanish vs English phonemic inventories, and also shared her collection of pronunciation- and intonation-related misunderstandings.

Shanti Ulfsbjorninn made a great introduction to transcription, phonemes, and allophones. I especially liked the reference to runes and other scripts and the comparison to the IPA and forms of representation, as well as the very clear explanation of surface and underlying representations.

I personally enjoyed the energy of Paul Carley and the content of his lectures: his very clear introductions to consonants, and a very passionate discussion of pronunciation teaching -including a bit of myth debunking and a couple of uncomfortable truths- were a great contribution to the course.

Sam Wood presented some of English's basic nucleus placement rules, and John Harris discussed changes to SSBE as well as a key distinctions between accents in terms of phonological processes (which made me very Yorkshire-sick = as in homesick, of course with all the references to the FOOT-STRUT merger and lack of BATH broadening...see Wells (1982) or the Dialect Blog for more info on these!)

Mark Huckvale (https://speechandhearing.net/) entertained and instructed us through a really didactic introduction to speech acoustics. I have to admit I was envious of his clarity, and as a fan of his software, I was sooo glad I was sitting in that lecture! 

Another really welcome addition was the guest lecture by Richard Cauldwell. Having a great talk on listening, and on how phonology may inform the teaching of listening in a way which is different to the models we can use to teach production was truly something very valuable to those EFL teachers attending SCEP. Like many of the other lectures in the course, Cauldwell's presentation shook the firm ground of many traditional ways of teaching and even of prescriptive views of applied phonetics, and the fact that students in the tutorials the following days were likening several phenomena to the Greenhouse, or to the Jungle, also shows how relevant and significant this lecture was to participants.

Credit: Masaki Taniguchi
The very last taught SCEP slot is always a Q&A. I kind of cheekily accepted the challenge to join in Jane, Inger, and Luke and tackle all those end-of-course queries. To be honest, I wasn't expecting a personal question, so when asked about what led me to get into phonetics, my reflection on how getting into phonetics and pronunciation teaching may have been a result of a personal "trauma" (tongue-in-cheek) of having to undergo speech therapy as a kid because I could not produce the alveolar trill may have been a bit shocking to hear to the audience, but I think no one can deny that I absolutely love phon and pron and I don't think I'll ever regret having taken this path.

Interesting questions included issues of transcription and levels of detail (in this respect, I would have liked to refer people to the introduction to the Illustrations of the IPA, as well as to chapter 3 of Ogden's Introduction to English Phonetics), syllabification criteria (the words "extra" and "selfish" being a case in point - had to put my phonology hat on to deal with that one and refer to the Maximal Onset Principle, as well as related issues of Legality and Sonority I had no time to mention), the usefulness of cardinal vowels, and monophthongisation of central diphthongs (I did not have time to answer this one, but someone mentioned it was difficult for Spanish speakers to monophthongise SQUARE, and added to the comment by Luke on perhaps speakers actually finding the non-rhotic aspect of it tricky, I would say it's a matter of teaching a slightly lower [e]-like sound: in non-technical terms, asking Spanish speakers to start from a Spanish [e], smile a bit more broadly and lower their jaws slightly to produce a long [ɛ] sound.)
Image credit: Masaki Taniguchi
I think the tutorials are at the very centre of SCEP and shape the overall students' experience. There was a fantastic group of tutors making this possible, whose knowledge of different areas of expertise and practice and research interests, ranging from accent coaches, to phon lecturers, to sign language researchers, made SCEP a really rich experience.
With two fellow "new additions" to SCEP, Luke Nicholson (@ImproveAccent) and Alex Rotatori (@Alex_rotatori) - Picture by Alex. 
But obviously the very core of SCEP is the collective of participants. There was a fabulous group of students, enthusiastic and inquisitive, and at least in my groups, eager to learn and reflect on pronunciation and intonation. Great participants and enthusiastic staff really do make one feel that SCEP is a celebration of phonetics!
SCEP 2018 participants

You will have to come to SCEP to learn about the lectures, but if you want a sneak peek of some of the fun resources used during the lectures in general, I could mention videos of MRIs (of course!), vowel space charts with all these lovely "updated" vowels, some poems (Humpty Dumpty and Betty Botter making special appearances), Cantonese YouTubers, Masaki's Tone Gymnastics, The Music Man Song, Ben Crystal's OP rendering of Romeo and Juliet, among others. (What these were used for, I shall not reveal!)

