miércoles, 30 de diciembre de 2015

Some "inconvenient truths" of pronunciation teaching

2015 is coming to an end and once again, I wanted to thank you for following, reading and/or criticising this blog. 

This post is a very brief reflection on some of the many lessons I have learned this year, out of reading good books, interacting with my experienced colleagues, but also, and more importantly, after considering the feedback and success or failure of my best teachers, my students. I don't want to elaborate on these ideas at length, since there is a lot to say about each, but at least I wanted to list them here today. Who knows, I might write a few posts on these thoughts in 2016.

These are some of the "inconvenient truths" that I believe every EFL teacher needs to embrace when it comes to pronunciation teaching:

  • Pronunciation is a "messy" matter. Things may definitely go awry, discipline-wise, when we do pronunciation work. Pronunciation tasks may turn out to be "ridiculous" for students, and they will most certainly be "noisy".  The development of these activities requires a lot of control and attention on the part of the teacher, a lot of moving around the classroom to monitor what students are doing; keeping your eyes open for possible peer bullying or ridiculing, and yes, it may be tiring. We may need to decide very carefully on our timing (the last few minutes before the bell goes?) if we have a difficult group, we may need to change seating arrangements, or establish a "safe" routine. We, of course, also need to make sure our students understand why they need to work on their sounds and intonation in the first place. All in all, pronunciation "chaos" is an issue we have to anticipate, but it should not scare us away from integrating pronunciation to our lessons regularly.
  • Non-native teachers of English can be good models and instructors. This is something I heard Robin Walker state many times. I think we should never underestimate the process that each of us, non-native speakers of English, has actually been through to build our accents. We can use all this knowledge of our L1 and of what it takes to learn a foreign accent to our and our students' advantage. At times I get a bit cross at teachers systematising sounds only by introducing videos or animations of native speakers producing the sounds. I think that our presence and constant input in the classroom can be a great asset to our students as well, and we can demonstrate the production of the sound ourselves, "live", in many different ways (see my "tips and tricks" post), apart from the introduction of native speaker voices (or other voices, if you are using other L2 speakers as models, which you can read about in the ELFPron blog). There is also a corollary: perception and production may go hand in hand, though we need to ensure exposure to a number of different accents and voices, while perhaps selecting one variety for perception (already a tough issue!).
  • Student success depends a lot on psycho-social aspects. As I listed on my post on pronunciation goals, and on my review of the book "Pronunciation Myths", motivation, feelings about the foreign language, rapport with the teacher and fellow students,  they all have a major bearing on student performance. This is something that needs to be acknowledged from the very start, and the more we get to know about students' expectations and views on this, the better. Students need to appropriate the process and the new articulatory moves to make sure there is progress. This is a tough and very complex issue, and I personally need to work it out still.
  • Pronunciation is a matter of the mind...and the body (and the heart, given the previous bullet point...). This is quite obvious, you might think. But indeed, we need to remember the implications of working with people's bodies. We are, metaphorically speaking, the "fitness instructors" of our students' speech muscles and organs, perhaps their "physiotherapists", in a way. We teach our students how to become aware of what their organs do, and how to make changes to their speech with different exercises, different "dance" or "fitness" routines to develop their proprioception abilities (You can read a lot about this on Adrian Underhill's blog, by the way!). Plus, giving students feedback on their performance is not the same as making corrections on a written composition, and this requires great care and kindness; it's a skill I personally have been trying to learn for years, and I have not always succeeded in.
  • Proper pronunciation teaching resembles the work of a tailor or a craftsman. I have recently realised there is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to pronunciation. Part of the systematisation process can be carried out with the group as a whole, but the ultimate fine-tuning processes need to be developed on an individual basis, and this requires getting to know our learners individually, testing different approaches and strategies, giving lots of personalised feedback, and this, means investing quite some of our own time, yes. And it is also a craft for us to learn; I have been doing this for years and still have a lot of questions, I keep discovering a lot of new ways to approach things, and I pretty much suspect that as times change, practices will have to change. So all in all, pronunciation teaching and learning make up a very personal process of discovery, of constant reflection, and as such, it only works if we help our students become aware of the inner workings of their speaking body, help them create different mental images of what the foreign language and its accents sound like, and invite them to ask themselves the right questions to be able to keep up with the times.

And some of my beliefs, omnipresent in this blog:

  • Pronunciation can be seamlessly integrated to other areas, content and skills in the ELT classroom.
  • Pronunciation work can be fun.
  • We need to teach intonation, and do so communicatively, and in context.
  • Teaching pronunciation requires, as with other content areas of language, some serious research and study on the part of the teacher.

Finally, two new discoveries I've been trying to develop into coherent thoughts:
  • Success in a foreign language pronunciation is partly dependent on our ability to be mindful.  (A podcast-y reflection on this coming up very soon)
  • Learning a foreign accent is in a way a process of appropiation. The big challenge is finding and loving our own L2 voice. (Some Harry Potter-inspired reflections on this here)

In summary, I think pronunciation teaching is by far, a greater learning experience for the teacher than it might be for the learner in the long run. I honestly thrive in all the lessons I keep learning, and I hope I can still continue asking myself questions to improve on my practices. And to keep blogging, of course (BTW, it does feel like this...)
Image from: https://missglayiii.files.wordpress.com/2011/07/hp4_17.jpg

I want to wish you all a lovely start of 2016. 'kiːp 'kɑːm ən prə'naʊns 'ɒn

miércoles, 2 de diciembre de 2015

Review #3, Part 2: "Pronunciation Myths", by Linda Grant.

On my previous post I briefly reviewed the Prologue and the first chapter of the Kindle book version of Pronunciation Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teaching. (BTW, I am trying to come to grips with the way of citing Kindle books....the lack of pagination can be maddening! So I hope you will excuse the lack of page numbers for the quotes. I will, in the future, try to adopt the approach in the APA guidelines (that is...counting paragraphs and all that jazz!): http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/09/how-do-i-cite-a-kindle.html)

This time, I will be discussing the research reviewed in the book to debunk Myths 2, 3 and 4. These chapters were written by Beth Zielinski & Lynda Yates, John Field, and Judy Gilbert, respectively. 
(Warning: It is quite a long post!)


Myth 2: Pronunciation Instruction is not appropriate for beginning-level learners - Beth Zielinski and Lynda Yates.

I was particularly interested in this chapter, since I remember with great shame my very first class in Italian, and my first lesson in French. I was already a graduate teacher of English and I was in awe at both my new teachers, who spent the first half hour or more discussing the sounds of the languages I was about to embark on learning. The same thing happened to my colleagues learning Portuguese. Why is it that most teachers overlook this very important first introduction to the pronunciation of English language during the first lesson? Isn't this the perfect moment to plant the seed of curiosity and to start drawing students' awareness of the noticeable differences between their L1 (Spanish, in my case) and English?

