Resource: Intonation Graphs

As regular readers know, I love phonology and anything to do with pronunciation and listening. I also have a need to make my learners aware of what happens in the stream of speech. They need to catch the intonation to be aware of any discourse functions, any attitudinal functions and, to the extent that they can be considered anything beyond rules of thumb, grammatical functions.

So, intonation graphs. Get the graph, draw the pitch and even write the words on the graph. Something like this.

A graph. X axis is Time. Y axis is Pitch. In the middle of the Y axis, parallel to the X axis is a midline. This graph shows the rough intonation pattern for Michael Caine's line in The Italian Job, "You're only suppose to blow the bloody doors off!"

Get it here as a Word document or PDF.

Whose Cared A Lesson In? excitELT Tokyo 2018 hangout summary

Well, hello. This is a summary of my hangout at excitELT 2018 at Rikkyo University’s Ikebukuro Campus. It was really good fun and the best thing was just nattering to people I know from Twitter and meeting new people!Boom-Box@High

My slides are here, but because it was a ‘hangout’, there was audience participation, and this is what I am going to put in this post.

What’s missing from materials for listening?

Michael Griffin

  • A range of speakers: kids, seniors, non-native speakers.
  • A variety of subjects, especially interesting/useful subjects.

Matt Shannon

  • Natural language, especially at a low enough level for junior high and high school students.
  • Clear intonation patterns.

What are some activities we could use to teach/practice bottom-up listening?

Matt Shannon

  • Spelling bee.

There was also the discussion that listening can be taught with a reactive focus on something students have found difficult rather than “something pulled out of your arse” (Jones, 2018)¹.

Also, it was discussed, especially with Matt Shannon and Ruthie Iida, that some teachers in Japan are teaching English using kana, thus making it ‘easier’ for students to pronounce words, though this might render them less intelligible than if they were taught standard pronunciation of, especially vowels such as /ɜː/, /ɔː/ and /ʌ/ which can be important for contrasts, which might make the differences between Japanese and English phonological categories clearer. I said also my dream would be having enough time on the curriculum for children to be taught pronunciation using the IPA without stressing parents, teachers and kids that they can’t pick it up. However, I’ve changed my mind about this, and teaching absolute beginners without orthography might be a good idea based upon Mathieu (2016), until there is a critical mass of vocabulary or evidence of contrastive phonemes having been learned.

Comments, are more than welcome.


Jones, M. (2018) Whose Cared A Lesson In. (‘Hangout’ Presentation) excitELT Tokyo, May 6th 2018.

Mathieu, L. (2016) The influence of foreign scripts on the acquisition of a second language phonological contrast. Second Language Research, 32(2) 145–170. DOI: 10.1177/0267658315601882 (Open access)


1. I said, “I could mince my words, but I don’t think I will.” Listening and pronunciation can make you angry, I tell you.

Teaching Strategy Chains for Listening (or not)

This is a small research project I did for my MA. It was my lowest mark on the course and I totally tried to do more than was feasible. I will address the limitations below.

Teaching strategies

An approach to using strategies in listening isn’t new, although there is more to it than the advice given to new TOEIC teachers of “Get them to predict based on what they hear and then think about the gist.” What interested me was whether the strategy chains that learners build up, according to Rebecca Oxford (2011) could be instructed.

I put together a class at the local community hall for 6 weeks, with 7 women. The first class let me see the strategies that the learners were already using and give a questionnaire (the MALQ by Vandergrift et al., 2006). The last class involved no instruction of the strategy chain but allowed me to see whether it was being used. Most used a few simple strategies. I derived a chain of potentially useful strategies based upon learners’ answers to the MALQ. The class was a massive mix of levels, from A1 to B2 on the CEFR. I used a mix of authentic texts (reality television) and inauthentic texts (from First I used one text to teach the strategy chain. Learners listened twice and transcribed what they understood from the text in English or Japanese. They wrote what strategies they used in English or Japanese.

The chain

I derived the following chain for instruction: schema activation (through focused thought or speaking to other learners about the topic), plan how to listen based upon their schema activation, relax in order to reduce cognitive load issues and regain focus when attention has been lost. The reasons for this particular chain was that the learners reported little use of these strategies in their listening yet I believed that the learners would benefit from them, particularly the relaxing and refocusing.

So, what happened?

Well, all the learners went along happily with the teaching and said they used the strategy chain in weeks 2-5. In week 6, the assessment week, not a single learner reported use of the chain.

