jueves, 19 de junio de 2014

Currently reading #1: "Phonology for Listening", by Richard Cauldwell - Part 1

I am currently "mosaic reading", what with teaching, writing my MA thesis and more. But one of the books which has accompanied me since last year and which I have been reading with great care is Richard Cauldwell's Phonology for Listening. I am not only enjoying the book lots, but I have to admit it has also shaken the foundations of some of those beliefs behind my ideas of listening and speech production as well.
Plus, the book was nominated for an ELTon in Innovation in Teacher Resources, and it is both in paperback and e-book format.

Lots of people ahead of me have written very good & complete reviews of the book, such as the one by Wayne Rimmer (Available here, at the Pronsig FB page). I myself won't be reviewing the book formally, but I will be drawing upon some snippets which I feel are of major interest to me at this stage of my teaching.
As a self-confessed David Brazil fan (yes, when they ask you "what past historical figure would you like to interview if you had the chance?" I would most certainly choose him! I have issues!), reading a book by someone who has studied with him just makes me more than curious. Particularly, because they can tell us something about the "kitchen" of the whole system, something about the "didactic pruning" that we all engage into when teaching a topic and that may have led Brazil to make some simplification in his explanation, among other things. And also because I have not seen much developed from Brazil's time to now, at times just mere repetition of what was written in his books. So having someone taking this to the "next level", with adoptions and rejections of different bits of Discourse Intonation ideas, is more than appealing to me.

But this book exceeds the domain of Discouse Intonation, as it explores a wide range of topics, including:
  •  perception and production models of speech, 
  • changes to the stream of speech as we talk, 
  • how spontaneous speech "works" and how it is different from other forms of "careful speech"
  • what happens when we transcribe speech
  • accents, identity and emotion in speech
  • the teaching of listening.
As you can see, it's a sort of manual or handbook on a number of topics, descriptions, observations, and reflections that can inform our teaching practices.

The book centers around two issues, two "dilemmas":

  • "Ying's dilemma", related to the problem that we know words, but we can't catch them in spontaneous speech.
I confess myself to having had lots of "Ying moments" this year, particularly in the North of England. In spite of the fact that I'd studied the accents thoroughly, so I supposedly knew what to expect, I found myself in York, "recruited" by an Avon saleslady who was asking me questions I never got to understand. I had to say "sorry" in a Spanglish accent to make her realise I wasn't really getting it (I'd say "sorry" with a rise twice before to request repetition) and she let me go. And on a bus to Whitby, two young people sitting next to me were talking of complaining to the company of the service, and one of them addressed me saying something that sounded to me like "Got a penner?", and after apologising and looking puzzled, I got a clarification: "something to write with". He had said "Got a pen or something?".

"Anna's anger" at not being taught to really listen, at being asked to complete listening comprehension activities without having any teaching of the phenomena of the stream of speech.

I generally do some teaching of the aspects of connected speech when I do listening comp activities, but it is true that I do this particularly when students have trouble with some specific answers. I ask my students to write down what they think they hear, the orthography of what they think they heard, even if it doesn't look like a familiar word, and then we start analysing what went on in the stream of speech, the processes that were applied. But I have to admit that "Anna's anger" made me feel guilty about not doing this more often, particularly in my Lab lessons at College.

Some of the concepts I believe to be particularly interesting, especially because of the way they were presented, and which I have adopted immediately, are related to the "Window on Speech" framework adopted by the author, that uphholds a model that focuses on spontaneous speech with its "transient, invisible, plastic" features rather than on careful speech, the latter being the one we normally use for teaching production. I liked the notions of:
  • "acoustic blur", defined as "the way in which words in the stream of speech do not have clearly-defined beginnings or endings" (p.18),
  • "squeeze zones", those parts of speech that present non-prominent syllables and that present "squeezed" soundshapes, and that sound truly differently from the citation forms we all know too well, and which we, wrongly, expect to hear in spontaneous speech.
I found these ideas to be useful when doing dictation with my teacher trainees. I found that in the initial stages of recognition of onsets and nuclei, nuclei were not really a problem (at least, if the sentences were dictated with falls. Rises do bring about more trouble...). But the presence or lack of an onset were more difficult to spot for my learners. Drawing their attention to the "squeeze zones" in the pre-heads, and the comparison of the strong, better-defined vowels they would hear if the items were accented, has proven really effective.

These ideas by the author are futher developed in Part 2, and there is a great section on "Soundshapes" that deals with function words. Like in the rest of the book, there are a myriad audio clips exemplifying each and every point (the whole reading experience is a lesson in listening itself! Awesome!), and there is a description of these "weak forms" as we know them, together with other items which are not generally considered in other sources, except perhaps for Jack Windsor Lewis' blog (do an entry search for articles on less commonly reported reduced items!). The resources generally consulted for theory on weak forms in Phonetics/Phonology courses include the famous Gimson's... edited by Cruttenden (now in its 2014 edition!), the textbook by Peter Roach, and the "37 Weak Forms" article by Ortiz Lira. Cauldwell's description of reductions in spontaneous speech would certainly defy many of the reduced-word lists we are used to putting together, plus revealing that reduction is far more common than we would be ready to accept!

