Tag Archives: Speaking

A beginner (me)’s guide to English as a lingua franca

August 16th. This date is heavily circled with red ink on my desktop calendar. It’s probably not far from having “FREEDOM!” scribbled on the days that come after it either. Regular readers may have guessed that this is the date by which I must submit my MA dissertation. Suddenly it seems very close indeed – in less than 5 months I have to electronically plonk 15-20,000 words of research into our course administrator’s inbox. The problem is I’m still not totally sure what I’m going to write about.

However, it seems increasingly likely that I’m going to be writing on something at least involving English as a lingua franca, or ELF if you’re acronymically inclined. This post is my first attempt to get to grips with the concept of ELF based on the pathetic amount of reading I’ve done so far. My hope is that some of the ELF brainiacs out there can put me right on any misconceptions I have, and that it might provide a useful resource for other people in my situation.

What is ELF?

 A bit like a weasel with a jetpack, ELF is a hard one to pin down. Not just for me, but for the people who research it for a living. Jennifer Jenkins, who pretty much is ELF, describes defining ELF as a “thorny issue” (2011:1). Given that even the pros are having trouble figuring out exactly what it is, let’s start with what it isn’t, viewed through the lens of some people’s misconceptions.

One of the most common misconceptions seems to be that ELF is a variety of English. People either see it as a simplified or reduced English, shorn of idiom and unnecessary features such as the third person “s” (Sowden 2012:3), or some kind of monolithic world English which is the same no matter where you go. The inference that follows from this is that there is some kind of plot by bed-wetting lefty language liberals to impose these models on everyone in the world, “The ELF Project” (Sowden 2012:3 again!). While it’s true that where English is used for communication in an international setting (and presumably in an exchange involving at least one non-native speaker) the third person “s” is often omitted, ELF prescriptivists don’t froth at the mouth if it isn’t.

This brings us neatly to the next thing that ELF isn’t, and one thing that it and I have in common. It’s not a model (there’s a reason I keep photos off this blog). There is no ELF canon of literature or Swan’s guide to Practical ELF Usage. It’s also not a norm, against which nervous utterances will be deemed either “ELF!” or “NOT ELF!” by expert ELF speakers, because there isn’t really any such thing. In fact, ELF research in general tends to take a critical perspective on any kind of prescriptivism. This makes it wary of the concept of interlanguage, suggesting something unfinished, and more accommodating to theories of evolution and contact (Jenkins 2011: 5). This might be an extreme view, but at times it can seem that there are no mistakes in ELF, only misunderstandings.

The final thing that ELF is not is tied to a particular geography, culture, identity or setting. It’s also, as previously mentioned, not a uniform world language. In my view one of the biggest problems in describing ELF is the lack of lexical and conceptual apparatus within Applied Linguistics to describe such a new phenomenon (the field is barely 15 years old). If it’s not a language variety or a speech community, what is it? “Community of practice” seems to be the preferred term (Jenkins 2011:18), but to my mind this term is much more of a discourse analysis term which groups people by what they are doing with language. For the range of possible uses for ELF, this term seems inadequate, as communities using ELF are constructed and disbanded continuously. Although there have been lingua francas before, there has never been one such as English, and perhaps some new terms in the sociolinguistic lexicon are required.

Having hacked off great chunks of what ELF could possibly be, it’s time to see what’s left. Not much, it would seem. ELF, despite the name, is neither a language, nor a language variety, nor anything that has really been seen before. The terms that get thrown about a lot are “contact language” and “natural language”. Of these I prefer the first – it captures some of the fluidity, and more importantly the fleetingness, or ELF. It’s what to me makes it an interesting study, it lasts only as long as the conversation or community does, then it may very well disappear. ELF, to me, seems to be the attempt to map the shoreline by taking thousands of photos of the waves breaking. It’s quite romantic if you think about it, but also rather difficult to get a good idea of the big picture.

Who speaks ELF?