Now, this is not the end of the world. It showed me that teaching is just teaching. Whether learners decide to do something in a classroom is another thing entirely. You cannot force a way of working onto someone. It also comes down to comfort and experience. For some of the learners, they were quite proficient in communication but claimed to be uncomfortable with listening. I used schema activation in the chain and perhaps this was something that they did unconsciously. For the lower-proficiency learners, perhaps the relaxing and refocusing needed more time to be practiced effectively. Whatever the case, strategies are used, in tandem with one another, but perhaps rely more upon learner evaluation of the strategies’ value in combination than teacher evaluation.

Another aspect of the course was that it was 6 weeks which was all the time fast was feasible for me after handing out leaflets on the street and asking friends to share on Facebook (when I was on there). Potentially, with a longer course it might have resulted in learners using this chain in the assessment week. It might not have, and I am going to say that it appears unlikely. Still, it’s good to know what is unlikely to work, isn’t it?

In all likelihood it appears that teaching strategies helps learners, but the chain of strategies used depends entirely on the individual learner. It might be useful to carry out the MALQ in class, see what isn’t being used and teaching successful use of particular strategies.


Oxford, R (2011) Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. London: Routledge.

Vandergrift, L, Goh, CCM, Mareschal, CJ, & Tafaghodtari, MH (2006) “The Metacognitive Awareness Listening Questionnaire: Development and Validation” Language Learning 56:3 September 2006, pages 431-462.

Lesson resource: Night of the Living Dead


I know that Halloween is over a month past. Anyway, I was thinking about authentic, non-copyright texts and I remembered that Night of the Living Dead has never had copyright on it due to a mistake in the original film release. You can download it from The Internet Archive along with subtitles (and if you open the subtitles with a text editor like Notepad or Notepad++, you get yourself a handy script with time codes, although without speaker information).

To save a bit of time, here are some notes I took while I was watching:

10:00 (roughly) Imperatives.

20:00 (roughly) Narratives (Ben tells Barbra what happened, Barbra tells Ben).

36:30 pictorial cues to the next lot of possessions (good for eliciting knowledge of vocab and checking with listening in a minute’s time)

37:25 “I found a gun and some bullets out there. And these. This place… we have a gun and bullets, food and a radio. Sooner or later someone’s bound to get us out.”

40:25 Mr Cooper and Tom enter.

40:45 How long have you been down there?
Conditionals if, when, in case, rhetorical questions, modality will/won’t/can’t/better off. Good for negotiations and making concessions.

48:41 Simple present statements about present state with wasn’t about to mixed in.

50:00 “Does anyone up there know why we’re being attacked?”
“The radio said…” Reporting.

57:40 “The cause… It could be…” /ɪ kʊ biː/

59:40 Locations, possessive for condition.

1:02:40 Possessives. “You can…” for commands.

1:05:00 elision of /d/ in “more and more”

1:05:40 “Where’s that big smile for me?” /weərzat/

1:15:00 “There’s supposed to be a broadcast at 3.”

17:50 “Kill the brain and kill the ghoul.”

1:18:50 Report of killing ghouls. Could be good for a summary.

1:31:20 “We only need a few men to check out the house.”

I hope this is of use to someone. I will probably use it myself at some point, and if noting else, it serves as at least a mental note.

Bottoms up! Decoding in listening

Last post I wrote about the priority of making materials pretty as opposed to suitable for purpose and why it leads to a lack of bottom-up skills teaching. I was also asked very nicely for a part 2 on bottom-up activities. Unless otherwise stated this is just what I do or have done. You know what will probably work with your students.


Edit your text, simply. What items do you have in the text that learners will probably find problematic? Copy your mp3 file, edit it (using Audacity or Ocen Audio; I prefer Ocen Audio) so the item is in isolation, add a second or two of silence each side and copy the audio and paste it a couple of times. You should have a file with the same word/chunk/tone unit/whatever three times. Do the same with any other items you want to focus on. This sounds time consuming, but it only takes about ten minutes or so when you get used to it.


Well, apparently we carry auditory prototypes of lexis about in our memories. While we don’t expect to hear the actual prototype, we have wider tolerance the more variations we hear.

Are you embarrassed by ridiculous voices? Well, I have no shame. I will utterly mug it up in the classroom, pronouncing target lexis in bizarre, but still generally decodable, pronunciation affectation. Overly high pitch, lisping, stammering, changing vowel quality. With my mouth hidden so as to avoid being lip read. Something I plan to use in some classrooms with internet access is Youglish. You could also use a subtitle downloader, video downloader and Grep if you have coding skills or a ton of time.


The oldie but goodie. Use a short text or read a short text, twice or so. Have learners identify the stressed word in each tone unit and take notes. Learners then regrammar the text based on what they heard and grammar knowledge.