Among the many definitions in the book, I quite enjoyed the reference to tones in  careful speech as "countours of a landscape with high peaks, steep slopes and deep valleys" and the "gently rolling hills and shallow slopes of the English countryside" of spontaneous speech. This is so clear when it comes to the perception of the fall-rise by my students (and myself!) so used to O'Connor & Arnold's really steep fall-rises or rise-fall-rises, that the "shallow" fall-rises in spontaneous speech are either reconstructed because of our "theoretical expectations" or missed altogether. Another "challenge" to some long-established theoretical points, is the reference to the stress-timing theory. Though questioned from the early 1980s on by people like Roach and Cauldwell himself (click on the names for the articles), as it appears not to be a true reality of English speech, it is still a useful construct to teach English rhythm (in my humble opinion), but it is rejected if English is taught for ELF purposes, as weakening is not part of the Lingua Franca Core defined by Jennifer Jenkins.
The "Phonology for Listening" book presents cases of isochrony, but mostly claims that spontaneous speech is very rarely isochronous.

The second part of the book also describes the shape of spontaneous speech, particularly the drafting phenomena: filled and silent pauses, restarts, repetitions, reformulations, markers of imprecision, softeners, issues of speed and articulation rate.... It is essential to bear these issues in mind when it comes to teaching production, as well, in my opinion. There was a great talk on fluency by Alan Tonkyn in the IATEFL PronSIG PCE last April with a great discussion of what was perceived as fluent by native examiners of L2 speakers of English, and the presence of drafting phenomena was not necessarily a "threat", except for a number of specifications:

All in all, the first two parts of this manual address extremely interesting points, challenge assumptions, and fine-tune our ears. I was truly enthusiastic to read it the first time, and to review my notes for this post, after having attended two talks by Richard at IATEFL, which helped me make better sense of the book still. The key issue to start with is:

This ends my humble (intertextual!) review of Parts 1 and 2. I am most certainly not doing justice to the book, but you can always read it and read the reviews that are now around. Hope this piece has been enticing enough to go and have a taste!
My second part of this review, some time next week. And thanks for reading me!

Celeb spot! I have a pic with the author! (I have cheekily selfied him during the IATEFL PronSIG event!).

viernes, 13 de junio de 2014

Teaching Segments #1: English /ð, d/ - Part 2: Phonological Processes and "Tips & Tricks"

In one of our previous posts, we talked about the allophonic spit Spanish learners are faced with, from  [ð, ] to English /ð, d/. That is, in English, /ð/ and /d/ are two separate sounds, in Spanish, they are two variables of the only phoneme /d/, with some differences in place of articulation as well.

Interlanguage Processes in the Production of /ð, d/ for advanced learners of English with Riverplate Spanish as L1

Let's take the following phrases from the dialogue "At a Party", from Anne Baker (2006) Ship or Sheep, 3rd edition:

In the dark!
They are dancing under the stars!

The Contrastive Analysis hypothesis by Weinreich (1953) and Lado (1957) would establish that after a thorough comparison of phonemic and phonetic inventories of both L1 and L2 that defines what sounds and variants are present or missing in both languages, we can predict that my learners would apply their L1 allophones Spanish [d̪] and [ð], thus:
(Assuming that learners know about the non-rhoticity of GB)

In ððark!
ey are ðancing unðer e stars!

However, we cannot just assume that students, especially if they are advanced learners (B2, C1 level of the CEFR) will just transfer their L1 sounds to the L2.  They may have motivations to do so, and not just because the foreign sounds are not present in their L1, but also, because they may perceive them to be similar. The presence of "inaccurate perceptual targets" is described in Major’s
Similarity/Dissimilarity Hypothesis (2006), which  contends that those features of a language which are perceived as similar will be more difficult to acquire, since they are perceived and interpreted in terms of L1. As established earlier, Spanish /d/ may be heard to be similar to English /d/, as they are both plosives in nature, and the dental and alveolar articulations are not really far away from each other, and something similar may happen to the dental fricative, there being one allophonic variant of /d/ in Spanish under that description. This hypothesis may also explain why other sounds, such as //, non-existing in Spanish and only closely associated to /ʃ/ or /tʃ/ by Spanish speaking learners, may be more easily acquired or "approximated to" and sustained if students' attention is drawn to it. (I am not denying the difficulties in articulation this sound brings about, I am just contending that students can self-monitor the production of this sound or an approximate target more consistently than the /ð, d/ distinction which, in my experience, remains a consistent "mistake" even after systematised.)

I am teaching advanced learners of English, with many years of exposure to the language -at least inside the classroom-, and with a certain level of proficiency in grammar, lexis and fluency. It comes as no surprise that these students have made their own hypotheses of what the language sounds like, and many of their "mistakes" are, in fact, developmental in nature. This is in-keeping with Major's (1987) Ontogeny Model that predicts the increase of developmental over transfer processes over time.
Adapted from Mayor (1987) in Ioup and Weinberger (1987)

So this is what many of my students produce:

In ark! or In ddark!
ey are ancing uner e stars! or dey are dancing under de stars!

Most students who master the plosive and alveolar aspect of English /d/ overapply it to cover the contexts for /ð/ as well. This is known as hypercorrection, and it counts as evidence that students are actually learning and making judgements as to how the language works! :D

"Tips and Tricks" to teach /ð, d/

The obvious, first: teaching the spellings of both sounds. But the presence of spellings alone is not enough to ensure learners' self-regulation in the production. So some extra tips may be presented to correct or give feedback in order to allow students to realise they should be producing a different sound:

Hand gestures + articulatory tips and tricks: I like using two gestures to represent these sounds (These gestures are not offensive in my culture, but they may be in yours or your learners', so please check beforehand! No offence intended here!)

This is to ask students to produce an interdental sound rather than dental, since in this way, my students manage to produce a better defined /ð/ sound, and they become aware of the "tickling" sensation the friction produces. (It may always backfire, since some students pull their tongues out too much and this obstaculises a smooth articulation, but all in all, the interdental option works pretty well). I have also found it that with all voiced fricatives I needed to help my students to breathe "properly", encouraging diaphragmatic breathing over their usual "chest-lifting" (needed a word for it!) breathing. Many of my students improved on their production of /ð/  and other voiced fricatives when adopting a straight posture, and pulling the upper part of their "bellies" (just below their ribs) outwards when they produced the sound, somehow increasing the amount of air employed for a smooth friction to take place in the mouth organs. This, in turn, allowed them to loosen some unwanted tension on the neck and jaws, as their attention was placed onto the actual breathing process.

This is to remind students of /d/. I have chosen to focus on either keeping the teeth "softly clenched" or the back molars for the production of /d/. In spite of the fact that the transition from Spanish dental to English alveolar merely implies placing the tip and blade of the tongue further back in the mouth (going from just behind the teeth to the "balcony of the mouth", the alveolar ridge), I have found that the more I ask my students to focus on the tongue for this sound in particular, the more the tongue "reacts" by getting into the dental position. So I have found that asking my students to build a "fortress" in the mouth with the teeth or the molars prevented them from "going dental". (This is not a tip I may exploit with all students, as many students have a very stiff jaw due to stress or tension, and this slight "teeth-clenching" may "spoil" their overall performance and create some distortion in sounds. I'll talk about "stiff jaws" and "flabby tongues" and their effect on articulation and voice quality in some other post)

Some other common tips for /d/ include (sorry if I could not trace the sources here):
  • Exploration: exploring the teeth ridge area, playing with the tip of the tongue in different positions from the back of the teeth to the post alveolar area, and attempting different sounds till the right alveolar articulation is found. It allows students to become familiar with the alveolar area, a bit "underused" in Riverplate Spanish. It would sound something like this:

  • Marking the territory: I remember reading somewhere about the suggestion that students could define the alveolar area by either putting a finger or pencil or straw behind their teeth (maybe not too hygienic!) to make sure students' tongues produce contact with the alveolar ridge only, or a piece of chewing gum on the right articulatory point (this is a contribution by my colleague Andrea P.) to identify the "right spot". Some people would say this is a bit "invasive", but if treated as a game and in the right conditions, it should be all right.
Now a few tips for /ð/:

  • The "tongue" greeting": my trainer always presented this tip which is useful in kinder or primary classes. It involves travelling to an imaginary country, where people greet each other by showing the tip of their tongues, and students walk around the classroom saying "th" as a means of saying "hi" to each other.
  • The "tickling" competition: students may be asked to pull the very tip of their tongue between their upper and lower tip and blow slowly, producing a "tickling" sensation. After a short while, this feeling begins to "bother" the lips, the friction and the vibration it produces at times makes students drop the sound. So the competition involves trying to "put up" with the tickling for as long as you can. This is just to draw students' awareness of friction, and what it involves.
There are some videos and tutorials on the web for this sound:

  • Two home-made videos I made for my students: /d/ and /ð/ (used to looking ridiculous on the web by now! Sorry about the sound quality!)

  • BBC Learning Tips, /d/ and /ð/
  • Some other videos for Spanish speakers (here and here). Some may be more "effective" and "accurate" than others. You will decide!
Hope you have found this post useful!

  • Quilis, Antonio (1993). Tratado de Fonología y Fonética Españolas. Madrid: Gredos
  • Mott, Brian. (2012) English Phonetics and Phonology for Spanish Speakers. UB: Spain.
  • Moyano, G. (1996) A Comparison between English and Spanish consonants. Buenos Aires.
  • Major, R.(1987) A Model For Interlanguage Phonology. In Ioup and Weinberger (1987) Interlanguage Phonology. The Acquistion of a Second Language Sound System.Cambridge: Newbury House Publishers
  • Monroy Casas, R. (2001) Profiling The Phonological Processes Shaping The Fossilised Il Of Adult Spanish Learners Of English As Foreign Language. Some Theoretical Implications. University of Murcia
  • Finch, D. and Ortiz Lira, H.(1982) A Course in English Phonetics for Spanish Speakers.London: Heinemann
  • García Jurado, María Amalia y Arenas (2005) La fonética del español: análisis e investigación de los sonidos del habla. Buenos Aires: Quórum
  • Ioup, G., & Weinberger, S. (1987). Interlanguage phonology: The acquisition of a second language sound system (Vol. 8). Newbury House.

martes, 10 de junio de 2014

Webinar Report #2: Focus on Global English - Richard Cauldwell / Katy Davies & Laura Patsko

Today I travelled to England, comfortably sitting on my Buenos Aires armchair. The British Council organised the "Focus on Global English" event and streamed it live all the way from London.

