jueves, 26 de febrero de 2015

A PS to my latest post: Pronunciation goals and models - Part 2: What the experts say

Pronunciation goals and models - Part 2 - What the experts say

In one of my latest posts, I discussed a number of key questions we should ask ourselves when deciding what accent to teach, what we would like our students to achieve, how we would like to go about it, among other issues for pronunciation planning.

In this post, I intend to briefly review what the "big names" in pronunciation teaching have said. As usual, some disclaimers acting as a "foreword":

  • I will be mostly referring to "pronunciation goals", but I will also be including issues connected to "pronunciation models" as well.
  • In spite of the fact that much of the current bibliography does not favour the terms "native" or "non-native", I will employ them in this post, for the sake of clarity.
  • I have organised the information chronologically, from the latest editions of the materials reported, to the earliest.
  • This is by far NOT all the bibliography on the topic, but I have decided to begin by referring to those materials which are very popular in the ELT world.
  • I will not pass (explicit) judgement on the views presented by the authors. As I claim in my previous post, the teaching contexts that exist for English lessons are so vast, that a single answer, a single target, cannot be set as "universal", so I think that all these authors have a great contribution to make to the debate.

Brown establishes three "I"s in the setting up of pronunciation targets: Intelligibility, Image and Identity.

Intelligibility is seen as a "scalar continuum" including notions of both "intra-" and "inter" national range. Brown reviews notions of "restricted intelligibility" (Cruttenden, 2001) and "comfortable intelligibility" (Abercrombie, 1956). The author believes that the difference between these ideas lies on the original authors' standpoints: whereas Cruttenden on Gimson's behalf discusses the notion of intelligiblity from a native speaker's perspective, Jenkins (seen as represented by Abercrombie's view) responds to communication in English among non-native speakers. Brown also introduces another of Gimson's points: high acceptability. This is defined as "a level of attainment in production, which for the native listener, is as readily intelligible as that of a native RP speaker and which is not immediately recognizable as foreign" (Cruttenden 1995: 276). Brown comments on the fact that acceptability is generally put together with intelligibility, and poses the question "intelligible and acceptable to whom?".

The second "I" is "image", and it has got to do with the way non-native speakers of English want to be perceived by others (a sort of "face giving" idea, I guess).

The third "I" refers to "identity", and it covers a very important aspect regarding accents, which other authors refer to "ego permeability": how much of the foreign accent you want to attain in order to keep your "identity", your idea of self. 
Quoting Tabouret-Keller (1985), Brown acknowledges that linguistic behaviour has a role to play in both personal identity and social roles, which is why all these three "I"s are in fact, in tension. This continuum of targets has been presented by Brown, thus:

Cruttenden first acknowledges that even though RP (GB) used to be the native-speaker accent taken as the norm in ELT, nowadays it competes with other native accents, such as General American (GA) or Australian English. The author admits that many English language users have "no realistic possibility or necessity to acquire a standard native-like accent" (p.327). Those learners using English as a Lingua Franca or as an L2 may want to acquire an "Amalgam English" accent, "based on an amalgam of native speaker Englishes, together with some local features arising from a local L1". Likewise, they may want to use what is known as "International English". Cruttenden admits the distinction between these Englishes would not be easy to make, and associates the former variety to a "hybrid between American and British varieties, and possibly varieties from the southern hemisphere and the Caribbean as well....and transfer from the local L1". International English includes features of Amalgam English plus tolerating "a much wider adaptation to features common in other languages".

Derwing, T and M. Munro (2014) "Accent and intelligibility: cracking the conundrum". In Speak Out, Issue 50 (pp. 12-16).