I feel deeply grateful for the chance of tutoring at SCEP. I personally tried to make the most of my tutorials to share with my students a bag of tips and tricks, my ears and my expertise, and I learned a lot about the phonology of other languages, as well as about the way L1 speakers of English react to and perceive certain phenomena. I have tried to make people enthusiastic about my research interests in the intonation sessions, showing ways in which intonation contributes to the construction of meaning and social action alongside the whole range of verbal, non-verbal and pragmatic resources, and by showing a few tools that may help us visualise intonation on the go (with the possibilities of on-the-spot visualisation that Huckvale's WASP and AMPITCH allow). And in turn, students came up with super interesting questions, and observations, and they were all ready to support each other in their production, giving each other their own tips and help, which I think made for this community feeling we created. As with any other teaching experience, you end up realising you have actually learned a lot as you taught!

I personally feel that SCEP is, in many ways, moving with the times, becoming an even more inclusive and diverse space where the whole scope of phonetics is welcome and explored, upholding the importance and seriousness that the study of phonetics requires, providing teachers and professionals alike with an intense overview of the vast phonetics world, and keeping alive the important phonetics story and legacy that UCL is known for.

domingo, 25 de febrero de 2018

Event report: "Pronunciation: The Missing Link" - Chester Uni, Feb 17, 2018 - Part 2

Hello, again! I said I would devote an entire post to my presentation at the PronSIG event in Chester (see full report here) , and I had not yet done it because I'm currently drowning in deadlines, and on the other hand, as this presentation was part of an article I've been writing, I did not yet want to give it all away. I have used my own data to show the phenomena in question in the presentation, and I cannot distribute those videos or snapshots because of ethical reasons (though I have permission to show them in presentations with an anonymising filter, which I did), which is another reason I won't be posting my slides publicly, though I'll add a few captures.

This time I cannot make any disclaimers regarding the representation of other people's presentations, as I'm summarising my own, but there area few points I would need to make: 1) even though this is my own work, I don't claim that my points here are"innovative", or "unique", because I'm sure there must be a lot of people around researching this.  2) And yes, this is about intonation teaching, the theoretical background we develop, how much it responds to real-life interaction, and how we can teach English intonation for interaction, and it is based on L1 English (someone might then want to record conversations using E as a LF and do something similar across different L2/FL Englishes)

3) Another remark I always make at the beginning of my presentation is that, at least in Argentina, to the best of my knowledge, the best work on English intonation and speech genres from a SFL perspective has been (and still is) carried out at Universidad Nacional de La Pampa, in a project including researchers and EFL teachers Lucía Rivas, Miriam Germani, and the rest of the team (sorry I cannot name you all). I have collaborated briefly as part of the project, and I'm very grateful to have worked with them, as it's always great to exchange ideas with a group of like-minded academics who want to see intonation teaching theory evolve.

4) And my final disclaimer: because my PhD research is based on language in social interaction, and I listen to everyday conversation all day long, there is a lot I get to notice about "language in the wild" that I cannot do justice to when I make a presentation for ELT. My selection of points to make in this presentation responds to the need that English language teachers have to be presented with theory on intonation that can inform their teaching. Some of us might want to go further and pursue an MA or a PhD because we want to engage in linguistic research, but many teachers will not, and should not be in a position to want to. So if any of my readers is a discourse or conversation analyst, yes, they will surely gasp in horror when they see some of my simplifications, but I am very respectful of the teachers I have trained and train, and because I am a teacher myself, I know we need something to hold on to, even if it is a "half truth". So this is me using my researcher role informing my teacher trainer role to show other language teachers how research in language in the "real" world can help them develop theory for intonation that can empower students across different speech repertoires, and not theory based in introspection or decontextualised examples.

5) And yes, I wrote this in one sitting while I was having my Sunday breakfast because my blog is of secondary importance at the moment (Sorry! Forgive the typos, etc etc)

The framework

I use Systemic Functional Linguistics to inform my view on genre, and as we know, different generic manifestations may have different configurations, which illustrate and also construct different social purposes. Even though texts may exhibit different levels of genre hybridity and blending, there are features that make generic types recognisable, even at a glance.

So I asked the audience to take a quick look at four written texts, and identify what generic types they would associate those to. They did so quickly and successfully, even without having read the text. That already says a lot about the features that as members of a culture we associate social purposes to.