This event was aimed at exploring issues regarding the role of accent and identity in different ways. Whereas Richard Cauldwell (whose brilliant book I'll be reviewing here soon!) set out to report his experience and views on how accent, identity and prejudice are intertwined, Laura Patsko and Katy Davies have taken English as a Lingua Franca into the classroom and provided us with practical ideas to teach it.

Below you will find a sketchy summary of what was presented, with some comments of my own, and the link to the playback, once it is made available.

(Digression alert!) (Speaking of accents, by the way, the BC presenter's accent was lovely! Sorry, couldn't help it! Picked out some things such as [i:vnɪŋk, rɪ?tʃəd], worth commenting on some other day!)

The BC presenter also made a point of the British Council partnership with Google for this interesting resource: https://spellup.withgoogle.com/

(Version 2. Since its publication, some typos and minor errors have been corrected)

Richard Cauldwell - Accent and Identity, Prejudice and Insecurity

Richard began his talk as a "personal journey on accents", and made a point of how people's feelings about accents may affect our own self image, and in spite of the fact that we may control or overcome them, "insecurity lives inside".
He refers to Part 3 of his (brilliant!) book, Phonology for Listening, as some of the audio samples and issues raised are (thoroughly) developed there.
The talk begins with a few definitions:

Definition of accent - I particularly like the idea of "flavouring" and "colouring".... :)

Identity - Richard's selected definition - The issue of self-worth and sense of belonging were delved into in the talk

Interesting definitions for "prejudice"
After presenting these definitions, Richard went on to re-visit his own history of accents, from his early Irish beginnings, to public school in England, to Oxford, to his current home in Birmingham. Certainly a story of accents!
There are some funny and interesting remarks in the fact that Richard's parents were born in 1926, the year of the "birth" of the BBC, as well as on the "official christening" of Received Pronunciation.

Richard's next step involved the discussion of reference models. We know about the current "embarrased" (sic) status of Received Pronunciation, all the prejudice associated with it as a prestige accent, and no wonder, given some of the (thought-provoking) quotes selected by Richard:

Richard reported a teacher's "protective" attitude towards a Scouse-speaking student, warning him of the how you may "lose marks" if you use your Liverpool accent. This type of prejudice is also taken up in a quote from the 19th century:

This idea of prejudice is ingrained and as the table below shows, which is far different from what many people may believe now, attitudes to accents and the role of accents may change and are, in fact, changing.  Richard makes a hilarious remark on this table, saying that probably the order would change if the question was "Who would you like to have on your side in a fight?"

Richard moves on to present a number of successful professionals, with a high level of proficiency in English, who may have some sort of self-loathing or a lowered self-image because of their accents, or because of the reception towards their accents. Some of these quotes show the role of accent and identity and the "perpetuation of the prejudice":

After listening to different non-native and native accents of English, and drawing on intra-speaker variation, Richard makes a point that accents are variable within the same speaker, and that they can be used for accommodation in different situations. He makes it really clear that we "should be allowed to be who we are".

The next point raised is that of reference models. Received Pronunciation does not have the "status" it used to have, particularly its "refined" version, and hostility towards RP is clear in many areas, as it reveals a "stigmatisation of privilege" (Geoff Lindsey). Richard makes a point that these models should not be attainment targets, just references to where students may want to approximate. But most importantly, "any accent of English is acceptable as long as it is intelligible"
A few other useful reminders Cauldwell has drawn our attention to:
  • English is no longer the property of the native speaker
  • attainment models are achievable learning targets, reference models are not and there are not too many native speakers of those models (Refined RP just for some Royal Family members and the Navy!)

And some thought-provoking conclusions by Richard, which I post in his own "voice":

A short Question & Answer session ensued:

1. Audience: What accent should we teach? If teachers teach with their own voices, isn't this confusing for learners? The member of the audience retells an experience of teaching with her own RP accent alongside another Irish teacher. Don't we need some sort of model?

Richard: There are lots of resources online to choose voices learners can aim to attain without having to go for a reference model. Learners can choose how to establish their identity as speakers of English.

2. Audience: To what extent can you modify your pronunciation?
Richard: It depends on own personal capacity to handle the input that comes in and moderate what comes out. But most importantly, there are some emotional filters that may give people high motivation, or maybe lead them to resist the acquisition of a target accent.

3. Audience: We have to admit there are many Englishes. So pronunciation is not very important for English at a basic level (sic).
Richard: We need to distinguish between production and perception. We have to prepare people to encounter many accents and produce something reasonably consistent.

4. Audience: Teacher working with multilingual classes. I modified my speech for my students, I don't use norhtern accents. If students change their vowels completely, that is not all right for me, that is my line. Spelling definitely affects pronunciation.
Richard: It is important to teach the issues between spelling and sound. But we should aim for intelligibility as a priority.

That was a brief report on Richard's talk.
You can read more on this in Richard's book and on this blog post: http://blog.britishcouncil.org/2014/06/09/what-does-your-accent-say-about-you/

Laura Patsko and Katy Davies: Practical ideas for teaching pronunciation and listening in an English as a lingua franca (ELF) context 

Laura and Katy introduce themselves as teachers working in multilingual context, with non-native learners of English from different L1s. English is their communicative medium of choice, and at times, their only option. They teach "English as a Lingua Franca", which represents the communicative reality of use in English accortding to statistics, and the pronunciation aspect is highlighted in their teaching as "pronunciation was biggest cause of breakdown of communication" (Jenkins, 2000)

The presenters covered the following areas in their talk:
  • How to know what to prioritise in an ELF context?
  • How can you "standardise" your teaching practice within this variation?
  • What practical ideas can you apply in the teaching of ELF pronunciation?

