Pronunciation is a motor skill. To be able to produce the sounds of a language correctly we need to work on the movements of the mouth (and so on). However, that’s not all pronunciation is. We still need to develop muscular memory and automaticity in order to achieve fluency.
ie. repeating things makes it easier for your mouth to make the right sounds when you need them, and having phrases that you can utter without thinking makes you more fluent.
Put even more simply, practice makes perfect and repetition helps with memorisation. This is a case for using drills, shadowing or other techniques. Although looking back at what I’ve just written, it’s more about improving fluency and memorisation than it is about pronunciation… Food for thought!
Making drilling more fun
Many teachers are put off from using drills because the “listen-and-repeat-after-me” (or “after the CD”) kind of drill is pretty boring. There are several ways to liven up drilling.
Here I’m going to describe one choral drill that focuses on sentence stress, using a stamp of the foot on the stressed word (or words). Surprisingly I didn’t find it by “drill with stamping” or any similar name by googling, so perhaps it has another name? It’s also good as a Question-Answer drill which makes it more interactive and a bit of “substitution drilling” can be added in, as you’ll see later.
I’ve tried this with low-level, shy Vietnamese adults and tweens but I haven’t (yet) tried it with older teens. It’s a bit physical, gets students out of their seats and the students I’ve done it with have enjoyed it.
Choral drill with stamped stress
I’ll illustrate it with an example for ease:
A: “What time is it?”
B: “It’s __ o’clock”
Setup and Modelling
Put the students standing up in two lines facing each other (not too close to each other or it would be a bit intimidating)
Model the phrase and stamp your foot (stepping slightly forward as you do) to indicate the stress as you say it. “What TIME [stamp] is it?”
Drill the whole class on the phrase, including the stamping on the stressed words.
Model and drill various answers, eg. “It’s 4’o’clock”, “It’s 10’o’clock”, etc.
Chorally drill half the class (ie. one line, let’s call it Line A) Ss on the question: “What time is it?”. The other students, Line B, remain silent.
Drill the other students, B, on an answer or two: “It’s 4’o’clock”. Line A remain silent.
Explain or model that when you count down 3, 2, 1, then A will say their line and B immediately answer with theirs.
Call out a variable to change, eg “ten” and they say it for “ten o’clock”.
After a few drills with A asking B for the time, you then swap them round so Line B are now asking “What time is it?” and A answer. Top tip: I’d advise quickly re-drilling each group before you do a 3,2,1 to start it off.
It can take a little while for students to get the timing right (ie. for students get that it’s 3,2,1 – speak).
While there is drilling, after the initial setup, it’s more student-centred and less a case of “repeat after me” once you get onto the main stage of the drill.
Considering a silent approach to pronunciation, you could probably remove the listen-and-repeat “What time is it?” drill with humming the rhythm: də–Də-də-də?. I think I have done this in the past (I first learnt this drill in 2012).
I’ve also done a little bit of individual drilling and/or given feedback while students are stood in the line.
Students do tend to find it quite fun. It’s potentially a drill to add to your repertoire, to use occasionally. It might help boost students’ confidence and fluency before doing a mingle or whatever you plan do next.
Over to you: What variations do you add so your drills aren’t just listen-and-repeat? Or do you avoid drills entirely? (If so, I’m curious why!)
PS. It’s hard explaining this online, and I may have missed something, so do ask if anything’s not clear!
A #ELTchat discussion on Academic Research and ELT took place on twitter in February 2018. The topic was suggested by @SueAnnan and @mr_kuo. This article is a summary of the chat, and you can read a complete transcript here.
@Marisa_C introduced the topic on the ELT chat blog (editor’s note: this is just an extract, full intro here):
There have been quite a few recent blog posts about the lack of filtering of research to teachers and the poor mediation, or even lack of mediation, between researchers and classroom teachers found in certain publications consumed by foreign language teachers (known as ‘methodology books’).
Teachers are often accused of operating on the basis of partial or no evidence at all. Teachers feel somewhat defensive about these accusations, while the ‘knowers’ (often in universities) feel that teachers don’t do much to educate ourselves.
From the perspective of some #ELTchat teachers, there is a worry about not always being up to speed on what’s changing in our profession and journals are expensive, which was widely felt to be a problem.
In this summary I’ve grouped the comments on research into main threads.
Accessibility of Research to Teachers
Cost and Availability
Given their expense, @fionaljp thinks journals should be in staff rooms but others felt that was unfortunately unlikely. Outside of a university setting, many teachers don’t have much access to research, lamented by @naomishema.
There was a call for more open-access research (there is some – see links at the end) but it was acknowledged that research needs to be funded. Researchers are under a lot of career pressure to publish. What they publish may not have a 1:1 relationship with what teachers would like to read.
