This is the third of what I hope will be five posts reflecting on the pronunciation camp (that isn’t really a camp at all) that I’m teaching this winter. This is part of my reflection and planning process, and is a reduced transcript of the audio journal I’ve been keeping, so please forgive the rambling nature. Posts from week 1 and week 2 (parts one and two) are also available.
We started Monday by reflecting on how the course was going for everyone. We started off with a discussion in pairs, guided by a set of questions such as “How do we feel?” and “What should we do more/less of?”. During this discussion I made the decision not to monitor at all, so that the students were free to criticize as they wanted to. It felt a bit like a dereliction of duty standing at the front of the class doing nothing (and if I do this again I need to find some grading or something to do for four or five minutes), but I wanted students to be open with each other, without having to worry about my feelings. After that, we started tracking writing fluency with a 7 minute reflective journal entry. The idea was to not worry about grammar or spelling too much, and just write down some of the ideas that you talked about with your partner. Hopefully the discussion before meant that there were plenty of ideas already formed, so that composition speed was not hindered by figuring out what to say.
We then used these reflections to move the students focuses to a more personal level and to help them set some goals for the week. I used the same structure of guided discussion (I did monitor this time) and then producing a small written piece (in this case just the goals). However, setting specific goals seemed to be a bit of a problem for the students. Too many had goals like “I want to speak more naturally”. This suggests two things: I didn’t give clear enough examples, or that they they need a bit more guidance in goal-setting. I might try introducing the concept of SMART goals to them (though I’m not a big fan of the acronym, so it might become TRAMS instead).
Finally, we tried a time-honoured 4-3-2 activity, where students described the story of a film they had watched in my colleague’s Film English class. This was a success as far as it really got the classroom buzzing with talk, and there was a lot of laughter, and an expression of exhausted satisfaction on a lot of faces after it had finished. A couple of improvements though – I thought I’d provided enough of a structure with What? Where? Who? When? written on the board, but students found it difficult to recall what they had said before, which may mean that things were simply cut out, rather than said faster, thus not really developing the procedural knowledge we’re after here. An even tighter structure might be a good idea. The other thing is to be a bit more flexible with the initial time limit. I’d advise setting a high-ish goal, but monitoring carefully and stopping the watch soon after the first group has run out of things to say. This way you don’t get groups finishing early.
We started Tuesday with another pronunciation chunk. I also tried to deal with a request I’d had (there’s always one!) for more grammar. We looked at “be +ing” and its dual use for describing present and future situations. This scored big points on naturalness (ie not “What will you do tonight?”) and also allowed to look at moving tonic stresses and weak forms of “you”. Having struggled last week, I also changed the way I taught it slightly, giving the students a lot of chance to try the pronunciations in very controlled, moving to more open situations. This seemed a lot more satisfactory, and the production was much better than the previous week.
We then had a look at stress for contrast and correction, using an activity from Pronunciation Practice Activities (Hewings). Basically students had to identify the three different stresses in three readings of the same phrase, then use them to react to a prompt or question. This was a good activity, though I have some questions as to whether we generally double stress something like “It’s a RED FORD” when just giving information casually (my instinct would be just to stress Ford), and it’s important to explain that the stress used for contrast and correction is much greater than that used for general information giving. Still, it was a good activity for distinguishing a producing stresses, despite suffering, as many activities do, from a complete lack of context (and in this case a lot of Britishms that I had to pre-teach).
Wednesday was the long-awaited teaching of /r/ and /l/ sounds. As a warmer I started with a game of chucking a ball around making a story, with each student adding one or two thought groups (note the speaking/pronunciation focus!) depending on whether they caught or dropped the ball. I’d had the students share their goals again prior to the activity, and asked them to focus. However, it became very apparent that they weren’t. I’m interested in why this may be. First, I think this activity may have been a little too “fun” and the students simply forgot what they were supposed to be doing (Q: Do I intervene at this point as a teacher?). I also think I may underestimate the difficulty of focusing on pronunciation while speaking, even if it is just one feature. I base this theory of attention entirely on my own experiences of learning Korean and Spanish, in both of which I had to change my pronunciation of /r/ from English to the target language. I simply spent two or so weeks focusing on producing it correctly while I was speaking, including self-correcting if necessary, until it became more of a habit (I still have the occasional slip though!). Anyway, this kind of approach seems much more difficult for my students. Maybe they’re just an exciteable bunch, or maybe I should be playing with repeating activities and focusing on pronunciation the second time around.
For the teaching of /r/ and /l/, I used the University of Iowa’s Flash Pronunciation Models. I’ve tried showing these to students before and they were deemed not particularly useful, but this time I had a go at focusing on the step by step guides, not just the real-time animations. This proved to work a lot better, as we could make a point by point description of what was happening with each of the speech organs, especially in highlighting the role of the glottis in making /r/. In my opinion, too much teaching (including mine in the past) has focused on the tongue position, when I think the sound is much more of a throat based thing, and making this distinction clear to students probably directs their attention more helpfully. It also helped us to figure out that the velopharyngeal port (the bit that cuts off the air to your nose) is completely closed for an English /r/, where it’s open for the closest Korean equivalent /ㄹ/ (which interestingly interferes with the pronunciation of other nasals in Korean).
The lesson structure was more or less: look at the animation and try the sound, then do some lip work based on the video using your smartphone or a mirror. Next, we talked through the step by step guide, and finally did some choral drilling of the three example words for each sound. Then we went around individually producing the words and I gave some individual feedback to each student. Some of the problems that we encountered were: for /l/, the lips being spread too wide, and the tongue moving too much (I think that the English sound has relatively little tongue sliding (ooh-err), and the Korean one does (ooooh-err). With /r/, the traditional problems with the tongue touching the alveolar ridge were sometimes present, along with a tendency for the /r/ sound to get a bit /w/-ish, possibly due to the lips not being pushed out far enough. Anyway, we finished up the lesson with a “red lorry yellow lorry” competition, to much hilarity. Just a reminder that if you do tongue twisters with your students, do remind them that native speakers struggle too and if they can’t do it they’re not a total failure!
On that positive note I’m going to end this post as its getting dangerously long (again). I’ll post Thursday and Fridays’ reflections later this week.