Establishing priorities for an ELF context
1. Conduct a needs analysis: 
  • discussion with students, knowing their needs and motivations for learning English;
  • diagnostic work:  listening to their pronunciation, identifying gap for intelligibility problems. For example: taking a dictation exercise between fellow ELF users (and not the teacher as the "authorised voice"), using sentences in the coursebook, and asking students to take down what their classmates are saying. This allows the teacher and students to identify areas of "high risk" for intelligibility.

2. With the newly-found data: Apply an ELF filter
Check the areas of the Lingua Franca Core and make decisions. The teaching techniques for pronunciation do not need to differ from those used in EFL contexts: minimal pairs, drilling, etc.

3. Come up with a syllabus, based on coursebook/teaching materials and data from the diagnosis
4. Adapting classroom practice

Some things to be considered for an ELF practice:
  • We need to help students become aware of what they are doing and why.
  • Students need to be conscious of the fact that accent is flexible, and that in an ELF context accommodation is important, and they should know how to modify their speech if necessary.
  • Students should be allowed to make choices.
  • Weak forms are not essential in the LFC but may be presented as part of receptive skills to be taught.
  • Focus on stress is important and textbook activities or tapescripts may be adapted to this end.
  • RP may not be a model in itself, but it is useful to teach spelling patterns and their connections to sounds.
  • The learners' needs are taken into consideration and not necessarily the native speaker norm. Students may be judges and models themselves, and teachers should support their choices, particularly if they are "informed" choices.
  • It is better, in a multilingual context, to encourage pairwork over groupwork, so as to enable students to improve comprehension on a particular task being exposed to one "ELF" variety at a time.
  • It is important to teach learners different chunks of language to ensure a smooth negotiation of meaning, request of repetition, or reformulation. 
Use of authentic materials

"Authentic" defined as "materials which have been created in English but not for the purpose of learning English".
These may be used to look for proficient users of English as a Lingua Franca and try both productive and perceptive skills:
Using scripts of these materials may help learners assess intelligibility over the native speaker norm.

Some conclusions by the presenters, inviting us to reconsider and revisit some assumptions:
Laura Patsko rounds off the session by quoting Robin Walker, and the need to re-think goals and the role of error, rather than modify classroom practices. 

Some questions ensued:

Audience: You said you only teach the "bird" vowel, do you teach diphthongs? 
L & K: Key thing on the LFC is length, even for diphthongs. Achieving a particular quality for a vowel sound is not important, but a particular consistent quality is, as well as to preserve length.

Audience: Brazilian speakers learn /θ/ by imitating "th" from speakers with a lisp.
L&K: Even though /θ/ is out of the LFC as it may be replaced by other consonants, it is true that we may get "models" and "tips" from unconventional places. It is also important to consider and question notions of "correctness" and focus on "variation". We ought to remember LFC is a set of features, not a model or variety.

Audience: How can we continue improving our pronunciation after finishing a course?
L & K: An example of a good resource, BC ESOL Nexus website. Watching snippets from videos may also help. 

Audience: Some learners still expect the native speaker norm.
L & K: Respecting students' choices is part of our job, and asking them why they are making the choices they are making is important to see if their choices are informed. Presenting statistics is important. Those "ELF moments" we have in the classroom can also help us to make a point.

This was my brief report on Laura and Katy's Talk.

Hope you have enjoyed this summary of the sessions.
No time for my own input on these today, but I promise a follow-up on this. I think that all the speakers in this session mentioned the reality of English today, but also considered the fact that attainment targets are to be planned by the teacher based on the expectations of the students, and the contexts of use students will be applying their English to. As a teacher trainer, this is a very important point, and I was truly hoping to hear these views made explicit.

Replay link available HERE.
Thanks for reading me!

viernes, 6 de junio de 2014

Teaching Segments #1: English /ð, d/ - Part 1: Exploring phonemic and allophonic differences

I have been teaching general English and English "for international exams" (OMG, I do have a grudge for that) for over ten years now, and I started teaching phonetics at College in 2006. I wouldn't say I'm tooo experienced, but I would say that one of the features I have "corrected" and "systematised" the most among my Spanish-speaking students, is the contrast /ð/,/d/.