The very first point the authors make is that pronunciation does indeed affect both intelligibility and confidence to speak, as previous research has found, at least in a context where English is spoken outside the classroom. It is claimed that beginnning learners do care about pronunciation, and that the later students are introduced to it, the more limited their improvement will be. Zielinski and Yates favour both the introduction to metaphonological knowledge and awareness, and incidental teaching and correction. They underline the fact that instruction also enhances on other, less "assessable" skills, such as confidence and understanding, and this was found in the action research projects in Springwall (2002).

The authors of this chapter propose following a systematic approach to instruction following four stages: a) listening and awareness, b) control, c) practice, d) extension.

I want to highlight the essential remark made in this chapter, which is that pronunciation is a spoken skill, and however obvious this may sound, we at times forget about this when we carry out reading aloud tasks and select texts to that end. Lexico-grammatical and discourse-semantic choices differ greatly in the spoken-written mode continuum, as those of us who do Systemic Functional Linguistic work very well know.

A few other reminders are made on this chapter, regarding the use of different "modalities" (i.e.: learning styles); provide targeted feedback, immediately or in a delayed form, depending on the task at hand; have one pronunciation goal in every lesson, in combination with other areas and skills; introduce a variety of activities. The authors suggest that readers consult the AMEP Research Centre in Australia website for ideas.

Myth 3: Pronunciation Teaching has to establish in the minds of language learners a set of distinct consonant and vowel sounds - John Field

John Field addresses a very interesting topic, and begins with a number of thought-provoking questions: "a) What is it that we expect learners to store in their minds during ear training? (...) b) How confident are we that storing a phoneme in the mind in some way enables the learner to recognise it when it is heard again in connected speech?". Apart from recognition, Field also questions how much of this "storing" of sounds actually contributes to production as well.

The research review reports on some truths we sometimes forget about: phonemes do not have a "standard" form because of the multiplicity of allophones they may be realised with, and because of all the phenomena involved in co-articulation. This is why training via minimal pairs does not always work as a form of enabling the later recall of phonemes. A clear implication of this is the need to expose learners to the sound in different contexts and in different word positions.

The rest of the chapter unfolds under the scrutiny of two theories that present assumptions in the ESL world:

"A- Although phonemes vary a great deal, any example of a given phoneme has characteristics that distinguish it from all others."

Field notes a first very important truth "the raw speech reaching the listener's ear is not a string of phonemes but a series of acoustic cues that the listener has to match to phonemes". The author reports studies carried out by Liberman in Yale in 1957 that attempted to somehow find "quintessential" (my own interpretation of the study) characterising features of English phonemes, but did not find features which were unique or exclusive to each. Plus, they found that speed had an effect on the perception of phonemes. The perception of consonants was found to be categorical, whereas perceiving vowels requires a distinction between three formants. There are no "constant" values to identify vowels, as we know. So this first theory in a way appears to be quite weak, since as Field concludes, "there is no simple one-to-one match between a group of acoustic cues and a phoneme".

"B - We store a set of 'ideal' phonemes in the mind, against which to match what we hear."

This assumption is related to the belief that our mind cancels out unusual features in the perception of sounds so as to match them to the closest "ideal" phoneme around. This view is related to  the notion of "prototype" (Rosch, 1975) or "template" against which all other manifestations of a word or phoneme are contrasted, and this makes for an economical view of the work the mind carries out in perception. However, Field argues that research by neuroscientists has proven that the mind is capable of more complex forms of storing, and that individual variation of phonemes due to coarticulation also acts counter to the "template" rule. 

(BTW, these two very interesting questions are currently being addressed by Richard Cauldwell in his "Listening Cherries" blog, and in his book "Phonology for Listening (2013)".)

Therefore, three alternative theories are put forward, which claim that a) the phoneme is not the unit of representation we use when we listen; b) the phoneme is just one of the clues used, perhaps not the most important; c) our minds store many variants of the phoneme heard in different contexts and voices.

Regarding a), Field reports studies that have found that listeners need to access the word, the "demi-syllable" (Dupoux, 1993) or the syllable in order to identify the number of phonemes. In this respect, the author believes that teachers should focus on high-frequency syllables as units of perception.

As to theory b), Field notes that phenomena such as ambisyllabicity shows the complexity existing in the recognition of syllable boundaries, and extends the list of cues employed by listeners to include phonemes, words and lexical chunks, and these are supplemented by contextual and co-textual elements. Research by Marlsen-Wilson 1975 has revealed that apparently we "process speech as we hear it at a delay of about a quarter of a second" and that we are actively making hypotheses as to what we believe we have heard, fine-tuning our perception unit by unit. Studies on L2 perception have found that learners "do not trust their perceptual skills in relation to smaller units of language", and they use a more "constant" unit, the word. However, as we know, words also vary, as Cauldwell (2013) states, by adopting different "shapes" in the stream of speech. So Field believes that perception should be trained at the level of the syntatic and lexical chunk as well.

The remarks made by Field regarding the last theory are quite fascinating. It seems that we store in our minds a large number of versions and examples of phonemes and word shapes, and we activate our memory of these items. The teaching implications that Field mentions include the need to expose learners to different realisations and accents, and reviews studies by Pisoni, Lively and Logan (1994) in which this kind of variable ear training was found to be effective. 

Field suggests that teachers should work at the level of the syllable, by working on common syllable patterns and recognition of syllable boundaries, as well as for stress. Later, instruction should be driven into larger units, by proposing "word activation" tasks to predict lexical items to be encountered, as well as "gap fill" activities with typical lexical chunks and their reductions and variation (Field introduces an interesting appendix on this). Focus on function words also acts as a good training exercise to identify changes in speech. The author also proposes exposing learners to many accents, voices and contexts following a gradual progression, in order to create "memories" of different sound and word shapes.

I found this chapter particularly fascinating and thought-provoking. I think it also bears great implications for production, since at times our students attempt to produce these "ideal" phonemes in contexts that in fact require a number of variations due to co-articulation. Even though we may teach allophonic and phonemic rules for different processes, students at times only produce strings of "ideal" phonemes, as if they were putting together a puzzle of individual sound shapes instead of making all the changes and adaptations that the surrounding environment of neighbouring sound requires. A lot to continue pondering on...

Myth 4: Intonation is hard to teach - Judy Gilbert

Those of you who know me will have guessed that this is one of the chapters that drove me into buying the book. There is such a huge gap in intonation teaching (for a huge number of reasons, some of those listed in the chapter), and there is so much that could be done in this respect....Anyway.

Judy Gilbert begins with the retelling of a few anecdotes regarding misunderstandings and intonation. She believes that one of the problems with intonation teaching is that it is filled with "too many abstract concepts.....that tend to blur the specific teaching point". Studies by Kang and Pickering (2011) on comprehensibility highlight the role of intonation for listeners to "confirm if an item is new or one that they are already aware of, to track important information, and to predict when one topic is ending and another is beginning" (2011:6). A stronger focus on prosody in the language lesson is also recommended by Derwing and Rossiter (2003) in order to make students' English more understandable. 

