jueves, 28 de julio de 2016

Reflections in Passing #8: Pronunciation and Failure

This is yet another podcast-y post, unedited, off the top of my head, based on the lessons we can learn when things go wrong.

Some references you may want to consult:
  • Field, J. (2014). Myth 3:Pronunciation teaching has to establish in the minds of language learners a set of distinct consonant and vowel sounds. In Grant, L. (2014). Pronunciation Myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Michigan Press. (I reviewed his chapter here)
  • Fraser, H (2010). Cognitive theory as a tool for teaching pronunciation. In: De Knop, S,  F. Boers, A. De Rycker (2010) Fostering Language Teaching Efficiency through Cognitive Linguistics. Berlin: De Gruyter

BTW, here's J.K. Rowling's speech on the "fringe benefits of failure":

lunes, 4 de julio de 2016

Pronunciation Integration #5: Word Stress and Vocabulary Sets

These days every teacher in Argentina is probably drowning under a pile of exams to correct, and I am no exception. But as one of the assignments I have been marking is actually testing this very topic, I wanted to draft a short post on possible connections between word stress and certain vocabulary areas. (Just to be reminded of how word stress can make us feel stressed! ;) )

I first came up with this idea a few years ago, after designing a vocabulary poster for my advanced learners at school, and then heard about this possible form of integration from Mg. Roxana Basso, who once made a few comments in passing on the connections between certain compound types and vocabulary groups, so I think this is a topic that requires some attention, as it has great classroom value.  

I have claimed several times that the best way to decide on what pronunciation features to teach is by looking at our syllabus and textbook (a full related post here). So today's post will be an attempt to propose that there is a connection betweeen theme-based lexical sets and some basic word stress patterns for compound words.

Brief Theoretical Overview

First things first, what is a compound word? This is not an easy question to answer. Compounding is a very productive process in English, and the frequent combination of two words making up a unique semantic unit usually undergoes a historical process. The combination is generally "born" as two separate words operating together, then they may become hyphenated, and then, become one word, even, through a process of monolithicity (Zenobi, 1987). There is always a debate as to whether to consider several combinations actual compounds, or just collocations, as the typical contrast between a DARKroom (a "true" compound) and a DARK ROOM (a phrase or collocation).

The truth is that combinations of two or three words in English that generally operate together may reveal different stress patterns (if you need a review of levels of stress, you may consult one of my previous posts here). We generally distinguish about single-stressed (left-stressed) vs double stressed compounds (or rightmost stressed) (Ortiz Lira,1998; Teschner and Whitley, 2004), that is, compounds in which the first item carries the primary stress versus those in which the primary stress is borne by the second item, with a secondary stress on the first item (whose location will depend as to whether there is stress shift or not...and that deserves a separate post!). A single-stressed compound could be READing glasses, and a double-stressed one, SLEEPing BEAUty. 

Out of the dozen rules presented by theorists, the one that entertains me the most is precisely this ING + Noun rule, as it can lead to funny combinations, which have been illustrated in Haycraft (1994)'s funny pictures of a WALKing STICK (a stick that is walking) or a READing LAMP (a lamp that is reading!), for example, and likewise, below:

Image credit: clickypix
So a "SLEEPing pill" is a "pill for sleeping", whereas a "SLEEPing PILL" is what you see in the picture. ING+Noun combinations are single-stressed when they can be paraphrased with "for" (ING is a gerund), and double-stressed when they are paraphrased with "that" (then the ING form is a participle). So our ING+Noun combinations could be quite problematic at times, such as in SLIDing DOOR, which may be incorrectly associated with "a door for sliding" instead of a "door that slides".

There are some other patterns that may bring about some trouble for us in that they can present single- or double-stressed versions, and these are:

ADJ + N (typically double-stressed)
N + N (typically single-stressed)

Even though there are other tricky combinations, I am going to focus on these, since they are the most commonly found combinations in different vocabulary sets.

Adjective + Noun patterns are typically double-stressed, as they act as collocations. However, there are some combinations that have evolved from the individual meanings of their components, such as GREENhouse and The WHITE House, and which act collectively as nouns, and happen to be single-stressed. Another similar group is that of adjective + noun epithets, such as BLACKbeard or REDhead, which are called "bahuvrihi" compounds (Bloomfield, 1930), paraphrased as "a person having X" (more examples here). These compounds are exocentric, as we cannot consider any of the items to be a real head, nor in a relation of hyponymy. But then we have equally complex compounds beginning with "high", or "hot", which may present single- or double-stressed versions: compare HIGH coMMAND vs HIGH jump, or HOT poTAto vs HOT line. In general the rule is that if these combinations can be paraphrased as collocations, or as defining relative clauses, they tend to be double-stressed.

