Tag Archives: Pronunciation

10 presentation tips for students in the form of a letter

Dear students,

I am writing this letter after watching last semester’s students do their presentations. Overall, I was quite disappointed with their presentations. You are reading this because I don’t want you to make the same mistakes. Paying attention to this letter should lead to a  higher grade for you, so please take a minute to read it.

Your predecessors (last semester’s students) made one big mistake. They did not read the scoring system, or the presentation rules. The scoring system and the rules help me to give you a grade, but they also help you to do a good presentation. However, many students ignored the rules and the system, did poor presentations, and so got low scores.

As a teacher, I feel responsible for this. Maybe I didn’t explain clearly why the scoring system is like that, so I will do it here. My beliefs about presentations are:

  • YOU are the most important part of your presentation. We want to know what YOU know; what YOU feel; what YOU think. The best presentations this year were things that people were passionate about or were very personal. We also want to hear YOUR ENGLISH.
  • THE AUDIENCE is very important too. They want to learn something from you, and be entertained or interested by you. Also, they want you to communicate with them.
  • Your presentation needs presentation skills that you can use again and again at university and in your career. Almost everyone will have to present something at some time. These skills are very important, and very different from normal speaking. If you don’t learn these skills, you will find this presentation difficult, and many other things difficult.

Based on these thoughts, here are some practical tips for you:

  1. Choose a topic that is personal to you. It can be a personal story, an interest or a theory. Also, think about if the audience will be interested. Don’t just look up something on the internet that you don’t know and don’t really care about.
  2. Structure your presentation carefully. Think about an introduction, a conclusion and two or three key points. If you try to do more than this, your presentation will not have enough detail.
  3. When you design your slides, the information on them should add to what you are saying. Instead of writing your three key points on a slide, find pictures to represent them. If you have difficult words or numbers, you should write these on your slides to help the audience understand.
  4. DON’T WRITE A SPEECH! Presenting is not the same as reading. Speaking and writing are quite different.  Also, memorizing your speech is very difficult. If you write a five minute speech, and try to memorize it, it will take you at least two hours. In that time, you could just practice explaining twenty times! If you do this, your presentation could be twenty times better!
  5. Ideally, you should not look at your notes during your presentation. They are there to help you if you forget. Your notes should be key points, words and one or two sentences only. You should never read more than one sentence from them.
  6. Your English does NOT have to be perfect. Your English does NOT have to be very complicated. Your English HAS to be understandable. This means that you should not look up too many words in a dictionary, or copy writing from the internet. It also means that you should check your pronunciation of difficult words carefully (especially if they are in the title). It also means that you should speak slowly and simply, and check that the audience is understanding.
  7. There should be NO KOREAN in your presentation. The challenge here is to make yourself understood in English, with help from pictures and gestures. You should imagine that your audience is from Thailand, and cannot speak Korean or read Hangeul.
  8. Keep to the time limit. You should practice your presentation before and check that it lasts five minutes. During the presentation, don’t be afraid to cut things so that you finish in time. Have something extra planned in case you finish early too.
  9. Presenting is about communicating with your audience. Look at them, smile at them, talk to them, check that they understand. Ask them questions. Tell them a joke. Surprise or shock them. There are many ways to keep them interested. Keep them in your mind at all times during planning and presenting.
  10. Lastly, and most importantly, PRACTICE. Presenting is about standing up, speaking loudly and slowly, changing slides, and talking to people. So, you should practice like this. Imagine you are really presenting. Go home and present to your parents, grandparents or your younger brother. Presenting always feels strange the first time, and then less strange each time after.  It’s better to feel strange in front of them than your teacher, your friends and the girl/boy you are secretly in love with.

Finally, let me share some of this semester’s best presentations. Notice that most of them are very personal.

  • The rules of basketball
  • Working in an Izakaya
  • Dates I would like to go on
  • UFO sightings
  • Unknown webtoons
  • My first love story
  • The end of Inception
  • Three restaurant special events
  • Three ways to measure your height

Thank you for reading, and best of luck with your presentations.

Alex

 

TBV’s Notes

As you can see from the letter, I wrote this as a way to turn what was a reasonably negative and frustrating experience into what will, I hope, be a more positive one next time. This is also a way to spread information to students in one useful lump, rather than feeding it in piecemeal as I did this time. In general, this project was very rushed and I think that next time this will help me to think about what is important, and the things that I need to do in order to structure the project better and give students the best chance of success. What I would like to do next time is do the practice in class if possible, and get students to develop their presentation from a fairly casual explanation to a friend, into something more formal in small groups and finally into an actual presentation.