These authors present a number of studies aimed at discussing perceptions of non-native accents of English. They discuss the notion of intelligibility as "the degree of a listener’s actual comprehension of an utterance", and cross-compare it with perceptions of comprehensibility "listeners’ perceptions of how easy or difficult it is to understand speech" and accentedness, the "the result of differences in speech patterns compared to a local variety". They have found that many samples of speech rating high in accentedness were also highly intellibigle, thus, both features are seen to be independent. Comprehensibility, however, is more closely connected to intelligibility, though still retaining some independence as well. The authors summarise the role of these three variables, thus: "accent is about difference; comprehensibility concerns the listener’s effort; and intelligibility is the end result: how much the listener actually understands (Munro, 2008)". 
Derwing and Munro advocate explicit pronunciation instruction but with the right focus on intelligibility and comprehensibility, as at times focusing on reducing accentedness may lead to a neglect of these other factors, more essential for communication, or threaten a learner's identity, the authors claim. Plus, the authors believe that many features of accent are non-volitional, and thus, "outside the speaker's control". Therefore, they believe that "ione is intelligible and comprehensible, one’s expression of identity will be more effective", so in other words, training on these first features will enhance the possibilities for self-expression. Derwing and Munro also point out that communication is two-way, and listeners also have an important bearing on the whole process, so their willingness to contribute to the process and leave aside prejudice is essential. 
More research is needed, the authors conclude, to establish the weight of the different variables in different contexts of communication and instruction.

This author invites us to ask ourselves a few questions in order to reflect about our "gut feelings" regarding foreign accents:
  • Imagine you are talking in your first language to a NNS. The person doesn't speak your language ver well and is difficult to understand. What do you do?
  • What do you say when the NNS apologises for their poor accent?
  • How do you feel when a NNS pronounces your name wrong?
  • How do you feel when you meet a NNS who speaks you language with a near perfect accent?
Rogerson-Revell acknowledges the complexity of the targets issue, and reminds the reader that "pronunciation can be a more sensitive area of language learning than other areas, such as grammar and vocabulary, in that it involves modification of accent which can raise issues of attitude and identity". Rogerson refers to the view of Kenworthy 1987 and Roach 2000 regarding the "need for teachers to acquire a high level of proficiency in target language pronunciation", while "willing to consider ELF (English as a Lingua Franca) goals for students". These conflicting interests add to the goal of intelligiblity, the ideas of performance and proficiency as well.

Walker vastly reviews bibliography and statistics that prove that English is a global language, and that non-native speakers of English are by far more likely to communicate with other non-native speakers of English than with speakers of English as an L1. This author believes that "the primary goal of teaching pronunciation must now be to make learners intelligible to the greatest number of people possible, and not just to the native speakers of the language". Added to this, Walker remarks that "many users from Expanding Circle may want to retain their local accent as a mark of their identity". (BTW, the "Expanding Circle" refers to one of the layers of Krachu's 1985 model describing the profiles of English users, consisting of "those countries where English is neither a first language, a second language, nor an official language" (Walker, 2010:4)).
As regards the ideas of intelligibility and identity, Walker refers to Kirkpatrick's (2007) continuum of functions, going from "mutual intelligibility" towards "identity". Apart from these two goals, Walker includes Dalton and Seildhofer's (1994) reference to the notion of "teachability". These three goals need to be considered in an ELF approach, as the "Lingua Franca Core", the set of features of pronunciation set up as essential to ensure successful communication among non-native speakers of English also ensures teachability (as they can be achieved through classroom teacing) and identity, as learners can retain features of their local accents, Walker states.

More on ELF and the LFC:
Laura Patsko and Katy Simpson's blog: https://elfpron.wordpress.com/

The authors review a number of groups of English learners that require a high level of intelligibility: "foreign language assistants; foreign born technical, business and professional employees; international business people and diplomats; refugees in resettlement and vocational training programmes; teachers of English as a foreign language who are non-native speakers of the language (who expect to serve as the major model and source of input in English for their students); people in non-English-speaking countries working as tour-guides, hotel staff, customs agents."

However, they acknowledge that in spite of this need for high intelligibility, a native-like pronunciation can be an unrealistic goal. The authors believe that learners should be able to "surpass the threshold level so that their pronunciation will not detract from their ability to communicate" (p.8)

Donna Brinton's numerous presentation slides: http://es.slideshare.net/brinton

In the introduction to the really valuable set of activities in this book, Hewings presents a number of questions. One of those questions is related to the accent that students should be taught, which depends on:
  • the contexts that the students will be using English at
  • the low or high status of certain varieties in the teaching context
  • the inclination students may have to speak a certain variety
  • the teaching materials available
  • the accent the teacher her/himself happens to have.
Hewings presents a distinction between a model as a "target" (a pronunciation standard to which students or the teacher select or aspire to), and one as a "point of reference" (a model presented as an acceptable guide, as long as it does not interfere with communication)