Noun + Noun patterns work differently, and we can perhaps make the following (very broad, exception-filled) generalisations:
My own summary of rules based on Ortiz Lira (1998), Teschner and Whitley (2004) and Zenobi (1987, 1992)
There are, of course, other key combinations, such as double-stressed phrasal verbs versus single-stressed prepositional verbs; or double-stressed acronyms versus single-stressed acronym+noun combinations. Adverbs, adjectives and verbs are frequently used to make up combinations, most of which are double-stressed, though not always.  Ortiz Lira (1998) makes a comprehensive review of most compound word stress patterns, which I strongly recommend.

Getting your vocabulary sets ready for word stress work

After we have selected a theme, we can start brainstorming all the words that come to mind and that we may want to teach our students in connection to the topic. We may collect our own list of items with the same pattern by consulting picture dictionaries (I looove the Oxford Duden, myself), but thanks to the Internet, we now have some online alternatives, with sound, even!
You can also find theme-related videos on YouTube. I generally give my students this video on kitchenware, but you can take your pick out of the many themed vocabulary lessons available:

As we collect our list, we may put together all the compound word items to find common patterns. As non-native speakers of English, we may have many questions, which is why I suggest checking the stress pattern with a pronunciation dictionary (LPD or CPD, the Oxford Learner's Dictionary) or online, Forvo, or YouGlish, as usual.
Some (very broad) generalisations

Once you have your list of items, you may find that there are certain stress patterns which get repeated. I include a few generalisations below, but of course I invite you to make your own lists and collections!

The City
In general, shops and buildings tend to be single-stressed, as N1 "type of" compounds  or ING+N combinations(SHOE shop, BOOKstore, SHOPPing centre). There are some interesting double-stressed adjective + noun combinations, such as peDEStrian CROSSing. Street names finishing on "street" will be single-stressed, but all others will tend to be double-stressed: OXford street vs OXford CIRcus. Proper names of buldings -except those finishing in "building" will also tend to be double-stressed: emPIRE STATE building, vs TOWN HALL.

Public and Private Transport
Most words connected to public transport tend to be "type of" combinations: RAILway station, TRAIN ticket, TUBE map, AIRport. However, a quick glance through the Tube map of London may reveal lots of interesting double-stressed placenames: COVent GARDen, CHARing CROSS. Parts of the car include "type of" compounds and ING+N combinations: WINDshield, STEERing wheel.

Food and Drink
You will find a number of double-stressed compounds in menus, and the single-stressed exceptions as well: toMAto juice vs toMAto SOUP. However, I have heard some dodgy compounds in Britian, including CHOColate CAKE (yep, apparently both single- and double-stressed compounds are possible) and SAUSage roll.

Technology and the Internet
Many electrical appliances happen to have ING+N or N+N-er/-or combinations, such as WASHing machine, and VACuum cleaner.
Many electronic devices are made up of acronyms and acronym+noun combinations: CD and CD player, for example.
The world of the Internet is made up of many phrasal verbs: LOG IN, SIGN UP. There are interesting Adverb + Verb combinations which change their stress as verbs or nouns, DOWNLOAD vs DOWNload, for example.

At School
School objects are generally "type of" or "instrument" compounds, also N+Ner combinations: PENcil case, PENcil sharpener, HISTory book.  School subjects may be double-stressed as acronyms (e.g.: P.E.) and/or adjective+ N combinations: SOCial SCIences.

These are but some of the topic areas you may be introducing in your lessons. Working on compound word stress is yet another form of building students' awareness of how accentuation works in English, and how the overall melody of English is built. As I always say, the pronunciation of a word is constitutive of the lexical item, which means that we need to introduce these points in some way if we intend our students to use these words orally.
Hope you have found this post useful to see yet another way of integrating pronunciation work to vocabulary teaching. Happy compounding to you all!

Acknowledgements: I want to thank my 2011 Phonetics II students who first alerted me to these word stress-vocab connections (remember our Learning Guide.org word stress lessons!) and to this year's UNSAM students whose lovely end-of-course projects inspired me to draft this post. 

Ortiz Lira, H (1998). Word stress and sentence accent. Cuaderno de la Facultad Nº 16, Serie Monografías Temáticas. Santiago: Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación 
Zenobi, N. (1992). A Basic Guide to English Prosody for Spanish Students at Teacher Training Schools. Compiled by Alicia Gil and revised by Laura Mermoz. Buenos Aires: Instituto Superior del Profesorado Dr Joaquín V González.
Teschner, R., and S. Whitley (2004). Pronouncing English. A Stress-Based Approach with CD-ROM. Washington: Georgetown University Press.

domingo, 15 de mayo de 2016

Pronunciation Integration #4: Selecting your pronunciation content

After some blogging silence caused by writing deadlines, burnout and a lot of belated grading, I  am back! I would have liked to write a more complete post today, but I thought I might put down a few lines on how to select the pronunciation features to teach in your lesson. I am currently covering this topic with my teacher trainees, and I believe it is a good moment to allow these experience-based reflections of mine to reach the written form! I guess I will be writing a more academic, citation-filled, aesthetically pretty post in the future. 