Some basic, general remarks for General British /ð/,/d/.:
  • General British (GB) has a phonemic contrast between /ð/,/d/. This means that if we apply the process of commutation, through which we change one phoneme of a word for another, then we will have another acceptable English word, creating a minimal pair: "they"/"day", /ðeɪ//deɪ/. This proves that these two are phonemes of English.
  • /ð/,/d/ are represented by different spellings in GB as well: /ð/ is generally, if not always, "th", /d/ is unproblematically spelled with "d" or "dd".
  • /ð/,/d/ are clearly different in terms of place and manner of articulation, but share the same voice: both sounds are produced with vocal fold vibration. Curious to see what that looks like? Try this video
    • /d/ is an alveolar sound in terms of its place of articulation, i.e., the tip and blade of the tongue are in contact with the alveolar ridge:
Image credit: http://www.study-languages-online.com/images/sounds/sound-d.gif
    •  As far as manner of articulation is concerned, it is a plosive sound, which means that it is produced in three stages: a closure stage, whereby you put your articulators in firm contact, a compression stage in which the air is kept "hostage" behind the closure, and a sudden, "explosive" release (If English is your L1, or you have already "acquired" this sound, you can try this in slow motion). This is generally represented with parametric diagrams like the one below (adapted from Ortiz Lira & Finch, 1982):
    • /ð/ is a dental sound, as the tongue articulates with the teeth (Mott 2012:134 states that in English it is generally "dental rather than interdental", though it is more useful in pedagogical terms to go for an interdental articulation, in my humble opinion!). This dental articulation is made fun of in the famous cartoon from the book How to be British:
Regarding manner of articulation, /ð/ is a fricative sound, and instead of presenting any degree of closure, there is a narrow opening between the articulators which creates friction (i.e, "turbulence"):
Fricatives. (Diagram adapted from Ortiz Lira & Finch, 1982)
You can watch an animation of their articulation in the University of Iowa site.
 (Digression alert!) Check out this MRI of a person singing a rap song (It's awesome!). It's great to see what goes on in your mouth cavity as you talk in real time!

What do we know about "d"-related sounds in my Riverplate variety of Spanish?

  • We have got only one phoneme, /d/. As García Jurado and Arenas (2005:99) explain, it is an (post)dental plosive ("oclusiva apicodental")
Image credit: University of Iowa-Phonetics http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/spanish/frameset.html
Now. The interesting thing about our Spanish/d/ is that it has two main allophones, that is, two main variants. If you listen to my rendering of the word "dedo" ("finger"), you may notice two different productions of the sound (I'm still at odds with PRAAT's text grid feature...sorry!): 

  1. This goes to say that my Riverplate Spanish /d/ has two "versions": a dental plosive []; and a dental fricative (even approximant at times for some speakers!) [ð], which appears in intervocalic position, and sometimes after nasals as well: ['eðo].
(Not after nasals, my colleague Zabala corrects me. In my articulation it is true it is not a fricative, though I recall having read this somewhere. I'll trace the source)

So the RS learners of General British finds themselves entangled in what is called an allophonic split (Lado, 1957), that is, two allophones of their L1 which are two separate phonemes in their L2 (a "phonemization of allophonic variation", Moore, 2013).

Now. Is it only this split that makes /d, ð/ difficult for Argentinian learners of English? After all, how truly aware are we of the sounds we use in our language, as a general rule?

The answer to this question can to a certain extent, be found in a Contrastive Analysis (Weinreich, 1953), like the one carried out just now. But there may be other psycholinguistic factors also operating which may affect the mispronounciation of /d, ð/ among my learners . Part 2 will explore these phonological processes in more detail, explain some of the most common problems RS learners of English face regarding these sounds, and present some tips and tricks for classroom use.

miércoles, 4 de junio de 2014

Webinar Report #1: Teaching Tips for Pronunciation - Tim Bowen

Today I attended my second pronunciation-related webinar this year. The first one I participated in was by Luke Harding, and it discussed several issues regarding pronunciation assessment. It was truly interesting, since at times it is difficult to consider, when it comes to oral performance, what can be a sort of "fair" grading, and how to give a grade out of a speaking or reading aloud activity. (Worth another post? Or research?) You can watch a repeat of that session HERE and I have copied and pasted the chat bar (which you can't see on the playback) HERE.

To avoid excessive, distractive, wordiness (which by now you should know I am guilty of!), let us discuss some bits and pieces I have collected from this second seminar, "Teaching Tips for Pronunciation", by Tim Bowen, author of The Book of Pronunciation: Proposals for a Practical Pedagogy. The abstract of the seminar reads:

"In this webinar we will look at a series of practical activities designed to raise learners’ awareness of different aspects of pronunciation – sounds, stress, intonation and sounds in contact – and to provide productive practice in these areas."

Below you will find an account of some of the activities presented by Bowen, organised into content/skill areas:

1) Difficult / Tricky Words to pronounce
A list of words difficult to pronounce, and some common mistakes. Plus, a few tips on how to go about them:
  • clothes (same pronunciation as for "close")
  • suit (mistake: pronounced as "sweet")
  • iron (think of earning money, and say: "I earn")
  • queue (think of letter Q)
  • examine (mistake" making it sound as "eggs are mine")
"Test the Teacher" activity: Ask your students to produce a word in the list, and point to the one you think you hear. If your students correct you, then they are probably mispronouncing the word. A great chance to teach the pronunciation of tricky words with /ɒ/ and /əʊ/!

2) Spelling-to-sound awareness: 
These activities introduce students to the complexities of English spelling-pronunciation:

Homophones dictation: Dictate these words to students, then check what they have written (I could not get "Pharaohs" myself!)
Other activities: 
  • provide endings of words (e.g. /aɪn/ and find rhyming words (I would personally suggest playing with rhyming dictionaries on the web as well, such as Rhyme Zone)
  • playing the "Word Categories" game, by which you suggest a list of categories (e.g.: food, countries, colours...) and you produce a sound, and students need to find words with that sound for each category
  • Alliteration: draw on common idiomatic phrases with alliterative patterns, such as the ones below:

3) Word Stress
Tim began his discussion of this section by referring to a study (which I would most certainly like to read!) in which someone changed the stress of the word "normally" to "norMALly" and asked people to write down what they heard. They were driven astray by the stress pattern and apparently, no one got to the word "normally" at all. 

