venerdì 6 febbraio 2015

A good lo-tech video lesson on stress

This is by an American teacher. She'll keep reminding you of that but the lesson is dead on and easy. CELT and CELTA courses could easily drop this answer to What is stress? question on their candidates. Again video is much better than the printed page- it's what pronunciation teaching needs: Repeatable audio with visual cues to hang the ideas on. It isn't going to fix anyone's accent but it will help them notice a feature of pronunciation which is much more important than whether their th sounds like /θ/ or /ð/ or /t/ or /d/. Without further ado...


mercoledì 4 febbraio 2015

A LinkedIn Post Goes Long

Dublin's not a great town for English Language Teachers to turn into ELT Writers. ELT Ireland is doing their best to change that. But still I think I can count on one hand the people I know who have been published here. Louise Guyett, John Byrne, Marianne Jordan and Tony Penston. Tony wrote A History of Ireland for Learners of English. I picked it up about 4 years ago. It could use a chapter about the 2008 Bank Bailout and the Right2Water Campaign now but aside from that it'll always be a useful little book for teachers here. I think publishing for a local audience is great. The history of local newspapers and the tandem delocalization decline of journalism is worth talking about. He's working on a new book now and was on LinkedIn asking this question:

  • First it's great to see English Language Teachers on LinkedIn. It is your profession. If you don't treat it like one now, when will your 'employer'? 
  • Second, certain groups get a lot of traffic and the discussions are as good as any you would have at a conference or a (really good) staff room. You might find yourself talking with first time teachers of course or 25-year published ELT veterans. The pronunciation stuff is personal hobbsession and no one has really ever commented here so if I want a readership, I need to comment in the social media world. I have avoided it too long. Now this group ESL International has 38k+ members.  In the 8 year lifetime of this blog I think there have been approximately 3 subscribers. One of them may now have stopped using technology in a bout of extreme neo-luddism. 
  • Third, if you ever want to start a debate on a ELT social media site, British English vs American English is a guaranteed rabble rouser. Maybe you can stay above the fray but I am not made of such fine stuff. 

My contribution went long and ranged as wide as a Texas longhorn. I should say I'm not proud of it but... Here it is in the full director's cut. I have inserted some comments as necessary. Enjoy!

Hi Tony, redesigning the chart is important. Establishing a national standard will be problematic because standards are local. I'd suggest the Wikipedia pages on English. 
I meant this as the page. Wikipedia's still pretty a good jumping off point. Don't believe Peter Roach on everything.  Not everyone writing there is a know-nothing poser pleb. I've paid for his book because it's worth it.

The notation differences are academic differences. Make your choice and justify it. The /y/ or /j/ is depends on who you think will be using your stuff. It's like adopting the metric system. I like Wikipedia and its adoption of IPA because it the Association's internationalism. It's more robust and inclusive even if it is less familiar to some teachers from the US. Pros and professors will see the benefit.  I found this a very useful guide.

The ELT Ireland Bulletin will be addressing both sides of the issue in its inaugural issue. Peter Lahiff may be able to get you a rush copy. My take is that the RP chart is like a grammar book from the 1890s: retro-cool, but not useful universally and never intended for the to be helpful at 100+ . 

I echo Judy: the RP chart (or any phonemic chart) is not the best pronunciation teaching tool because it focusses on phonemics instead of the features that improve intelligibility- the suprasegmentals. Totally agree on the syllable stress complaint, Judy. But Indians learned English before the Aussies so a little give and take is needed. Democratically, they are a major English accent. Americans can be downright imperious when it comes to Indians (old habits? PS I grew on land finagled in the Walking Purchase). We may have a set of accents we like, but a clearlier-than-thou attitude can be more grating than even my native Philadelphia-lite. 
Here I'm talking about and then to Judy Thompson. She's on lots of forums and has strong opinions and shares them- and loads of good ideas and techniques. Heck she has a YouTube channel and a book. She's not a big fan of Indian English and seems to be crafting a scheme to be the head pronunciation teacher for the subcontinent. I remember her getting into a few scraps with Matt Bury, a good pronunciation guy and very helpful Flash user. But there's enough room for all, isn't there? (No, not if you are a Native American apparently.) Let's continue...

The RP of Gimson's '62 chart it is outdated. Peter Roach (of Peter Roach fame) also believes RP and phonemics in ELT have been damaged by the publisher preservationism of the old standard. See for the story.
My previous post touched on this. I've been in touch with Peter. He's confirmed this.

(I'm going for record length here, guys...) 
As I recall there's a 4000 character length limit. It's like Twitter supersized.

Regardless phonemic charts are still play an iconic part and should be redesigned and personalized so that teachers recognize their voices in them and see them as helpful learning aids not an imperial intrusion or something that got left over by a careless elocution teacher. 

A great example of British bravery is Mark Hancock's month-old chart. Visually it is a helpful design improvement. The content shows some critical thought as well. It (FINALLY) includes a glottal stop. He said he thought long and hard about it- but keep calm and look around... the world is still spinning. He's absolutely right. Learners need it receptively and culturally ...and it wouldn't be sinning to use it productively. The glottal stop is as British as cricket. Here's a link: He also wrote the popular English Pronunciation in Use.