The second question relates to "how good" our students' pronunciation should get. This is a key question in the bibliography, as the "native speaker" is no longer the rule when it comes to English for communication, and Hewings also claims that some students may not even find this "desirable", or it may not be really "achievable". This author believes that an "appropriate and reasonable goal is to achieve an English pronunciation which is usually understandable in international communication, but retains unobtrusive features of a non-English accent". 
However, Hewings alerts the readers to the fact that there are a few factors that may influence our choice of features and targets. The fact that younger learners can easily "pick up" foreign accent features, for example, may lead us to aim for a more "native like" variety if we wished. Another feature Hewings considers is the "tolerance or experience" of the interlocutors our learners will be interacting with.

Kelly defines pronunciation model as "the pronunciation characteristics of the language a teacher presents to learners in the classroom". This author makes a point of the fact that teachers need to be aware of different variants and accents of English, and of the present role of RP as well. He concludes that teachers can "work on issues of production and reception independently, enabling students to understand a wide range of varieties, while allowing them to choose their own target model so long as it is widely comprehensible". As a final piece of advice, Kelly suggests that teachers should "teach what they know and use, and be as informed as they can be about other varieties".

Gerald Kelly's Twitter account: https://twitter.com/GeraldKellywork

Pennington adopts a "variationist approach" to teaching phonology, which implies that "learner's individual circumstances should dictate the targets of language learning". The author proposes exposing learners to "multiple models of English phonology" and then involve them actively in "deciding what they will learn and in developing their own learning process" to enhance "collection, not correction" (Esling, 1987).

Pennington believes that the most pressing goal is intelligibility, and that this dictates the need for feedback in the lesson, no matter how much explicit instruction on pronunciation may be given. As the learner advances from beginning to intermediate levels, the author presents the need to consider other goals, such as fluency, and also accuracy in terms of "audience-determined norms". For some speakers, Pennington claims, functioning in the target culture also entails "mastering those aspects of pronunciation that define a person's attitude, mood, orientation to the audience and the topic, and other basic characteristics of the speaker's personal, social and cultural orientation" (p.221). The author goes further to say that these speakers may need to focus on "casual and expressive ability in phonology" to avoid being assessed as "stand-offish" or "unfriendly".

Like previous authors, Pennington considers that the decisions on goals begin from intelligibility and can then be further defined in terms of "what is feasible under the constraints of the course (...) and in the context of other decisions about what to teach and on what schedule" (p.222)

Kenworthy recognises that native-like pronunciation may be an inadequate goal, given that many learners have "practical" aims for learning English. Those who strive for native-like pronunciation may do so because of an occupation-related priority, including teachers, who may want to not only approximate this goal, but who should also become exposed to as many varieties of English as possible.

A realistic goal for the general language learner according to Kenworthy is to become "comfortably intelligible". The use of the word "comfortable" refers to the interlocutor's "tolerance" in trying to understand the message put forward by the non-native speaker. Intelligibility is defined by the author as "being understood by a listener at a given time in a given situation" (p.13), and it is measured in terms of how many words can be understood. Kenworthy believes that this aim may be "close enough" to a native-like goal in terms of contrasts that would enable a native-listener "match the sound heard with the sound (or feature) a native speaker would use without too much difficulty", thus intelligibility is dependent on "counts of sameness". Intelligibility is closely related to successful communication in terms of "efficiency, effectiveness and speaker's intentions".

This humble selection of readings has presented some of the most important points in the "pronunciation goals and models" debate. The key issues raised include:
  • intelligibility: comfortable? restricted? international? intranational?
  • identity and ego-permeability, image and accentedness
  • acceptability
  • comprehensibility
  • native vs non-native interlocutors
  • native-like accent norms
  • model as "target" or "point of reference"
  • efficiency, effectiveness and speaker intentions
  • occupational-related goals
  • perception vs production
  • teachability and attainability
Want to read more?
Have you read other sources? Share them with us in the "Comments" box below!

sábado, 21 de febrero de 2015

Conference Report #3: "Accentuate: Bringing Pronunciation to the Fore" Part 1

"Accentuate: Bringing Pronunciation to the Fore" event by IATEFL's PronSIG and NATECLA.
Read the programme of the event here.