As far as English goes, ELF is Woodstock. Everyone’s invited and free to do what they want to do, with no interference from “The Man”, man. At least that’s how I see it. According to Jenkins (2011:4) a small number of researchers would deny that a native speaker can speak ELF, but for most ELF is open to anyone who can speak English with any kind of communicative success (though it seems that most research is conducted with speakers who are at least at an intermediate kind of proficiency by ENL (English as a native language) standards). You’ll notice that I use the term speaker repeatedly in this paragraph, as ELF speakers are not necessarily English learners. They may be satisfied with the English they speak and have no desire to conform to a native speaker model. ELF is fine with this. The only people excluded would appear to be those who speak no English, or whose proficiency is low enough to preclude communication. Free love for almost everyone, I think you’d agree.

In this world of tolerance and (occasional mis-) understanding, we presume that ELF could even be used between two native speakers of English (NSEs). I suspect that this may well take place at ELF conferences, though Sewell (2013) disputes this claim. No free love for him. This presumption is based on the definition on the VOICE corpus website which tells us that ELF is an “additionally acquired language system…”. I’m conveniently ignoring the second part that says “…which serves as a common means of communication for speakers of different first languages”*. Presumably, if it’s acquirable, it’s acquirable by an NSE or an non-NSE, and thus could conceivably be used between two NSEs. Were the situation to be one in which many non-NSEs were present, such as a panel discussion, I’d imagine this would be quite helpful. I could of course have this horribly wrong, so I’d be really interested to hear people’s opinions on whether this is possible.

A con cl/f usion

There would however, seem to be a paradoxical element in the definition above, no doubt caused by what a pain defining ELF is. Nevertheless, it’s illuminative of the kind of problems that ELF research looks to solve. The paradox is in the claim the ELF is acquired. This is problematic because it suggests that one must have experience of speaking ELF to be able to speak ELF. However, I’d suggest that someone speaking English with another NNSE for the very first time is using English as a lingua franca.  This seems to be a bit of a chicken/egg affair. We saw above that ELF is a natural language, which springs up from a communicative need, and if this is the case, what’s the need to acquire it, and where would one acquire it from? Is there such a thing as a proficient ELF speaker?

Perhaps two different things are happening here: the communicative event, and the kind of communicative features that one might find within that event. These features will come about naturally through communicative necessity, but may also be picked up in other communicative events. Both events and features currently fall under a single ELF acronym, but perhaps would be more helpfully labelled ELF communication and ELF strategies. I suspect that other, quicker people may already have made this distinction. Nevertheless, this approach would make clear that ELF is more about studying how people use English to communicate when there is little other choice, and how to help them to do it better. It may held to deflect some of the ire that is, I believe, unfairly directed at ELF.

*This was quoted in Jenkins (2011) but may now have been removed from the VOICE site.

References

The following articles informed the view of ELF given in this article, and come highly recommended as a starting point in the field.

Cogo, A. (2012) ‘English as a Lingua Franca: concepts, use and implications’. ELT Journal 66/1 97-105

Jenkins, J. (2011) ‘Review of developments in research into English as a lingua franca’. Language Teaching 44/3 281-315

Sewell, A. (2013) ‘English as a lingua franca: ontology and ideology’ ELT Journal 67/1 3-10

Sowden, C. (2012) ‘ELF on a mushroom: the overnight growth in English as a Lingua Franca’ ELT Journal 66/1 89-96

Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 4 (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 wanted to keep working with the poem that we had started on Wednesday, but get students speaking and listening much more. I’d been concentrating hard on unstressed syllables and rhythm the previous day, and I wanted to see if the students were capable of hearing, and reproducing these features. Having read an interesting article on using speaking speed as a measure of natural pronunciation (the thinking being that unstressed syllables and assimilation and elision should lead to utterances being delivered faster), I wondered if it would be possible to do the same with the poem.

Shadowing is the method of trying to reproduce a piece of spoken text as accurately as possible. You can read Arizio Sweeting’s description of it here. In the old days this would have just been a case of listen and repeat, but technology makes this process a lot easier and a lot more autonomous. The idea is that students can record a piece of speech, listen back to it and figure out where it differs, and then have another go at recording any difficult sections.