What do we need to consider when planning what pronunciation content to include in our lessons?

Well, a huuuge number of questions are in order (as usual!). Even though I expect to provide teachers with a somehow friendly guide as to how to make a responsible, yet effective decision, I would not want to trick them into believing that making this choice is an easy matter. So here we go!

When we say pronunciation content we are, in fact, referring to a large number of features, which I have tried to summarise in the chart below:

a) First, there's the pronunciation goals question (see previous posts on this): is your institutional/class setting aiming at  low accentedness, or  mutual intelligibility? 
If your group requires that your learners' accent reveals little of their L1 because they need to communicate in professional settings with native speakers of English and you need to do accent reduction, for example, then you have a longer list of things to consider, perhaps, as you will see below, since the inventory of features of teach may be larger. 
If you are doing English for International Communication, that is, English as the means to interact with other non-native speakers of English, the initial selection of features to teach may, in part, be inspired by Jenkins' (2000) Lingua Franca Core (see the blogs by Patsko & Simpson, and the site by Robin Walker to learn more about this). Note: in my very humble opinion, I would not treat the LFC as a conclusive list, because given your students' needs and starting point, you may want to introduce other features as well. Plus, there is always the question of what makes mutual intelligibility, as different L1s may perhaps pose different challenges regarding intelligibility with each other in English as a FL. (In this respect, you may remember the project by Nobuaki Minematsu I discussed in my PTLC15 report here)

b) Next, there's the most important source of information to consider, your students! Carry out a needs analysis (which may make you reconsider your answer to a) ) and/or a set of diagnostic tasks (if possible, recorded as an audio file), that may help you see where your students' areas of difficulty lie. Diagnostic tasks can give us a lot of information regarding our students' starting point, but they need to be designed carefully. You may want to make sure you do so by considering these points:
  • in order to have a more global view of your learners' strengths and weaknesses, you need to design a task that will enable you to test the same skills/content across the board, for example a reading-aloud task of a well-prepared passage (Note: Careful! Reading skills pose their own challenges), or a guided questionnaire with words/expressions you expect your students to use. You can write a dialogue or short passage (dialogues work better, in my opinion, as chunking is less problematic and situations are easy to perform) with enough variety in spellings, clusters, word stress or sentence accent examples to make sure you can even somehow "quantify" your results and test what you really want to test (validity). (It is essential that you go over the list of difficulties that learners of your L1 may have when using English to make sure you test the right things. See: "Contrastive Analysis" below, and check Ashton and Shepeherd, 2012; Kelly, 2000; Mott, 2011). You can then design a table/grid to see how each of your students tackled the problem areas or "traps" in their reading.
  • a semi-spontaneous speaking task is unbeatable when it comes to testing what our students' starting point is. We can ask our learners to introduce themselves by following guiding questions, or telling an anecdote, or reacting to a picture or stimuli. These less controlled tasks will give you clear a indication of their interlanguage errors and already-acquired features. As a result, you should have a more or less accurate snapshot of your learners' starting point, individually.
  • and/or you may want to carry out interactive tasks for pairs of students to role-play. Working with a partner helps students to lower their affective filters and may, to a certain extent, also soothe "recording anxiety". These tasks allow you to see how students  interact by employing their interlanguage accents and communicative competence.
(Of course, you should always be aware that your task and the recording activity themselves may induce shyness, as well as other performance difficulties or disfluencies.)

c)  Then, naturally, you will need to take a look at your (pre-set) syllabus and textbook. No, I am sorry to say  I am not implying that your textbook will in any way help you decide. With just a few exceptions, pronunciation tasks in textbooks (sorry, authors and publishers), are very poor, IMHO. But your textbook may have a lovely Word List at the end with the key lexical items you will be teaching . It will also list the grammar you will have to present. It has a tapescript section with the material your students will hear in spoken mode. It presents a number of reading materials with structures and vocabulary your students will be working on.

If you work at one of those places where the syllabi are "imposed", you may have been provided with a tentative syllabus, which will surely list the lexico-grammatical features to be attained by your class (and hopefully, if you are very, very lucky, perhaps some reference to what pronunciation features to teach). And if you take all the lexical and grammatical content, comb your reading and listening texts, and check the oral genres and spoken functions you will be covering....you will have an awful lot of information as to what pronunciation features you will encounter, albeit indirectly, lesson by lesson!

How do we use this information?