As an anticipation to my next blog post with my views and takes on the presentations I have managed to watch live, find a taster of the talks and the Twitter discussion below:

Crystal & Crystal: "Dealing with Accents"

Hancock: "Doing things with sounds Practical pronunciation activities for your classroom"

Young: "The Silent Way approach to teaching pronunciation, illustrated using French"
Messum: "What to Teach Before you Teach Sounds"

Underhill: "Proprioception in learning new sounds, words and connected speech"

Concurrent Sessions
Tatiana Skopintseva "Pronunciation Gymnastics for Non-Native Presenters in English"
Simon Andrewes "Accentuate the positive: positive approximation and the lingua franca core"
Linda Ruas "Radical phonology": protest chants - a meaningful context for improving sounds and suprasegmentals
Paul Carley:   "An UnhappY Vowel: Is our Transcription Fit for Purpose?"
Cornee Ferreira "What to imitate? Between the native-speaker model and the lingua franca core."
Charlotte Haenlein "Ideas for embedding pronunciation work in everyday classroom topics at lower levels"
Judy Kirsh & Karen Dudley "Pronunciation for integration: stress, rhythm and intonation"
Catarina Pontes "Putting sounds together: practical pronunciation activities for the English classroom" 
Wayne Rimmer "Designing pronunciation materials"

martes, 17 de febrero de 2015

Webinar Report #3: "The Melody of English: Research and Resources for Teaching the Pragmatic Functions of Intonation"

Those of you who know me well know that my favourite area within the Phonetics and Phonology field lies with the suprasegmentals. I love everything prosodic-related, and I live to find connections between the prosody-pragmatics, prosody-discourse, prosody-systemic functional linguistics, prosody-conversation analysis interfaces. And of course, I'm always looking into ways of making this "teachable". So when I saw the title of the PronSIG webinar by Tamara Jones and Marnie Reed I knew I had to make it. So the webinar I will be briefly reporting was called: The Melody of English: Research and Resources for Teaching the Pragmatic Functions of Intonation" and you can see the event poster with the speakers' biodatas, and the abstract, here.

I will be posting some of the presenters' views and ideas here, and in a different colour, my own input.

Marnie Reed began the presentation by referring to her own classroom research, and particularly, to the question "What is it that students (and teachers) don't understand about intonation?". She found that many advanced students got to pick the individual words in a message, but they "miss the point" when they do not catch the pragmatic functions of intonation, such as in this example:

Student: Can I turn my homework in late?
Teacher: You \/CAN

The use of the implicational fall-rise here may be lost (an "affirmative answer with a negative meaning") if students are not aware of the actual pragmatic potential of intonation. In this particular case, Reed quotes Wells (2006), regarding the use of the fall-rise:

(I noticed that throughout the presentation the speakers referred to the implicational use of intonation, but I believe that some things they mentioned regarding "implication" were in fact not connected to the role of the fall-rise, but to the selection of certain nuclei).

Reed makes a point of the fact that some students believe that English intonation is just "decorative", that meaning resides in words, and she makes a point of the role of intonation in English as a mechanism in terms of speaker intent, which may be different from the ones employed in other languages:
Reed makes a point that if a continuum was made between different languages, English would stand at an extreme point, when it comes to the defining role of intonation and meaning in everyday discourse, with other languages probably making the most of syntactic resources.
Reed also reminds us that intonation is esssential in communication, and in much the same way Brazil (1980, 1982, 1995) does, Reed believes intonation may not go hand in hand with grammar and the wording:
(Gotta love Wichmann!)

Contribution by Tamara Jones later in the presentation

In this respect, Jones exemplifies the importance of intonation in the speech of her local Korean grocer (I think it was!), who says "Thank you very much, come here again". In spite of how polite the choice of words may be, the prosodic pattern of it sounds more like "go away". (I guess there must be something in the pitch range, maybe too low? Maybe too high and high volume? Forgive my lack of knowledge of Korean!)

I was very happy to hear Reed insist on the role of metacognition for intonation, as at times many of my students do not easily see that theory can be empowering, that knowing about intonation use and the communicative values of the choices of intonation can really help us produce and perceive what is going on. So when asked about the role of repetition, Reed suggested working with both metacognition and skills, "quality repetition" (Jones), to allow students to "own" the intonation patterns and make it "theirs" while at the same time being aware of the "why" a certain pattern is used.