Looking back over the tips, the “NO KOREAN” sticks out. I feel like I should (defensively) mention that in general I am fairly pro-L1 in class in the right context, but I also think that students tend to use it as a crutch when things get difficult in English.

I am undecided whether to actually give this letter to students next semester, but I’m leaning towards it. It is, at least, a useful reminder for me of what to concentrate on next time. Feel free to share it with your students, and do let me know if there’s anything that you’d change or add.

Cheers,

Alex

PS I feel like I have lifted this posting style quite shamelessly from Mr. Michael Griffin. You can check out his blog here.

 

What does (an) ELF look like?

This post is essentially part two of my beginner’s guide to ELF. The beginner referred to here may be someone with a newly minted interest in the field, but also refers to me as someone just dipping their toes into the cool pond of ELF. If you’re in a position of expertise, please feel free to correct me on any of my half-baked ideas.

In the previous post I talked of the difficulty of defining ELF as a concept. Any degree of conceptualization requires a commensurate degree of reduction, and it is this reduction that robs ELF of the plurality, variation and contextuality that characterizes it in practice. Cogo & Dewey (2006) make a claim for the E of ELF to be interpreted as Englishes, rather than just English (and you thought the title was an elf joke, shame on you). Nevertheless, in this post  I’m going to try to define what an ELF, or some elves (OK that was an elf joke, with a hat tip to @languagebubble), might look like in the areas of phonology, pragmatics and lexico-grammar.

Phonology

The earliest serious attempt at identifying and codifying features of ELF communication was Jenkins’s (2000) The Phonology of English as an International Language. A self-confessedly prescriptive document, it attempted to outline the most important phonological features of English for intelligibility in international contexts, and recommended that these be taught first. It’s my feeling that it is misreadings of this book contribute to the “plot” view of ELF that I talked about last time. In fact, Jenkins only recommended that these features should be taught first, rather than exclusively, in order to make a more efficient use of limited time. However, given the boldness of her claims, including that the /θ/ & /ð/ (th) sounds made no difference to intelligibility, it’s not surprising that they drew some criticism. Jenkins’ other recommendations included not teaching allophones of /l/, fully aspirating fortis (unvoiced) consonants all the time, and where necessary even adding consonant sounds where confusion may arise. All of these are quite radical alterations to a NS model.

While she considered “teachability” of features in the core, most of Jenkins’ empirical data came from intelligibility studies, and her suggestions are based on  making speakers maximally intelligible to other L2 speakers of English. Perhaps the key theory in her work is that of accommodation, and she found that students would vary their pronunciation towards NS norms in order to aid intelligibility of their speech to a speaker of a different L1. In a dyad with a speaker of the same or similar L1, less variation of this kind was observed. This then is the defining feature of ELF – instead of orienting to norms, it orients to people. Therefore rather than examining the phonemes that speakers produce in terms of whether it meets an externally imposed standard, ELF research examines them in terms of the contribution they make to situational meaning making.

Pragmatics

Accommodation, in terms of aligning oneself with one’s interlocutor, also features heavily in the study of ELF pragmatics.  In general speakers will orient towards each other’s language, in a type of accommodation often known as convergence.  Studies such as Cogo & Dewey (2006) show one way in which this happens is through repetition. Chunks of language will be repeated, along with their variations. One Chinese speaker who generally uses a third person ‘s’ repeats a chunk including a third person ‘0’, seemingly in order to positively align her speech with her interlocutor’s.

ELF conversations seem to contain a high degree of mutual co-operation, using other pragmatic strategies such as utterance completions and latching (one utterance following directly on from another). While these are demonstrably features of ELF communication, what this study fails to do is demonstrate that this is significantly different to what NSs do. It reminds me of studies of gender differences in styles of talk, in which women were shown to be far more co-operative communicators, as evidenced by the same kinds of features mentioned above (see Coates 1993: 135-139 for a review of these).

