martedì 28 maggio 2013

We should record our learners' voices, Nokia 3210s and William Carlos Williams

(It's been a while.  I don't want to get into it but it suffices to say 'I'm back'.  I hope. Let me know if that's not enough)

I still teach English.  I still go on about pronunciation being malleable.  I think we can consciously affect it in some ways.  Recording your learner's voices is one of them.

Richard Schmidt says that before anyone can learn to change anything they have to notice it.  This is his noticing hypothesis.  This has been applied to grammar teaching which is the majority of ELT from how the research stands: if you search 2009-2013 "noticing hypothesis grammar elt" versus the same years for "noticing hypothesis pronunciation elt" you'll see what I mean.  The number of papers pulling these three topics together is 1860 for the grammar group and just over 800 for the pronunciation part.

So I think we can affect what our learners notice by asking them to listen to recordings of themselves.  Is this too far out?  We may keep written artifacts as evidence of learners written abilities (papers they've written etc.) for planning and assessment.  Wouldn't a little Mp3 be just as useful when planning out the week or the month?

Nokia 3210: possibly the most popular phone in history. No recorder.
TechRepublic had a review of four voice recorder apps this morning. But there's no need to go download yet: if you have a phone more recent than this one you probably have a voice recorder to hand.  And your learners have enough money to pay for English lessons... so they probably have a phone which is better than this one too.

So how do we do this?  Well ask your students to record themselves reading scripted piece.

Make it something useful, beautiful or at least true because they will listen to it or at least stumble upon it at some point again in the future.  In a way this choice of what they should read or repeat is as important as those choices your teachers made when they had you learn things off by heart.  Maybe the first paragraph of a book you think everyone should read.  Maybe a description of your city.  Maybe a poem which doesn't force a reading like The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams.

But make it and then make them listen to it with another student or with yourself and make some notes.

Sure you could make a little grammar lesson to tie in with the piece you've chosen and extract the vocabulary for pre-teaching.  But my recommendation is to make the subject matter worthy of native speakers and as usual to take the pronunciation as seriously as the spelling.  Recording is one of the best ways to include the learner in your process of noticing so that soon it becomes their process too.