viernes, 29 de agosto de 2014

Tools & Apps #1: Typing IPA symbols

Today: How to insert IPA fonts in a document, website, mobile device....and more!

(Disclaimer 1: I know there are lots of posts on this in pronunciation- and tech-related blogs, and there are many tools I am not reviewing here, which you can consult in my Scoop.It collection at the end of this post. I am just presenting the ones I myself have found useful, with the usual warnings and "user discretion" advice!)
(Disclaimer 2: I have tested these tools on a Windows 7 and a Windows 8 computer, and on mobile devices running Android 4.1 and Blackberry 10.2 versions. I cannot help those Mac/iOS users out there, I fear, though some of these may work on these systems as well.)

The easy way out

There are a number of "phonemic typewriters" on the web you may want to try out. In general, all you have to do is to click on the keys and transcribe your desired words/passage. You then select your transcribed text and copy and paste it on Word, on the Web, on Twitter, on Facebook, you name it!

  • I have found David Brett's typewriter really useful when in a rush, for a basic broad transcription, though given some recent changes to GB you may not find all the symbols you need. 

    David Brett's
    Pete McKichan's Phonemic Script Typewriter below works similarly.

If you need to go for narrow transcription with different diacritics and symbols for other languages than English, you may try Typeit .

Weston Ruter uses the IPA chart to function as a typewriter. Great resource if you need to be reminded of the place and manner of articulation of the symbols you are typing, among other features:

Even easier? Think again!

Yes, dear students, we've known about these for YEARS! And I have trained my eye to recognise transcriptions using these tools. Because what matters in the end is the rule behind the use of a certain sound for a certain spelling, or the choice of a particular weak and strong form, these websites may not be "the coolest" thing to use (especially if you have to sit face-to-face exams, where your knowledge should come straight from your head!). So, yes, these resources may be time-saving, but not grade-savers in the end. So think twice before using them to complete your homework transcriptions. And if you do use them, check the transcriptions against your spelling and weak-strong form rules, trying to account for every bit transcribed, or attempting to spot "errors". 
(Now, having made my usual "witch lecturer" warning, off to reviewing these tools)

Some websites offer a text-to-pronunciation transcription. Yes, they do! I myself have used them to prepare some keys to transcriptions or dictations for my lessons, but found I had to use up quite a lot of that time I thought I'd saved correcting errors or making more suitable choices of pronunciation. 

One of the most popular among my students (Busted!) is PhoTransEdit. You can see from the capture what I mean about "correcting mistakes", but I have to admit it is one of the most accurate tools of this kind I've found so far in spite of some "horrors":
Lingorado offers a similar functionality, but uses /ɛ/ for British English /e/, and it also presents a few issues with weak and strong forms and happY, for instance:

Many of these have iPhone, Android and Windows 8 mobile versions, which makes IPA-typing on your mobile or tablet easier. Other mobile apps I have tried on Android and Blackberry 10 include:

Multiling Keyboard: I found this integrated keyboard hellish to use at first, but once I got used to it, I could type IPA really easily. You just need to get acquainted with the location of the symbols on the keyboard and learn some swift movements to make your choice, but the keyboard includes diacritics as well, and I believe all the trouble is worth it. I have produced transcription keys on the spot for my learners, typing almost at the same speed rate they were handwriting their symbols on the page!

Phoneme Converter: if you are familiar with the shortcuts for the IPA symbols to type on a PC (see below), then this tool is going to allow you to type really fast using ASCII-IPA (say, using the @ for /ə/, for example) in order to paste your text later anywhere on your mobile device. This is a capture of its use on a Blackberry 10 device, though it is in fact an Android app:

A bit more challenging, but worth it! 

Indeed, having the IPA fonts in your computer does make things easier for us, and yes, it does pose a bit of a challenge. But once you are over the initial struggle of download and installation, all you need to do is remember the codes to type those symbols that just "don't look like regular letters", so to speak.

UCL (includes also a phonetic keyboard):
  • How to install the fonts
Some of the websites above present the fonts as "packages" which "self-install" the fonts with the only task of downloading and opening the file. Some others, however, require manual installation.
If that is the case, on a Windows computer, these are the usual steps:
1. Download your fonts, and if zipped, unzip them.
2. On the File Explorer, copy them (or select them and click "ctrl + C") as you would do with any file.
3. Open the Control Panel. Double click on "Fonts"
4. Paste your files (or click "ctrl + V")
That should do the trick!
  • How to type the symbols
If you use a word processor, for instance, you just need to identify the name of your font and select it on the list of fonts,  in much the same way you change from Arial to Times New Roman, for example. 
The symbols that look like letters, so to speak, are typed directly, and if you need to consult the way of typing in the other "foreign-looking" symbols, you can check the article below:
(Mind you, there is a "logic" behind the system, with the velar nasal /ŋ/as a capital N (shift + n), the STRUT vowel /ʌ/ as a capital V, the NURSE vowel /ɜ/ by pressing "3", and so on! You'll be up to it in no time!)


Regarding intonation, things may be a bit "rough", particularly if you use tonetic marks, unlike the conventions used for ToBI that use letters and some (*%!-+) symbols.
Those keyboard tools that offer diacritics do have tone marks you can use, and the fonts listed above also present a few, particularly the one on intonation at the UCL website.
At times, however, it appears to be more useful to use arrow marks with superscript and subscript formatting options . Some people  use slanted lines \ /, others, following the conventions of Discourse Intonation, place words on different lines to show key/termination variation.
These may be just some ways of coding your transcription for intonation, which will depend on your chosen theoretical framework.

Truth is, marking different levels of key and termination may prove a bit of a struggle. There are a few fonts going round, but as I cannot accurately trace the source, I cannot post them just yet. Should I get permission and a reliable source, I will make them available here, I promise! 

IPA tools: My bag of tricks

As usual, here's my full collection of resources to type IPA symbols.
 The links to some of the resources reviewed here will be found in this collection, as well as many other tools I have not reviewed because of their price, effectiveness or accuracy. You can check them out and tell us about your own experience in the comments box below.

A final word

Being able to transcribe on your PC or your mobile gives you the chance of not only showing the pronunciation of a particular word or phrase on the spot, but also, and more importantly, it gives you the freedom to design your own flashcards, acrostics and other teaching materials on any web platform or piece of software. If you use the typewriters, for instance, you can also embed the symbols on Facebook, Twitter, and your blogs and platforms, allowing us "phonfreaks" to share knowledge or code "secret" messages for other "phon-nerds" worldwide!

sábado, 16 de agosto de 2014

Pronunciation and Grammar: The regular simple past inflection -ed

One of the things I try to instill the most on my teacher trainees is that pronunciation can easily be taught alongisde other language areas and skills. I have found this makes many teachers feel relieved and more confident about teaching pronunciation in the EFL classroom, as there are generally many myths and misconceptions regarding the way phonology should be tackled in the lesson (more on this on a future post!).

One of the obvious choices of pronunciation features to teach together with grammar arises when the simple past is taught, specifically the regular past inflections -(e)d.  

The Rules
A brief review of the way the rule goes:

We look at the infinitive form of the verb:

  • If the last sound is voiced (except for /d/), we use /d/.
  • If the last sound is voiceless, except for /t/, we use /t/.
  • If the last sound is /t/ or /d/, we use /ɪd/ (in other accents of English, /əd/ also possible).

This constitutes a great opportunity for students to become familiar with the concepts of "voiced" and "voiceless", to feel the vibration of their vocal folds for voiced sounds by placing their hands on their throats, or covering their ears to feel the "buzz", or sensing the vibration on the top of their heads upon the production of a voiced sound (the contrast /s/ /z/ (the "snake" and the "bee") is generally a great choice!).

Other teachers "shun" the presentation of voiced/voiceless contrasts by teaching this rule by referring to spellings . In my humble opinion, why complicate matters further by engaging the memory in endless lists when in fact voice/voicelessness can be "felt"!

A few warnings!

I feel it is my "moral duty" to make a few observations regarding the pronunciation of regular past tense endings and their teaching:

1. We cannot assume students will know how to pronounce all the infinitive forms of the  verbs they encounter, and they may make mistakes. For example, a Spanish speaking student not yet familiar with the sound /dʒ/ may deem the last sound in the verb "judge" to be a /ʃ/ or a / tʃ/, for instance. So this will result in the wrong choice of -ed pronunciation.

BUT, more importantly....

2. The contrast /t/-/d/, to be honest, is not always kept. Why? Well, simply because in final position before silence, or when followed by a voiceless sound, /d/ will present varying degrees of devoicing [], that is, it will lose vocal fold vibration during the whole or part of its production, and will thus approximate /t/ in its production. There will also be no audible release if followed by  affricates or other plosives, or by silence (optional, according to Tench 2011:66) , or subject to delayed release if a homorganic (a consonant sharing the place of articulation, in this case, alveolar), follows. That is, the final stage of the /t, d/ will not be heard, you will be keeping the release "to yourself", so to speak, till the next plosive is produced. A more technical discussion of this can be found in this blog post by John Wells. Another very interesting and illustrated discussion of these allophones can be read about in Knight (2012).