Now that you know what features your learners as a group may need to cover, and what individual challenges you need to work on, as well as what linguistic content you will have to teach, you can start making further decisions, which will depend on a number of factors, listed below in no particular order:
  • Contrastive Analysis: even though it has been undermined, the Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis (Lado, 1957) does provide us with a good way of anticipating which areas may bring about trouble for our learners, given the differences between English as L2/FL, and their own L1. For instance, in Spanish /p/ is not taxing at all, as there is a match in the place and manner of articulation in both accents. However, aspiration does need to be taught for this sound. So making a contrastive analysis of features will already narrow down the list of features you may need to tackle.
  • Similarity-Dissimilarity: the Speech Learning Model (Flege, 1992) also helps us re-visit our list of features by aiding us in the identification of those features that may perhaps take longer to acquire by L2 learners of English and may get fossilised, and thus, may require constant recycling and remedial work. For instance, sound /d/ in English may be perceived as similar to Spanish by learners, and as a result, fossilisation of Spanish [] for English may be more common than for other sounds. 
  • Frequency of occurence: I am not necessarily here considering the frequency of occurrence of the features in English (though it does certainly help to select what to spend time on!), but the frequency at which a certain pronunciation feature appears on your syllabus of linguistic content and skills. E.g.: Weak and strong forms are inevitably related to all tenses in English, since auxiliaries are ubiquitous. The velar nasal /ŋ/ is everpresent in continuous tenses. (See other posts on pronunciation integration here). Scanning your textbook's word list per unit will also give you an idea of what sound, spelling-to-sound rule, or suffix appears more often. Looking at what linguistic actions and functions you will be teaching (e.g. requesting, giving advice, etc), may help you see what intonation patterns can be of use.
  • Functional Load: The concept of functional load (Catford, 1987) can also contribute to our decision as to what features should be taught for intelligibility purposes based on contexts where they are contrastive . We know, for example, that sounds /ʃ,ʒ/ are only distinguishable in a really small number of words (just 4 minimal pairs?), which is why this combination in contrast has a low functional load. Word Stress, on the other hand, is to be prioritised (Derwing and Munro, 2015), as its functional load in distinction is important. Note: even though the theory claims that pairs like /d,ð/ have a low functional load, Spanish speakers, because of the allophonic split in comparison to English, will definitely need to be made aware of the distinction. So this particular criteria, in my humble opinion, needs to be taken with a picnh of a salt.
  • Systematically, incidentally or "collocationally"? The previous criteria may help you decide what features you may want to systematise properly and in detail, following a set of stages (ear training --> presentation--> guided and feer practice), and which features you may want to teach or correct "in passing" as a result of  mispronunciation or miscommunication while carrying out an activity. You will also need to decide if you want to teach the feature for students to start applying across the board, that is, by teaching the right spelling-to-sound rules, or pragmatic functions of intonation, for instance, or if you want to present it as a "collocation": that is, the feature accompanying the word or phrase (see my post on the intonation of viewpoint adjuncts).  For example, we know /ʒ/ is not a very ferquent sound in English, which is why you may teach it when you teach the word "usually" (which we introduce quite early in elementary courses when teaching the Present Simple!). You can always extend the application of this new feature by referring back to the previously-taught collocation; e.g: so when you find the word "visual", you remind students of "usually"
  • For perception or for production purposes (or both)? As we know, thanks to Richard Cauldwell, perception and production need different models, and the way we handle phonetics is indeed different in both models. We need to decide what we want to help our students to produce, and what we need to teach to train their perception and enhance comprehension. We may have to systematise some processes of linking, co-articulation, assimilation and elision for students to produce, but these elements will definitely find a better home in our listening lessons.
  • Teachability: this is the most difficult criterion to define. I believe that teachability needs to be defined by the group of students we have (age, motivation, phonetic coding ability, previous exposure and instruction) and our teaching context (time constraints, possibilities for extra practice, possibilities for further exposure...). We do know, however, that everything can be made teachable if we are creative enough and if we do enough research (sometimes based on our own trial and error experiences in the classroom).
Some final remarks:

I generally tell students that we have a sort of "moral duty" to teach pronunciation. Our instructional context may not always demand that we do, but if we are teaching the language, and we are training users of the language (and not just "writers" of the language), we have to teach the phonological features accompanying the lexico-grammatical content we introduce. Otherwise, we are somehow cheating our students. Or so I believe.

Teaching pronunciation effectively is about being selective. I have listed a set of criteria to choose what to teach, and when planning our lessons we need to take a "leap of faith", and decide to leave a few features out for next years' teacher to handle (hopefully!). We cannot cover it all (as we don't do with lexis, or grammar), and we shouldn't either. Decide what to be "incidental" or "collocational" about, and what to systematise in greater detail.

If you are selective, and make the most of integration techniques and choices, then you should not have any excuse not to do pronunciation work! You are doing pronunciation as you do grammar, vocabulary, reading or listening! (And you keep your coordinator, parents, and international exams happy as well as fulfilling your "moral duty" as a language teacher!)

Finally (for now, at least), success in pronunciation -this wonderful motor-cognitive skill-, is dependent on continuous practice. We need to provide constant prossibilities of recycling, re-noticing pronunciation features in new and old contexts, and we have to ensure continuous remedial work. Our body has memory, indeed, but we need to reactivate it as frequently as possible. And so we need to do when it comes to spelling rules, or to the abstract meanings of  intonation, for example.