I then did something I once did in my Discourse Analysis and Phonetics II lessons: I played some snippets of spoken genres, in a distorted form, and asked the audience to identify them. That was harder, especially because of the audio distortion, but the audience guessed quite well. So then, beyond the lexico-grammar, there are features that make spoken text types recognisable as members of a group, as Tench (1996) illustrates:

Prosodic features in different speech genres (Tench, 1996)

The next step is to problematise the role of written vs spoken as a dichotomy...

...and to see these uses of language as part of a continuum, with texts illustrating greater levels of "spokenness" and "writtenness" (Eggins 2004; Mortoro, 2012 > class notes, Flowerdew & Miller, 2005). We can see spokenness and writtenness, and monologism as dialogism as extremes in a cline, and the organisation of different speech genres (and yes, I know that there are many other ways in which we could organise those types in the continuum, this is just one approximation) dependent on a number of features including levels of pre-planning, use of formulaic expressions, possibilities for readjustment, contingencies, and whether the goals and trajectories are clear from the start or not:

The truth is that in many ELT lessons, when we say we "do speaking", we are probably working on the monologic, more written-like types of text and even when we "do conversation", we are mostly teaching lexico-grammatical formulas that contextualise more monologic types of texts (let's be honest: how many times in ordinary interaction do we preface our talk with "In my opinion/view..." or "Firstly...Secondly...". In my 8 hours of conversational data....zero!).

Some lit-review and data-based findings 

So the core of my presentation was the comparison of two bigger groups of "genres": narrative, and expository (which, as we all know, are made of a number of "sub-genres", each differing in their possible stages and lexicogrammatical configurations...see Eggins & Slade, 2007).  I presented snippets of more monologic types of stories (as in the introduction to a TED talk), and conversational stories (from my own data), and did the same with more expository texts (more difficult to trace in ordinary interaction). I presented a few generalisations as to possible differences we may encounter in terms of narrative and then expository texts (there is a whole body of literature on this, and yes, I went all simplistic because of the purposes of the presentation,  heading towards practical advice for teaching....before any conversationalist starts rolling their eyes!), putting together my knowledge of Discourse Analysis and Conversation Analysis:

My idea was to show how bundles of features may differ in more written- and more spoken-like texts, and how we can teach them for monologue, and for interaction, in particular, how we can teach our EFL learners to be co-interactants, and not, monologists.

I discussed, based on data, a few generalisations that we can make in the light of David Brazil's account of intonation sequences and combinations, with rising tones (the "loop" symbol) accompanying contextualising, background information, and falls moving discourse forward (the "play" symbol). These patterns are more common in the Orientation and Complication stages of narratives (later stages are generally made of greater "play" sequences), and they were found in both monologic, and conversational stories. 

In general, the Orientation stage was found to be "neater" and more clearly patterned in monological stories, versus conversational stories, where the background actions and the contextualisation in the Orientation stage left slots for listeners to produce their "go-ahead" response upon their opening, and then continuers and markers of affiliation (Stivers, 2008, and others), not to mention how recipient activity may "derail" the story, leading tellers to find a moment to make their way back into the story.

I also discussed the role of acccentuation/tonicity: Event sentences (Gussenhoven, 1984) are often used to make the surprise or contingent nature of the "remarkable event" of the Complication stage explicit (I have also found passive and causative sentences to be doing that in my conversational data).

I made some generalisations as to how we can teach intonation for interaction, and to show how level tones (the "pause" icon) and pauses can also be used by our students to engage their recipients in conversation, and create opportunities for realistic interaction, which will always put students in a position to have to re-adjust, and co-create, instead of thinking of speaking as the clash of two independent, non-related, interactional projects by two separate people (as many of the interactions we hear among students in international exams seem to be!). Tonality blocks of background or foreground information with suitable tones, and the use of pitch height, can also inform the recipients of what their legitimate spots for response incoming could be, and what type of sympathetic/agreeing/etc response can be expected from them (Again, CA/IL people, if you are reading this, just cover your eyes for the slide that follows!):

In the same way, I examined patterns and configurations in expository texts in both "monologic" and conversational data.

Some ideas

I then moved on to present ideas to create opportunities for students to use intonation patterns for both more "monologic" and more "dialogic" types of texts:

Creating opportunities for the use of tone in signoposting & contextualising in more monologic expository text types.

