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!

jueves, 13 de agosto de 2015

Report on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (#PTLC2015) at UCL. August 5-7th, 2015 - Part 3

This is my last report on PTCL 2015. My two previous posts discussed Day 1 and Day 2, including links to all the live tweeting and the programme, so you can visit this page to read about them, and about other events I have reported on.

I have tried to link to the author's webpages/institutional affiliations whenever possible so that you can contact them, or Google their work and learn more about what they do.

(Once more, just in case, I would like to remind you that any unintentional misinterpretation of the work on the presenters is my fault, so my apologies to you for any errors!)

Day 3 of PTLC kicked off with Andrej Stopar and his study on Slovenian speakers of English and their perception of four vowels, one of which was the "pretzel" (loved it!) vowel /æ/. Surprisingly (for my context, that is), his perception tasks rendered better results for /ʌ/ and /ɜ:/ over /e/ and /æ/.

Janice Wing Sze Wong discussed the results of her high variability phonetic training study on English vowels 1 and 2 with her Cantonese-speaking students. Her analysis was mostly acoustic, and based on formants 1 and 2, and on duration (which I thought highly relevant for this pair of vowels!).

Josefina Carrera-Sabaté, Imma CreusBellet and Clàudia Pons Mol presented a fantastic set of resources to learn Catalan: El Sons del Català and Guies de pronunciaciò del Català . They have done a great job with the websites, which have really enticed me to start learning Català!

Pavel Trofimovich, Sara Kennedy and Josée Blanchet presented a truly inspiring paper on speech ratings on fluency, comprehensibility and accentedness for learners of French as L2. I have been Googling their research papers, as they have done really interesting work on interlanguage issues in terms of phonology and phonological awareness, among other things. They have made some thoughtprovoking observations regarding the segmental, suprasegmental and fluency aspects that may have affected the raters' assessment of their samples of learner speech: accentedness ratings were lower when intonation choices were accurate and pitch range narrower; and the same features had a positive effect on fluency and comprehensibility, added to longer speech-runs and fewer hesitations. I would personally be interested in replicating this study in my context, somehow.

Shinichi Tokuma and Won Tokuma brought the conference to a close with a very interesting study on the perception of /p, b/ and robustness in terms of babble noise for Japanese learners of English. Among other things, they have found that improved L2 perception in their subjects was inversely related to the signal-to-noise ratio of the stimuli, and that /p/ was more robust to noise in all their experimental conditions.

We had a great "bonus track" session, right after lunch, with Nobuaki Minematsu from the University of Tokyo. He delivered a fantastic presentation on World Englishes and intelligibility. His talk discussed the basic difficulties we may encounter when trying to grasp the complex idea of what mutual intelligiblity really is and entails, especially in terms of its diversity. His ongoing project is aimed at finding a way of measuring intelligibility objectively (via matrixes and a few really complex ways entirely beyond my engineering-blind mind!) and somehow predicting possible intelligibility problems between speakers of different L1s communicating in English, based on a collection of misunderstandings and miscommunication. It was an excellent conference close.

A huge "Thank you!" to the organisers for a fantastic and welcoming conference. I felt at home at the lovely Chandler House at UCL and I hope I can stay in touch with all the wonderful people I have met, or encountered once again after 5 years. I am really grateful.


As I mentioned earlier for my experience at IPrA, it is a real blessing to be able to attend and take active part in these international events every now and then. The networking is incredible, and the whole conferencing thing is a fascinating learning and mind-opening experience. As I always say, if the world does not come to you, you should "go to the world". At times your local context, however great, cannot provide you with the learning experiences you need, so salary and life-permitting, I will try to continue furthering my learning paths in my beloved Buenos Aires, and abroad, and sharing all my experiences with you.

Hope you have enjoyed my attempt to bring the world to you, wherever you are reading this from!

miércoles, 12 de agosto de 2015

Report on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (#PTLC2015) at UCL. August 5-7th, 2015 - Part 2

My previous post briefly commented on the sessions I attended at PTLC 2015 on Day 1. I am now going to report on a very busy day at the conference, Day 2, before it all flies away from my short-term memory and all my teaching duties take over! 

