Winter Pronunciation Camp* Reflections Week 2 (Part 1)

* I thought it best to clear up the fact that ‘camp’ is just the Korean term for vacation classes, and involves no canvas, caravans or calor gas that I’m aware of. I also acknowledge that I stole this clarification wholesale from the wonderful Gemma Lunn.

This is part 2 of my attempt to write up my reflections on my 5 week pronunciation course as it goes along. This post covers my second week. I’m writing from audio reflections that I have been keeping throughout the week, and trying to write as quickly as possible, so please forgive the slightly rambling tone. You can find week 1’s reflections here.

Monday

I started this week off with the intention of getting students talking more, and concentrating more on my second and third course goals of increasing communicative power and developing fluency. In order to do this I started off with a “pronunciation chunk” – these had been very successful during the summer version of the camp and felt worth repeating here. This time instead of drawing the intonation contours I started with the IPA instead (hoping to cement some knowledge from last week) and tried to focus more on features of connected speech, reduced vowels, stress and rhythm. For the first class I tried to dictate it and have them write the actual sounds in IPA, but this took far too long, so I took to simply writing it up in IPA and getting them to try to say it from the board. Today’s chunk was “What did you do last night” with special focus on the / dɪdʒə / sound and the stress on the time. We spent some time drilling this, and then tried to do it very simply in a mingle. More on chunk teaching on Tuesday.

This led into the main activity for the day, which was an introduction to stress. Actually, all three classes led in in different ways, which was quite interesting. In one class stress was barely mentioned during the chunking activity, in another we had covered most of what I wanted to before the activity. In general I’m not much of a winger of things in class. I like plans, but for this camp I’ve done a fair amount of reading as it’s my first time teaching supra-segmentals. I think this contributed to the fact that I was pretty happy to let the lesson go where it would, based on student questions or errors that needed correcting.

Anyway, the main activity for today I took from Pronunciation Practice Activities by Martin Hewings. It starts by getting students to act as James Bond, with the obligatory stresses on his famous introductory line. We then moved this onto other simple features of stress in discourse such as new information and contrast, especially when asking the same question in return (“and how have YOU been?”). We talked a bit about the features of stress (especially “tonic stress” – I’m of the opinion that with decent understanding of vowel sounds that word stress generally takes care of itself) and the fact that loudness, length, but most importantly a short pause and a pitch rise is important. At this stage I started to consider what to do with over-stressing. It seems to be a common problem (some students are not even aware of the concept of stress). I took the view that for a start over-stressing wasn’t too much of an issue – I’d rather that than under-stressing. There’s also probably an element of wanting the teacher to hear that they are doing it. Anyway, I let it go for now. The lesson finished with a short introductory dialogue that the students recorded, then analysed to see where they could have put stress.

Tuesday

Started out today with another chunk – “What’s you favourite (kind of)…”. I wanted to try to do something that kept attention to meaning and form to an absolute minimum, and free up every available resource to concentrate on the pronunciation of the chunk. Sadly this wasn’t actually so well carried out by the students. I introduced the chunk carefully, drilled it a little until the students seemed to have it down, then set them off in a mingle again, but with a clearly stated goal that the focus was fluent production of the reduced /wɒsjə ‘feɪv rɪt/. What actually happened was that students just carried on doing it as before.

I have a couple of theories as to why this happened. The first is that some of the students were reading from the board (not sure why), but this was easily countered by turning the board around. The other is that even something this simple was complicated by the “kind of” and students were concentrating more on that than on the pronunciation. It may also have been that I didn’t drill enough, though I am consciously trying to avoid too much traditional drilling if possible. I am open to other suggestions though.

The rest of Tuesday was taken up by turning the short conversations that we recorded yesterday into longer, planned role plays. This was designed to give students a chance to explore the concept of tonic stress (I gave them three simple rules of importance, newness and contrast) and producing it in a pre-planned speech. I think it’s a bit much to ask for students to produce much of this in everyday discourse at this stage, but at least if they can plan it it’s a chance to see how it works. It also gave us a chance to talk about a couple of issues such as modal verbs not traditionally being stressed unless it’s a correction (“No, I CAN’T come to class tomorrow”). Finally, in an effort to start pushing the stress towards a more natural sound, I also had students rate the role plays using the fingers of one hand for naturalness. This form of feedback works well in Korean classrooms as it can be done collectively, simultaneously and non-verbally, and so seems to help a bit with the tensions of criticizing each other.

