domenica 25 settembre 2011

SNACK Sound Toolkit

This is another whopper like PRAAT.  This one was developed at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm.

So SIT then.

It's cool and cheap and does the job.  This is like the IKEA of speech tools.  Maybe too high-level though. Let's see:

The Snack Sound Toolkit is designed to be used with a scripting language such as Tcl/Tk or Python. Using Snack you can create powerful multi-platform audio applications with just a few lines of code. Snack has commands for basic sound handling, such as playback, recording, file and socket I/O. Snack also provides primitives for sound visualization, e.g. waveforms and spectrograms. It was developed mainly to handle digital recordings of speech, but is just as useful for general audio. Snack has also successfully been applied to other one-dimensional signals.
The combination of Snack and a scripting language makes it possible to create sound tools and applications with a minimum of effort. This is due to the rapid development nature of scripting languages. As a bonus you get an application that is cross-platform from start. It is also easy to integrate Snack based applications with existing sound analysis software.
Yep.  Bit beyond me.  But this is the new goal: technology-literate teachers who also work outside of universities.

ELSTA as a start to a PLN

If you teach a language in Dublin and work with a school you should know about these guys or should I say girls.

They are the English Language Support Teachers Association here in Ireland.  Their membership appears to include teachers of Spanish and German here in Ireland as well as English Language Support and the occasional EFL teacher (me) and UCC's Séamas Kirkpatrick.  There seem to be a lot of links to TCD amongst the Exec group.  

I suppose the main reasons to join groups like this are to find out where you live and to find good resources.  But the best resources are always going to be people.  Despite my love for multimedia, hanging out with sharp people is one of life's great pleasures. 

They'll be having another conference in Dublin on the 15th of October.  If you come along and read their site first you'll be finding a whole lot of other people who are into what you do. And iron sharpens iron.  This is what my grandmother said years ago.  Personal Learning Networks is the more recent buzz word for it.  

These don't just have to be physical.  Twitter really can work for a for you in finding resources and materials and advice from working teachers like ourselves and the people who write our materials.  Loads of authors use it to stay in contact and keep sharp.  If you aren't using it try it for a month following the people on the list in this site on PLNs.    

I think you'll be glad you did.

FluenCi and why it will succeed abroad... and maybe here.

If you are worth your salt as an English teacher you know that our alphabet is a minefield of confusion for learners who are trying to use it to speak the language.  Many, who have roughly phonetic alphabets (1 symbol=1 sound), are disappointed to find that our alphabet is crammed with the wonders of English history and this crowds out their current study of pronunciation.

As teachers recognize that opportunity and do our creative best to make some space for them to work.

We separate the written from the spoken as quickly as possible.  We show that the letters very often act as a guide to probabilities, not absolutes.  We teach them new sounds and concepts showing them techniques and frameworks that are helpful in analyzing any spoken language.  That's what FluenCi will help us and them do as well.  I hope for it's success. I'm a fan. Check it out and get in touch with Digital Media Centre at DIT to use FluenCi.  I'll be doing it for my school.

FluenCi involves putting lots of cool technology and a seven step process which may well be the first step towards teaching the kind of fluency you hear between native speakers in conversation, dialogic fluency.  It's only been in research books and reality but never in the course books or digital sources.

I can't wait to try it out.


Everything that FluenCi can do can be done by a teacher.   Though, the teacher would have to have a fanatical interest in speech science and huge faith in their learners potential to believe that their work alone could fight the current of current practice of sidelining students pronunciation needs.  And a whole lot of time.  It could happen if schools had everything Gavin Dudeney prioritizes for schools: wifi, data projectors, training and support (see the last two minutes).

To be as good as FluenCi might become, a teacher might also have to be a native speaker of the learners' language ...and that's why I think this product will do best abroad with a strengthening group of teachers, who are connected via technology and the language, accessing research and sharing advances in technologies and media.  Where is this place?  It will be in Dublin if we can stop being embarrassed by optimism.  Let's connect here.  This is an amazing time to be a teacher.

-the end


The conference was hosted by the Ireland's English Language Support teachers' organisation called ELSTA.

PDFs of the presentation should be ready in a couple of weeks and I will post a link here when they are available on the ELSTA website.

Dermot Campbell presented at Drumcondra Education Centre on behalf of the DMC with Yi Wang and Marty Meinardi. 

domenica 18 settembre 2011

Palatography for the People

I read in David Crystal's tome on Language about palatography.  It's when you measure the pressure on your palate.  So when you say an "S" where is your tongue touching?  My tongue doesn't usually touch the back of my two front teeth when I say the D in "dollars," but Tony Soprano's henchmen do.  I know this because I listen for tongue placement.  I connect it to the sounds that get made by my EFL students. I don't attribute their sounds to their nationality I attribute it to the physics and I think I'm a really cool speech scientist because I have made this one connection.