Once again, hope you have found this useful. (If you need to cite this article, please check the "How to Cite this Blog" tab on top). Good luck in your feature selection!

domingo, 1 de mayo de 2016

Two years old. Happy Birthday!

This month, Pronunciation Bites turns two years old.

I would like to celebrate this second year of shared experiences with all my readers, and especially, with my teacher trainees who have inspired, in so many different ways, each and every post.

So, first and foremost, THANK YOU!

I would also like to make a statement. For those of you who do not know about my background, I just wanted to remark that I work over 45 hours a week at state-run and private Teacher and Translation Training Colleges in Buenos Aires and occasionally at two universities, and as a teacher trainer at tertiary level, I don't get any allocation periods to do grading, or research, or planning. This is all done in my own "free" time. I am somehow expected to continue enhancing my qualifications, but I am not given time or funding to do so, and very often my rights to ask for a leave of absence for training and research do not get acknolwedged. (Note: I am grateful, of course, to those authorities and institutions that have supported me in my professional development endeavours helping me through all the red tape. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who know I take my academic career seriously.). I have paid, out of my own pocket, for almost every single course, conference fee,  plane ticket and hostel (except for the fees and travel expenses to present at the IATEFL 2014 conference in Harrogate, thanks to the fantastic IH and PronSIG Brita Haycraft Scholarship. I am sooo indebted to them!). I've lost count of the money I've spent on books. And I don't make any profit out of these blog posts, and I am not planning to make this commercial in any way for the time being. I have found this blogging space to be a "cocoon" for reflection and development away from all the shortcomings in my context. Everything I've written down over here is a result of reflection, after-class madness or frustration, post-exam-board sense of fulfilment, "Eureka" moments, coffee chats with friends and colleagues, and self-imposed research and independent reading.

So all I expect at this point is to be able to continue supplying teachers worldwide with book reviews, conference reports, reflections in passing, tips and tricks, pronunciation integration strategies, and some activities of my own making. I guess I simply want to be of use, to be the person who tells people the things I myself would have liked to be told before, to be someone who can perhaps guide you on how not to make the mistakes I myself may have made, or how to take some "shortcuts" that I have found after being lost and wandering for a long time.

Once again, I am grateful to all those life and academic mentors who have advised me to trust my intuition and follow my dreams. I thank all those people who inspire me constantly, the friends that are always there, and my students who keep me "in shape" with their comments, criticism, and support. I hope I can continue to be of service to the ELT community by making sure pronunciation is here, there and everywhere in the English lesson.

As always, I would appreciate any comments for improvement, or ideas of areas you would like me to discuss or tackle in this space. 

Thank you all so very much. See you all online.

domingo, 10 de abril de 2016

Pronunciation Integration #3: Word Stress & Word Formation

We all have our pet peeves as teachers. I have always dreaded international exam mock sessions, myself. I found those lessons to be endless, with my students filling in sheets and sheets of tasks piling up on my desk. Automatism in all its glory. (Mind you, I have tried for years to make exam preparation fun, significant, relevant, but when the moment for "exam rehearsal" came....it was just sheer torture for me). 

Anyway. One day, some six years ago, while browsing through exam sheets, something really, really obvious hit me: there is so much work on pronunciation we can do with our Use of English paper! I just realised this was my big chance to mix my two greatest sources of "suffering", and overcome this annoying feeling: I decided I would take those word formation exercises (Part 3 of FCE 2015 exam, for instance) to introduce Word Stress to my students. Oh, yes, English word stress! *sigh*

In other words, when we teach affixation (one of the many features of vocabulary), we can introduce, we should introduce, some features of word stress. In particular, we may plunge into the stress-fixing, -neutral or -attracting features of English suffixes. Affixation is one of the many links between pronunciation and vocabulary teaching, as was made explicit in a few pronunciation teaching books, like the volume edited by Jones (2016), and the beloved manual by Celce-Murcia, Brinton and Goodwin (1996, 2010). 


Important detour. A little bit of theory. Before we go any further, let's discuss  one of the ways in which we can define levels of stress/unstress in words. Cruttenden (2014) and Ortiz Lira's  "Word Stress and Sentence Accent" (1998)  define four levels of prominence that we can represent through inerlinear "tadpole" notation:
Levels of prominence. Based on Ortiz Lira (1998) and Cruttenden (2014) 
Tadpole interlinear notation.

(Note 1, elementary, Watson!: Stressed syllables are generally characterised by a change in pitch, and by generally being louder, and longer. These syllables obviously have a full and  strong vowel.)

(Note 2: Ortiz Lira (1998) has done a great job of explaining the differences between three tricky terms: stress, accent, and prominence. It is interesting to note that both him and Cruttenden include in their description a level of unstressed syllables treated as  "minor prominences"  only because of their full vowel quality, but not fully "prominent" in other ways ...though perhaps quantity may also be of interest here....)