(My usual disclaimer: all misinterpretations of the presentations are my own, and totally unintentional)

Day 2: August 6th

The opening plenary was by Dr. Eleanor Lawson, who struck me as sooo knowledgeable and so young! She made a fascinating report of a few studies on Scottish postvocalic /r/, and what different types of measurements (impressionistic, MRI, UTI) contributed to the study of coarticulation. The presentation continued with the description of the whole development process for these two amazing online resources: Seeing Speech and Dynamic Dialects. It was, simply, an amazing presentation.

And after that, we had the fabulous experience of trying ultrasound imaging on our own tongues! 

Trying my Spanish alveolar trill! :D Sooo exciting!

The second session of the day started with a very entertaining presentation of teaching ideas for laboratory phonetics by Timothy Mills, Karen Pollock and Benjamin V. Tucker from the University of Alberta. One of their techniques involved getting students to create their own "Frankeintracts" of the vocal tract, making use of any material of their choice (apparently some students even attempted models that could actually utter sounds!). Other very interesting activities consisted in the students' plotting of their own vowel formants and a few designs of tests for the perception of neutralisation of items such as "latter/ladder". 

Mercedes Cabrera-Abreu and Francisco Vizcaíno-Ortega were up next (represented by Mercedes on this ocassion), and their presentation was a discussion of their classroom assessment tasks for their courses on acoustics, and the results obtained. From spectogram and waveform recognition tasks to the actual hand-drawing of spectograms, students were assessed on numerous aspects of acoustic phonetics, with different levels of success. I found the tasks particularly interesting (and difficult, given my really basic knowledge of acoustics!), and this presentation opened my mind to a other ways of testing.

I, Marina Cantarutti, was the following presenter. I discussed a very humble classroom experience on intonation teaching through speech genres (the lecture genre, in this case) and on my students' treatment of tonality, tonicity and tone in connection to thematic structure in a pre- and post-instruction tests. I have basically found that my students actively assigned different degrees of relevance to the various thematic elements in the text given by either conflating Themes and Rhemes in the same IP (lowering the relevance and possible contrastive value of the thematic element) or by treating them obliquely. I also made a point that contrary to my own expectations, students initially produced more cases of transfer from Spanish in terms of their treatment of focus, rather than of tone.

After lunch, two attempts at a group picture, and a tour round the labs and the library, we were all ready for more.

The whole #PTLC2015 bunch! (Credits: PTLC, FB page)

Smiljana Komar from the University of Ljubliana introduced her results in perception tasks for the fall-rise tone. She found some interesting cases of mistaken perception of fall-rises for falls, and then for rises. Her findings in a way appear pretty similar to the ones I believe we would find over here in Buenos Aires, if we tried the same tests, which makes the whole thing really intriguing, given that we have different L1s!

Yusuke Shibata, Masaki Taniguchi and Tamikazu Date presented an experience with junior high teacher and students, connected to notions of tonicity and focus. They have found these features to be highly teachable, and they expect to be able to "persuade" and also train teachers towards the active integration of pronunciation and intonation work at schools.

Junko Sugimoto and Yoko Uchida carried out an analysis of the government-approved ELT books in Japan in search of pronunciation tasks and training. They have found that there were activities connected to vowels, consonants and well as articulatory explanations and resources on phonics and Katakana. In my opinion, the books they analysed presented a number of very interesting contents and tasks, and they far exceeded the number of activities and pronunciation training available in the EFL textbooks that we have on this side of the world.

Nikola Paillereau presented a comparison between some specific Czech and French vowels as produced by students acquiring French as L2. The focus on this presentation was the assessment of L2 vowels using a piece of software called VisuVo -which, unfortunately, is not open to the public yet-, which was designed by the presenter and a collaborator . The program allowed for measurement and plotting of vowel formats and comparison of other variables across speakers and in an intra-speaker manner. 

Rungpat Roengpitya discussed the design of different Phonetics courses at different departments at her university in Thailand. I found it particularly interesting that the inclusion of Phonetics for training in some medical sciences, such as Dentistry, was aimed at helping the future professionals become aware of how they can improve a patient's quality of life by knowing how their intervention may affect speech.