Gilbert reminds her readers that the "basic signals of rhythm and melody specific to one's first language are generally learned by the time a child is one year old". This affects the way we may produce our L2 intonation, and the way we perceive other people's intonation, which could lead to cultural misunderstandings, as well as communication problems, especially when it comes to inaccurate stress choices.

The author discusses some of the reasons behind teachers' uneasiness when it comes to intonation teaching, such as the lack of "friendliness" of intonational descriptions. The first "discouraging approach" is the set of technical rules based on grammar; the second relates to "technical rules based on pitch levels" drawn by phoneticians who cannot establish an agreement when it comes to "meanings" . Gilbert also nots that in these models, the different manifestations of pitch levels which are at times presented as absolutes, instead of as gradient. The third approach seen as "uninviting" is what Gilbert calls "subjective rules based on intuitions about attitude", which is "anxiety-inducing" (Roach 1991:165) Gilbert makes a point of the fact that attitudes are "culturally or contextually dependent", and that most attitudinal descriptions of intonation have applied conflicting values to different pitch levels and emotions. It is also establised that attitude is never expressed by intonation alone.

Gilbert moves on to present different proposals for the teaching of intonation. The first suggestion is to draw students' awareness as to how their L1 and English differ in terms of information delivery, since English uses specific prosodic signals (change in pich, lengthening and "extra clarity" of the vowel in question), and other languages may perhaps employ other non-prosodic features, such as word order. Another suggestion includes the teaching of intonation as a priority, done contextually in dialogues. The next idea is related to the teaching of "listener-friendly" intonation, intonation that helps the listener "follow" what the speaker is saying in the belief that "time spent helping students concentrate on the major rhythmic and melodic signals of English is more importnat than any other efforts to improve intelligibility". However, Gilbert warns teachers that learners may not believe the teacher when it comes to the introduction of intonation, and that they may feel silly trying intonation tasks, which in a way implies that the teaching of prosody is also an act of "persuasion" (and I agree entirely!). Creating activities that may focus on miscommunication or ambiguity, and which require immpediate communicative feedback, may help to debunk this view. Gilbert reminds her readers that one of the clearer benefits of intonation teaching include the fact that suprasegmentals fit nicely into communicative settings. 

Next, Gilbert makes a point of the features which she considers to be "main", and "most teachable". These include forms of highlighting new information and the separation of the message into thought groups. Gilbert puts forward her model of the "Pyramid of the musical signalling system", which goes from a peak vowel to a stressed syllable, followed by a focus word embedded in a thought group. The attention given to the production the peak vowel in the stressed syllable of the most important word in the thought group is an essential component of communication, and thus makes the delivery of the mssage more "listener-friendly".
Prosody Pyramid - Gilbert (2008)

Gilbert also suggests a holistic presentation of intonation, using template sentences through "quality repetition" so as to "get a clear image of what the flow" should feel like and thus not sacrifice fluency. The author believes that students should get an "acoustic impression" of a short chunk as a whole, and then focus on their individual components through repetition. The presentation of the template should be done through listening first, many times, before actually producing it, respecting the rhtyhm and intonation of the thought group (or larger unit) selected. Students can then be invited to analyse the inner workings of the tought group which has now been internalised.

I particularly liked Gilbert's defence of repetition as a strategy to "produce a long-term memory resource that they (students) can access when they need to remember how it went", since "cells that fire together wire together" (Shatz, 1992:65). The value of group practice to "overcome individual pyschological inhibitions" is also highlighted. 

The inclusion of other styles, such as kynesthetic reinforcement, or the use of gadgets (such as a kazoo or a wide rubber band) to introduce pitch patterns, stress or lengthening is an interesting addition to the teacher's kit that Gilbert proposes.

This is a great chapter, full of ideas, but the most fantastic inclusion to my mind is this quote, drawn from an unnamed teacher trainee Gilbert once met: "teaching pronunciation without prosody is like teaching ballroom dancing, only the students must practice standing still, without a partner, and without music".

I believe that the points made by Gilbert are definitely true. However, I need to point out that when it comes to intonation teaching, the "native speaker gut" is very useful, especially to give feedback or make associations between intonation and "meanings" or "interpretation". But the truth is that us, non-native teachers of English, struggle when trying to understand how the intonation of English works, and many of the theories reviewed and slightly criticised in this chapter have actually proven useful to many of us to get an idea of what patterns to use. In fact, I think that the development of metaphonological awareness and constructs when it comes to understanding -and later teaching- the intonation of English really works, if done conscientiously, and within the study of pragmatics and discourse.

Thank you for bearing with me till the end of this long post. Part 3 of this review will discuss the remaining "myths" in this fabulous collection by Linda Grant. See you soon!

jueves, 12 de noviembre de 2015

Book Review #3: Pronunciation Myths, edited by Linda Grant - Part 1

I am now back on my "commuting reading" mode, since by November my whole body hurts and I don't engage in those usual 45-minute long walks to work. I decided to make the journeys productive, so I got hold of the Kindle version of the book "Pronunciation Myths: Applying Second Language Research to Classroom Teching", edited by Linda Grant, and wtih conributions from Donna Brinton, Tracey Derwing and Murray Muro, John Field, Judy Gilbert, John Murphy, Ron Thomson and Beth Zielinsky and Lynda Yates.

The book is structured around seven myths related to pronunciation teaching and learning, some of which sound all too familiar for my Argentinian context. The discussion of each myth is carried out through an adequate balance of personal anecdotes that illustrate the points in question, and what the research has found. Each chapter also presents a number of practical tasks or advice to deal with the matters described.

In this review, I would like to briefly comment on each myth/chapter, and add my own humble take on what is said, and how it relates to my context.

As usual, I will piece this review into parts for your (and my!) sake!

A few comments: this volume is mostly written by researchers who have done a lot of work in English in an L2 environment, that is, many of the experiences shared refer to students who learn English in instructional settings and have to use English outside the classroom. At times, there are explicit references to non-L2 environments, but I think it is important to keep this in mind when reading the book. 

Prologue, by Linda Grant

Grant discusses four interesting aspects of pronunciation teaching and learning as part of the prologue. The first part discusses the last four decades of pronunciation teaching, reviewing some of the tenets identifying different movements, such as audiolingualism, and communicative language teaching, all ascribing different roles and goals to pronunciation teaching in L2. Grant claims that current approaches draw from both traditions mentioned in terms of techniques and goals, and discusses the need for integration of pronunciation work to other areas of the curriculum.  The author describes a shift from concern with native-likeness to intelligibility, and the separation of ideas of accentedness from those of intelligibility, as two different phenomena, also separated from degrees of comprehensibility, based on the research by Derwing and Munro. A very interesting addition to this discussion is the explicit acknowledgement of the listener in this process of interaction.