This "word stress mess" that English is subject to is, in part, a result of the several linguistic "invasions" that have shaped the English language through history. There are two main tendencies operating in English word stress, one towards early stress (Germanic, Anglo-Saxon) and one towards late stress (Romanic, Latin). These two forces are always in tension, and etymology does not always help. As a result of this, in English we have secondary, and even, tertiary stresses early in the word when the main or primary stress falls on the last two or three syllables of the word: 
prəˌnʌnsiˈʃn, ˌɪnfəˈmeɪʃn
As you can see, there is also another important tendency in English  to avoid "stress clash" and keep an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables whenever possible. At times, as in "pronunciation" and "information", this alternation is pretty mathematical: 1234, 1234, but this is not always the case. (See Ortiz Lira 1998 for a comprehensive list of stress patterns in polysyllabic words). So English word stress is a mess, yes, but there are a few rules we can cling to.

Now, as it happens, we can, to a certain extent, predict word stress in derivations (note that inflected forms are not subject to changes in stress). We can divide suffixes into three groups:

So if we know the stress pattern in the root, we can have an idea as to where the primary and secondary stresses may fall once a certain suffix has been appended to the root by knowing the behaviour of the suffix and also considering the tendency for alternation. (For a extensive discussion of affixation and stress, check Cruttenden, 2014 and Teschner and Whitley, 2004, and one of the appendices in Ashton and Shepherd, 2012). 

When we approach the teaching of word formation in the classroom, then, we should help our learners to become familiar with the rules associated to each suffix. What is more, we also need to aid them in creating a sort of "auditory template" for different word stress patterns. The last part of this post addresses this last point.

Around the same period of my "integration" discovery at secondary school, two of my colleagues were working in their Lab 3 courses with this great book series by the great Brita Haycraft, called English Aloud. Among many creative tasks, there are a few brilliant songs aimed at teaching word stress and suffixation, like the one I post below:

From: Haycraft, B.(1992)  English Aloud. Heinemann.

You can see the that Haycraft has included a "shSHsh..." pattern in the song (which is a sort of Bossa Nova, in fact!) to illustrate the stress pattern at the end of -ATION words. You can build our own battery of "noises" to "musicalise" the pattern. You can tap your feet on the floor, nod your head, clap hands or snap fingers to mark the different levels of stress. You can train your learners to hear the "beats" in their minds, the sort of "ringing effect" that stress has in our heads. 
You can also devise your own language, as Hancock (1996) has brilliantly done with his "DAda" language game (which we all love!). 

You can also resort to other Total Physical Response (TPR) activities to represent levels of stress, in what I like to call the "Equalizer game":
Credit: http://orig15.deviantart.net/7602/f/2011/054/f/0/f05bbbb5e1b31309a1a514c748f8ea5a-d26kux4.jpg
  1.  Make a row of chairs, one for each syllable in the words you are going to produce. 
  2.  Each student adopts the identity of a syllable, and stands in front of a chair. 
  3. When you produce a polysyllabic word, students representing unstressed syllables should sit down, and those who are on "stressed" chairs, should stay up. 
  4. Then each student produces the syllable that corresponds to them (and this makes a good opportunity to reflect on weak and strong syllables, by the way!)
  5. All students produce the word in unison.

This game can also be used for peer-assessment for both perception and production skills: you can ask a student to read out a word, and you can get the students by the chairs to represent the pattern produced by this student. The student's version can be compared to the teacher's, or to an audio version of the file, and corrected, if necessary.

Apart from representing the words you have uttered, you can work on melody-to-word perception by providing students with lists of words to be associated to certain patterns. You can hum or DAda word stress patterns for students to fill with actual words, so a possible task question could be:

Visual reinforcement and manipulation of objects tends to be very helpful as well to make these features "tangible". Many of you may be familiar with Judy Gilbert's "rubber band" technique to mark vowel length, which is useful to mark stress in some contexts (careful with pre-fortis clipping, though!). You can use the "tadpole" notation, or consider other ways of graphically illustrating stress patterns in words, such as plasticine balls or bars, or  an abacus:
Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Abacus_34437.jpg
If you are feeling insecure about your own placement of stress as a teacher (no worries! we all feel that way!), you can use the recordings in the two most popular pronunciation dictionaries (LPD or EPD), or any online dictionary with sound recordings, for that matter. Forvo and YouGlish may also come in useful, though you may need to do some fact-checking first.