You can vary this by asking learners to also note the words prior to and following the stressed word. This is useful for function word awareness, especially with the weak form of ‘can’ /kən/.

Cut ups

Another activity for identifying target items and working with preceding/following items is to cut up and reorder a text *as a group*. I do this with a class I teach through songs. It is a success in having learners think about what they hear following a line of song. It has also worked with short dialogues with a lot of backchannelling that would not be easily sequenced by discourse adjacency awareness (appropriate response awareness) alone.

The line

Hada Litim told me about an activity where the teacher draws a line on the board, and then learners listen, placing stressed words above the line and unstressed words below. I shall steal this at my earliest opportunity.

Listening bingo

There is a great post somewhere, I think, on listening bingo on Richard Cauldwell’s site. Unfortunately, I can’t find it. He suggests writing some word or phrase pairs, actual and likely error, in order of appearance in the text and have learners identify which they hear. It’s good for connected speech and words out of dictionary citation form.

If you have other ideas of activities, feel free to share in the comments!

Against the Coursebook Flow for Better Listening

This post is informed by my own research (Jones, 2017), but isn’t exactly part of it. It was partly inspired by a eureka moment at the sink while washing the dishes. I was thinking about coursebooks, and particularly the flow, when the connection came to me. Anyway, more below.


Take a moment to think about how a coursebook lesson flows. No prizes for guessing that it follows PPP. Usually it’s this: Schema activation (recalling and retrieving knowledge about a topic) activity from an image, perhaps some ‘Starter’ questions. Present language, using reading and/or listening text (usually alternating across a unit, with a reading sub-unit and a listening sub-unit). Move on to a grammar exercise or two. Finish with a ‘free’ speaking activity.

I’m going to look at this listening flow. I’m not going to say that schema activation is a waste of time at all but, does it need to be done every time listening is taught? I am going to say no because we don’t always know or have the ability to make reliable predictions about the upcoming content of conversations we are likely to be involved in or overhear. There is also the fact that in a survey I conducted with teachers about what they state their practices and beliefs to be (Jones, 2017), activating schemata massively negatively correlated with teaching bottom-up listening skills. Basically, teachers who say they activate schemata, say they don’t teach bottom-up skills and teachers who say they teach bottom-up skills say they don’t activate schemata. That bottom-up skills are neglected is not a given, however, but it is only the explicitly stated practice of a large minority. So less than half of the teachers I picked up through social media, the freaks who talk about teaching in their free time, teach bottom-up skills explicitly.

Why? “It’s not in the book” actually isn’t the answer. It is usually in the book, but it’s mislabelled as ‘pronunciation’. It’s a chance to practice what John Field (2008) calls ‘microlistening’ (Field, 2008, (ch. 5, p. 19/33), or decoding and practicing listening to features of connected speech in relative isolation to the rest of a larger text. It’s not always fantastic, but I bet, based on a study I did with Japan-based English teachers (Jones, 2016) on beliefs about pronunciation teaching, that it’s omitted by about 20% of teachers, and only taught at word level, with anything longer than phrase level being omitted by roughly half of teachers.

Why? I don’t have evidence for what follows, it’s just a theory, but I think the schema activation picture is a bit more attractive due to the nice flashy image, potentially with a vocabulary bank, compared to a half page made up of IPA characters to target aspects of speech such as weak forms or even scaffolding the decoding of unfamiliar lexical words. Unattractive books (or books that might look difficult due to a lack of images or actually using IPA) won’t be published for fear that they won’t sell, so learners and teachers who may want to use a book are left with the status quo. And the bottom-up listening masquerading as ‘pronunciation’ doesn’t get covered because it isn’t attractive, isn’t as easy to teach as a grammar exercise, and as Ableeva and Stranks (2013) state:

[T]he real purpose of many listening materials, then, appears quite clearly to be one or more of the following: topic extensions; exemplification of grammar; exemplification of functional or lexical items of language; lead-in to a learner speaking activity. All of these
are worthy and defensible aims, but they are not aims which are tied intrinsically to
improving learners’ ability to process spoken language.

(Ableeva & Stranks, 2013. p. 206).

So, it would be nice to have some teachers’ books to tell teachers to make more of the ‘pronunciation’ sections. It would be nice to have the ‘pronunciation’ sections labelled as ‘phonology’ or ‘listening’. It might just then join the dots for a lot of teachers, particularly novice teachers, to build learners skills to help them tackle longer listening texts with more confidence.


Ableeva, R. & Stranks, J. “Listening in another language – research and materials” in Tomlinson, B. (ed.) (2013) Applied Linguistics and Materials Development. London: Bloomsbury.

Field, J. (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.