The second aspect that Grant reviews in her prologue includes the definition and scope of pronunciation, based on Fraser's (2001) contribution, which establishes three categories: peripheral and global features, suprasegmentals and segmentals. The review of these features includes references to research and published materials that describe the complexity of these categories, and the difficulties in language teaching when it comes to the selection of features to teach. 

I particularly enjoyed the "bulls-eye" analogy: 

"in the circle or ring around the eye are all of the acceptable variants of the target sound as they occur in spoken English. So variants diverge from the target more than others, but all of the sounds falling within that first circle are acceptable pronunciations" (Grant, 2014)

Through this comparison, I think many things can be encompassed, and I celebrate Grant's mention of allophonic variants, since these appear to be neglected in pronunciation books, and after all, it is the production of allophones which in fact allows learners to leave the "ideal", "isolated" phoneme and place it around others, to ease co-articulation and thus, together with phonemic processes of connected speech, to produce fluent speech. The comparison with the bulls-eye also goes beyond segment into the production of words, and the variations from "citation forms" to other forms in real speech (in the "jungle", as Cauldwell, 2013 rightly claims!). 

The next feature described in Grant's prologue is related to the levels of pronunciation teaching: motor or physical, perceptual, cognitive and psycho-social. I found this classification so neat and so true, and I can't help thinking that it is the psycho-social that really defines what my students end up reaching. So much to think about!

Myth 1, debunked by Tracey Derwing and Murray Munro: "Once you have been speaking a second language for years, it's too late to change your pronunciation"

This chapter discusses issues of fossilization. Some interesting remarks that the authors make include the fact that this phenonmenon is not only restricted to L2, as it can happen in L1 with a few specific linguistic forms. 

Munro and Derwing begin by analysing some of the reasons pronunciation work is not (effectively) addressed in the lesson: a) the belief that explicit instruction cannot possibly be effective; b) the influence of communicative language teaching tenets, that leave learners to their own devices when it comes to pronunciation; c) lack of training in pronunciation teaching. 

Regarding the first reason, the authors quote research findings that prove that explicit instruction does make a difference in learners' performance. These studies appear as a response to the claim that most pronunciation changes are to be made during the first year of residency in the foreign country (remember that this is an English as L2 context), as this is the period where fossilization could become decisive.

A very interesting study reported is that of Derwing, Munro and Wiebe (1998), in which three groups of learners received differentiated instruction: 1) suprasegmental; 2) segmental; 3) no training. The first group rated higher in fluency and comprehensibility, but got no improvement in accent ratings. The chart below by Derwing and Munro (in Grant, 2014) discusses the dimensions for L2 evaluation that they propose:
Derwing & Munro (in Grant, 2014)
One of the most interesting features, I believe, that these authors address is the interdependence of these variables. In my context I struggle with advanced students who could rate perhaps high in accentedness and still render unintelligible speech. I also see fluency problems in advanced students, even when their control over segments appears to be pretty native-like. As a pronunciation instructor, I do wonder at times whether I may be overlooking some of these aspects in my teaching of pronunciation for speaking and reading...especially since my teaching context values accentedness as a goal over perhaps other variables....

Another interesting question that the authors address is related to what makes pronunciation instruction effective.  Apart from the usual perception-production relation already reported in the research, the authors highlight the proper selection of features to teach, following an intelligibility criterion, and they also make a very important point of corrective feedback. This may not come as a surprise to those of us who have been doing this for years, but it is clear to me that correction may be seen as many teachers as an "intrusion" into learner space. This is, I guess, because of the physical nature of pronunciation, whereas all other skills that can be corrected "on paper" do not seem to suffer the same fate. Most teachers would not object to picking a red pen or pencil and giving corrective feedback on the page. This opens up a whole new debate, of course, when it comes to feedback on something which is so physical and so personal as one's accent (worth a million blog posts!)...

Another study included in this chapter was related to student success in de-fossilising speech towards better comprehensibility and intelligibility, even after a long time of residence (10 years, even) in the foreign country.

This chapter finishes with a few suggestions. I would like to quote a very interesting point made by the authors to shed light on what they propose to solve this issue:

"years of input from their (L2) own speech patterns contributes to fossilization because the learners come to establish their own perceptual categories for segments and for prosodic phenomena. These deeply engrained representations make it difficult to change pronunciation patterns" (Derwing & Munro in Grant, 2014)

The first thing these researchers believe should be done in the classroom is, precisely, draw students' attention of their own version versus other more intelligible forms, and train their perception. This is a key aspect of what we do in Lab 1 at College, as we need to teach students to "de-automatise", "de-fossilize", and "un-learn" past habits and targets towards new perceptual and also motor habits. It's indeed a "painful" process, and at times tinted by psycho-social aspects as well. Quite a challenge, methinks!

The second invitation the authors make is, of course, give explicit corrective feedback, not only from teachers, but also from peers. Another suggestion in the conclusion includes choosing the right focus, deciding on pronunciation priorities based on the course and students being taught (which I have addressed in these posts on pronunciation goals: part 1, part 2). One way of approaching this includes considering the relative functional load of pronunciation features, based on the list of criteria drawn by Catford (1987). The next tip for effective pronunciation instruction relates to the use of authentic language over focus on citation forms, and working both on shadowing and mirroring techniques. The use of technology is also put forward, though the presence of the teacher as a judicious guide and feedback-provider needs to be highlighted whenever technological resources appear. The last piece of advice by Derwing and Munro warns teachers against the presence of early fossilization, that is, teachers need to act before fossilization has a chance to seize our students!


Hope you have found these comments useful, and interesting.
The next posts will review the chapters that follow. Stay tuned!

martes, 13 de octubre de 2015

Pronunciation Integration #2: Intonation and Viewpoint Adjuncts

As I may have hinted in previous posts, my greatest passion within the world of Phonetics and Phonology is intonation. At times, I read blog posts and articles that stress the fact that intonation appears to be "unteachable" or "unnecessary", and it really makes me fiery (Yes, I have Italian genes, so at times "I cannot keep calm", as the meme goes). I personally believe that in order to make something "teachable", you need to read about it, listen to people using the feature, question the half-truths in textbooks at times, and think about your learners' L1 and their possible difficulties with that particular L2 pronunciation feature (check out my post on "tips and tricks" to read more about this). 

I honestly think that intonation does have a very strong bearing on the teaching of grammar for spoken communication, and today's post will focus on one of the many areas we can connect grammar, vocabulary and intonation. (You can find a first attempt at a connection between these on my previous integration post, by the way!)

This blog post will discuss one of the possible contexts for intonation integration: the intonation of expressions to preface your opinion: viewpoint adjuncts. I insist on this quite a lot in my pronunciation courses, and this is because of two main reasons. The most interesting thing about this linguistic context is that it enables immediate use in the classroom, as it is an essential component of speaking proficiency and everyday interaction, not to mention the fact that we teach these expressions to train students for international examinations. The second aspect to bear in mind is that most of these expressions have a fixed intonation pattern, and we can actually teach them as "collocations", drilling the repetition of the melody as attached to the phrase, as if we were learning a line from a song.