Pekka Lintunen and Aleksi Mäkilähde (represented by the former on this occasion) carried out a very interesting study regarding what students prefer, like and find motivating about the Phonetics courses they attended. Their survey revealed that students find accents and intonation topics more engaging than other themes in the course. Part of their study also assessed whether students' view of Phonetics as highly benefitial to their future career had changed, and in most cases, students agreed that Phonetics was necessary for their professional development. There were a few caveats and self-objections that the presenter made to the survey and its delivery, but it was overall a very interesting, and easily replicable study, worth further thought!

The closing prenary was by Professor David Deterding, and it was aimed at discussing misunderstandings and the role of pronunciation for intelligibility. We participants had a lot of fun decoding many instances of English as an L2/FL speech from different locations (Brunei, Nigeria, among a few others), and in the end, it turned pretty challenging to make sense of many words. (This may seem quite obvious and ordinary for people teaching in multilingual environments, but in my teaching setting, where most of my students' L1 is Spanish and where English is only used in the classroom, activities like these really open up your mind!) . Deterding's talk included a review of the Lingua Franca Core, and some comments regarding attempts at revised versions in different environments. Apart from the well-known objection to stress-timed rhythm as a feature making speech less intelligible from an international perspective, there were a few comments regarding the role of consonant clusters in the blurring of comprehension at word level. Event though David did not perhaps tackle upon this explicitly in his talk, later personal communication made it clear that of course, we need to make a distinction between aims we may have regarding perception, and those for production. We all agree that perception and exposure to all accents of English, including "international Englishes" is essential if we want our language teaching training to be enabling and empowering for communication.
This is the end of Day 2 (because, of course, I will not report on the wine-tasting session!). Just in case: I'm just the messenger here, so I am merely reporting on the sessions, and adding a few comments, but of course, any objections or remarks on the presentations should be addressed to the authors themselves (do note that I have, in most cases, added links to the speakers' institutional affiliations!).

 I'll be wrapping up my discussion of PTLC on my next post on Day 3, which will probably be out during the weekend. Thanks for bearing with me!

lunes, 10 de agosto de 2015

Report on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (#PTLC2015) at UCL. August 5-7th, 2015 - Part 1

I have just attended another fabulous conference, this time, on the teaching and learning of Phonetics at University College London. I was also blessed with the opportunity of presenting my own paper! PTLC takes place every two years, and as with other conferences the papers submitted are subjected to blind review by the academic commitee (hopefully the proceedings will be published soon!). In the meantime, you can read about the conference and check previous proceedings here.

In this post, I will be talking about some of the presentations I would like to comment on (as usual, any misinterpretations are my own). If you want to get a deferred "feel" of what the conference was like, you may want to see the Storify collection of live- tweets that Jane Setter put together (scroll to the very bottom of this post - and yes, there was some hectic tweeeting!)

This first post is on Day 1. 
Day 1: August 5th

The conference kicked off with University of Reading's Jane Setter's presentation of her "flipped learning" experience in her Phonetics courses at graduate and undergraduate levels. This methodology basically consists in making the most of class-time for practical and problem-solving tasks while assigning videotaped lectures and practical tasks with key as homework. There were some interesting references to the well-known Bloom's taxonomy, and also to Dale's 1969Cone of Experience, a thought-provoking approach to types of learning tasks that may contribute to the increase of retention types. Jane discussed the results of her assessment tasks with the flipped and "unflipped" (?) classes, with a marked improvement for students in the former, except for the dictation tasks. (Dictations and decoding tasks are always a problem, if you ask me! This does deserve a whole new post!)

Shawn Nissen from Brigham Young University also reported on a blended learning experience with large Phonetics classes (for Speech Therapy trainees, if I remember correctly) consisting of, among other things, lots of self-paced theoretical and practical tasks with key, leading to online assessment tasks (of which an 80% success grade should be achieved). I found it particularly interesting, and challenging as well, that many of the materials for decoding included audio files containing noise levels, and also disordered speech. There were also some true and realistic remarks worth recalling, such as the fact that Phonetics teaching needs to be orderly and it needs a "unique learning environment"and set of techniques we may not find when teaching other subjects.