A template for the planning of spoken narrative, together with associated lexico-grammatical & intonational features

Creating opportunities for co-construction in interactional "expositions" (descriptions of states of affairs, or procedures...)

Final remarks

I know this write-up may look confusing and it can hardly give you access to what I demonstrated in my presentation, as I'm not including the data snippets that illustrate all this here. I also know that many of the things I said were not clear enough for all the members of the audience, as I am aware my enthusiasm often leads me to be overgenerous and overwhelming, and people get drowned in my enthusiastic rant, and I end up saying more that people can process in a limited amount of time (one of the things it's high time I learned to overcome!). But at least I wanted to show you a preview of how my current research on prosody in interaction may, at some point, find its way back into language teaching. I wanted to also once again uphold what my research keeps confirming:  intonation choices are co-built in interaction, and they reveal, and simultaneously, co-construct, context and social action. And all theorising on it, in my very humble view, should bear that into consideration.


I would like once again to thank PronSIG, and Mark Hancock, for inviting me to share all this with the audience at the "Pronunciation: The Missing Link" event. I would also like to say thanks to Dr. Ogden and Dr. Szczepek-Reed for their advice during my brainstorming period for this presentation, which I think ended up being something different from what I originally envisioned. And of course, a massive thank you to the Department of Language & Linguistic Science for supporting my research in every way.

domingo, 18 de febrero de 2018

Event report: "Pronunciation: The Missing Link" - Chester Uni, Feb 17, 2018 - Part 1

Last Saturday I left the East to cross the Pennines and after a three-hour train journey I arrived in the wonderful and picturesque city of Chester.
Lovely Chester (credit: MNC)

PronSIG were holding a new event at the University of Chester: "Pronunciation: The Missing Link". It was a small but really friendly event, and the audience was really keen, so the atmosphere was right for us pron-thusiasts to share our passion, quandaries, and ideas.
(Credit: Catarina Pontes)

As many of you may have inferred from my posts, I take this whole pronunciation teaching thing really seriously, and I have always been affected by the tension between what I know about pronunciation and intonation in the real world, and what happens in the classroom, and what teachers need to know in order to make all this "real life mess" accessible to learners. I was happy to be in this event, because the talks were all about problematising many "set truths" in ELT, while still providing solutions that fit the reality of our classrooms.

I will be writing up a small report on the event, but if you want to see how it developed, you might want to check the #pronsigchester hashtag, where all the live-tweeting went on. As usual, all potential errors in understanding the claims of the presenters are my own. 

The first in line was the always great Richard Cauldwell, with "Pronunciation and Listening: The Case for Divorce". Richard reminded us of his great metaphor for the world of sounds out there: The Greenhouse, the Garden, and the Jungle. He also refreshed our memory in terms of how the Careful Speech Model, which is privileged in ELT in the teaching of pronunciation for production, does not hold for learners' perception of the "mush" of speech. This is why for the teaching of listening we need to embrace the Spontaneous Speech Model, a model that relishes the sometimes unruly (at least in terms of prescriptivist rules) nature of the "sound substance". The sound substance differs from the "sight substance" in a large number of ways, and traditionally, the teaching of listening has focused on the "logic of meaning", guiding learners to fill in the gaps based on meaning concerns, rather than on decoding the sound substance. Cauldwell invites us to put ourselves in our students' shoes and see how their hearings may actually be "reasonable hearings" in terms of the sound substance (one of the many examples was that of learners hearing "peoples" for "pupils". The speaker was producing GOOSE fronting all the way and yes, no doubt about the fact that it could have been, indeed, within the logic of the sound substance, been a "reasonable hearing". The logic of meaning and grammar would not have allowed it, of course). Richard then presented a number of cases of processes of connected speech ("streamlining processes"), as always going beyond the neat rules of assimilation and elision that we see in textbooks, and introducing a nice catalogue of processes and wordshapes we find for words like "certainly", "obviously", and many others.  Many  of these points will be tackled in Richard's upcoming book, "A Syllabus for Listening - Decoding".
Richard presented a workshop in the afternoon, but I am afraid I was in another session, so I cannot report on it. I know there was a lot of "mouth gymnastics" involved in the production of different soundshapes...