Another very very interesting finding of Reed's which would surely render the same results in my context is students' feelings towards their own production of tone patterns. Reed has heard students produce really nice native-like patterns, which students themselves reject because they feel they are "silly", "ridiculous", "dramatic", "sing-songy", "exaggerated", and they would probably not use them outside in the real world. (I can vouch to that, when I hear my own Lab students in other lessons! Sooo frustrating! )

One of the words that both presenters used and which I couldn't quite make out is the word "exaggerated". I would not personally say English intonation is "exaggerated", and I noticed that most of the examples the speakers gave to refer to this intonation was the fall-rise. I got the feeling that at times the presenters were referring to wide pitch ranges for some emphatic constructions, and in other cases, to the fall-rise itself. Maybe they just used the term to quote learners' impressions on the overall intonation of English, but I don't know. I am afraid I failed to ask about that (and I will, I'll update this section of the post here). 

It is very important then, Reed believes (and I agree!), to be aware of the role of students' beliefs in the process of awareness and successful production:

One of my favourite points was raised by both Reed and Jones, and it has to do with the criticism towards the attitudinal approaches of intonation (Yay! Great to hear other people say this, too!)

 Tamara Jones presents three interesting pragmatic functions in which intonation may have a great role for students to be made aware of.

Reed and Jones both present some great ideas to work on learners' awareness of the role of intonation in the areas above.

Some of the activities required working with "minimal pairs", so to speak, and using the same wording with a different intonation pattern. In some cases students are invited to decide if the sentences are and mean the same, or happen to different. In other cases, the same utterance is exploited to mean different things, based on the intonation. Students may also be given a number of pragmatic interpretations to see which matches the meaning intended by the speaker in the context. (And no, I am not going to talk about the problems with the notion of "speaker intention" here, so don't frown!)

Changing the nucleus according to the meaning intended

Matching utterances to their meanings
This is a TOEFL-based activity on what Jones called "emphatic surprise" (I would probably use it to deal with rise-fall in GB, or high key)

Some activities require that students see the patterns in the real word by conducting "field work", that is, getting native speakers to read these sentences to them:
Some interesting production and also awareness raising activities proposed by Jones were related to prediction and inference work. By relying on intonation, students can be asked to predict what will come later, or what happened earlier.

This is one of the moments in the presentation where I think the speakers were not dealing with "implication" as they said, but rather, "deaccentuation". It may have been a slip, though!

An activity by Judy Gilbert

Jones presented a few tips on how to help students produce prominent words/syllables. She referred to Gilbert's use of the rubber band (which you stretch every time you accent an item), and its alternatives: opening or closing your hand, raising your eyebrows, closing your eyes. And a very interesting alternative was presented, as inspired by Linda Grant: the use of yo-yos!
Many of the activities above encourage peer work, and the following activity is quite interesting, and can be used to exploit several functions of intonation in context. Jones presented this activity to deal with corrections and contrast, thus:

(Student A has B's card:)
A: 'My favourite colour is \blue. 
B: Your favourite colour is /purple?
A: \No, my favourite colour is \bluuuuue. (Wide range, and high key, I suppose? Sorry, I am transcribing the prosodic aspects I think I heard when Tamara read the activity)

I think this activity can also be used to exploit the fall-rise, probably leading into more polite corrections. Something like:
A: So your favourite colour is \red.
B: 'My favourite colour is \/not red, I am afraid,  it's \blue. 

Another activity which also engages metacognition and prediction is the marking of dialogues. Students can be given a script, they predict possible accents, and compare with the scene. Jones suggested the following Seinfield scene:

Very interesting scene to deal with deaccentuation, contrastive focus AND counterpresuppositionals as well, though to be honest, I would have made different nuclei choices myself!
And this one from Friends:

Marnie Reed concluded that all aspects of pronunciation should be integrated into core classes, and they should be part of regular lessons in much the same way other areas and skills are. (Yay!). I think both Marnie and Tamara have shown to us attendees that intonation is essential for meaning in English, that meaning does not reside in words alone, and that students need to be made aware of that. I believe their activities are really engaging, and easily integrated in the language classroom.