Viewpoint Adjuncts are forms of expressing one's opinion, stance or take on something. They could appear in any part of the clause, but because of their saliency, this post will focus on the presence of these elements in thematic -that is, initial- position. In Systemic Functional Linguistics, these are seen as Modal Adjuncts (Halliday and Mathiessen, 2014:109), when these are introduced in initial position they act as  a sort of frame, a preparatory condition, a filter, through which to look at the upcoming opinion. The following point of view, which is of course the core of the message, may present content which may threaten the participants' face (Linguistic Politeness theory, see Brown & Levinson, 1987), the social image they may be trying to uphold for themselves. Therefore, the presence of these modal/evaluative adjuncts act as a form of "preparation", at times, a "disclaimer", even, for the message which is about to be presented. In other words, you make it clear to the listener that what is coming is not to be taken as the truth, but as a point of view, and that you are leaving the door open to discussion or disagreement. On the other hand, these expressions may act as a sort of "insurance policy" for you, a means of saying, "don't say I haven't warned you" if the opinion that follows is somehow too radical, or offensive.

Now, why such a long preface to the topic? Well, it is important to understand the effects of the introduction of these expressions from a pragmatic perspective to understand the contribution that prosody makes. Another strong belief of mine is that in order to teach intonation, you have to really understand the functional aspect of language, and Pragmatics and Discourse and Conversation Analytical approaches are most helpful in this respect.


In General British, most of these viewpoint expressions tend to be presented with a fall-rise tone (I may be wrong, but I have heard rises on them more widely used in General American accents). As you may know, the fall-rise is generally implicational (Wells, 2006 and earlier work by other phoneticians), and from a social perspective, it creates convergence, by building solidarity, togetherness and intimacy between participants (Brazil and Sinclair, 1982 and others), favouring an "us"-perspective to the matter at hand, instead of an authoritative take on it. So from the point of view of the development of the argument, an initial opinion adjunct includes an unspoken assumption (or implicaton) that what you are introducing just holds true as a point of view, and that it may, perhaps, introduce a position which others may find debatable. It is a means of hedging your message (and thus, orient to the Cooperative Principle) and thus, in a way, softening the imposition of your opinion.

The most interesting effect, however, is not the use of the fall-rise, but the choice of nucleus. More often than not, these expressions take the nucleus on the pronominal element: "I", "me", "my". As you may remember, the accentuation of pronouns tends to make for a strong contrast (except, perhaps in cases of fixed or idiomatic tonicity, see Wells, 2006, chapter 3). Part of this disclaimer we introduce through opinion expressions is, in fact, built by the accented pronoun.

In our Riverplate Spanish, we may use truncated rise-falls in this leading position. This tone, although processed as a referring tone (Granato, 2005) by us native speakers in this position, may sound slightly divergent to L1 speakers of English (added to the fact that according to many British and Americans, we "porteños" do sound quite imposing most of the time to their ear!).


In order to present this topic in the EFL lesson, we may carry a thorough search for these expressions in our listening passages or textbook materials (also check the resources below), draw our students' attention to the "roallercoastery" (i.e. fall-rise) intonation employed in them, and introduce it as a sort of melody to be repeated, or sung along. Even though we know we may not so readily "feel" intonation, as we may do for segments, we may play with extremes and feel our larynx going up and down for the higher and lower points in the fall-rise. We may play with the expressions, singing the different notes and levels making up the contour in slow motion, one by one before speeding up and linking the notes. We may use a piano app on our mobiles, or on our PC (http://virtualpiano.net/), and play the notes! (I am grateful for this idea to Prof. Perticone and Prof. Zabala, who I first saw use the piano for intonation teaching)

We may, of course, first elicit the "highlighted" words, the words someone being "hit", the words that we feel echoing in our mind after listening to the expression, that is, the nucleus, the last and most important accent in the intonation phrase (mostly presented as louder and longer, at times, depending on the pitch movement attached to it, it could be higher, but this is not always the case, of course).

These are a few resources online that teach opinion expressions (without, perhaps, the necessary focus on intonation which you as a teacher can add to them!). In some of these videos, as the expressions are presented in a vacuum, more oblique renderings than those we expect may be found.

After the presentation of expressions, we may create contexts for use, which is not difficult to do. We may give students some thought-provoking quotes, shocking headlines, or puzzling images, and elicit their opinion, asking them to use the phrases. Other students may act as "monitors", trying to assess whether the patterns are being used properly on the task. Similarly, we can ask students to apply these expressions may on debates and mock exams, and if your school allows it, students may record their production, play it back, and self-assess their intonation patterns. It may also help to ask students to record the expressions in isolation on their mobiles, and play them as a sort of reminder when they need a "model" of the auditory image to imitate.

Disclaimer #1: As with everything, linguistic rules are always open to variation, and this is, of course, due to a number of factors, including social, geographic, situational, even stylistic. Oblique renderings of a text may introduce different tonality, tonicity and tone choices than those we expect. That is, we may find speakers accenting "opinion" in "in my opinion", we may even hear people using falls on these expressions, not to mention the frequent presence of the level tone.
So rules like the use of the fall-rise and the accentuation of the personal pronoun could be presented as one way of helping learners cope with the chaos of speech so as to produce a "safe choice", which is, after all, that is what we try to do as EFL teachers when we teach speaking.

Disclaimer#2: There are, of course, other forms of introducing opinion which may not take pronouns, or which may perhaps not even highlight the "us" aspect of the relationship, such as the use "of course" (see Brazil, 1997), mostly heard with a fall (or of course, with a level tone). The divergent use of these expressions needs a separate kind of analysis and has to be handled with care, as phrases of this kind may perhaps make students sound a bit too imposing ....unless, of course, we are teaching them ways to argue, or quarrel in English, in which case you may freely do so!

Hope you have found this humble post useful, and that you can apply the ideas in it as early as....tomorrow!

Wells, J.C. (2006) English Intonation. An Introduction. Cambridge: CUP.
Brazil, D. and J. Sinclair (1982). Teacher Talk. Oxford: OUP
Brazil, D (1997). The Communicative Value of Intonation in English. CUP: Cambridge
Halliday, M.A.K and C. Mathiessen (2014). An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 4th Edition. Routledge.
Brown, P and S Levinson (1987). Politeness. Some Universals in Language Use. Cambridge: CUP.

sábado, 26 de septiembre de 2015

Pronunciation Integration #1: Classroom Language & Routines

My greatest concern as a teacher trainer at the moment is to find ways to help teachers overcome the general lack of integration of pronunciation work into the ELT lesson. There appears to be a widespread indifference to the fact that “efficient communication involving any skill area, or any combination of skills, depends on the speaker’s ability to integrate knowledge of the English sound system with knowledge of grammar and lexicon.” Celce-Murcia et al (1996: 221). I sometimes wonder if we are not just teaching English for writing purposes when I see classroom plans. Why is it that we teach grammar and vocabulary and we don't teach the accompanying, or rather, constitutive, features of pronunciation with these topics? After all, if we expect our students to use these structures in their speech, they should at least know how to pronounce them!