Some tasks presented by the speaker included:
    • Spot the different pattern out of a list of London placenames  (they were all double stressed except "Oxford Street")
  • Stress in compounds and longer phrases: Bowen explained the tendency of N + N patterns to be single stressed (though we all know this cannot be a hard-and-fast rule at all!) and ADJ + N combinations to be double stressed. 
(Nerdy comment: As Tim was explaining this, I couldn't help taking this down: "the stress is always in the first ONE". I was reminded of Wells' (2006) Chapter 3, where a point is made about the accentuation of "one" in phrases like "the first/last/only one". I remember recalling this while watching the last Harry Potter film, with Harry saying "the last ONE" of the Horcruxes. I am still not entirely persuaded because I do hear contrastive accents on "first", "last" in many lectures, for example, but I must admit that as I am not a native speaker myself, I need corpus work!)

4) Connected Speech

  • Weak Forms in common phrases: "accenting all words is not fluent", Tim reports. He suggests dealing with weakening through "doing away" with sounds: "a" and "d" in "and", "o" in "to", in the phrases below:
  • Elision: Spot the "disappearing sound" in other common daily phrases
  • Linking: Link the final consonant to the vowel in other common phrases and phrasals:

5) Intonation
  • Nucleus placement and contrastive accent: Speaker A says "I thought she liked Peter" by selecting a particular nucleus, and the rest of the students select the right answer:
  • Rhythm: Bowen suggests using poetry, and Googling "fun poetry" to find samples with clearly-defined rhythm.

6) Student errors : Tips and Tricks
  • Getting rid of onglide in initial /s/ + consonant clusters: Go from bus estation to bust ation and produce it faster.
  • Teach /h/ and avoid its elision in content words by asking students to produce "happy", "here" by whispering the words.
  • Correcting the sequence /w/ + /ʊ/ sometimes realised as [gʊ]: break /w/ into its constituent parts: Say "uuuuuu + aaaa" and speed up: "uuuuuaaaaaud" for "would"
I have more or less summarised most of the ideas presented, and if you would like to read about a rationale for them, or get further ideas, Tim Bowen's textbook is filled with theoretical and practical ideas and thoughts.

The recording of the webinar now available HERE.

I have personally enjoyed the webinar, as it is always good to have new ideas, or be reminded of issues I sometimes take for granted in my lessons, and I consider that most of Tim's activities fit in perfectly with the idea that pronunciation CAN and SHOULD be integrated within other areas and skills of language teaching.

Thanks for reading me and I hope you will find this useful!

domingo, 1 de junio de 2014

Summer School in English Phonetics: 4 years later. An exploration of my own intonation.

To anyone who's embarked on the world of ELT, visiting London is both a must and an excursion into some sort of fairy tale. It came quite late for me, being 29 and having been teaching English for 10 years, but money and fear are never to be underestimated. Or maybe they should.

Anyways. I'd been dreaming of visiting the UK, and of studying Phonetics at UCL, and one day in May 2010, after having talked to hubby about it weeks on end, he "forced" me to enrol. The next day, he was dragging me to the tourist agency, against all my fears, to get my plane ticket. And this is how it all started (BTW, I will always be thankful to Leo for this, <3, and for so many other "pushes".)

The Summer Course in English Phonetics (a.k.a SCEP) is a two-week course in University College London, and it is organised into a general strand, and an IPA strand (a group of candidates for the IPA certification who train for the exam and sit for it at the end of SCEP). The course includes general lectures on pronunciation, intonation and their didactics, as well as tutorials in smaller groups according to your professional/academic profile. For us with a previous thorough training (and obsession) in Phonetics, many things were mostly revision (though the lectures were truly clear and didactic, I would like to lecture like that myself!) and I myself was a bit disappointed at not seeing much of my passion, Discourse Intonation (which I wrote on the feedback sheet! Couldn't help it!), but the whole experience was brilliant, particularly, the tutorials and ear-training sessions.

Me on the first day, upon entering the Cruciform Building. Excited, to say the least!

The course director is the renowned phonetician Michael Ashby. We all know he is more than knowledgeable, but I also want to stress that he is a really kind, generous person, even when I, cheekily, asked for a change of group (I had been placed in a group of teachers who did not know about the IPA, and it had probably been my fault as I had not given further details about my background in the application). I will never forget that first day when I approached him, and, unknowingly, used a really low fall whgen sayin "Excuse me". He sensed from my intonation that bad news were coming, and I did not notice at first that a more polite intonation was appropriate. I felt sooo ashamed, and he was so kind about it all. I am so careful with my "Excuse me"s now....
(I now always pester my students with the "right"(?) "more appropriate" (?) "least face-threatening"(?) intonation of social rituals (Paul Tench devotes chapter 10 in his 2011 book to them).

Manuela and I with Michael on the last day. Before that, I had been given a tour of the Chandler House Library. I was dazzled.

In spite of my intonation (and yes, I do want to sound like a native speaker, I am afraid), I was lucky enough to be given a place at the groups led by none other than Jack Windsor Lewis, and Jane Setter.
Jack Windsor Lewis. What can I say?
With Jane Setter. Glad to see strong women like her in the Phonetics field!