In my personal opinion, "theory" is very important when it comes to the teaching of intonation, much to my students' dislike. Because in our own language tones may have a different role, we cannot always rely on our ears when it comes to the communicative values of intonation in a different language. That is another argument against the teaching of attitudinal values of intonation, in my humble view. Our "it's not what they said, but how they said it" radar may work perfectly well in our L1, but we may miss the point in our L2. So teaching intonation in a realistic context, be it within a specific speech genre, or in micro-contexts of conversation like the ones in this presentation, needs to be part of the English lesson if communication is the aim.


The session was recorded for PronSIG members. If you want to know more about IATEFL's PronSIG and join, visit their website.
The bibliographical references included in the presentation have been posted at the PronSIG Facebook page here.

viernes, 13 de febrero de 2015

A PS to my latest post - Part 1: Pronunciation Goals and Questions

My latest post received a number of varied responses, ranging from suggestions that I write my own linguistic stand up comedy show, to a former student jokingly (I hope!) reminding me I did not give her a passing grade in her pronunciation test, to colleagues asking whether it was an advocation for ELF, to people sharing their own anecdotes, and other kinds of remarks.

Some of these serious and funny bits of feedback got me thinking about how my views were interpreted, so I thought I would expand on the last point of the post in question, a conclusion which may have got "lost in translation", so to speak. The issue I want to discuss has been developed at length by a number of well-known authors and bloggers, and I will not be able to do justice to them here (see Part 2 of this post coming soon!), and it has got to do with a key choice teachers need to make in ELT: pronunciation aims and goals.


Now, in many respects we may feel trapped when it comes to deciding how far we would like our students to get when it comes to any linguistic skill or content, and the issue of pronunciation is a very sensitive matter. When it comes to pronunciation goals, I generally think about lots of WH questions, and this is what my post will focus on first. 

I humbly believe that we teachers should be ready to acknowledge that the pronunciation goals issue is very, very complex, and we should be aware of the number of different scenarios we may encounter in each class we teach, in order to try to cater for the whole range of needs there may exist -or at least know where to go and search for info!-. This is why teachers need to have a really thorough, yet practical, training in pronunciation matters, and as a teacher trainer, I feel a have a huge responsibility in this sense.

Find below my (non-comprehensive) list of WH questions for pronunciation goals, which in my humble opinion can change EVERYTHING when it comes to deciding what to do. The answers to these questions should enlighten us in the planning process, and particularly, help us decide on what accents to teach, and how far we should go in terms of expectations and learner achievement.

Who are my students?
  -How old are they? Where are they from? What is their first language? What is their language level? How long have they been learning English for? Have they picked up the language, or learned it? Have they had any pronunciation instruction before? Have they taken this course before? 
-What about their existing skills and awareness in terms of their diction, propriocerception, phonetic coding ability, plasticity, learning styles?

-Who is their " model" speaker of English (native or non-native)? Where and how often do they regularly hear English: TV, videogames, music, social networks?

Who will my students be using English with?
  -Native speakers of English?
 -Non-native speakers of English using English to communicate? To work? To learn? To travel?
-Robots and machines?


Where are my students learning pronunciation now? 
At school? At a language institute? In company? At a call-centre? At university? At Teacher Training College? In a Translators' Training Programme? Over the Internet? In non formal ways, or contexts? By imitation? With the support of a thorough training in phonetics?

What are the expectations of the school/company/etc regarding these students, at the end of the course? What do they expect them and me as a teacher to have achieved? How likely and realistic is this, and what are the odds of redefining/negotiating these goals  after a diagnostic task, for instance? 

What is the role and influence of peers in the class? What are the students' views and feelings regarding the teacher and his/her English?

Where will my students be using English?
At a foreign country where English is the first language? Second language? Foreign language? Lingua Franca?
In their own country, but at their workplace, to their bosses, or co-workers or customers?
At the airport? On a plane? On the streets? Over a counter? In a classroom? On TV/radio?
Face to face? Via webconferencing? Through phone calls?

What are my learners taking classes for?
To travel? To make presentations? To answer phone calls? To teach? To sing? To become public or radio/TV speakers? To become tourist guides, or pilots, or cabin crew members? To be able to follow films, or lectures? Out of sheer pleasure and curiosity?

What are the specific skills, speech genres, procedures, vocabulary, my students need to polish their pronunciation for? What aspects of their interlanguage pronunciation or intonation will be most "damaging" or "face-threatening" for their performance? How can these be overcome? What kind of feedback/retribution/rewards will students get in their context of future or present use of English? What possibilities of repair, self-correction, monitoring will my students have in their context of use?