@SueAnnan voiced frustration about not being able to find accessible research to support her point of view on learning styles, back when it first became controversial. @RobertTaylorELT suggested research reviews are helpful.
Understanding and Evaluating Research
Many teachers don’t have the background to fully engage critically with research. @Marisa_C says teachers she’s spoken to recently have not been taught experimental design, which includes how to evaluate research. @RobertTaylorELT thinks teachers need to be trained to understanding research. But are teacher training courses the place for this? @hartle thinks research may come later.
Tweeters expressed concerns about the quality of research, for example, what is the minimum sample size (@hartle says “a sample of 25 for an action research study is fine”) and whether “badly conducted research slips through the net” (@SueAnnan) and consequently their own ability to judge the quality of research.
There is no single solution, but it’s felt that teachers need to learn how to read and evaluate research.
Various tweeters complained that research is written with other researchers in mind and as such, the language can be inaccessible to #ELTchat teachers (both natives and non-natives, teachers, teacher trainers and more), nevermind some NNESTs in state schools whose English may only be B1 or B2.
Even methodology books, which can be much more accessible in terms of language and physically getting hold of them, can vary in how user-friendly they are. @11thhourspecial suggested starting with Lightbrown and Spada’s How Languages Are Learned. Also, ELT Journal is an attempt to bring research to teachers, according to @hartle.
Teachers and Researchers Understanding Each Other
It was felt that dialogue between the two would be good, but we often operate in different spheres and attend different conferences.
@este_moscow asked if these two roles were always compatible.
@RobertTaylorELT asked “Is there much room for teachers to move towards research?”. Or, put another way, is there scope for us to meet in the middle?
Mediators exist – methodology writers and webinars put on my Cambridge ELT for example. However, @RobertTaylotELT cautioned that sometimes “seemingly learned people interpret research to suit their beliefs”.
@hartle provided her interesting perspective as both a researcher and educator. One example she gave was a facebook group on Corpora to involve more teachers.
@naomishema recently collaborated with a researcher to publish an article, fully admitting this joint effort helped it to actually get published.
Even if teachers read research, see how it’s relevant to their classrooms and “teachers need calls to action” (@LinguaBishes).
Selecting What To Read and Cascading Information
@fionaljp reads what she’s interested in, while @GlenysHanson chooses research that fits with her feelings. @MoreMsJackson and @LinguaBishes like the idea of teachers focusing on specialisms or interests and remaining up to date with those. This also feeds into the idea of cascading information to each other (not having to read about everything firsthand), as this lessens the workload on each teacher.
However teachers do still need to be up-to-date with other developments in ELT, as @SueAnnan added “we need to know about findings that challenge what we are doing in class”.
She also questioned how long it takes for research to make it into classroom practice. “If we aren’t made aware of it, we can’t change much.”
ELT chat teachers are probably more engaged than the average teacher. What can we do to pass on what we learn? (@MoreMsJackson and @SueAnnan)
We need to be passing information on in training. (@fionaljp)
Many teachers are already busy, so any solution has got to be cheap, quick and very relevant to the classroom. (@MoreMsJackson)
What Else Teachers Can Do
There were more questions than answers in this part of the discussion, but that’s a starting point!
A “How to Read and Do Research” MOOC was suggested, though it was felt it might not be the best solution.
Teachers “can develop their own brand of reflection, action research and publication channels” (@hartle)
11thhourspecial pointed out “not all research has to be hard science” and we can start with investigating our own classrooms and our own teaching.
Connected speech has many elements. I’m assuming you are at least a little familiar with these features. If you’ve never heard of terms like linking, assimilation and elision, Rachael Roberts has a great blog post which introduces the main players in connected speech.
Perhaps you’re wondering what’s the point. Are these words just jargon to learn for the Delta exam? Is there any application to the classroom? Well, of course students don’t really need to learn terminology like elision, but connected speech is most definitely relevant to the classroom. Did the title of this article give it away? 😉
Why learners need to learn about connected speech
They don’t necessarily need to start speaking like that themselves. But if they are not aware of the changes that occur in fast, natural speech then chances are that learners’ listening ability is going to suffer.
The stream of speech
Natural, fast speech is “full of simplifications and reductions” (Hancock 2013) in terms of pronunciation. Phonemes can change or disappear in connected speech because doing this makes speech faster and easier for us. Even the position of words in the sentence can change how they sound, and they can sound really rather different. Unrecognisable even, to someone who’s not aware of these changes.
As expert listeners ourselves, we are used to decoding the “stream of speech” we hear. We map the reductions and simplifications we hear to words and phrases we know, filling in gaps that weren’t even there. We hear traces of a sound and think we’ve heard the whole thing (Cauldwell 2013). And we do it automatically.