Wednesday

Wednesday started off with a game of Just a Minute. My principal aim here was to have some fun, and introduce a game that I could pull out again at a moment’s notice when I needed a quick, meaning/fluency-focused activity. I’ve actually debated whether I should have had more of a pronunciation based aim; as it was I went for a wishy-washy addition of “pronunciation” as a challenge, which all but one group completely ignored. Initially I had wondered about this as what I term a “discovery” activity, where students are working under pressure and so hopefully some of their pronunciation errors become apparent, but the listening skills required here are quite advanced. If I do this next time, I’ll be setting specific listening targets such as problem sounds, or contrastive stress errors.

In week one I had attempted to set students off on a cycle of setting goals and working on them throughout the week. This wound up being a bit of a failure, but I came back to it this week to give it another go. I’ve put a lot of thought into how students might go about improving their pronunciation, based on some of my own experiences trying to learn Korean. I’m also trying to encourage them to be autonomous in their learning (there really isn’t much alternative with pronunciation). However, sometimes I make the mistake of thinking that autonomy is something that students (and I feel like especially Korean ones) will just do, or that being autonomous learners comes naturally to them. In truth it really does to some, but to many others it doesn’t. I think that you walk slowly down the path to autonomy, it isn’t something that you suddenly arrive at.

With all this in mind, it seemed like a better path to set them all a class goal, and then show how they could work towards it as a class. This hopefully allowed them to experience all of the stages of working to improve an area of pronunciation along my discover > correct > practise > rehabitize kind of progression. What we did in class was identify a goal (for ease of teaching we did the long /i:/ sound (eg in cheap). First we looked at how to make it (focusing on length, forwardness and closeness, also revising the vowel quadrilateral) and had a good practice. Unfortunately, knowing the sound for speaking is, in my opinion, about as useful as knowing a letter for reading. We tend to store sounds in the context of words and chunks, rather than build the word each time from its base sounds. This means that identifying target sounds in words we use everyday is crucial, so I had the learners use a combination of their intuition and lists of common words (just google these) in order to create a list of everyday words containing the sound /i:/. We then transferred these together into an Anki deck, and looked at how to practice them (out loud, in phrases if possible).

This took care of the more deliberate side of practising, but I also wanted students to be monitoring their progress in other classes, so Wednesday’s homework was to focus on the sound in another class, and write a reflective journal for homework. Reading them back this evening, it does seem like monitoring is extremely difficult for the students, so I will be reminding them to focus on monitoring when they’re doing something easy. I also want to suggest repeating exercises with a pronunciation focus second time, but this may involve taking other teachers exercises and doing them in my class with a pronunciation focus.

This post is getting towards novel length, so I’m going to take a break here and publish the rest of my reflections slightly later in the week. Stay tuned.

Cheers,

Alex

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9 responses to “Winter Pronunciation Camp* Reflections Week 2 (Part 1)

  1. Just a quick question.
    (I have a comment quota to meet, you know?)
    You mentioned the long /i:/ sound (as in cheap). From my experience this sound is not nearly as problematic as /ɪ/ for Korean students. Perhaps I am getting ahead to the next post, but my question is basically, “How much of a deciding factor are sounds that Korean students tend to have trouble with?”

    I await your next post.

  2. Hey Mike,

    Nice to see you haven’t broken the new year’s ressie yet!

    Funny, I’d have said that from listening to my students and my intuition that /i:/ was the bigger problem of the two. I wondered if this is because I’m a Britisher? I had a quick look at the vowel quadrilaterals, the Korean 이 sound is much closer to /I/ in both American and British English, and this is what I assume they start from. My impression is that students miss both the length and the closeness of /i:/, but I’m prepared to be wrong on this.

    Anyway, the real problem is not so much either sound, but the distinction between them I guess, and it is at least much easier to teach lengthening the sound to help distinguish them.

    As for your question, I’m essentially trying to guide students towards diagnosing their own problems and fixing them. /i:/ was a convenient sound that I knew caused problems, and that many students wanted to work on. So for the purposes of this group activity the fact that it was a problem was really important. Hopefully as their skills develop they will be able to move on and do this for themselves for whatever they want to work on.

    Alex

  3. Thanks for the kind, gentle, helpful and thoughtful response. Very interesting. I see what you mean about trying to guide students towards diagnosing their own issues.
    (Lots of R/L practice coming up in their futures, perhaps?)

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • As an introduction to The Uni of Iowa’s flash pronunciation models, I just spent a whole class leaping about in front of a projector screen teaching L and R sounds. Their homework is to make a 20 word Anki practice deck for each one, so yes, lots and lots of R/L practice.

  4. Pingback: Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 2 (Part 2) | The Breathy Vowel

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