So what should I be focussing on as a teacher? Primarily, vowel length. Vowels preceding the ending /d/ will be longer; compare: complained [kəmpleːɪnd], complaint [kəmpleˑɪnt]. It has been established by both ELT and ELF pronunciation experts that vowel length may be an important source of confusion and unintelligibility at times, so it is something worth teaching at some point or another.

You could also work on the avoidance of an "exaggerated" ending to work towards a non-audibly released /t/ or /d/ in the contexts where release is not usually heard. However, I know many teachers who would prefer an exaggerated production of the ending as "proof" that the past tense is being produced. And I have to say, it may pay off in oral Language and Grammar exams! Better to be heard producing the past than having to explain (if you are ever given the chance!) that in fact you know your Phonetics theory well!

BUT, even "worse"....

3. When these past forms are followed by other words starting in consonants (except perhaps /h/) resulting in a cluster of three consonants  in which /t/ or /d/ are medial, these past markers can, and sometimes are, elided, as Tench (2011:96), explains. Cruttenden (2014:314) describes the tendency of elision of voiceless continuant + /t/ or voiced continuants + /d/ followed by a consonant at word boundary: finished late /fɪnɪʃt leɪt/ , refused both /rɪfju:zd bəʊθ/. Similarly, elision will apply in combinations of voiceless plosive/affricate + /d/ or voiced plosive/affricate + /t/: , looked like /lʊkt laɪk/, rubbed gently /rʌbd dʒentli/. Cruttenden claims that it is the context that makes up for the lack of the past tense marker in these cases.

Jack Windsor Lewis, however, claims they are generally not elided if followed by an obstruent or nasal (#11 - here) and focuses on the producing of the right non-audibly released allophones instead.

So what do we do?

If we want our teaching of English to be "enabling" and "empowering" for our learners, we need to teach the rule as it is. We may focus on the contrast /t/ - /d/ to different degrees depending on the objectives our class needs to meet, but I personally believe there should be at least a contrast between some sort of [t] sound (be it an attempt to a devoiced [d̥] or other "version" of /t,d/) vs /ɪd/. Students' rendering of past forms often include an overgeneralization of the rule, with varying versions of the /ɪd/ ending produced for all verbs, [wotʃedwotʃid] even [ɣwotʃid]  for "watched", to mention a very common example. So I claim that there should be at least a contrast between the /ɪd/ ending and some other variant for /t, d/, which you will define according to your students' needs and level.

Truth is, with this basic two or three-sided contrast, we have already got a lot on our plate, as the production of consonant clusters is a huge challenge in itself, and at times, students appear not to produce their past tenses in speech because of the cluster rather than because of lack of knowledge of the past tense in itself, as my colleague Prof Terluk rightly points out.

How do we assess this?

Lists of regular verbs can be used for both perception and production, and different experiments can be carried out by students to check whether the last sound of the infinitive is voiced or not. In my experience, teenagers find this exercise pretty entertaining (Just don't "spoil" it, as I did, by showing videos of the vocal folds in operation....couldn't help myself, I guess!).

The web is also filled with automatic-grading tasks for students to try and identify the right ending (check the collection of resources below) to extend pronunciation work beyond the classroom.

Whenever a written exercise on the simple past tense is checked in class, students may be asked to also pay special attention to their oral rendering of the past verbs. My secondary school students would deem an answer given by a classmate as "wrong" if the past tense was not pronounced correctly, even if the written version was correct. Thus, you can always make the most of a "boring" grammar exercise check to practise pronunciation! (Killing two birds with one stone, that is!)

For a successful grammar-pronunciation integration to take place, the production of the 
-ed ending needs to be monitored and, yes, assessed. A very successful task I tried on my secondary students consisted in their planning and recording a criminal confession (the unit was related to "Crime") in which at least 10 regular past verbs had to be used. They would then have to self-assess their production of past tenses by counting the number of regular past verbs and the number of -ed endings produced correctly in their recording, to give themselves a percentage of correct answers. These percentages would then be "double-checked" by a classmate. This helped me realise that at times students are harder on themselves than we teachers can be with them, feedback-wise!


As usual, here's my share of collected resources to practise the application of the -ed rule:

Hope you have found this post useful, and as usual sorry about having to reveal the "dark side" of a topic which, at first glance, appears to be easy to teach. When you've given it enough thought, you will notice it is indeed simple to teach, and you will, of course, make your own choices and adaptations based on your own groups and courses. Good luck!