Alice Yin Wa Chan introduced some of her own ideas to bring variety into the Phonetics classroom, including the use of water bottles as an analogy to draw students' awareness of the cavities, shapes, amplification in the vocal tract. She also found ways of connecting students' cultural practices (like the use of acronyms to describe their relationship status) to minimal pairs, and a reference to Peter Roach's comparison of allophones to different styles in handwriting.

Gwen Brekelmans discussed the results of her study on a group of Dutch learners of English at University and compared the effects of lack of explicit pronunciation instruction in two groups, one group of learners who had taken their "year abroad" experience, and others who had instruction for two years but were not trained during their third year. Once instruction had stopped for the second group of learners, subjects showed a clear deterioration of their foreign accent, especially in vowels. Those students spending a year abroad did show a bit more improvement. In all cases it was found that pronunciation of English as an L2 did not remain fully stable after instruction (which is exactly what happens with many of my teacher trainees once they graduate, sadly. Lots of pondering to do in this respect. It is definitely something worth giving a thought...)

Eva Estebas made a truly interesting presentation (fitting timely and perfectly with my current personal interests!) on an adaptation of ToBI and the School of London's nuclear configurations to teach intonation and help learners work autonomously at a graduate distance programme (big challenge, if you ask me!). Eva called this special concoction "TL_ToBI" (Tone and Break Indices for Teaching and Learning), and I would say she collected the best of both approaches, focusing on the connections between metrical and tonal structure, and the notation and visual aids for ToBI, and the tune description and nuclear configurations of the British School. Estebas reported an improvement in students' perception and production of English Intonation after employing this new approach.

Here ends my Day 1 report on PTLC. More on this great conference coming up soon!
In the meantime, take a peek at this wonderful collection of tweets!

martes, 4 de agosto de 2015

Report on the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog", at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference - Part 2

In my previous post, I reported the first two sessions of the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog" at the International Pragmatics Conference. Here's the second and final part of this "racconto".

Session 3: Prosodic Constructions and Actions

Beatrice Szczepek-Reed discussed the case of the German version of "yes, but"- " ja aber" as a tactic or strategy, and its different phonetic manifestations in interaction, which appear to project different affiliative stances. As second pair parts, they may be realised in a continuum going from "ja aber", with the first element comprising a first TCU and the second element carrying a pitch accent and  lengthening; to " jaber", compressed, with the presence of glottalisation (also for some of the tokens in the first group, btw).  "Ja aber" was found to express disaffiliation through disagreement or qualification, whereas "jaber" "re-does" disffiliation, as either previous rejection or a lack of uptake. There was a very interesting remark about the role of the "pre-front field " (Auer, 1996), the first position at the beginning of a TCU, which is the locus for new "creations" in language and the conversion of many items into discourse markers (this leads me back to the presentation on Pragmatic Markers by Romero-Trillo on the " Pragma-Discourse..." on Monday, and the role of continuers as interpersonal and textual markers, as seen by SFL). I found Beatrice's remark that "in order to study a big thing you have to work on a small thing" particularly inspiring!

The following presentation by Rasmus Persson surveyed different roles and prosodic constitutions of repetition in French, in particular, of other-repeats. The presenter reviewed some of the characteristics of French, especially in terms of stress, before discussing the two prosodic formats of the cases of other-repeats found in his data: early peak with a salient secondary accent, and a late rise fall, with a salient primary accent. Whereas the first configuration has been associated with the acknowledgment of receipt, "registering" previous talk, the second case was found to initiate repair, especially implicating some sort of "problem" with the content of the talk being repeated. The presenter wraps up his discussion by making a very important point for the study of phonetics in interaction: "the interactional function of prosody can be understood by taking into account the action the prosodic design contributes to, what a turn as a whole is supposed to do".

Maria Ibh Crone Aarestrup and Kerstin Fischer discussed an experiment on the way native and non-native speakers perceive greetings as produced by robots. The presenters reviewed some bibliography on the intonation of greetings, such as Wells (2006), Tench (1996) and then described the experience, which included synthetic productions of greetings produced by three different robots , which were then rated by native and non native speakers of English.  From what l have understood, native speakers found the high wide falling tone on greetings more inviting, which was, to me, at least, expected, though the presenters, were apparently expecting those with a rise to do the trick. But then, it may be a misunderstanding on my part.