Where ELF does certainly does differ is in it’s greater acceptance of pluralingualism and pluraculturalism. Again, this is shown in Cogo and Dewey’s study, where speakers of different L1s shared idioms from their own first languages when they found the English adjective “cheesy” didn’t communicate the exact meaning that they required. Idiom works differently in ELF seemingly, as it is unbound from culture. This allows for a much greater use of invention and adaptation in use of idiom, as well as the use of L1 culturally bound idioms in English.  I suspect, however, that this kind of communication happens more between European ELF speakers whose L1s are more similar than ELF speakers in Asia, as the L1 terms in the example above were “fleur bleue” from French and “kitchig” from German. Both of these are intelligible to me as an English speaker with little knowledge of French or German.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the exchange described above, is the way that “fleur bleue” is introduced into the conversation. The speaker alerts his audience to the fact that there is a potential for misunderstanding approaching by saying “We say….”. This again shows the interlocutor orientation of ELF and may also lead to the fact that most studies find very little evidence of misunderstanding in ELF (eg Mauranen 2006).

Lexico-grammar

The final area that ELF research tends to look at is that of lexico-grammar. Cogo and Dewey (yep, them again) make the point that this is still strongly linked to pragmatics and accommodation, as in the example above where a variation such as using a zero article is repeated by a speaker who would ordinarily use an article. Nevertheless, there would seem to be some fairly systematic features common to most ELFs. The classic hypothesis of ELF variants was proposed by Seidlhofer (2004):

  • Use of 3rd person zero form (not adding an s)
  • Use of which as a relative pronoun to describe people.
  • Article deletion or insertion
  • Fixed or “ungrammatical” (by NS standards) question tags
  • Innovative verb-pronoun collocation
  • Higher frequency of semantically general verbs (take, have)
  • Preference for the infinitive over the gerund form
  • Explicitness (“black colour” as opposed to just “black”)

These tend to be the areas in which research is concentrated. However, it’s important to note that the above is in no way a grammatical core for ELF. Firstly, while the above all feature, they usually feature alongside the NS standard variant (see Breiteneder 2009). Secondly, the focus of ELF study tends to be more about how ELF communicators make use of the linguistic resources available to them in the process of building a discourse. For instance, Jenkins (2011:21) points to the greater use of progressive forms in ELF as a way of drawing attention to a past point in time, possibly to make the structure of the discourse clearer. In other words, it’s not so much the feature themselves that are of interest, but the reasons for using them. In this way lexico-grammatical studies in ELF are often really pragmatic studies anyway.

The great question then is whether the features and variants mentioned above are really part of a linguistic system or whether they are “errors”. Given ELF’s critical stance towards NS models of English, but the lack of an ELF model in its stead, it’s hard to label anything as an error with reference to any standard. Nevertheless, there is little doubt in my mind that sometimes variations stem from a lack of language control; performance problems if you will, and these should not be counted in ELF data. Dewey (2007) suggest four criteria for ELF variants:

  • They must be systematic (according to corpus studies)
  • Occur frequently and with speakers of different linguacultural backgrounds.
  • They are communicatively effective (perhaps more so than an equivalent NS from)
  • Considered a variant, not an error, when contrasted with an ENL form (but no mention of who is doing the considering).

If non-standard forms meet these standards, rather than being seen as errors, or deficient, they become what Cogo & Dewey would see as “innovative forms”.

Conclusion

While the variations above are in some ways systematic, they are often bound by geographical context and different speakers. The call for plurality in ELF is no doubt driven by the fact that research in ELF is very much concentrated in two different fields: Europe and Asia, and evidence suggests that  the kinds of English used in these areas are quite distinct. I believe this makes it unlikely that an ELF core could ever be produced; I also think that such a core would go somewhat against the kind of principles that ELF research tends to espouse.

This comes back to the point I made in my previous piece, that in dealing with a phenomenon as unprecedented as ELF, traditional frameworks and nomenclature may not be sufficient for the needs of ELF researchers or English teachers. What the above should show though, is that there is a collection of somethings that we can refer to as ELF communication, and that it may be a good idea to prepare our students for this kind of communication. In next week’s post, I will try to examine some of the ways that we as teachers can do this.

Cheers,

Alex

References

Breiteneder, A. (2009). English as a lingua franca in Europe: An empirical perspective. World Englishes, 28.2, 256–269.

Coates, J. (1993). Women, men, and language: A sociolinguistic account of gender differences in language.

Cogo, A., & Dewey, M. (2006). Efficiency in ELF communication: from pragmatic motives to lexico-grammatical innovation. Nordic Journal of English Studies5.2, 59-93.

Dewey, M. (2007). English as a lingua franca: An empirical study of innovation in lexis and grammar. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, King’s College London.

Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, J., Cogo, A., & Dewey, M. (2011). Review of Developments in Research into English as a Lingua Franca. Language Teaching44.3, 281-315.

Mauranen, A. (2006). Signalling and preventingmisunderstanding in ELF communication. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 177, 123–150.

Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Research perspectives on teaching English as a Lingua Franca. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 24, 209–239.

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

Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 4 (Part 1)

This post is the latest in a long series. The usual disclaimers about not being a real camp and rambling apply.

Monday

Monday started with another go at reading fluency, for which their scores seem to be going up. I had a great comment from Carolyn Kerr wondering if I thought that the increase in reading fluency related to the pronunciation teaching. I hadn’t consciously made the connection here, but seeing the comment brought to mind some research I saw once that connected pronunciation and reading. It’s a great question; I’d say that I’m sceptical about it at the moment. As I remember the research largely related to the teaching of segmental features, whereas I’m focusing more on suprasegmentals. However if anyone’s a bit more familiar with research in this area and wants to get in touch I’d certainly enjoy a discussion.

As with last week we used Monday morning to set some goals for the week, and to reflect on how successfully we’d met last weeks. I say ‘we’, when I actually mean the students, but actually perhaps a public process of reflection would give the students a better model to follow. I hope that these reflections are serving to keep the students on track through the camp. I’d actually like to read them, but sadly time dictates that I can’t (I think I might want to digitize the reflections next camp so I can at least look at a few).

The main activity of today was in the discovery stage of my learning progression. We played Just a Minute again, but this time with a real pronunciation focus. The idea is that speaking extemporaneously like this means that students are not focusing too much on pronunciation, and so errors and slips happen. The idea is to find these out so they can be worked on as part of a individual program of improvement. Working in groups, the students played a round of the game while recording. They then tried to identify any pronunciation problems in the recording. While the game was enjoyable, the listening and analysis portion wasn’t so well done, with little of use coming out of it. The reasons for this, I would estimate, are many. For one, it was Monday morning and the students didn’t seem to be feeling all that analytical (this is the week of the camp when everyone starts to flag under the weight of work, early mornings and, mostly for the students, hangovers). However, the act of listening for errors, especially on a less than ideal recording, is hard enough for someone trained. For untrained L2 speakers this may be all too much. To help with this though, I feel like two things could happen. One, be more specific with what students should be listening for (sounds, words, supraseg. features). Two, developing listening skills should form a part of the course. One way in which this could be done is to play more recordings publicly (I tend not to do this out of sympathy for the students) and do the listening myself, but providing guidance on what I am listening for and good or bad examples.

Tuesday

I started Tuesday with another chunk: “______ ‘s/’re getting _____er __________”. So far the chunks I have been doing have had a good response, but this one fell a little flat. This may well be to do with the week 4 flagging described above (I too feel like I am on my last teaching legs). It may also be that it feels a little less “communicative” than the others (which have all been questions or requests). The students managed to produce it fine, but when it came to adapting it to their own ends they really seemed to struggle.

After that we did a little more work on intonation in questions. While it seems like this is pretty basic stuff, especially as Korean does similar things with questions, it actually turned out to be very useful practice. One thing I enjoy about teaching pronunciation is that I’m still learning myself, and there’s always something new to discover. Today it was the fact that where a question has rising intonation, the tonic stress is marked by a drop in pitch. This contrasts with a falling intonation* declarative statement/information question where the stress is usually marked by a slight rise in pitch. This exercise went pretty well, but I’m harbouring slight concerns that I’m not providing enough opportunities for freer practice. My idea has always been that they can practice in other classes, but maybe this isn’t realistic? I think that these kind of reflections might be best saved for a post-hoc analysis though, as I’ve come a bit too far now to change direction.

Wednesday

Started off Wednesday with (again) a bunch of hungover, rather grumpy students.  The first activity I did was 4-3-2, with the aim of producing (unrehearsed) a speech that they were working towards in another class. Initially this was not popular, but as 3 and then 2 came and went it was noticeable how much better they performed, and how much more confident they became. My colleague (who they see after my class) commented on how well they had done in debates in his class, and I really do believe that the performance may have been as a result of this activity.