An interesting anecdote, first. Many years ago, during my first years learning Phonetics at College, I got to informally spend a coffee break with an English lady who was in Argentina as a Cambridge Examiner. She told me that she was really pleasantly surprised at the overall level of English she found in Argentinian teenagers taking their FCE exam, but she thought they sounded pretty contrastive all the time. I asked why, and based on the examples she gave me, I realised she was talking about the prominence given to weak form words by these students: "THERE ARE some children playing in the picture". She said she felt like replying "Well, no one said there wasn't!?".

This is an example of many of the things we do as teachers when we focus on grammar, we are so intent on getting our students to produce the right auxiliaries and forms that we perhaps forget about the spoken side of things. Of course, the issue of weak forms is certainly a feature of debate when it comes to English for Global Communication -as weak forms are out of the Lingua Franca Core-, but I am just reporting on the reaction a native speaker had after hearing students accenting, or using strong vowels on elements which are generally reduced in English. You will decide on the relevance of this comment based on the reality of your teaching context, and your teaching goals.

This new set of posts is supposed to introduce ways of integrating pronunciation work to the teaching of grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening. Today's contribution will relate to one of the first set of items we teach beginners: school objects/supplies, school subjects, and classroom routines.


Among the criteria we may use when deciding on what to teach, we may consider frequency of occurrence of a certain feature. If we scrutinise our school syllabus, we may find that a certain sound or intonation feature appears to be recurrent on our vocabulary list, or on our grammar "must-teach" selection.
In this case, a quick look over a list of school objects (just Google "school objects" and a huge number of picture dictionaries, textbook captures, worksheets and even vids will come up!), already establishes a set of tendencies regarding the pronunciation features that make up these linguistic structures. Plus, the teaching of these items ensures perpetual practice and recycling, since classroom objects and routines are part of our lessons every day!

So, without furher ado, find below a few pronunciation areas you may connect to these vocabulary topics:

Plosive attack!

/b/ appears on a number of frequent words: (black)board, (text/copy/note)book, rubber (is this word still used in BrE?),  backpack, bag, binder, briefcase, Biology, bin, (pencil)box, paintbrush.... Though it is not a particularly difficult sound for Spanish speakers, the presentation of these items is a good opportunity to help students turn their Spanish fricatives (or approximants, in some cases!) into bilabial plosives.
Similarly, we may focus on /d/ and /g/: desk, glue, globe, diary, CD player, dustbin, dictionary, garden

Aspiration: there are many school items that are pronounced with aspirated fortis plosives: text(book), table, pen, pencil(case), paper, keyboard, calculator, calendar, hole puncher, tablet, coloured pencils....
Closely associated to this, you may get cases of approximant devoicing: class(room), clip, projector, computer, crayon, screen, stapler, clock, diploma, CD/DVD player, playground

Compound Objects

School objects may also introduce patterns of word stress, particularly compound words. Slippery as compound word rules are, beginning with the debatable CD/DVD player -worth another discussion, since it appears to be changing...do you say 'C\D player, \CD player... I've heard both! EPD and LPD endorse the first-, there are always things we can teach, albeit just lexically or as fixed collocations:

  • NOUN 1 + NOUN 2-er/-or N1 acts like an object to the verb embedded in N2: \pencil sharperner
  • ADJ+ NOUN long-established compounds vs ADJ + NOUN collocations: \blackboard vs 'black \board  ; 'spiral \notebook, me'chanical \pencil
  • NOUN1 + NOUN2 "type of", "place for" combinations: \ink bottle, \rubbish bin
 (For further rules and theory on Word Stress patterns, check Ortiz Lira, (2000))

Stress-ful(l) School Subjects

The teaching of the names of different school subjects and sciences can be a good excuse for the introduction of stress-shifting suffixes (Cruttenden, 2014; Teschner and Whitley, 2010) and  the rule of alternation for the placement of secondary stresses (underlined below), whenever applicable.

-ology: BiOlogy, SociOlogy, AnthropOlogy, EcOlogy...
-ography: GeOgraphy, CinematOgraphy, PhotOgraphy...

Brita Haycraft's "English Aloud" (which I discovered thanks to my colleagues Prof. Terluk and Prof. Iannicelli), has a lovely set of songs for word stress practice, one of which includes a number of school subjects and sciences. Really worth a look!

Rollercoastery Classroom Requests and Offers

Because of its frequency of use in the classroom, some classroom routines can become a great form of "drilling" intonation. Students produce a number of requests and  offers in the lesson, and the use of the fall-rise tone (the "rollercoaster tone", as I like to call it) in those routines in English may be introduced, and practised, through classroom formulaic language.
(I personally recall my first days as a teacher, when I would not allow my 5th graders to go to the toilet unless they applied their English intonation on the question....boy, they learned fast! So cruel of me! --- BTW, Argentinian students of English are very likely to employ rise-falling heads and rise-fall nuclei on these questions, as Prof. Zabala (2011) rightly points out.)

'Can I go to the \/toilet, please?
'Could you ex'plain it a\/gain, please?
'Can you re\/peat that, please?
'Can you 'lend me a \/pencil, please?

You can also teach the accentuation of "I" (i.e. the personal pronoun as nucleus) in those cases students volunteer to do something (provided the rest of the question is Given information, of course):

Can \/I clean the board, please?
Can \/I read, please?

You can always use these questions as reference when you want to introduce intonation in other linguistic structures and combinations.

This brief post, the first of many, I hope, intends to show ways in which we can integrate the teaching of lexis, grammar, and language skills to pronunciation work.

In this particular case, we linked our classroom objects, school subjects and sciences, and classroom routines to some basic pronunciation and intonation features.

You will decide, in your own context, whether you want to teach these features explicitly, using these language exponents as examples, or whether to present them as constitutive of these items, collocation-like, without further reference to the theory. Whatever the case, once you have presented these pronunciation topics, students will start becoming more aware, and perhaps even concerned, with the way they should treat new vocabulary topics and speaking routines! It can be the beginning of a very interesting pronunciation journey!

Extra tip: there are many videos, websites and activity repositories you can consult online to teach these school subjects/objects/routines lists. However, many of the audio dictionaries, and even videos that teach the topic, have either synthetic voices or provide an oblique reading of the lexical items and formulae presented. So please be cautious in your selection.