What English? Which Englishes?
What English, accent or dialect do they want or need to learn? British (which!?), American (which!?), Australian, South African, Singaporean, Indian, Hong Kong, among hundreds of other Englishes? What varieties and styles within a certain accent group will my students need to handle? What is the standing of a certain variety in my learners' context of use: is it considered "prestigious", " working class", etc?

What do my students expect of their accent? What accents do they personally favour? 
What accent do their employers/exam requirements/coworkers/syllabus/ institutional requirements or traditions expect them to attain?

What features should I prioritise in my teaching, given their background, context of use, target audience and the results of the diagnostic tasks?
What features can "seamlessly" be integrated to the teaching of other set areas/skills/content in the course? How much recycling and remedial work will I need and have time for?
What features are to be presented for perception, and which, for production purposes (or both)?
What features do I consider to be "teachable", given the conditions of the course I am teaching?

How much are my students willing to work / can work towards this goal? How many hours of their week can/will they put in?  How much "ownership" can they take of the goals set?
How can I expand on my students' awareness of the importance of pronunciation and intonation in communication, and particularly, in their context of use? 

How can I train their propioception, articulation and self-monitoring skills so that they are significant and long-lasting?

How can I help my students reach the goals set? What materials, resources, time, background knowledge, student motivation and cooperation, infrastructure, student proprioception abilities do I have at my disposal? What methods would work better with this group?

How far would I like this student to get? How successful do I think this student will be, and why? What can I do to help this particular student improve?

How much room do we all participants of the educational experience have to agree on the goals? (In as ideal world, probably the students will have a greater say, but....)

All these questions appear to make up a sort of maze, reminiscent of those "Choose your own Adventure" books in which selecting one option from a set of possibilities may completely change the outcome. This is a pronunciation list, but I am sure we could ask the same or similar questions for other linguistic areas or skills. These questions address issues that will inevitably affect our planning, our students' success, and as a by-product, our own feeling of achievement, or frustration (Tell me about it!).

As with everything, we need to negotiate at times. Institutional and time restrictions are always there, students' motivations, effort and abilities are decisive if we want good processes and results, and as teachers we always need to decide where to draw the line. I wish I could be more definite or resolute when writing about these topics at times, but then, the great thing about teaching is that reality hits you in the face pretty often and each and every classroom, each student, even, drives you into making unique choices. There is no single answer or formula, and if I gave you one, I feel I would be oversimplifying a very, very complex matter that in my experience, can only be sorted out individually with each school, group or person I teach.

PS to this PS: I have corrected the serious mispelling of the word "proprioception" (which I wrongly for a long time called "prioperception"). 
End of part 1: Questions
Part 2: What the experts say. (Coming soon!)

miércoles, 11 de febrero de 2015

Reflections in passing #3: Why emulating a native-like accent may not (always?) help

Over the last few days I have been talking to colleagues from my own "environment" (that is, Argentinian teachers of English), and some have told me that they saw themselves reflected in some of my posts, particularly the "Voldemort" one. And yes, I completely understand why these friends and colleagues feel the way I do, and the rest of the world feels this is sheer craziness: our training, our Argentinian spirit (always looking up to Europe, for some reason) makes many of us want to "sound native" (whatever that is!). Some other Argentinian colleagues teaching French and Italian have told me they feel the same way about their own accents.

Now, the more I travel, the more I realise that my relentless efforts to "sound native" may not "help" in the streets. All right, my accent has helped me gain a certain position of "acceptance" (or something of the sort) in some academic circles. I know that there are certain things I say in certain places which are "taken seriously" because of my close attempt at an SSBE accent and my fluency in English. In academic environments, I have to admit that, sadly, some some people appear to have "respected" my views because of my accent, and this overruled the "disadvantage" (sic) that being a Latin American, Spanish-speaking teacher of English (and phonetician in the making, go figure!) would entail (and these last few words are not, unfortunately, mine!).

On the other hand, I won't lie. I do like the occasional "where in the UK are you from?" or "You don't sound Argentinian!" thing. I think it is my best introduction card in, at least, the ELT world.