Finally, there are many songs in English that exploit rhyme with different suffixes, and you can also use them to teach word stress, since they can contribute to the building of auditory memory or images of these patterns. One of the most entertaining songs I have found is "When you are Old", by Tom Lehrer, very useful to discuss -ity endings:

These are some basic ideas to integrate the teaching of word stress to the introduction of word formation patterns in the English lesson. I hardly need to stress the importance of word stress, but if you need convincing, Gilbert (2008) has included this wonderful quote in her booklet on her Prosody Pyramid approach:
The stress pattern of a polysyllabic word is a very important identifying feature of the word . . . We store words under stress patterns . . . And we find it difficult to interpret an utterance in which a word is pronounced with the wrong stress pattern – we begin to “look up” possible words under this wrong stress pattern. (Brown 1990:51 as cited in Gilbert 2008)

Checking a word formation activity from an international exam mock in your class may turn out to be a fantastic opportunity to do pronunciation work, so I hope you, like me, will find a way out of boredom or fear by trying these tasks with your students!.

A Note on References: If you wish to learn more about the books I have referred to, click on all the authors' names on this post. The only material I do not have a link to is:
Ortiz Lira, Héctor (1998). Word Stress and Sentence Accent. Monografías Temáticas No. 16. Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación. Santiago de Chile.

lunes, 21 de marzo de 2016

A quick reflection on what this blog is about

Hiya! Sorry I have not been blogging lately. Life is a bit too hectic these days.

I have received a few private comments on my blog posts regarding the lack of "scientific rigour" of a few of the tips and tricks and ideas that I have posted, and I wanted to make a few things clear, at least in terms of how I see this, my own, blogging space.

First of all, I think we all agree on the fact that pronunciation is still neglected in the ELT classroom. Worldwide. Even the latest books on pronunciation teaching I have read (Grant, ed, 2014; Derwing and Munro, 2015; Jones (ed), 2016) acknowledge that. One of the reasons listed for this is precisely the fact that teachers are either given too scientific and technical explanations regarding pronunciation teaching (essential, in my opinion, I don't disagree) but then are not guided towards making these "teachable". So teachers either fail miserably in their systematisation of features, or leave pronunciation aside altogether.

In my context, Phonetics as a subject is "feared". There are a myriad of reasons for this, and I am not going to mention them here. I see many graduate teachers see Phonetics with "fear" and "respect", and that is the reason they feel unable to introduce pronunciation in their lessons. Many teachers believe that pronunciation teaching needs to be done "properly" (that is, in their own words, "in the fashion of Lab or Phonetics lessons at College"), and that appears to be impossible in the regular ELT classroom. The question is, should it really be done in this way? My answer, in each and every post, is "not necessarily" ("no", I would say, even).

So what can I say regarding these two facts? How can I, from my own Teacher Trainer perspective, address this? Well, I teach my trainees all the "hard-core" Phonetics bits, I try to be persuasive as to the need to actually know the theory, and why this is necessary in our own training, in the tough task of diagnosing and correcting learner errors and difficulties. I try to instill in teachers the need for constant reading, and permanent professional development. Then, I try to show them these "silly" (if you wish), "un-scientific" tips, which are the ones that can ground the theory onto our everyday classroom practice. So there IS matter in my madness.

Then there is the other problem. The "scientific" problem. Well, Teacher Training is but just starting to develop a more research-based approach, and it will take time (decades, perhaps!) before we can actually give our trainees all the tools they need to get started in research. Plus, in my context, Teacher Training is a tertiary level qualification, and it is, by many, seen as just the development of "teaching skills". It is, of course, not the spirit of the training you get at the places where I personally work, but that is the overall view, the "collective misconception" of what Teacher Training is. We all know that teachers are pretty much looked down on, and let's be honest, at least in my country, the working conditions for teachers are appalling. I honestly cannot blame a teacher who is just looking for "recipes" to handle a class of forty 13-year-olds who just want to get away. I cannot blame a teacher who needs a "hands-on" approach because she/he does 40-50 hours of teaching every week and needs to do all the planning and grading at home in their free time (me, for example).

Then there's the other reality. There are fantastic teachers out there doing great things in their classrooms, and they never get any credit for it. Why? Because they cannot make their voices heard in the wider academic communities. Lacking experimental research tools (which, by the way, I myself lack to some extent), these classroom experiences "get lost". At times, I see, in many conferences, that some presentations  get accepted  because of the "form", rather than the "content". And teachers that do not get trained in the "form", because Tertiary level institutions hardly get the time or the resources to train in research, are left out.  And teachers may not have time or opportunities to join university life, or start a Masters'. So this huge "black hole" is created, a "gap" that leaves the real, everyday classroom apart from what gets published, that is, what people at universities do in more controlled environments. (Truth is, most of the research I've read is conducted at unis in countries where English is the native language and subjects have the chance to speak English outside the classroom....definitely not our case at all).

I cannot blame, hard as it may sound, others who look down on events for teachers. In many cases, some presentations stay at the "edu-tainment" level, and hardly any theory, or research, is found.  I have seen presentations with no "References" slides, even. For some teachers, conferencing is the only kind of "training" they can afford, time and money wise. So then again, are we going to leave these teachers out? Are we going to "settle for less"?