  • Celce-Murcia, M., D. Brinton and J Goodwin (1996). Teaching Pronunciation: A Refernce for Teachers of English to Speakers of Oteher Languages. New York: Cambridge
  • Cruttenden, A (2014). Gimson's Pronunciation of English. Eighth edition. Oxon: Routledge.
  • Ortiz Lira, H. (2000). Word Stress and Sentence Accent. Monografías Temáticas. Chile.
  • Teschner, R. and S Whitley (2010). Pronouncing English. A Stressed-Based Approach with CD Rom. Washington: Georgetown University Press.
  • Zabala, F. (2011) . El acento tonal circunflejo (L*HL%) en el español rioplatense. En Bombelli, G y Soler, L (compiladoras) Oralidad: Miradas plurilingües desde la fonética y la fonología. Córdoba: UNC.

jueves, 27 de agosto de 2015

Coming up with your own pronunciation "tips and tricks"

During these last few weeks I have had the chance of carrying out my favourite activity in my third-year teacher trainee Lab courses: the "tips and tricks video sessions". Basically, the task requires that students devise their own 3-minute teaching pronunciation video tutorial around a feature/contrast assigned to them, and following a number of guidelines. Some of the videos I show for inspiration and to see different styles -apart from those by students in previous courses- include the YouTube tutorials by JenniferESL, Rachel's English and some videos by Clear Speech Mastery, among others. (Note: Perhaps I don't always agree with everything they say, but I think it is good to show different ways of doing things! - Note 2: I have posted two of these video tutorials by my students in my Pronunciation Bites Facebook page.)

Now, one of the requirements of the task includes the presentation of a number of "tips and tricks" to introduce and teach the feature, and I generally ask students to come up with their own systematisation techniques. Many people find this really scary, as they may not have experienced this (or any!) type of pronunciation instruction in their lives as English learners before, so they may feel they have no "models" for pronunciation teaching.

So this blog post is precisely about pronunciation teaching, and it will introduce ways of finding inspiration so that you can devise your own "tips and tricks" for your lessons.

As we all know, teacher training courses (at least in Argentina....we take it really seriously!) may introduce a lot of technical information. This may result in trainees later either introducing a lot of technical terminology in their primary/secondary school lessons, or directly blocking out pronunciation work. Many teachers feel paralysed about the whole thing and don't know how to go about it. So what do we do with all the knowledge we have? How do we make pronunciation "teachable"?

These are a few steps I personally believe we should follow:

1. Study your feature

Yes, I am one of those people who believes that in order to teach "this little" (thumb-index finger gesture) you need to know "this much" (wide arm gesture). OK, perhaps not sooo much. But there are a number of things you do need to know about the features you are going to teach (I insist, however, that I do not wish you to get "terrified".....):
  • What are the characteristics of this feature? 
    • If it is a vowel, what do we know about the height and part of the tongue raised, the jaws, the rims, the lips? Is there anything about resonance worth learning? What about its spellings?
    • If it is a consonant, what do you know about its voicing, muscular and breath energy, manner and place of articulation? What do the production stages reveal about this sound? Are there any complex spellings? What allophonic variants are there? How is this consonant affected in certain contexts, or due to coarticulation?
    • If it is a process of connected speech, what rules and restrictions are there? What features are involved? How does it affect perception and production? What coarticulatory gestures do we need to teach?
    • If it is a tonicity feature, what rules are there to teach? Are there any exceptions? How does this set of rules affect meaning-making practices? How is prominence perceived and produced?
    • If you want to teach a context for a particular tone pattern, what is the manifestation of this "melody"? What communicative, grammatical, illocutionary contexts reveal a high frequence of occurrence of this tone? 
    • If you wish to teach word stress, what rules and exceptions can you trace? If it is a polysyllabic word, what can you predict in terms of the suffixes / prefixes employed? If it is a compound word set, what grammatical information can you collect in order to make sense of the rules?
  • Is this feature in your students' own L1? 
    • Is it "worth" teaching explicitly then?
    • Does your students' L1 have a similar sound/intonation feature? If so, what features do we need to teach? Can we use their L1 as starting point? (E.g.: I can use my Spanish /a/ sound as a starting point to teach /æ/, by drawing my students' attention to the smile, the spreading of the lips, the fact that my lower teeth get "covered or hidden" -in an toothless-elderly-person fashion- by my lower lip and the skin below. My students can try both vowels in front of a mirror).
  • Are there any common "tips and tricks" and rules to teach this feature? What do those focus on? How effective are they? (Try them!) What do they fall short of for them to be successful in my context?
Plus, a set of things all ELT teachers should learn at some time or other:  How does pronunciation work differ from other areas and skills of language learning? What different ways are there of doing pronunciation work? How does the whole process of acquisition or learning of our own L1 and an L2/foreign language set of phonological features work? What psycholinguistic theories inform our processes of perception and production of speech?

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your feature, the more confident you will feel, and the more informed your decisions will be. If you carry out Contrastive Analyses, you will be able to be more "economical" in your explanation, just teaching the bits that will be challenging for your students (E.g.: in Spanish, /p/ is also bilabial and plosive, but it is not aspirated. So what you need to teach for /p/ is its aspiration. So don't spend time explaining how the bilabial and plosive aspects of this sound need to be addressed....)

2. Make selections

Now that you know what your feature is and how/where it works, you need to look at your students, and your syllabus, and make the next set of decisions:

Are you going to teach your feature for production, for perception, or both?

If you are going to teach your feature for perception, it would be useful to think about all the processes of connected speech (coarticulations, linking, reductions, elisions, stylisations) it may undergo, to be able to prepare your learners for all the "sound shapes" (Cauldwell, 2013) (and tone shapes!) they may acquire in "the jungle" of real life speech. This is a really challenging area, worth another blog post...in the future.

If you are going to ask your learners to produce the feature (though you will have, of course, to do listening discrimination and ear-training work anyway!), move on to the tips below. Plus, see how and when you will be introducing the spellings for the sound, or the communicative values of the intonation choices you wish to introduce.

3. Explore your own production of the feature

Now that you know some basic technical stuff about the feature and about your students' L1, you need to try the feature yourself. Several times. And use your senses.

"Denaturalise" the production of this feature. How? Be narcissistic: Look at yourself in a mirror, record yourself using your phone/notebook webcam, take pictures of yourself. See what you are doing, how you are doing it, and put it into words, into simple words: "when I produce /æ/ I smile, I can see my upper teeth but not my lower teeth as my lower lip covers them. The sides of my lips are spread backwards. My cheeks get puffy (BTW, the latter is one of my students' discoveries!)."

Make comparisons: What do I look like? "When I say /æ/ I look like a clown; I look like a person sucking a slice of tangerine; I look like an elderly person who has lost his/her lower teeth...."

What does it sound like? Produce the sound/intonation feature several times. Does it sound familiar? Is there any real life sound the repetition of this sound evokes? E.g.#1: a former student who played tennis regularly told me that the LOT sound in isolation reminded him of the bouncing of the ball on the court during the tennis matches. E.g#2: I think of a cat somehow coughing/choking (?) when I produce many /æ/s in succession.
(Credit: http://i.ytimg.com/vi/6MTIwY3_-ks/maxresdefault.jpg)
What does it feel like? Think about your physical reaction towards the changes and stages in the production of the feature (going slow motion may help!) and once again, put it into words. "I feel as if there was someone stretching my lower lip and my skin to the sides when I go into /æ/). Place your fingers to the sides of your lips (Underhill-style!); rest your chin on your palm and the fingers to the sides of your lower cheeks to feel the downward movement of the jaw.