But most of our learners don’t. Is that surprising? Chances are, changes in fast, natural speech are different in their own language. Chances are, they haven’t listened to enough English to be anywhere near an L1 style of acquisition. Chances are, they’re pronouncing English clearly themselves: “What are you going to do?” instead of “What’re ya gonna do?”. Chances are, no-one’s ever taught them about these changes.
No wonder they can’t understand. 🙁
There are many features of connected speech. Where to start?
Now, that doesn’t mean you should go into class tomorrow and spend the whole lesson teaching learners about all the features connected speech. It may well overwhelm them (or you, or both).
I’ve been doing this for three years now and I go through the features one or two at a time (as per Kenworthy 1987) as they naturally relate to something in class. I focus on the ones that get students the most mileage. As a result, I rarely teach some of the features like intrusion.
So, which features of connected speech get students the most mileage? Which do they really need to know, asap?
Starting with the schwa
It’s no secret both I and my students are familiar with the schwa*. This is generally the first element of connected speech I teach my students.
Not only is it more straightforward than some other elements of connected speech, many of the other features (like linking and assimilation) will often include a schwa. For example, in fast speech a lot of often has linking and two schwas: /ə lɒ təv/.
The schwa comes up all the time, so you can introduce it in pretty much any lesson. Often the first time occurrence of the schwa I draw attention to is prepositions like of or to. I don’t phonemically transcribe the whole word, but I do usually board the /ə/ phoneme.
After eliciting the weak forms of some other prepositions (eg. from), I then elicit other function words like auxiliary verbs. Depending on their background, many students will have had some exposure to the schwa. If not, I still get them to produce it. Eg. “How do you think we say was /wɒz/?” (wəz)
Once students are used to the schwa (and sometimes they’re familiar with the sound before I start teaching them, so this can be in the same lesson), I often move on to assimilation. This is not always the second feature I teach, but lately it has been.
I start with reductions that happen in very common question forms that students are going to hear all the time. If you want to be precise, I’m talking about coalescent assimilation here. But we can just call it assimilation.
For the last two groups I introduced it with, these were the two questions I used and the context they came up in to show you how you can link it in with a lesson.
Do you like…?
/duː juː/ becomes /ʤə/ (or a softer /djə/ which isn’t technically assimilation)
While teaching in the UK this summer, my high pre-intermediate students were going to go out and survey local people. The students were a little nervous about starting conversations with locals so we spent part of the lesson preparing for this, including practising the pronunciation in order to build their confidence.
One of the questions was “Do you like living here?”. I seized it as a chance to introduce students to assimilation. It blew their minds. They laughed a few times as they practised trying to say it in the classroom. This is good, we’re not aiming for perfection! Make practising connected speech light-hearted.
I don’t know how they pronounced the “do you” question out in public, but it doesn’t really matter. The point of teaching connected speech is more for listening, so they can understand when other people are using it.
What’re you gonna do this weekend?
reduced to /wɒʧə gənə duː/ (or /gʌnə/)
I wanted to make small talk with my low pre-intermediate students during the Delta, particularly as I often taught on a Thursday or Friday. This question was problematic – they didn’t understand me unless I slowed my speech right down.
One day I was only scheduled to teach them for 30 minutes. Hello, assimilation! We spent the whole time practising this structure, focusing on both pronunciation and grammatical accuracy and finishing off with some small talk (eg. “What’re you gonna do for Christmas?”).
And then what?
It’s important not to focus on connected speech in one lesson and then never speak of it again. Exploit the schwa and assimilation when they come up in following lessons, keep raising students’ awareness of these features of connected speech and encourage them to notice them for themselves.
Recycle the questions that you used to introduce assimilation. This was the main reason I chose “What’re you gonna do this weekend?” – for the small talk which could be included at the beginning or end of lessons!
Draw attention to schwas and assimilation that come up in class. Over the course of 3-4 lessons my pre-int students became reasonably familiar with this kind of assimilation.
Exploit the listenings you do in class. After comprehension work, you could exploit the audio and/or the transcript. Encourage learners to notice schwas and/or assimilation. Remember to only focus on one or two features of connected speech at a time (Kenworthy 1987). The lower the level, the more likely I’m just going to focus on one feature at any one time.
Predict the pronunciation
When presenting new language, elicit from students where they expect schwas and assimilation.
You could exploit written language – from instructions on the page in a textbook to an excerpt from a reading. Get students to tell you what schwas or assimilation they’d expect.
Elisabeth, I still have questions
You may have some questions about the above. I’ve tried to anticipate some of them here, but let me know if you have any more! I love questions (no joke).
Q. But you’re teaching connected speech to low levels!
A. Yes. In my opinion, the sooner the better. For adult learners, I would introduce the schwa in one of my first lessons at any level, beginner to advanced. Assimilation I’d teach from false beginner to advanced. I teach quite a lot of Elementary classes and I always introduce these two features early on. Even my Primary YL students know about the schwa sound!