I am a USAer teaching in the EU, Ireland mostly. My students here just want to be intelligible like John Levis said (University of Iowa, again) in that 2005 TESOL Quarterly. He's right, I think. They want to know why they don't understand things: how do we justify dropping and shortening words. 
If you are reading this, a link to the pdf of this enormous and important paper is free and here. Do download. Academic papers really should be in the Creative Commons.

Sure a Japanese student will want to know how we can tell the difference between /l/ and /r/ and Italians need awareness raising about extra syllables at the end of consonant final words- and phonemics are a good way to focus attention.

It's teachers who need to know that phonemics is a foundation tool for THEM. Pronunciation can be improved to an intelligible level by someone who knows about how mouths work much more easily than someone who teaches like a tape recorder. A basic understanding of articulatory phonetics, perhaps the physical basis of phonetics and phonology and reason for the foundation of the IPA, is a missing component of teacher training. That's why the phonemic chart is important. That's why your work is too. 

Well I've exceeded the character limit. I'll go into it more on my old pron blog. 
No I didn't include a link to me.

Sir, I look forward to seeing your work. Can I pre-order?
And I absolutely will. And good luck to all you all you ELT writers.

venerdì 21 novembre 2014

Where The Chart comes from

AC Gimson
The internet says AC Gimson

The Chart and the IPA are two vastly different things.  Calling the OUP 'pronunciation chart or even the mighty Adrian Underill's chart the 'IPA' is as cringe-worthy misplacing an apostrophe. Its' very annoying, isn't it?

Copyright with OUP-note they don't refer to this as the IPA. It's a 'pronunciation chart'

Copyright to Adrian Underhill. This is not an IPA chart. These symbols are meant to be very flexible. 'Phonological' might work but just for RP. Saying this covers all English accents is requires quite a bit of descriptive flexibility. Gimson wouldn't have stood for that kind of slipperiness. 

This blog started as a Grail Diary of sorts about that Chart above. Recently I was given the opportunity of writing for a small readership in Ireland by Peter Lahiff of ELT Ireland's writing group. They are putting together a publication called ELT Ireland Bulletin. Look out for it early next year. In my reading I ran into this wonderful little story by Geoff Lindsey about AC Gimson and Peter Roach and our favourite ELT classroom artifact.

sabato 12 aprile 2014

The Judy Gilbert Hour

This woman is not a drunken grandmother- she is my new pronunciation crush.  When I wrote about Adrian Underhill late last week I saw this video on that marvelous little suggestion selection at the end of every YouTube video.

sabato 15 febbraio 2014

"If I had a hammer..."

4 very good teachers are in a rough-and-ready city centre school. They are all going to use the Computer Lab for their Upper-Intermediate/Advanced groups. The advantages are manifold. They know it. They're going to share it in rotation.

This is a pronunciation blog, so...
What could they do with access to every extant website?

My suggestions would be these:
  1. ask students for their favourite websites for learning English (and make a list)
  2. ask students for YouTube examples of different accents and dialects from their own languages 
  3. work through a list of good pronunciation resources for learners
  4. use YouTube for listenings for pronunciation noticing instead of content
  5. 'timecapsule' their students's English pronunciation by making videos of them now
Regarding Number Three... what are your top favourites?

If I had a group of English language learners who wanted to learn more about pronunciation, I'd show them these to get the whole IPA chart thing out of the way and show them how they could work a bit more autonomously.

sabato 7 settembre 2013

Broadening their sound spectrum

Teaching pronunciation is teaching listening to speech to hear new sounds and patterns so that we can change the learner's values of perception to enable a better understanding of the voices they hear.

It's a process of helping a learner adjust their values.

It's broadening their sound spectrum just a bit with every lesson so they are more independent and more conscious of the choices they make.

Listening and comparing are the chief activities.  Output should be used as a means of communicating a change in the learner's ability to perceive.

Richard Schmidt wrote nicely about consciousness in the language learning process.  Here's a link to one his papers I like.

So a lesson can be judged as successful if a learner can distinguish between two versions of a speech signal.  It can be judged as having been beneficial because they have developed a new awareness. New awareness is the first step in learning.

And learning is not changing but thinking in a new and more useful way about a task.


Record those learners.  And let them listen to recordings.  Let them listen to recordings of other students.

Aid the listen process with visuals and interactivities.  And by having conversations and encouraging play with how people speak.

It's all still unexplored.  Try something this week.

Remember that the goal is not a native like accent but simply clear communication.

martedì 6 agosto 2013

MRI Music Video? Scantastic.

Well if you can't use this in an English lesson, then all hope is lost for the world.

Sivu - Better Man Than He. from Adam Powell on Vimeo.

Sivu's video is my new favourite pronunciation video.  It uses footage that would have been impossible to collect 25 years ago. MRI and digital video. I'll have to thank Claire Fitzgerald at DCU Language Services for it.  It's a great way to start the conversation about how our mouth works.

I'd suggest using it straight away to ask students about the parts of the mouth that move and ask how we make our /l/.

Maybe before showing the video have learners fold a piece of paper in half and draw what they think the mouth looks like from this split-head perspective. Do this before they watch the video and after you've used it, perhaps at the very end of the lesson or for homework, ask them to draw the same view on the other half including more detail.

As a teacher and a learner it's always nice to make the progress obvious and visual and to buck the trend and make the progress non-numeric.  No one knows it all about how the mouth works, but this page will be an artifact which proves some progress in learning about how our mouth works to produce speech.

"What a piece of work is man..."