Gemma Archer was the next presenter, and her focus was on pronunciation assessment. It was an interactive presentation, and there was reflection on the number of reasons why teachers may not do pronunciation assessment in the classroom beyond box-ticking forms in speaking exams. We were invited to analyse different types of pronunciation assessment (passages, minimal pairs...), and their strengths and weaknesses. I would like to focus on the fact that by far one of the most widely criticised aspects was the fact that many pronunciation tests are based on reading aloud, which, as we know, is an altogether different cognitive activity. We know that having a set reading test allows for  the narrowing down of what we want to assess, and uniformity in the type of output we get from our learners, but it is always worth remembering that reading aloud is not speaking. A few interesting alternatives were presented: the use of Diapix, and of story boards, to elicit less controlled speech, while still making sure that some of the exponents of what we want to assess are there. It was not mentioned in the presentation, but my favourite form of less controlled pronunciation "test" or practice is role play, and for intonation, at least, Barbara Bradford's Intonation in Context is fabulous.

(I was up next, but I will be writing a separate blog post on my presentation.)

Catarina Pontes led a presentation called "Five Reasons why pronunciation must be included in your lessons". In a pronunciation event, this would sound like preaching to the converted, but as it was planned as an interactive presentation, it ended up being a very useful and engaging forum. Participants shared ideas of activities and resources they used in their classrooms, and some teachers voiced concerns connected to experiences encountered with students, such as reference accent issues, and the exposure to different accents.

Annie McDonald presented some ideas to help students decode spoken language better by listening in chunks. Annie presented a number of mondegreens and how they can be analysed to see what kind of processes students have engaged in to make sense of the sound substance. She moved on to discuss how the regular listening lesson primes students into making sense from their content schemata but does not teach them to decode the actual stream of speech so that next time they are encountered with a similar instantiation, they can recognise it. Annie tried an informal experiment: she selected a few sentences that students were meant to decode word for word, and she worked out her students' percentages of success (quite low). The following lesson, students listened to the text again and then they were able to decode some chunks of speech more successfully. Annie recommended the use of YouGlish and TubeQuizard to look up regular chunks of word clusters so that students can listen to the many manifestations of the same combination of words. Like Richard Cauldwell in the morning, Annie played collections of words/word clusters together, which enables students to get a taste of inter-speaker variation in the producition of the same lexical sequences.

Mark Hancock presented a number of interesting activities to make the teaching of tonic stress "simple". We all know what a nightmare the system of tonicity can be, and personally I always feel soooo guilty teaching the "rules", as I know tonicity is so context-dependent and there are so many exceptions. However, Mark Hancock succeeded in presenting some small contexts for participants to decide on where to put the nuclear accent (which he called tonic stress, as in many other pieces of work). There were some interesting debates, as some participants produced alternative versions (oooh, a flashback to my Phonetics 2 lessons!), and as others were not perhaps aware of where they themselves were placing the  nuclear stress (something at times I notice I may have trouble with myself when I analyse my Spanish speech). The activities presented were truly interactive and easy to apply in our lessons, and they centered around the following areas (I'm using the technical names here because I'm a phon-freak, but Mark was very careful in his simplification of these): deaccentuation of Given info, contrastive focus, intonational idioms/fixed tonicity, and stress shift. All in all, an interesting overview of tonicity with simple activities that I personally believe can help English learners become aware of tonic stress.

I once again want to thank PronSIG and Mark Hancock for having invited me to be part of the event. It's been a delight to go back to my first teaching pronunciation love, and to be around experienced teachers who have so much to share, and who also need someone to tell them that some issues are indeed difficult but that there are ways out. I'm really pleased to see how the teaching of listening is evolving, and how teachers are not being undermined or treated with contempt when it comes to how complex pronunciation can be, and how many thorny issues and sides to it there are. In my humble opinion, finding ways to simplify things for teaching should not mean making people feel dumb (as I have been made to feel in some contexts in the past), and in an event like this, it's clear that no one is treating pronunciation teaching lightly. So I am really happy to be involved in this joint quest for truth and teachability and to be able to share it with like-minded people.

My next post will be about my presentation. Personally, and given the feedback I got during lunch and some of my own hunches as I was designing it, it was also an unexpected surprise to realise how my research can actually inform English language teaching practices when it comes to the teaching of intonation for conversation (and not for monologue.....brace yourselves for a rant in an upcoming post!), so who knows...once my thesis is ready in two years' time...