lunes, 26 de mayo de 2014

Pronunciation and I: Intrinsic (!?) Motivation (a bit of a Freudian session)

Pronunciation has been my passion for many years now. I would feel tempted to say it was because of my Phonetics I trainer, Prof. Graciela Moyano, and I would say "certainly, yes!". And I would not be wrong. I am determined to devote a whole post to my wonderful training in Phonetics by Graciela. However, I know there is something about my curiosity about pronunciation that goes back to very early in my life, probably when I was 5 and I was sent to a speech therapist because I could not produce my "rr"s (BTW, I am a native speaker of Riverplate Spanish.  Curious what that means? Wikipedia may enlighten you...a little bit).

A bit of theory first. The "rr" sound is called a voiced alveolar trill, usually known as a "rolling r", and represented thus: [r]. It is a liquid consonant (though Cruttenden 2014:51 points out there is no common agreement on this) and it is a trill because it is produced with intermittent closure between the tip and blade of the tongue with the alveolar ridge. It is a very common sound in Spanish, represented by spelling "r" (initial in the word) and "rr". You can see an animation for the articulation of this sound in the University of Iowa website: (Look it up under "vibrantes"). 
You can hear the English frictionless continuant approximant and the Spanish alveolar trill (together with other manifestations of /r/) here
This is what the spectogram of my Spanish [r] and my English [ɹ] look like in PRAAT:

And what they sound like: 
(BTW, for some reason at times (not here, I think) my English /r/ includes a labiodental articulation, very much like Johnathan Ross' own [ʋ] and I guess I was trying to avoid it here. I wonder why!)

Here's a video that shows some people attempting to produce a Spanish trill (BTW, that was my "rr" at the age of 5! My Italian granny used to call me "my little Frenchy", at least that was what my /r/ sounded like to her, much to her dismay) and some tips and tricks which may (?) work (I don't really think the protagonist's achieved "rr" is truly alveolar, as there is some sort of velar start to my ear...but I may be wrong!):

You will hear it in Scottish, as this video shows:

I remember my speech therapy sessions quite vividly, which I guess is quite telling. I can recall disliking the speech therapist, a very tall, slender woman, and I get the feeling she was not very patient. I remember she filled a notebook with drawings and words with "rr", nursery rhymes as well: "Erre con erre cigarro, erre con erre barril..." and I was expected to repeat. I don't have any recollection of having been asked to do anything else than repeat. 

After six or seven sessions, she told my mother I had to keep attending sessions, even during the summer break. I remember getting in a tantrum, saying I was not going to go on attending, and my mother politely saying that since I was going to start swimming lessons, I would not be going back to my speech therapy sessions again. I was relieved.

I eventually got the sound "rr" on my own. I was probably not ready for my /r/ before this time (after all, it is one of the last sounds to be acquired,) or there had been, very likely, more articulatory practice in the sessions which my subconscious mind has "blocked".

I heard someone say that we choose our profession as a means of healing a past trauma. I don't know if this is the case (this experience competes with the fact that I was locked inside an English Institute when I was 8), but I do believe this was a significant event in my life and there is something about the impression that I was only asked to "repeat" which I react against, now, in my teaching. (Worth another post!)

Thank you for reading me! Any personal experiences to share regarding your /r/ sounds?

jueves, 1 de mayo de 2014

"Pronunciation Bites" and I

I first conceived Pronunciation Bites at least three years ago. At the time I was teaching Phonetics at College already, but I also had a considerable number of periods at secondary school, and I was determined to find a more systematic and effective way of integrating pronunciation work in my lessons (not that I had not tried before, but things didn't work out too well!). Time constraints, institutional requirements, discipline issues, an apparent lack of interest on the part of students, and my own lack of confidence were always on the way.

As it generally happens, during a long journey back home (I used to commute 1 hr 45 min to work at the time), I just went "Eureka"!. I got my yearly plan, took a look at the grammar and vocabulary contents I was expected to teach for my CAE class, and started deciding on "companion pronunciation features" to those topics.

I first came up with the obvious (looking back, quite a difficult topic to teach, given the clusters which gave my students so much trouble...):

Review of simple past --> past regular verbs --> -ed suffix.
Review of present simple --> 3rd person singular suffixes --> (e)s suffix 

And then I got more creative, and thought of....

Grammatical emphasis: pseudo-clefts and inversion --> issues of tonality and tonicity
Causative structures--> tonicity (noun often accented when expressing urgency or present relevance!)
Expression of regret --> contracted forms of "should've", use of the fall rise for many conditioning clauses (3rd conditional)

So little by little, notions of stress and accent, intonation patterns and consonant clusters became part of my classes, and an important part of grading and assessment, too. 

And so the pronunciation+grammar/vocab+grammar list grew! And these notes, ideas, moments of epiphany, as it were, are now presented as snippets, and pictures, and stickers, and coloured notes in my Evernote app in my phone and tablet, as well as on an Evernote-compatible paper notebook:

However, my inquisitive mind thinks that taking notes and ideas is not enough. I need to supplement this with theory and reflection. And I guess this has always been on my mind, but it became more of a purpose, or a project, a month ago.

Last April I had the chance of taking part in the wonderful IATEFL conference, in Harrogate. And on the very last day, almost by chance, I got into a room where a talk was taking place. It was by Anthony Gaughan, and it was related to professional development, and to how we do not need to travel a long distance to actually engage in it. The text of the talk is available HERE, and I guess it was a perfect way to finish the conference for me, as I definitely need to revisit some of my beliefs and long-established assumptions. So this blog is, to a certain extent, a way of addressing this uneasiness I felt after the talk.

So just like my pocket notebook, this is what Pronunciation Bites is meant to be, at least for me. A place to take down those "Eureka" moments before, during and after lessons, with a touch of theory to shed light and a rationale onto them. An excuse to do further reading on the pronunciation topics that interest me and share them with whoever is willing to hear about them and comment on them as well. A spot to lay bare those ideas and thoughts and reflections which shape my teaching, which is always on the move, always evolving, always growing stronger from mistakes.

Welcome to Pronunciation Bites.