It was a true privilege to be part of those groups and to meet such fabulous classmates from all over the world. It is quite strange, when you are abroad, and especially if you come from a country which is not truly multicultural (OK, that can be questioned now), you lose track at times of how your habits, your way of dressing, or greeting, or addressing other people, may not be taken the way you expect them to. I now listen to my audio files from SCEP, and I hear myself as "pushy", even "smug", when I probably didn't mean to be so. And I guess my awareness of intonation has changed now, but I wonder what I came across as at that particular moment, especially when asking questions, to the people around me.

I wonder how much of our interlanguage intonation can be "damaging" in building rapport with native and non-native speakers of English. I believe that if you have a good "control" of the sounds of L2, inaccurate intonation may even make it more shocking or create the wrong effect. I think this also applies to other paralinguistic features, and I guess some of us Latin Americans with Italian blood can be "loud" as well. This is me, back in 2010, and I can't help feeling I was a bit "cheeky" and "abrupt" in my way of presenting these questions, both in terms of wording, the speed and maybe mostly because of my divergent intonation (sorry about the sound quality):

I was listening to BBC 4 this morning, and I came across this programme, "Gardeners' Questions Time". I paid special attention to the questions by the participants (I've been doing so in other open forum shows as well), and I do hear some noticeable differences (I can grant you that there may be age differences, an altogether different context, but still, this appears to be a nice example for me of the way I would like to sound when presenting a question, both vocab and intonation-wise):

It's funny how when you use English quite frequently (40 teaching periods a week!) in a non-English speaking environment and you listen to English at home (BBC, London Heart, Smooth Radio and TV series), some things become more "natural", and you achieve "gut" feelings and reactions to other people's performance in English. This can also be a disadvantage, but I find that nowadays I am more sensitive to the perception of convergence in both wording and intonation of my students. (I am not necessarily passing any judgment on this, but this is how I feel). At times, as for my example above, it is hard to "pin down" what it is that makes me feel I may sound "pushy", and I find this same "quality" in the way some Argentinian teachers of English here talk as well.


Now. Back to 2010. Lots of interesting lectures at SCEP introduced me to people I had not read before (shame on me!) such as Beverley Collins, whose textbook I now use with my Phonology I students, Geoff Lindsey, whose blog I follow devoutly, Tim Wharton (the pragmatics-prosody link I was looking for!), and my favourite accent at SCEP, Bronwen Evans'. There was a great lecture by Eva Estebas Vilaplanas, and her book on pronunciation is a great asset for Spanish speakers seeking to improve their pronunciation of English.

And of course, John Wells was there, he delivered a lecture on Accents and some of the dictation sessions, and I made the most of Question Time to ask questions about his book on Intonation and the latest edition of the dictionary, both extremely popular in my country (Luckily, as the questions were written down, my intonation would not sound "impertinent". Phew!).
With John Wells.
So all in all, if you feel like brushing up your knowledge on Phonetics or learning more about it, or getting some good feedback, I would recommend attending SCEP. It is not just about meeting and networking with the "big names", it is mostly about bonding with wonderful people who can help you see how wide and large the world is, and how a simple passion as pronunciation can bring people together (or apart, if you use divergent intonation as I did!). (Speaking of past traumas....back to blog post 2, right?!)
Of course, during my two weekends in London in August 2010 and in the afternoons, I just hopped on and off the Tube /tʃu:b/ to visit the landmarks. I was puzzled by the Englishes I heard in my daily interaction with people while shopping or seeing the sights, or commuting, and my own stereotypical view of the "oral London" was reshaped by this trip. My fascination with accents had begun. (More on this, on another post!)
Magic occurs when you travel, and as my cousin says, when you are away on your own, you are kind of "naked", and still, you don't fear to show who you are. This is what happened to me. As a woman entering my 30s, this "me-time" allowed me to open up and make new friends, and be myself. One of those great friends is Manuela, another Argentinian, and who remains a close friend, even though we live 1000 kms away from each other and have not met face-to-face again since 2011.
Manu and I holding our certificates! :D
And life has given me the chance of meeting Angelica  and Jan again this year on my trip to Barcelona and to the UK, and I am so glad we can still stay in touch.
Our fabulous group. I still remain connected (thanks to Facebook!) to Angelica, Anabela, Jan, Manu and Veronika.
If you want to read more about prosody and perceptions of "pushiness", politeness, and connections between communicative functions and tone from a discoursal or psycholinguistic perspective, here are a few selected references:

Intonation as an interface between language and affect - Didier Grandjean , Tanja Ba¨nziger and Klaus R. Scherer http://cms.unige.ch/fapse/neuroemo/pdf/Grandjean_ProgressBrainResearch2006.pdf

Couper-Kuhlen, E. 17. Pragmatics and prosody: prosody as social action.Handbooks of Pragmatics, 491.
Culpeper, J., Bousfield, D., & Wichmann, A. (2003). Impoliteness revisited: With special reference to dynamic and prosodic aspects. Journal of Pragmatics35(10), 1545-1579.
Culpeper, J. (2005). Impoliteness and entertainment in the television quiz show: The Weakest Link. Journal of Politeness Research. Language, Behaviour, Culture1(1), 35-72.

Tench, P (1996). The Intonation Systems of English. Chapters 4 and 5.