Jones (2016) Teachers’ Beliefs and Practices Regarding Listening and Pronunciation in EFL, Explorations in Teacher Development, 23, 1. 11-17 JALT TD SIG.

Jones (2017) English Language Teachers’ Beliefs and Stated Practices Regarding Second
Language Listening Pedagogy and Alignment with Research. Unpublished MA Dissertation. University of Portsmouth.

TBL ELT Task Idea #2

I took my second idea from the LinoIt TBL ELT Board, a lesson planned especially for this class and using a listening task as the presentation of language (Task 1).

I was banking on three students attending but in the end only one student came and he was 20 minutes late.

We used the entire task sequence but I looked at listening to reduced forms in connected speech by using a prepared gapped transcript (my just-in-case activity).

Was it the best lesson ever? No. It was with a student who is often late and has erratic attendance so I just don’t know his needs as well as those of the rest of the class. Did it go OK? Yes. I think I need to look at conditionals briefly for a bit of consolidation but really do more with reporting speech naturally.

Coursebook Palaver Rechurned

I was going to stay out of it but I think I’m going to have to jump into it. The coursebook thing has reared its head again. Thanks to Liam T, Steve Brown, Brad Smith and Hana Ticha for drawing me back in helping me to think about this.

I think I need to set out my thoughts first.

Global coursebooks are, with few exceptions, rubbish because they try to teach everyone but few actually learn what’s in the book in a meaningful way, mainly but not only because of a focus on grammar and lexical sets.

They are also rubbish because they are bland. There are the odd few with the odd reading passage I’d read for interest. Generally it’s just in there because it’s a carrier topic and in global books those topics have to be inoffensive, thus bland.

Coursebooks are rubbish because everybody speaks the same way. Completely unrealistic speech patterns, too slow and with a script that focuses heavily on presenting grammar points. Business coursebooks are usually more natural than general English coursebooks but that’s sort of like comparing death by hanging and firing squad; the result is the same: students find natural speech difficult to decode and it is difficult for them to anticipate problems with natural speech.

Not all coursebooks are terrible. Mainly business or ESP books are good. Unfortunately, people studying for specific purposes have plenty of motivation which would aid their learning. General English is often English as a School Subject and learners often learn through obligation with no clear idea about why they are studying other than because they need to.

Business coursebooks usually have more explicit discourse-level communication present than general English ones. Both are usually sorely lacking in pronunciation or phonology (even help for teachers to mine texts or audio for this in the teacher’s books is woefully absent).

What’s better than coursebooks is a good set of resources, ideally the kind of stuff with no copyright or with a Creative Commons license, or at least permission to photocopy so you can be sure there are no legal issues. These don’t usually focus on isolated grammar points but when they do they are not in a suggested sequence based on the hunches of someone completely unfamiliar with your learners. You might say that a load of these downloaded onto a USB drive or uploaded to cloud storage is a 21st century resource book.

I still haven’t found a book of resources I truly love because there are too many word searches and crosswords in some but I continue to live in hope. The execrable coursebook I have to use as a syllabus for the university I teach at for an agency does have a workbook with some great activities.

Objections to what I’m saying

  • Coverage/pacing of material is necessary because my boss says so.
  • I pay sufficient lip service to the book to say the syllabus has been taught. Usually it’s one reading done quickly with some vocabulary checks or retellings, else I do the listening as a listening skills mini-lesson,  but the rest is a task that might result in the language in the book being used. If not, that’s fine. Correct the language, reflect and probably trying the same task or a similar one again.

  • Students like books.
  • Fine. Are you a teacher or a bookseller? Is it necessary for them to use the book in a lesson or could it be used at home?

  • Teachers like books.
  • Great. If teachers find coursebooks useful then that’s awesome. I do find it difficult to believe that the same book can work across contexts to provide a sufficient footing for language acquisition to take place.

    Thinking about how to use a book is not the same as being on auto-pilot, plotting a course from page 4 to page 117 over 20 weeks. I think it’s fine to present the grammar for exposure. However, don’t expect it to be ‘mastered’ and beat yourself up or question student motivation or work rate if they can’t use it just because it’s been taught.

  • My students want me to teach the book.
  • They might want you to use it but have you asked them why? Who is the language teaching professional? You might ask how long they have used this method of study and whether it appears to be working. Sometimes you might use the book in ways that are different but as long as they are learning, I expect most students would be satisfied.

Teaching Listening

I’m going to present at Saitama JALT’s Nakasendo on 19th July in Urawa. Why not come along?

The things I’m going to look at are ways to avoid pointless listening tasks and instead teach students skills they can apply to listening.

I’ve covered similar ground in this post before. However, I’m much more handsome in real life I will add more and actually show what you can do.