One problem I faced with this was it took an awful long time to set up. We don’t have a language lab here, so I had the students bring their computers to class. I tend to prefer this anyway as students then have the software on their computers. However, this means factoring in time for lateness, forgetting and setting it all up (answers on a postcard as to why you’d pay a load of money for an “intensive” English camp, and then spend the entire time moaning, shirking and generally doing anything to avoid speaking English). This then led to having less time to do what I really wanted, which was to step them through a process of listening, recording and editing, and largely resulting in them doing a series of one shot recordings and not doing that much in the way of comparison. Still, there were one or two really excellent attempts, and again this is something that I’d really like to incorporate into the course more next time, especially with shorter pieces of language like the chunks I have been teaching. I’m also wishing for a simple way to show pitch change in Audacity.

Friday

One of the students final projects in my colleague’s class is to make a short film in English. By Friday the scripts had been written and the students were ready to start filming. Ever on the lookout for ways in which I can apply what we do in class to other things, Friday’s class was a read through of the script from each movie. The class started with each student reading their lines to themself, with me helping with questions and modelling. We then moved on to a full reading. This was a really enjoyable class to teach, but it would have been nice to make it a bit more student centered, and to find a way of having them figure things out for themselves. This is something that I can definitely improve in general I think. Anyhow, probably the best part for me was trying to teach my students to swear. Whenever we do anything like plays or films, the students are always keen to include some effing and blinding, which would be fine if they could do it properly, but it usually just ends up sounding awkward and forced. When it came up in the script then, I spent a good deal of time trying to coach them into getting it a bit more natural (and more committed). I am someone who is generally fairly reserved and serious in class, so my students were rather shocked to hear it. I don’t generally use it in class, as you never really know who might be offended by bad language, but the students brought it up, and if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it properly.

This brings me to the end of this post, and probably the end of the weekly updates. This final week has been more about testing and feedback, so expect two or three posts looking at that process. I’d like to thank everyone who has been reading these posts, and especially those whose comments have kept me interested in writing them (I think I’m over 8,000 words now!). Expect more soon.

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

Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 1

So we’re back at the time of year when everything in my life goes mental and I have to stop blogging for a while, as I’m involved with creating my own camp program and teaching it 5 days a week (actually I’m in the middle of teaching 9 days out of 10!) as well as dealing with impending MA deadlines (if anyone suggests doing a module on assessment, I recommend considering your friendship with them immediately). Expect that this winter I’m resolving not to just go quiet for six or seven weeks, but to try and blog about this pronunciation camp as I teach it.

These blog post are going to be somewhat hastily put together I’m afraid. I’ll try to do some more polished reflections after the camp has finished, but for now these will detail what I’m doing and how I’m felling about it. They’re actually based on my experimental audio reflections which I’ve been keeping daily, and are so far proving extremely helpful. Anyway, here goes week one…

Wednesday

This was a bit of a get to know you and introduce the course sort of day. I started off with my favourite name game, in which one person starts by introducing themselves and saying one thing about themselves, then each successive person must remember and introduce everyone else before they introduce themselves. While it’s not particularly exciting or innovative, it does involve maximum use of students names, and is a big part of the fact that at the end of week one I know everyone’s name already.

Then as a get to know you activity we wrote five answers about ourselves and mingled trying to guess what the question was (idea stolen from this excellent thread). It was interesting to see how different groups interpreted this – some were very keen on guessing the questions, others used it as a much more general basis for a conversation. I was happy either way, and it seemed to generate a lot of activity in every group. It also worked well for me to meet students on a one to one level, and is possibly leads to the development of more rapport, as the encounters are much more personal.

I then shared my four key goals for the course, which are:

  1. Students will learn how to improve their pronunciation?
  2. Students will increase their receptive and productive pronunciation power (!)
  3. Students will increase, an be able to measure increases in, their fluency.
  4. Students will be more aware of the learning process through reflective journalling.

Having explained these a little, we then moved onto a bit of reflection. I posed three questions to the students to talk about, then write a short journal entry for homework. These were about the importance of pronunciation, the students experience of and ideas for pronunciation teaching, and their thoughts on their own pronunciation.

One thing that arose during this, is the level of monitoring I should do during reflective conversations. I made sure that the students were aware that their reflections were their own, and there was no need to share them, so it felt a little off to try to monitor reflective conversations like this. I think from next time I’ll make a clear policy that I won’t monitor unless invited to.