The discussion session was really fruitful, with comments on the notion of prosodic " constructions" as actual processes unfolding in time, fluid and flexible, vs the perhaps "rigid" association that could be wrongly made with the term. There was also another true remark about the fact that when it comes to the analysis of the enactment of actions through prosodic constructions, there is always ambiguity and gradience to be wary of.

Session 4: Prosodic Constructions and Gesture

David House reported on a number of experiments carried out with Margaret Zellers to see connections between gesture and prosody. The audience had fun watching the videos of the interactants looking like "ants" with their antennae and a few other props recording the speakers' every move. The presenter reviewed a few of the already-identified relationships between prosody and co-speech features, such as prominence marking, phrase connection and demarcation, dialogue regulation and turn-taking, and reported that in English, it is the intonational cue that prevails. This study was concerned with turn boundaries, and some of the findings were that turn-holding practices show lengthening of both prosodic features and gesture, and in the case of turn-yielding boundaries, the end of gesture precedes the end of talk spurt before transition. This was corroborated manually and through automatic methods, but not yet tested for statistical significance.

Romero-Lopes, Del Re and Dodane (represented by the latter), discuss their findings regarding prosody, gesture and the acquisition in infancy of the Brazilian "preterito perfeito simple" tense. They found that sound lengthening and gestures were synchronised when the conjugated verb was produced. (I may not have been faithful to their results, I am afraid, so my apologies for any misinterpretation).

The final presentation was by Richard Ogden and Verónica González-Temer, on the particle "mm" in Chilean Spanish, and it was aimed at exploring its function and different vocal and non-vocal modalities. The data was very interesting, as it consisted of elicited situations where speakers were asked to taste food they had never had before, and interact with another person to reach an agreement on the rating and possible ingredients of what they have just tried. The tokens were coded according to the taxonomy by Gardner (2001) and classified in terms of action types. The presenters have found that as response tokens, "mm" was uttered with low falls, glottal stops, nods and quite short in length. Non-response tokens showed greater degrees of variation (especially in terms of gesture) depending on whether they were enacting incipient speakership, gustatory or lapse terminator actions.

The final discussion was as enriching as for the previous sessions, including the acknowledgement that there are different semiotic systems interacting in a parallel fashion, that gesture should be part of the analysis, and that it makes sense to see how participants themselves make sense of the prosodic constructions themselves. This, of course, marks a break from other linguistic traditions, as it drives the focus away from what is normative, into what is descriptive.

I hope I have delivered a faithful account of the sessions of this fantastic panel, and my apologies for any misinterpretation and typos (wrote this post at the airport!). It's been a true blessing for me to have attended it.

domingo, 2 de agosto de 2015

Report on the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog", at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference - Part 1

Report on the panel "Prosodic Constructions of Dialog", at the 14th International Pragmatics Conference - Part 1

I am currently " conference-crawling" and in an effort to be faithful to my second linguistic love, Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis (Pragma-Discourse), I spent six days at the International Pragmatics Conference .  I will be reporting on a fantastic panel I attended on Tuesday, in two installments .

The usual disclaimers: I am writing from my tablet so I am afraid there won't be many "special effects" and there will probably be a million typos. Plus, any misunderstanding of theoretical views is my own (attributable to jet lag?).

Last Tuesday I had the fabulous experience of attending twelve talks as part of a panel that dealt with " prosodic constructions", that is:

"Units of (phonetic and prosodic) organization that unite elements of linguistic form with elements of meaning, including affiliation and sequence management" (Ogden, 2010 as quoted by Szczepek-Reed, slide 2)

The panel was organised by Nigel Ward, Richard Ogden, Oliver Niebuhr and Nancy Hedberg, and you can read about it on this website .

I would like to briefly report what I have heard, and include some personal remarks about the presentations and the whole experience, starting with the fact that the organisers came up with a fantastic idea of not only allotting the usual 5 min Q&A, but also a whole 15-minute slot for open discussion with the audience. This really made all the difference, in comparison to other panels l have attended .