Then I did one of my favourite activities in pronunciation class – poetry. Poetry for children often works well for this – more mature stuff goes way over the heads of most learners, and the rhythm is much harder to pick up. I’ve been using “My Parents Sent Me To The Store” by Kenn Nesbitt in this camp, which you can find in this free sample of his poetry. I start off by asking students to identify the most common vowel sound in English, and then sit back as they reel off every sound in English except schwa. None of them ever believe me either, until I make them play “Schwa Wars” (from Teaching Unplugged, Thornbury & Meddings) and reveal the final answer. After this, I read the poem and they try to mark some of the instances of schwa that they missed. The final part of the lesson is the students trying to read it themselves, after a choral drill and practice alone and in pairs. At this stage most of them still struggle with reducing syllables, even with the rhythm drawn on the board, but some are at least starting to get the idea.

I really think that unstressed syllables are one of the most important things to master in pronunciation. While it is certainly a native speaker feature, and you can get by without it, using word and sentence stress is a lot more difficult if you don;t have unstressed syllables to contrast with. And it’s actually always the unstressed syllables that are the problem, rather than the stressed ones, unless the stressed syllables are completely unnaturally stressed in order to make them stand out. Also, better production of unstressed syllables should lead to greater speaking speed and fluency.

Again, this lesson felt like a bit too much theory and learning and not enough practice. This is something I have to work on for next time I think (if there is a next time). However, balancing everything out is incredibly difficult, and as I said before, is probably best dealt with at the end of this course.

This brings me to the end of Wednesday and the end of this post. As always comments are welcome, and Thursday and Friday’s reflections will be out later in the week.

Cheers,

Alex

Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflection Week 3 (Part 2)

This post is the latest in a long series. The usual disclaimers about not being a real camp and rambling apply.

Thursday

I started of Thursday with another meaty chunk of pronunciation, this time working on a more functional kind of approach (possibly). I also wanted to do something that the students might not have come across before, as politeness strategies aren’t always a big concern here. What I chose to work with was “Would you mind ___ing…”. We again looked at stress and intonation contours, and the reduction of “d you” to “j”. The practising side of things didn’t go so well, as we got a bit caught up in discussing the various uses it could be put to in more open practice, for example “Would you mind dancing with me?” which in my view makes it sound like a bit of an imposition on the object of your affections. Anyway, we spent too long talking and not enough time actually doing, which was a shame as this did generate real interest, that I didn’t channel particularly well.

Once this was done we moved on to intonation. This is the first time that I’d  “officially” introduced intonation, though it had come up in passing fairly often before this. I started off fairly simply by defining intonation and pitch, and then letting the students try to figure it out by drawing the intonation contours for two versions of “Yes”, without my modelling them first. Then they discussed what they meant, and if possible outlined a situation that each might be used in. We got this far with each class, but there the lessons went a bit different. However, with one of the classes I had a go at another pronunciation book activity to practice intonation of questions. This was a bit of a disaster as there were far too many influences here on the intonation, stemming from the use of the construction “You know…”, which has to balance yes/no questions with confirming or delivering information, and get the students to provide an answer with the correct intonation too, all without a context. As I didn’t a CD I had to read the sentences with what I thought was the intended intonation, which was near impossible, and left a struggling teacher and confused students. Once I’d got my bearings back, it seemed much easier to present a simpler version of the rules on the board, which basically said rising unfinished/uncertain, falling finished/certain.* After this week, I might try to stay away from pronunciation activity books a little, or write my own in a spare 5 minutes.

* I’m aware it’s much more complex than this, but after all the mess we needed a basis to start from.

Friday

Friday has become speech clinic day during this camp. It’s a nice way to help the students practice what we’ve been doing in a more realistic context (I have a feeling I said this last week), and it also boosts their confidence for the actual speeches. The format I follow is a quick review of goals and topics covered, and then giving time for each student to revise their speech and practice it to themself, before moving on to paired readings (with some feedback from their partner). Finally, a few students volunteer/are dragged kicking and screaming to the front of class to read their speech for everyone.

This week it felt as if things didn’t go quite so well in class, though I think my reflections are tempered slightly by the fact that the entire student body appeared to be hopelessly hungover today. Still, it’s a bit disheartening when a student stands up and gives a speech which doesn’t include the two incredibly specific and explicit instances of intonation that you just taught.

One thing I did focus on this week (as I know I mentioned last week) was improving the process of feedback. I developed a feedback sheet for this week, which guided the students to areas for monitoring (sounds, words, sentence stress and intonation in this case). It also made several suggestions of face preserving questions that could be asked of people, rather than straight out criticizing them. In the interests of sharing, you can download the sheet below.