Thursday

On Thursday I introduced students to one of my processes for the camp, what I called “The Learning Cycle”, but which is neither cyclic nor especially about learning. It might be better termed “the habit-changing process”. Anyway, it essentially uses the following four stages:

  • Discovery (of undesireable habits)
  • Correction (finding out how to do it right)
  • Goal directed, attention focused practice
  • Good habit formation

The idea is to raise habits out of unconscious production, change them, then reintegrate the new improved habit. Today’s calls focused on the discovery stage through a diagnostic test (designed by David Kim and published in the 1999 KOTESOL PAC Proceedings). Running a diagnostic test for many students simultaneously is tricky, but I came up with a way to do it. I gave the students 15 minutes to read the test sentences and record them on their phone. I gave them the sentences plain so there wasn’t too much second guessing. Then together we analysed them in class, with me providing both good and (hilariously to the students) bad models. I think this was actually a pretty good way to do it, as it allows many problems to be pointed out in a short space of time, and hopefully develops better listening skills and pronunciation awareness in general. However, the odd check I have done since shows students marking themselves very harshly, despite encouragement, so if you’re doing this keep an eye out for that.

Friday

Friday was perhaps the least satisfying day of the week, for reasons that I will outline. I’m trying to give students the tools to improve their pronunciation, so today turned into a bit of an information dump. I gave students British and Korean vowel quadrilaterals, plus my own consonant chart, and explained how to use them. Now, this would be incredibly useful to me, but the students just didn’t seem to “get it”. Having set some goals for improvement  for the test, I gave them the task of learning how to produce the sounds correctly using the materials I had just given them, and then building these into a set of common words that they could make into an Anki deck to do deliberate practice with (I also introduced howjsay and forvo to provide some models).

This was disappointingly badly done, and left me feeling like I hadn’t really conveyed my point (in truth I hadn’t really). The effort that’s required to change a feature of pronunciation, especially one that’s ingrained in a young adult, is significant, and I’m not sure that the students realize that it takes daily focus (in fact, on a show of hands most seemed to believe that having mastered a sound they would then produce it correctly each time). Anyway, my solution is going to be leaving it for a couple of days, but then conducting a proper practice session, carefully staged, with theories elaborated and Anki decks built during the class, and revision assigned for homework. This will likely be a new way of working for the students, so it’s important to model it carefully for them, rather than just expect them to do it straight off the bat. I’m hoping for better things next week.

Saturday [ 😦 ]

Due to the new year holiday we ended up with a make up class on the Saturday of this week. I suspected that students wouldn’t be particularly up for long lectures, intensive pronunciation focus or anything else resembling hard work (I also suspected the teacher wasn’t really up for this either) . I’d introduced my students to IPA in a homework assignment, but wanted to help them learn it. When I learned, the thing that helped me most was actually using the thing, so with this in mind I designed a scavenger hunt around the building (inside, it was -10C out) with all of the clues written in IPA. The clues also had to be earned by correctly pronouncing words like “epitome” (thanks Mike) having found the pronunciation in a dictionary.

Overall the event was a great success, and got rave reviews from the students. Honestly I saw it more as a bit of light relief after a hard week, but I’m sure the students did get a bit more familiar with the IPA. However, one incident did lead me to doubt the usefulness of teaching IPA. When I set the key words for the clues, one student immediately looked up the voice sample pronunciations on his phone. Smart enough, and it left me wondering whether IPA might be a little less useful these days than in days of yore.

The final thing I want to share was my opening activity for the day. Lifted from Nation and Macalister’s (2009) Language Curriculum Design, I started a fluency tracker for my students. Basically it’s just a graph of their fluencies in various areas. We started with reading fluency. I allowed each student to choose a graded reader, and set them 4 minutes of reading time. They then counted the lines that they had read. We’re going to test this regularly to see if they improve, and also look at writing and speaking fluency too. One thing that ER fans should note is that several students asked to borrow the books to read at home!

Alright, that’s this week’s rambling done I think. Any suggestions, comments and criticisms very much welcomed.

Cheers,

Alex