So some people lack the "academic awareness" that we may, perhaps, take for granted. Others believe it is not necessary. What is my approach here, my choice? To balance reading and creativity, research and down-to-earth classroom techniques, the voices of the experts and the voices of my "local experts", those teachers I train who are really well-versed in their own classroom contexts. I have tried hard to quote specialists in my posts, to keep apart those reflection posts from book review ones, the bits of theory from the bits that express my own personal views.

I want my posts and Facebook page to cater for those teachers who know very little about Phonetics, and for those who know an awful lot about it; I want to reach those teachers who fear pronunciation, who do not know what to do in the classroom, and those who do a lot of pronunciation work and just need a few more ideas. I wish I could have the time and resources to make a serious, complete, well-rounded research paper out of every post, but I cannot, and I do not wish to do so here. My job is done if I can inspire at least one teacher to do some reading, to want to learn further, while at the same time help him/her get a clear idea of how to make pronunciation teachable. 

/maɪ tuː sents/

martes, 16 de febrero de 2016

Pronouncing....Sign Language - Report on a Lecture on Sign Language Phonology

I have not gone crazy. Well, perhapsI have, but I am certain that after reading this post you will understand.

This week I am really lucky to be able to attend the first summer school in Linguistics in Buenos Aires (ELBA), organised by a group of young linguists from the University of Buenos Aires. One of the courses has truly fascinated me, and it is on the linguistics of Sign Language. Today we discussed the Phonology of Sign Language, and yes, this is exactly what this post will be about. I will be discussing a few issues that were presented on the lesson, and also refer you to a few reading materials and links I have found interesting.

The course I am taking is "Current Issues in Sign Language Linguistics", and it is led by Josep Quer, from ICREA & Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona. Among the interesting things I suspected regarding Sign Language (SL) before this course, and which I can now confirm, I could mention that SLs are not "pantomime systems", they are not generally based on the spoken languages in their communities, they are neither sign systems nor manual alphabets (which are just secondary representations of language), and they have really complex (and interesting!) structures, which are even open to sociolinguistic variation. Fascinating. 

Now to Sign Language Phonology. The study of SL Phon started in the 60s with William Stockoe. He found that in SL there are three categories (or parameters) that can bring about differences in meaning and are combined according to language specific-constraints (thus leading to the creation of minimal pairs): handshapes, locations (or place of articulation) and movements. Each "phoneme", in fact, each segment, has got an internal structure made up of at least one handshape, one orientation (direction), and one location . Optionally, it may present movement (sometimes repeated), and non-manual components. The simultaneous and sequential combination of these parameters makes up the usually monosyllabic signs. (BTW, you can see some minimal pairs here)

The articulators that signers use include hands (dominant, and non-dominant) and arms, but also the head and trunk with their parts. Signs can be one-handed, or two-handed. Two-handed gestures are constrained by the conditions of symmetry and dominance (Sandler, 2002, clearly explained here). There may be mouthings (derived from spoken language), and also mouth gestures.

The features making up handshakes include the description of which and how many fingers are active, and whether these are "straight, bent, flat or curved" (Brentari, 2012), that is, the selection, quantity and joints of the fingers. The features within place of articulation or location are connected to where in the body the signs are placed (head, arm, torso, cheeks, eyebrows, etc), and the plane (horizontal, vertical, midsagittal). The features of movement include orientation (towards the speaker or interlocutor with the wrist or forearm), path (displacement of hand in space), setting (high, low, ipsi, contra, distal, contact), aperture of finger joints. The status of transitional movements between signs is a problematic issue, as is the establishment of what features could be deemed linguistic and which, paralinguistic, in some circumstances. 
Brentari's model. Credit: http://www.sign-lang.uni-hamburg.de/intersign/workshop2/brentari/brentarim.gif

Beyond the segment, we learned that a syllable in SL is made up of the combination of a location + movement + location. Sentence accent and intonation in connection to foreground and background information can be marked with a change in the dominant hand (keeping the background information with the non-dominant hand, or H2 and moving on with the dominant one!), and specific intonational meanings can be expressed with facial expressions. Non-manual gestures with the use of eyebrows or the lips, for example, however, may also be part of specific signs. Changes in "volume" may be effected through the use of wider or narrower, bigger or smaller signs, which could resemble shouting or whispering qualities in spoken languages. The combination of signs, and even processes of compounding, exhibit very interesting cases of assimilation and deletion! (Some examples of some of these issues here)

Sign Language Phonology appears to be a fascinating field, and I hope you have found it as appealing as I have!


A few references recommended by Prof. Quer:
  • Sandler, W. & D. Lillo-Martin. 2001. Natural Sign Languages. In The Handbook of Linguistics, eds. M. Aronoff & J. Rees-Miller, 533-562. Oxford: Blackwell. 
  • Brentari, D.. 2012. Phonology. In Sign Languages (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science, HSK), eds. R. Pfau, M. Steinbach & B. Woll, 21-54. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 

A few links I have found interesting:
Enjoy! (In American Sign Language - Font downloadable from here)