Also think about your emotional reaction to the sound. Do you look happy when you say /æ/? Are there any "feelings" this sound/intonation feature evokes?

Find reference points: Look at your L1 starting point. What changes do you need to make to get to the L2 quality (or at least go "towards" the L2 quality?). Or what L2 sounds already learned can you use as reference? E.g.: To produce /æ/ I can lower my jaw, if I start from English /e/.

3. Give your tips a sequence, a wording and a set of gestures

You have now got technical info that informs your own production of the sound/intonation feature. You have got a set of multisensory and cognitive tips you can teach, a whole "bag of tricks". (Remember that only one pronunciation tip will not always do the trick. We all have different learning styles, diverse abilities in terms of phonetic coding, and we have different degrees of  awareness of what we do with our organs of speech. Therefore, we need to cater for different styles and "intelligencies")

So now you have to give your tips and tricks some sort of shape. Try to explain your discoveries in simple words, following a clear procedure, and allowing students some time to experience your guided "experiment" with mirrors or mobile phone cams. Use gestures, hand and body movements, "body gym", to accompany your tips. Use reference names or words (colours, animals, celebrities) to refer to the features (E.g.: the "yes, but" tone pattern; /æ/, the "cat", or "black", or "Harry" sound). (BTW, I owe this last "reference word" tip to Prof. Iannicelli, and Prof. Terluk. Plus, I want to acknowledge my former students who came up with "Cat in the Hat", and Harry (from One Direction) as reference items for for /æ/ and created tasks related to these reference words ). Recycle your gestures and tips all year round, as words or utterances with these features re-appear. Remember that a "one-off" systematisation session may not do the trick. Pronunciation is physical, motor, and as such, we need our muscles and our brain to work towards new habits, and we must practise, practise, practise (pretty much like going to the gym!)!

4. Test-drive your tips and if necessary.....recalculate! (GPS-like!)

Once we have got our tips and tricks ready to go, we need to try them out. In my experience, watching the tips "in operation" has helped me see whether my "mental and "physical associations" with the sound are actually transferrable. For instance, my association with the Puss in Boots from Shrek for /æ/ did not find a home in my students, as they could not relate to it, and they would represent their "choking" feelings with other types of noise. (Fair enough! It is a bit crazy, come to think of it!)

So by trying the tips out, monitoring students' reactions, listening to students produce the features, and assessing their output, we can reach a conclusion as to how effective a certain tip can be for a particular group. My best tips have actually stemmed from my most unsuccessful tips! (Recalculating....recalculating...) Paying attention to my students' attempts at producing a certain sound after my instruction, and noticing that the output sounds were not really what was expected, helped me find alternative ways to address the sound features that were not being taken up by my students. E.g.: many of my students focus on the "puffy cheeks" effect of /æ/ but fail to drop their jaws enough, and their resulting sound is the old fashioned [æ] sound, closer to /e/.  At times, then, our tips may help students address a certain aspect of the sound/intonation pattern we are teaching but we may need to find other ways to address other features (in my case, students were not addressing tongue height and jaw-lowering properly, but the lip spreading was appropriate, so  I had to seek new strategies to draw their attention to the features that were missing).

Of course...this can even become a whole research project in itself! "The success of the "puffy cheeks" tip in the acquisition of /æ/ in Spanish learners of English"...:p

Final Remarks
  • Whether you want to teach a native-like variety of English or you go for a more "English as a Lingua Franca" for intercultural communication approach, vowel quality is one feature that has been agreeed needs to be taught. And I would personally suggest that we should all come up with our own "tips and tricks" to teach vowel quantity and quality since these are some of the most "abstract" aspects of pronunciation to systematise -together with intonation, that is (worth another post!).
  • I recall Robin Walker hinting at the fact that at first there is no need to reach a 100% accurate target, but we should aim at leaving the L1 "area" towards a differentiated target to build a new interlanguage L2 contrast which can then be fine-tuned. So perhaps we may not get our students to reach an accurate final target or quality at first with our tips, but the moment we make students aware of the differences between their L1 and English as an L2, and we start building proprioception skills, a whole new set of abilities are awakened, which will surely allow for changes at some point in the future. 
  • Of course, depending on your context, you will work harder on helping a learner fine-tune a contrast towards complete accuracy, or perhaps just make sure they reach a close quality that allows for a contrast different from their own L1 quality but which makes it all intelligible. (I have a set of expectations with my teacher trainees that I may not always have with other groups of students)
  • As we all know, pronunciation teaching is in a way, a craft. What works for one learner may not work for others, and if we want to do our job well, we need considerable time, face-to-face, especially, with our learners, working on the challenges and difficulties of each learner in particular. Perhaps we might need a longer, and more personalised session than for other skills, if we compare the time it may take to grade a written task, versus the time and energy it takes to grade or give feedback on an audio file or a student producing something live in front of us...but it has to be done! 
  • As we all know, speaking is a "fleeting" product, and the moment our learners produce their sounds/intonation patterns, they are gone! So, school permitting, recording or videotaping does really allow students to reconstruct their production and have something to cling on for later improvement. I cannot stress this enough! 
  • Finally, pronunciation, as we are always reminded, is physical. So we have to work towards the training and awareness of our bodies. Aftet all, we are working on people's articulation and motor skills and not on a written sheet of paper, so we have to tread carefully, find ways around, be respectful, and allow students to see the magic -and not the threat-, of it all.
Hope you have found this post useful. It does look like my own Pronunciation Teaching Manifesto, to be honest!

sábado, 15 de agosto de 2015

International Conference of Phonetic Sciences (#ICPhS2015) - Glasgow, August 10-14th.

ICPhS. For any phonetician, this conference is just THE conference. Unfortunately, I could not attend (don't get me started on why because I'll start sobbing), but all the live-tweeting, the online conference proceedings and the Periscope streaming of some of the plenaries made all the 12,000 km distance somehow shorter.

This post is aimed providing you with a "hub" or "central station" of links you can consult if you want to catch up with what happened at the conference. (I will try to keep this list up with new stuff that I may find under the tag "ICPhS2015" in my Scoop.it collection of web resources)

-Official Conference Website:
-Book of Abstracts
-Programme at a glance (includes links to the proceedings! Just click on the presentation that interests you and...voilá! You get access to the paper!) 

-Official Tagboard - Collection of all social media citing #ICPhS2015 (this is a very dynamic and entertaining way of keeping up with what is going on in all fronts!)

-(Unofficial) Instagram collection for #ICPhS2015

-Official Storify collections, day by day
Day 1:

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Plenty of stuff to catch up with before Melbourne 2019!