Pronunciation Camp Activity Feedback Sheet

Did it make a difference? Well, yes it did. I think that giving a feedback sheet lends an air of officialdom to proceedings, and somehow makes it more difficult to answer just “very good”. The guidance also helps. I think that sometimes we forget that students probably aren’t that used to giving feedback, especially in areas of English. In general, where they have some guidance of what to look for they tend to do it much better. However, the questions part of the exercise was surprisingly badly done. Having been all culturally sensitive and designed a sheet so that they could save face, I then  watched with interest as they proceeded to criticize (sometimes not even constructively) each others pronunciation very directly. We had a go at reformulating some of them as questions, but I’m not sure that the idea was particularly well taken up. I think we’ll leave this one for another camp, as I think it’s kind of a class culture building thing, which I am introducing too late in the day.

That brings me to the end of this week’s reflections. I’m also three days through my current week, so expect another post on Sunday or Monday.Until then…

Cheers,

Alex

Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 2 (Part 2)

Following on from Monday’s post, this post deals with the goings on from Thursday and Friday of last week.

Thursday

Thursday was perhaps the day that everything caught up with me. I’d been working flat out for a while, with only a one day weekend and was definitely feeling it. I started off today’s class with fairly little plan, just a news clip and a transcript, and half an idea to look at tonic stress and thought groups. Perhaps unsurprisingly it didn’t go especially well for the first class. Firstly, news seemed like a good idea as it’s fairly straightforward stuff, right? Wrong, there’s an awful lot of odd collocations (“gripped by a crisis”) and odd idioms (“at full pitch”). This meant I had to spend a long time explaining the text pre-viewing just so we were aware of context. Then I asked students to go through it and highlight stressed syllables, which they did pretty well, but we ended up getting a bit confused between tonic stress and word stress (and the way that they intersect).

This got better in later classes, when I had them go through a second time to highlight tonic stress, but the first class I think I may have served to confuse more than enlighten. Anyway, with the second classes we got to finding tonic stresses, and using those to divide the speeches into groups with some success, but by the time we’d done this there was only time for a solo and pair reading, and a couple of public readings. I think this is a pretty crucial part of the stage, as it allows me to give some feedback on people’s performance, and is hopefully the part of the lesson where everyone has a chance to see what problems arise in practice. Not leaving enough time for this was a bit disappointing.

When teaching like this a couple of things occurred to me. One was that I made sure that students understood that this was mostly useful for (semi-)planned discourse such as speeches and presentations. I think it’s a bit unfair at this stage to ask students to do this in conversation as they are probably not speaking in extended turns anyway, and even if they are this kind of skill is probably too much for them to concentrate on (I did focus on some stress features in discourse earlier in the week). The other striking thing was the number of mispronounced words that this kind of activity uncovered. Even the relatively basic vocabulary caught a few people out (“foreign” as /’fɒ rɪ dʒn/), so from this point of view it was useful for every class.

Friday

In my continuing quest to get students to read in surreptitious ways (that’s me being surreptitious, not them) I started Friday’s class with another timed reading fluency activity. I’m selling this as something they can do at home to measure progress, and it’s quite a nice peaceful way to begin a class on a Friday morning.

From the reading we moved on to the main feature of the day – what I termed a “speech clinic”. Another professor is teaching a public speaking course during the camp, and their classes happen just after mine. This is great because I get to be the final practice for the students before their speech, but a good time to try to add some fizz to their speech as well as deal with any problems. It’s also a very nice practical application of everything that we do during the camp.

The way that I ran the clinic was to briefly review everything that we had done so far, in terms of sounds and features. Students then had a chance to work on their speeches alone, checking pronunciation and trying to divide the speech into tone groups. They then read it to their partner, who offered some feedback. Then we invited / coerced volunteers to read their speeches to the class and receive some group feedback. This of course is roughly based on a think/pair/share sort of progression.

As mentioned in my previous post, feedback can be a difficult concept in Korean classrooms given it’s face-threatening (in the sociolinguistic, rather than physical sense) potential. I’ve been working hard to try to negate this, and one of my ideas is to provide feedback in the form of questions. I tried to encourage this in class today, but didn’t really get the chance to monitor if it was successful. In order to make my point a little clearer though, I’m working on a feedback questions sheet for this week. I’ll share that as and when it’s done, and that brings me to the end of my week 2 reflections. Stand by for more soon.

Cheers,

Alex

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