As usual, disclaimers: these are opinions, reflections and anecdotes from someone obsessed with pronunciation, and carry no "scientific value". You read these at your own risk!
(♪♪ It's my blog, and I cry if I want to, I ramble if I want to! ♪♪)


Anyway! Going back to how sounding native may *not* help, I have a number of personal anecdotes which may illustrate the point:

-On a train to London from York, I ordered coffee. As I was being served, the steward -with a lovely Northern accent- asked me a question which I did not get, and after embarrasingly saying "Sorry?" three times, he just put the coffee on my tray and grunted. I shrugged, and the person sitting next to me, who had seen I was reading a book in Spanish, said that the man had thought I was making fun of him.

-The bus from Whitby to Scarborough I was on one day, broke down. Twice. (Yes, it happens in the UK, too! Don't despair, fellow Argentinians!). I was sitting towards the back of the bus, reading my book, and two lads  were talking about how awful the whole journey had been, and a few other things which I found dreadfully difficult to understand. At a certain point, one of them addresses me, and says what I decoded as: "Got a penner?". I replied "Sorry, come again?", to which I got a similar answer. The other man looks at me, as if I was silly or something, and says, really slowly "Got-a-pen-or-something?". "Ah, yes, here you are!", I said, and retreated to my Spanglish, to save face.

-The other thing that I find a bit embarrassing is the fact that my English is pretty "bookish" (I need a serious vocab refresher course!) and as a Latin American young lady, I'm all gestures and emotion, so British people who know me do generally comment on this sort of "mismatch" between my accent, and my wording. I love my Latin American blood, and my Italian hystrionism, and I am not planning to change that. But people say the "overall impression" is somehow "weird". My tutor once told me that when she was younger a very well known phonetician advised her: "Do you want to sound English? Then hire an English lady who can teach you how to sit, have tea, walk, and express your emotions as an English lady. Then you will sound English. Otherwise, you are more than fine as you are!". (LOL!)

(Linguistic digression: I think that my trips have also confirmed to me that I should never underestimate question tags, and phrasal verbs (believe me, students, they are used ALL the time!), and more importantly, street, everyday, language, if I want the "full package". As I told my Language teacher during my last year of college, "I feel all my language courses have "crippled" my language, I can't face the streets with my English but I can write 200-page-long papers!".)

-I think that what at times makes me feel worse than not being able to understand, is getting the comment "why do you want to sound posh?". Or I once even got "You sound Victorian!". I would feel a bit offended in my own Spanish if someone said I sound "cheta" or "old as the hills", but that's just because I don't see myself as such. My British friends tend to make fun of this accent choice of mine, and I have had "informal" sessions on glottalisation and a few other "tips and tricks" to "give my accent a lifting". I worry,  and I try to be truly aware of this when teaching my students. After all, I wouldn't want them to use slang and sound as if they were rehearsing to have tea with the Queen.

(BTW, any phoneticians out there? It would be wonderful to have oral practice materials with more updated accents! Ship or Sheep 3rd Edition has a few interesting voices, and so do some of the activities in the "...in Use" series, but I would be happy to have further practice material to focus on sounds with more "modern" accents. Apart from the  YouTube vids and British Council recordings of conversation I may find, having some updated pronunciation stuff for practice would be totes fabs!)

-Another Argentinian colleague told me that a UK immigrations officer, after stamping his passport,  jokingly told him, "Why do you speak like that, then? Are you a spy?".

Whenever I write my blog posts, I always think about my students and my practice. I am, by far, the most severe critic of my work. I know some of my ideas have changed over the last three or four years, and some others have not, and may not. I know some people may use these "thoughts in passing" to their own advantage and may misunderstand the meaning of my words as well. It has happened.

All in all, I think that my accent works fine in academic and work settings and it has made a difference, but it may not do the job in "street" settings. But I think that this realisation has really helped me reconsider language teaching, and more than anything else, what I should do in a General English language classroom. It has made me think about goals for both pronunciation and other areas of ELT: grammar, vocabulary, listening comp.
You may agree with this, or find it terribly "preposterous". I believe I am not "academically mature" still to voice certain ideas, to give them shape, and at times, to face some deeply-rooted beliefs. So for the time being, I'll just keep to my "reflections in passing" and to my books, and to my blog! (♪♪ It's my blog, and I ramble if I want to, I ramble if I want to! ♪♪)