Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections: Student Feedback

Back to the pronunciation camp posts then, as there may still be one or two left to grind out. I’ve been thinking a lot about whether I want to keep running these courses, out of a sneaking suspicion that this one wasn’t especially useful for the students. I’ll make an effort to publish my own personal reflections on the camp in a later post, but for now, here’s what my students thought.

The method wasn’t especially scientific, as I put this together in about 5 minutes, and as it turned out one or two of the questions were horribly written, but it did give the students an opportunity to give me a bit of feedback. If you want to see the survey in all it’s glory, click the link below.

Post course reflective questions

I issued the survey with a plea for honesty and constructive criticism, and assurances that it was anonymous and had no effect on student grades. Still, it’s incredibly hard to get objective views in Korea for reasons of saving face, so I’m taking these with an unhealthy pinch of salt. Nevertheless, here are the results.

Q1: This course had four goals. How well did it achieve them?

As a reminder, my four goals were:

1. Teach students how to learn pronunciation.
2. Increase students’ communicative power through intonation and stress.
3. Increase students’ fluency and show them how to measure it.
4. Encourage students’ to reflect on their own learning.

This was one of the aforementioned questions that was horribly written, and so most students answered it in terms of meeting their own goals. However from those who did understand, the comments were generally positive for the first two, and negative for the second two. My fluency methods were deemed useful, but the course too short (I agree). Interestingly, one student said “I don’t care about reflection”. This leads me to wonder if reflection should have a role in the course, and if it does, how I can better facilitate it without taking up too much more time.

Q2: How did you feel about pronunciation before the course? Did this change during the course?

A quite overwhelmingly positive response to this question. For many students this was the first time that they had experienced a pronunciation class. There were a lot of comments relating to a change in attitude, seeing pronunciation as much more important, and taking much greater care over it. There was also an increase in depth of knowledge of the system, especially stress and intonation, as well as understanding of the students own pronunciation. All this also led to students feeling more confident. The only negatives were the criticism that the course was a bit impractical (again, I agree), and one student who discovered that he’d overestimated his level.

Overall, even allowing for a bit of teacher pleasing, I’m pretty heartened by all of these comments. They actually show that the course met at least some of its goals much better than the responses to the first question did. I’d set out to set students up for the long term, and the responses seem to confirm the awareness raising aim of the course.

Q3: What were the most and least useful things that you learned on the course?

Again, the responses to this question were really enlightening. By far the most useful thing listed was the teaching of intonation and stress features to the students. As hinted at above, this was the first time that many students had encountered them, at least in an explicit way. This makes me feel like I am filling an important gap in their continuing English education with this course. Other popular elements were the introduction of technology like Audacity and Anki for practising, with shadowing being by far the most popular activity. The teaching of intonational chunks was also popular, as was, somewhat surprisingly, making the students learn IPA.

On the negative side were the fluency activities related to tracking reading and writing fluency. I’ll admit that these were a bit tacked on, somewhat due to the fluency of the course which was foisted on me when I first asked to teach pronunciation. Strangely enough, one student found the work on “tongue location” not useful. I’m going to suppress my giggles and file this under “There’s always one”.

Q4: How would you rate your pronunciation (/10) before the course and now?

This question was entirely unscientific, and I gave no score definitions except that 10 was high and 0 was low. One student actually gave himself a 0 before the course (I’d like to meet a student with 0 pronunciation ability!). Anyway, this was about what I expected, and I guess what I set out to do. Most students reported a two to three point improvement in their pronunciation. This is about as good as I can hope for over a five week course I think, and it’s what I tell the students at the beginning of the course, but I frequently fail to heed my own words and get disappointed when they actually come true. At least nobody claimed to have got worse!

Q5:   Do you think you will continue to try improving your pronunciation?

Again some very positive results, 1 ‘no’ and two ‘maybes’ out of 30 respondents, the remainder of which said ‘yes’. I’m not sure that I totally believe that all 30 will actually go on and work on their pronunciation, but putting a positive spin on this, they do at least feel confident that they can at this point. One negative was a student that said they were worried about lack of opportunity. I tried at each point to provide ways in which they could continue to practice alone or in groups. Still, I’m quite pleased with this too.

Q6:  How do you think you should sound when speaking English?

My final two questions were a bit more sociolinguistic in their line of enquiry. Sadly I managed to word this one in a way to make it completely impenetrable to students, even with further explanation. From the useful answers I got, it was notable that not one of them mentioned a Korean (or any other “non-inner circle”) accent. Most were aiming for me (flattered!) or a generic British or American, or even just a mythical “native speaker”, with the justification that “this era is globalized”. On this course I generally shied away from a discussion of models, on the basis that I found on a previous course that students didn’t have the knowledge to choose one, and modelling two or three different pronunciations was hard work on me. However, these results make me wonder if I should be encouraging a bit more confidence and pride in Korean accents, and if my using just a British model contributes to their thinking that they should sound like native speakers.

More promisingly, a few said simply “more confident” or “more fluent”, and one claimed that one should “forget grammar”. I’m not totally sure I can fully endorse this idea, tempting as it is.

Q7: Do you think it’s possible to improve your pronunciation? How? Is it best to do this inside the classroom or outside?

As a bit of a reaction to this post by Scott Thornbury, I wanted to get my students views on the possibility of improving their pronunciation, and how they might go about it.

Most students were convinced that they could improve, not surprising given that I’d spent the past five weeks telling them that they could, and that they believed, given the data above, that they had really improved. There weren’t any negative responses to this question, though several left it blank.

Preferred methods for improving were very general, and not especially helpful. TV shows was the most suggested method (though what one would do with them remains a mystery), and then the general categories of talking, listening and repetition. Several said that they would continue to use Anki, a program with which I’ve had some success with Korean pronunciation practice.

Conclusion

Having taken the time to read these through, finally, I’m a lot more enthused about teaching it again. At least from student feedback it seems to have been a useful endeavour. I think I perhaps overlooked the value it might have in their overall education, and the lack of any experience of this kind of course in their lives previously. However, the comments about the practicality, or lack of, are spot on, and something I need to tackle. Having just nudged over 1,400 words though, I’ll save that for another day.

Cheers,

Alex

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