I usually make it my goal to convert my students and fellow teachers to observing these things.  Convincing them is sometimes more difficult than it should be.  But I'm a great communicator, so I can do it.  I've always wanted to demonstrate that tongue placement is key to consonant production especially those liquids and sibilants.  Palatography is something that I could access in the university setting of speech analysis or processing but as Ailbhe Ní Chasaide says- You're still trying to get people to talk- we're trying to get computers to talk.  So most of the very expensive equipment, so popular once, is now gathering dust, I'll bet.  And as usual anything that is not being taught well to people is being or has been taught well to computers.  Some brilliant programmers have brought Speech Analysis (arguably one of the most important issues in one-to-one EFL lessons) to the people through accessible technology. And it was about time.

Obviously this is for a different profession (Speech and Language Pathologists) but the majority of my "problem" learners just need to believe that their issue is physical in order to give them a workable solution.  They generally have no motor problems just socio-cultural identity issues.  (And we can quash those with some good old-fashioned science)

I want one of these SmartPalate things.  It appears that there are two different companies, but it's the same product.  This will speed learning about how your mouth works, by taking the "if you just imagine" moments out.

But it's expensive!  Three thousand is a lot more than a copy of English Pronunciation in Use.  That will have to come down.  The cost of fitting each student will doubtless take the price out of Part-Time EFL Teacher range and into Hereditary Lord of London Solicitor range. ( Maybe I can find a starving dentist who will fit these for a lower price... )

If I set up an accent reduction practice it will be based around using this.  If your school has one, it could turn it into a very small but unique revenue stream.  Expect to see phonological charts popping up as "can-do checklists" in hoity-toity schools in 300 days or less.

Special Note
*I also look forward to seeing how this tech is accepted by SLPs.  It will be a good predictor of how EFL teachers will react to things like ExamSpeak and EnglishCentral as they go mainstream in the learner's world.

Resources which can bring the learning to the learner without the teacher:  A teacher may see the advantage for the learner as revolutionary. But inevitably they will feel their own craft of explaining those things which were difficult to observe (or value) slightly less needed in a world which seemed as if it could never have changed.

I kind of feel that now.  ...I feel like a lighthouse in a GPS world...

Wow. Emotional nonsense at its best.  Guess who quit smoking this week.

mercoledì 14 settembre 2011

An excellent canon of online phonetics resources

I'm just looking at these resources from some guy in Washington called George Dillon.
It's essentially but again better organized.

Check it out. I'll be on it for a month.

Also if you check see his main page (just backspace through everything to the backslash) there's loads more.  Very interesting stuff.

Well I'll probably and reporting back on each thing and gushing thing again.


That said I've mentioned half of them before, but tell me if you see something cool. This almost makes me want to post what I'VE made. Almost...

Here's the link again:

martedì 13 settembre 2011

The marvels of real writing.

I'd never done graduate research until last year.  I started at Trinity in Dublin last year this time and I'm back and happier this year.

One thing I had always wanted to learn was research.  It all seemed so ephemeral how this is good and valid and that is shoddy and not empirically grounded... We did a little bit this past year but choosing good writing was part of the process of it.  Doing the literature review is a major part of getting started in the research.

Access to all the world's research is amazing and throws up some nice stuff though there is a lot of "brilliantly and specifically useless."

While going through some papers for my dissertation project on technology and pronunciation, I found what should be a priority piece of reading for all of us.  This is from the Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. Jennifer Jenkins is covering the pronunciation angle.  She does so expertly and I can't think of her as popular fluff after reading it.  Granted she blows her own horn but she deserves it.  Here's a massive quote that as teachers you must appreciate.
"Based on research into pronunciation attitudes, both that of other scholars (see below on sociopsychological issues) and her own EIL research, Jenkins (2000, pp. 209–210) proposes five stages of pronunciation learning:
  1. •    Addition of core [i.e., Lingua Franca Core] items to the learner’s productive and receptive repertoire 
  2. •    Addition of a range of L2 English accents to the learner’s receptive repertoire
  3. •    Addition of accommodation skills
  4. •    Addition of non-core items to the learner’s receptive repertoire 
  5. •    Addition of a range of L1 English accents to the learner’s receptive repertoire
Learners who have elected to acquire an accent that enables them both to preserve their L1 identity in their L2 English and to be (pronunciation-wise) intelligible to other NNSs will probably aim for the first three stages. However, they may also wish to be able to understand the pronunciation of NSs, certain features of whose speech can, without prior familiarizing, present particular difficulties for NNS listeners (Bent & Bradlow, 2003). In this case, they will probably aim for all five stages. The critical point, though, is that there is no suggestion of losing their L1 repertoire and, by definition, their L1 identity. This change in emphasis has already filtered through to pronunciation materials, which are tending to incorporate a greater degree of learner choice of target than hitherto, and to move away from nativelike targets for learners whose goal is international intelligibility."
 It's like she's writing for us.  Good, isn't she?  Here she is again in case you missed the link above: