Pronunciation: a ragbag of activities, methods and ways to teach it

This post, ironically, is something I’ve put off writing for ages and ages, less because the topic is daunting but more because it’s dauntingly large and I could easily get carried away. However, Kamila, whose blog you should definitely follow, asked me to write something about pronunciation and so I will.

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Focus on FormS (i.e. pre-selected) or Focus on Form (i.e. reactive)?

I ago for the Focus on Form every time. If something needs to be taught, you’re going to have your students realise more easily if you can show them what they haven’t been able to do yet, get them to be able to do it afterwards, consider the difference, and go about their communication again.

Phonology

The IPA

Whenever I am giving feedback on phonology, I tend to use an IPA phonemic transcription, usually contrasting an error (i.e. improbable intelligibility) with a standard example (i.e. easily intelligible). Why? You can show that at the phonemic level that two sounds are different. This works, in my experience, with segmental phonology such as single phonemes, phonotactics (basically combinations of phonemes, and a clear example would be consonant clusters in standard English versus epenthesised consonants produced by L1 Japanese and Korean students, and also when looking at suprasegmental features like connected speech and also even intonation. Huh? Why?

I don’t really spend any time being explicit about learning IPA characters out of context. Mostly the characters make the sounds my students expect, with only a few exceptions among the vowels. Because it’s always there, it usually sinks in fairly well and fairly quickly. Also, nothing goes on the board with modelling and practice.

Sagittal diagrams and mouth shapes

Sagittal diagrams really have worked well. I normally draw sagittals up on the board whenever I need them instead of having a set of sagittals on PowerPoint like I feel I should. It’s second nature to me now but I do remember the steep learning curve.

For some sounds, you really need to show the mouth shape, too. I have used chalk drawings, photographs of my own mouth, and paused video in VLC to show the way people’s mouths look when they are articulating particular phonemes. The video one is particularly useful because you can show how the mouth moves from one sound to another smoothly, which is beneficial for making sounds more salient (easy to perceive) when listening (Hardison, 2018).

I usually give feedback on mouth shapes and point of articulation in really simple terms like “lips more spread”, “put your tongue in the place for /g/ but hold it and let the sound come through your nose” and such.

Stress and Rhythm

“English is a stress-timed language” chorused everyone on my DipTESOL during phonology brainwashing input sessions. I often demonstrate it by writing a short passage on the board (with transcription) and then have students mark the stresses, and check by speaking it and clapping. To make it more visually salient, I might flash open palms (thanks ELFPron – I can’t find that post I took your idea from) or stretch a brightly coloured (bunch of) rubber band(s). Depending on class size and space in my bag, I might also bring a triangle and beat it muted for unstressed syllables and open for stressed syllables and semi-muted for secondary stress. This might be easier for some than others.

Intonation

I know exaggerating intonation is really tempting but I don’t do it now because the mimickry makes me realise I sound like a dick when I do it. What I do instead is just mark it on the board and/or use gesture to make it more salient. I was, at one point, going to do a lot of classroom research on intonation teaching but I was really busy and it never happened but I could add it to the endless list of things I feel driven enough to add to a list but not driven enough to carry out.

References

Hardison, D. M. (2018) Effects of Contextual and Visual Cues on Spoken Language Processing: Enhancing L2 Perceptual Salience Through Focused Training, in Gass, S. M, Spinner, P. & Behney, J. (2018) Salience in Second Language Acquisition.

Other blogs

Hit the comments if you want to give other tips. Also, obviously, check out ELFPron and Pronunciation Bites.

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Manipulation or Motivation?

I will probably flesh this out in a few weeks with more references and make it longer so if this interests you, maybe bookmark this.

Motivation and Anxiety

Today, Zoltán Dörnyei presented at the TESOL conference in Chicago and he presented about engagement. Now, engagement is one of those words that everyone knows the meaning of but when asked to define it they define it differently than the next person. I don’t know how Prof. Dörnyei operationalises engagement so I am not going to put words in his mouth. What I am going to do is situate his talk in a wider context regarding affective factors in language teaching.

Motivation and engagement are positive words. They signify positive affect toward an act, and when used to talk about teaching and learning, they are used to support the idea that being on task and wanting to be on task is good. It’s an obvious good thing because in our minds, being on task means that language gets acquired.

Consequently, foreign language anxiety, as put forward by Elaine Horizont and her colleagues (1986) is the extreme negative effect of using and learning a foreign language. Obviously engagement and motivation are good and anxiety is bad. However, what we do to foster increased motivation and engagement and lower anxiety are not just commonsense, value-neutral acts.

A Dilemma

I have some great colleagues dotted around the various places I work at. At one, there is a colleague – let’s call him Bob, because I don’t know how comfortable he would be with me sharing this conversation and actually attributing it to him. Bob was at a conference when an attendee or presenter talked about “tricking” his students into being motivated to participate in tasks or activities. Bob was aghast. Bob thinks that this is manipulation. Manipulation is not usually considered good. Manipulation to be motivated is bad, then. But being motivated is good, so how does one reconcile this?

We are human and therefore we all have the right to make our own decisions. Students sign up for classes* and therefore are motivated enough to attend lessons, and another reason to sign up may be to have accountability for language learning behaviour like doing homework, reading, listening to podcasts, etc. Nobody signs up for classes to be subjected to manipulation. Yet this is what we do if we are trying to exercise control of other people, however noble our intentions.

So, what is our solution here? People will make irrational choices. In language teaching, what is often comfortable is not always the same as what is supported by evidence from research. People like this because they have a fixed idea of what ‘studying’ and therefore, learning looks like, because they may be equated to one another due to the near synonymy. Do we manipulate our students into our way of doing things? I’d say this is too patrician and also reduces the opportunity to foster learner autonomy.

If students are not given information to base their learning choices upon, and the teacher simply dictates what happens, they will either go along with things or they will reject the teaching through disengagement or non-attendance. If teachers trick students into participation, no choice is occurring, thus limiting the opportunity to decide upon participation, and reducing the likelihood of voluntary participation in future activities. It doesn’t matter how engaged the students may be; the fact is that there was no choice and if students feel lied to or manipulated then trust in the teacher (or even, in extreme cases, all teachers) is reduced. However, if we explain why we plan the activities we include in lessons, students can hear our rationale and if they don’t agree they can either voice an opinion or choose to participate or do neither. We can inform students about more fruitful ways to study than they may be used to. Therefore, when trust is established, then information is reliable and taken on board and acted upon.

Footnote

*At least the adult ones do, and I include university students in this even though they may have been strongarmed into deciding to go to university and they could always drop out by choice.

Reference

HORWITZ, E. K., HORWITZ, M. B. and COPE, J. (1986), Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70: 125-132. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4781.1986.tb05256.x

A totally unqualified riff on #Alt-Ac and me in Applied Linguistics/Language Teaching

Radio silence! I have syllabi to write and such. It is the very short break between the end of one Japanese academic year and the start of another. It is my first year that I will be mainly a part-time university teacher at three universities with marginal face-to-face freelancing.

One of my sweet distractions lately has been that, should my pipe dream of being a tenured lecturer not actually materialise, it might not be a bad thing because the working conditions for tenured staff can be absolute crap anyway. No, I haven’t been listening to The Auteurs again. I’ve been reading about alternative academia, or #Alt-Ac.

I don’t get grants to do research because I am part-time and I am – without doubt – not even registered as a blip to the people in charge anywhere that would fund anything as someone who would be doing anything remotely worth money to research and take time out and have a weekend at a conference and blah, blah, blah. The research I do is because either:

  1. it would be useful once and I might be able to use it again;
  2. it might be something I can show in a portfolio to get a better job;
  3. I might be able to sell something like materials based off the research and thus be a provider of children’s shoes to my household.

Would I be a better or a worse researcher if I were actually forced to be in an office dealing with millions of emails and several meetings and whatnot? I don’t know, but it would be rather nice to learn about research methods from media other than books and podcasts. A bit unlikely for a serial part-timer, mind but I do have an embryonic duoethnography probably underway once I actually get my arse in gear.

I keep entertaining doing a PhD (and will probably do a MRes so I can get academic credit for a biggish project I have on my mind). The only problem with a PhD is thinking about recouping the cost if I did one part-time or even recouping the cost of a wage cut if I did one full time. I know money isn’t everything but it’s very difficult to support a family on scholarly knowledge alone.

But Marc, you are getting ahead of yourself. Aren’t you a mere part-time instructor? Yes, I am. I also know that I have publications coming out, the probability of more, and might even have more publications than existing full-time instructors. I am pretty sure that my corpus work, if it actually ever sees the light of day when it is reviewed will be decent, and it’s not like there are a ton of ESP corpus linguists in Japan at the minute, unless I am woefully ignorant (and I kind of hope I am, in this case). There is a shortage of people obsessively interested in teaching listening and/or pronunciation (again, prove me wrong. Please!). There is no shortage of Task-Based Language Teachers in Japan, and my new job may mean that I get a bit more input there but I don’t know, so I’m not looking to carve a path there exactly though I have a book idea I am trying to work on because I have one more day off per week this year!

So, the new academic year: I am really looking forward to it, I have some cool courses to teach, some old and some new. I will have international students for the first time in about five years as well, which is nice because it keeps me on my toes pedagogically. And I can probably get at least a few blog posts and maybe a paper out of some stuff.

Anyhow, unfocused ruffian seeks tons of cash to research listening or make corpora. Hit me up in the comments if you want to give me money (joke [perhaps]).

You may also want to avail yourself of the not dry at all Research in Action podcast by Dr. Katie Linder.

 

 

 

 

Turning essays into journal articles

There is a massively underused number of potential journal articles resting on teachers’ hard disks, cloud storage and flash drives.

This is how I sorted out my dissertation and took some best bits from other assignments for articles.

If you are interested in doing it, this might be useful. It’s how I did it and no indication of good practice.

  1. Open Word file and save as something else. Probably in a ‘working on’ file.
  2. Go through the dissertation. You need it to be between 3000-7500 words including references.
  3. You will keep much of the literature review unless you have a long lit review or a literature review of several parts. What is essential. Feel free to come back this later.
  4. Discussion and evaluation. Cut the fat. If you are doing half the dissertation this means only the pertinent bits. The evaluation only needs your caveats, probably.
  5. Results. Maybe you just need to give the results, maybe you need a minimum explanation.
  6. Methodology. Keep the what and unless you did something crazy and new, discard most of the why. How should be bare bones.
  7. OMG. Still over. Check refs. Do your quotes need to be full quotes?
  8. Damn. Sacrifice your favourite bit that is a bit odd. Is it coherent?
  9. Finished? No. You have to strip the metadata in preparation for a double blind.
  10. Set aside at least two hours to submit.
  11. Rest for 3-9 months. Seriously.
  1. Go through the dissertation. You need it to be between 3000-7500 words including references.
  2. You will keep much of the literature review unless you have a long lit review or a literature review of several parts. What is essential. Feel free to come back this later.
  3. Discussion and evaluation. Cut the fat. If you are doing half the dissertation this means only the pertinent bits. The evaluation only needs your caveats, probably.
  4. Results. Maybe you just need to give the results, maybe you need a minimum explanation.
  5. Methodology. Keep the what and unless you did something crazy and new, discard most of the why. How should be bare bones.
  6. OMG. Still over. Check refs. Do your quotes need to be full quotes?
  7. Damn. Sacrifice your favourite bit that is a bit odd. Is it coherent?
  8. Finished? No. You have to strip the metadata in preparation for a double blind.
  9. Set aside at least two hours to submit.
  10. Rest for 3-9 months. Seriously.
This is just my experience. I used part of the Applied Linguistics module, my DipTESOL independent research project, a corpora essay and half my dissertation.

Good luck!

Do Lines Need Drawing

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Over the last couple of weeks, a lot of my communication online and offline has been about English language education and the status, stage and purpose it occupies, for teachers as well as students. There are the usual gripes of coursebooks, which I am not going to get into here because I have looked at it before (on more than one occasion), and also the state of the industry/profession and the definitions of ELT, (T)EFL, (T)ESL, (T)ESOL (and Steve tweeted that maybe this is not actually the case now).

So, a bit of background out of the way, on to Mordor!

Us and Them

Most English teachers are, like most people, nice and just trying to go about their day. I’m not going to talk about the outliers who are just unpleasant. This is for the rest of us, and I’m going to talk about a few types of people and it gets political, actually. Sorry, but I’m not sorry.

English teachers generally tend to be a bit bleeding heart. English teachers generally need money to feed themselves and do nice stuff. We can kid ourselves that we are helping make the world a better place. However, why not indulge me and just consider the following questions.

  • How much do we dripfeed the subliminal message that English makes the world go round and anything else just is a bit substandard?
  • We need work, and if Chain Language School can offer enough work to ensure one doesn’t end up homeless even though they drive down wages by aggressive undercutting, is this a wise choice?
  • Do you teach people or content? I’m not even talking about methodology here.
  • Are we, as teachers, being enabled to use a book in a pedagogically sound way and being enabled to deliver content in a standardised way?
  • Are we thinking about how to enable language acquisition to take place?
  • Are we thinking about how to enable acquired language to be used to perform tasks or even speech acts appropriately?
  • Are we given time and resources to provide the best teaching possible?

While a lot of these questions have answers that seem obvious, I am going to say that a lot of us say one thing and do another – and I am holding my hands up here and saying I am not perfect but I try to be good. Eating requires money and so on. Luckily, I don’t require a fast car or designer clothes to feel good about myself. I do have a child and this means the earning of money and the teaching of language.

The problem is that other forces, basically capitalism/neoliberalism manipulate the environment and how easy it is to make wise choices all the time. I’ll go out on a limb and say that several of the larger publishers even obfuscate what a wise choice would even be, because it would actually cause the teachers and administrators who buy/order books to see that buying more books that are pedagogically unsound is, well, unsound and so they would stop ordering and the publisher would cease to exist.

The differences between us

Look, I don’t  want to be a snob (actually, even an anti-snob), nor do I want to be telling anybody how to live their life, but if people can’t actually see what’s at the end of their noses when somebody is pointing it out, I would have to say they’re wilfully blind.

  • Deskilled teachers.
  • Unskilled ‘teachers’.
  • Edutainment.
  • Marketisation of standardised tests of reading and listening used as a benchmark for communicative skills.
  • Use of a standardised test to assume someone can do a job when there are no similar instances of domain-specific language.
  • Book as syllabus.
  • Book as content.
  • E-‘learning’ of multiple-choice questions.
  • Making everything about jobs rather than edification.
  • Making everything about financial return for companies rather than value for money for students, teachers and education providers.

We have a whole culture of spending a month to do a course to get a credential to prove you can be in a classroom and not have chaos ensue. We have companies who will take bachelor’s degree holders and have them provide lessons and have essentially the same credential experience without the credential. This is seen as enough. This is seen as the terminal qualification, the furthest one needs to go, in a lot of commercial language education providers.

We have a culture of needing to move out of the classroom to make adequate money to raise a family. Time in the classroom is not rewarded. Unfortunately, this culture is being passed from commercial entities to schools and colleges. Teaching ‘only’ requires navigating content, providing it, and are we back at audiolingualism yet, because we have presentation of language, practice with behaviourist gap-fills and behaviourist CALL/MALL? Nothing moves on or needs to move on if money can be made.

We have experts and ‘experts’. We have people who have looked at learning, looked at other people’s studies of learning and tried to apply the findings. We also have people who have paid lip service to these studies, dismissed them because they don’t fit with what is convenient or what they have always done. We have providers of continuing professional development who are providing merely orientations to their products.

By any means necessary

You can’t fight cash fluid market leaders with merely a better lesson. You cannot provide lessons to everyone. What can be done is to show what you are actually doing. If you do good work, show it. Somebody might nick your idea. This is actually a good thing because this will raise standards. I mean, yeah, get pissed off that the idea thief didn’t do the legwork to be original or even helpful, but if the idea disperses, good stuff comes. If you have a better alternative to coursebook ELT, you need to have a tangible version of this. People are busy and they need, sadly, to just be able to print something, see what to do, and do it (I am working on something about this).

Standing on the other side of the line

I think we, as the critical wing of English teaching, need to define ourselves in opposition to the dominant idea and practice in English teaching, which usually gets called ELT (I’d say ELT Research Bites is far out of this dominant idea). As nothing bloody changes for the better and Silicon Valley gets lionised in society more and more with poor-quality MALL becoming more prevalent, we need to draw the line to stop frankly awful quality pedagogy in language education becoming the norm, stopping poor pedagogy being acceptable in language teaching, and stopping the rot. You can’t do this by just accepting it, doing your own thing and hoping that others will somehow see what you are doing and do it. We need to speak about the poor side of stuff when it dominates. We can see the rubbish – it’s in every bookshop, every catalogue you get sent, every commercial presentation at a conference, every pointless app that gets recommended for students.

Show your good stuff. The good will out. Now let’s change things.

 

The fabled 40-hour week

When I worked in a language school, I worked my contracted 30 hours a week. In exchange I got a decent starting salary. What nobody tells you from the company is that the salary only goes up a tiny bit and there’s rarely any real career progression.

That’s why I don’t work for language schools anymore. I went with agency work teaching business English and a junior high school. The agency also sent me to teach at a university. I was teaching PPP lessons, mostly with no planning to speak of (being able to wing it through a double-page coursebook spread is not very demanding). I was working about 35 hours a week, not including travelling between several workplaces in a day.

I did my DipTESOL, had my eyes opened to second language acquisition (SLA) and task-based language teaching (TBLT). This is language teaching and learning with purpose and evidence-based foundations, I thought. My planning time went up. It was a bit of a learning curve. My working hours went up to about 45 hours a week, not including travel between jobs.

Between my DipTESOL and my MA, I started working direct hire for universities and reduced my agency work as the agencies seemed to be reducing hourly rates and only get contracts in inconvenient places. With more university work and more ideas about how to support learners, I decided on portfolio assessments. I gave myself tons of marking. I decided to eschew coursebooks. I made my own materials because I couldn’t find anything decent or just what I needed. My working hours went up to about 50 hours a week, not including travel between jobs. Sometimes it’s more.

This new year, I decided to work less. Work what I need to do. I’m not compromising my principles by using stupid materials or going back to only PPP. I may change the portfolio assessments to something less demanding for me, so I am aiming for working about 40 hours a week, not including travelling about between jobs. Other professions do it, so why not us?

If you liked this, you will probably find TAWSIG interesting, too.