First session: Compositional and Constructional Aspects of Prosody
Yi Xu et al opened the panel with a very passionate presentation of a piece of software (PENTAtrainer2 - this link goes to the first version) that allows the decomposition of different prosodic elements and their reassembly, by "extracting global patterns as sequence of local targets". This is done through easy annotation and coding of issues such as stress, pitch height and slope, "focus" (his use of the word in fact is what we understand as nucleus placement that is, phonetic rather than informational, if I understood his account correctly - he does not appear to make a distinction between  the informational and intonational choices at this stage), modality (something like voice quality), among other things. The tool and system presented comes as a result of extensive research and literature review.

The second presentation, by Nigel Ward, addressed "narrow pitch regions" (the Bookended-Narrow Pattern), which the author associated with a " squished down pitch range" that appears to take place in some occasions in which speakers express contrast, complaint, grudging admiration and contradiction (Sorry, but I got a sudden flashback to O'Connor and Arnold, especially because of the wyrd "grudgingly"). This pitch range area is problematic for analysts as it is too subtle, and there is an interplay of multiple prosodic constructions which are superimposed. This pattern is presented as being used to " introduce specific personal knowledge and invite the interlocutor to consider it". (Aug 28th, update: The presenter has shared with me teaching resources on his research on prosodic constructions: http://www.cs.utep.edu/nigel/patterns/)

This presentation opened up a very interesting debate regarding the definition of functions, prescriptiveness, the role of context in determining that these prosodic choices may "stand for" and the establishment of categories (Whose? The analysts'? The participants'?) Clearly this is an issue that marks interactivists apart from other approaches (and the one I enjoy the most; the actual possibility of describing what actions speakers appear to be implementing through prosody, and how,  instead of presenting generalisations - which, on the other hand, I have to do because of my job!)

The last presenter in this session was Oliver Niebuhr, who focused on Laboratory data, and the factors that affect elicitation (including issues like time of day and type of font used in the text, apart from the usual factors we may know about). The presenter proposed new elicitation techniques (under the name INSPECT) to enable the retrieval of data that could resemble the characteristics of spontaneous speech more closely. Those of us "interactionalists" (in the making,  at least, for myself) will always prefer naturally occurring data, but it was granted by the author that laboratory speech is  a "natural reaction to a controlled environment".

The ensuing discussion was truly enlightening, a bit fiery for some (and yet everyone was so respectful!). One of the contributions by the discussant, Richard Ogden, was very clear in terms of the fact that this this form- function issue could be delimited in terms of the difference between something having a phonetic exponent, versus phonetic structure having meaning.

Session 2: Prosodic Constructions and Turn-Taking

Jan Gorisch et al describe an experience of replication of a study by Kurtic et al 2013 on overlapping talk and whether the instances identified in the corpus of multiparty conversation could be said to be competitive or non-competitive. In this occasion,  the tokens were rated in terms of (non) competition by different raters, and also subjected to a Decision Tree.  It had been established in previous studies that prosodic matching was related to interactional alignment, and this presentation finds a relation between position in the previous TCU where the overlap starts, the duration of overlapping talk, and the pitch span with issues of turn (non) competitiveness.. (Found this presentation particularly interesting, since it is closely related to my MA thesis, BTW)

Stevanovic and Lennes present a study that is aimed at connecting pitch matching -absolute and relative- to the notion of agency. This latter concept, apparently related to issues of sequential organization (later connected to levels of passivity-activity of the interlocutors, and also discourse control, in a more informal description of the concept) was presented as connected to matching and non-matching of speech. The discussion that followed introduced a few other issues that could affect levels of agency, such as backchannel practices that may require a lower level of agency.

De Ruiter commented on a 2006 study which over the years has become quite polemic (but which could not be refuted, according to the presenter), regarding the apparent lack of speaker's reliance on pitch to decide on possible TCU ends. The experiment consisted in presenting subjects with natural and synthetic turns, first with words and pitch, then with "blurred" words, then noise, for them to press a button when a TCU appeared to be reaching a potential end. The ensuing discussion introduced the possibility of other variables that may "do the trick" at TCU boundaries, such as lentghening and rhythm.

Not only was it a fabulous panel, but it was also a sort of a dream come true for me, as you can imagine!

Coming up soon: part 2, and of course, PTLC!