At the moment I’m coaching a C2 level learner who’s not satisfied with their listening ability. Cauldwell at IATEFL 2017 also mentioned a student who passed CPE but had accepted they ‘couldn’t understand native speakers’. This saddens me. I’d like for my students to develop their listening throughout their learning journey so they don’t end up in that position!
Q. But why teach students to pronounce connected speech if they don’t need to start speaking like that?
Cauldwell (2013) says students can “improve their decoding skills by repeating, changing, manipulating and interacting in a variety of ways with the sound substance”. Basically by playing around with the sound changes themselves, they become better able to ‘decode’ or understand these changes when they hear them.
For example, if you tell students “going to” is pronounced gonna, they’ll probably accept it but may well forget it. If you spend 10 minutes getting students to practice saying gonna in a variety of sentences, they may have forgotten it by the next lesson. They probably won’t start using gonna themselves. But they’re probably more likely to recall it the next time they heargonna. That’s what we’re aiming for – students hearing gonna and understanding.
Q. Any other tips for starting out?
A. Particularly for teaching low levels, I like to joke that we’re lazy and we like to shorten things. I then gesture with my hands to indicate shorten. Then, when practising, if learners are producing the long, “clear speech” form, I use the gesture to encourage them to self-correct to the messy connected speech version.
Students do sometimes ask me why we use connected speech. I usually simplify it to ‘because it’s easier for us to pronounce’. They can look a bit doubtful at this point, so if you’re aware of any connected speech in their L1, it can help to refer to it. I usually then reassure them again they don’t have to speak like that, but native speakers do so they’ve got to be aware.
Over to you: Do you teach connected speech to improve your students’ listening? Where do you start? If you don’t teach connected speech, do you have any questions that I haven’t covered above?
* I’m starting to fall out of love with the schwa. It’s an ongoing process, but I’m sure we’ll still be friends at the end of it.
From the very name of the approach “The Silent Way” I dismissed it as I believe input (or exposure) is one of the three conditions necessary for successful language learning.
This exposure to what I’d classify as “comprehensible input” (from both the teacher and my classmates) is certainly one of the main reasons I attend group language classes myself, as a language learner. So I don’t like the idea of the teacher not being a source of input and listening practice for learners.
As a teacher, my classes are very student-centred and too much TTT has never really been a problem for me. However I do of course talk to my students.
How can “silent” and “pronunciation” go together?
You may be aware of Adrian Underhill’s way of introducing pronunciation. If you aren’t, watch his video. When I first saw him present this, I started to understand pronunciation in an entirely different way. I learnt how sounds were formed and how to show my students how to move their mouths into the right position for sounds they were struggling with.
Pronunciation is a motor skill. Pronunciation experts like Messum, whose webinar I watched as part of IATEFL #webconf17, say we don’t actually learn pronunciation by hearing and copying but that we need to learn how the mouth, tongue, lips and even body are used to produce the sounds of English.
Let’s revisit Underhill’s approach with this in mind.
You may or may not have realised he never says the sounds as he’s teaching them. He shows students how to position their mouths and the students themselves actually produce the sounds. He gives them feedback on their performance, whether it’s good or if not, feedback on how to improve. This (in my understanding) is teaching pronunciation the Silent Way.
In the classroom
I was sort of aware of this before, but perhaps not fully aware of the implications. I have definitely at some point said things like “learners can’t say what they can’t hear” (and vice versa). But I’m no longer sure that’s entirely true. If learners position their mouths correctly, won’t they produce more or less the right sound?
Of course, it is not easy to get learners to position their mouths correctly.
I’ve tried. I’ve used Underhill’s way of teaching the phonemic chart to three different groups: speakers of Vietnamese in 2015, speakers of Korean (and one Arabic) in 2016 and speakers of Spanish in 2017. I did initially try not to say the sounds myself but I have to admit I did sometimes say them. Habit! The most recent time I taught the chart, I definitely caught myself modelling too much and was aware of it at the time. However I’m pretty sure I was just thinking “oops, stop modelling” rather than considering the reasons behind it and why it’s so important to show rather than model.
Now I understand how the Silent Way can be used for developing pronunciation as a motor skill, the next time I teach phonemic sounds (or the chart itself), I’m going to be doubly conscious of this.
Over to you: How do you teach pronunciation, particularly the phonemic sounds?
References and Further Reading
This post was inspired by November’s IATEFL Web Conference 2017, realisations from Messum’s excellent session on pronunciation and reading I did afterwards.
So here it is, the (belated) final week of my intensive Delta Module 2 in Seville. You can read about Week 1 here, Week 2 here, Weeks 3 & 4 here and Week 5 here.
There were no input sessions this week so that we could focus on LSA4 and finish off other essays, so I’ve cut many of the learning questions.
What was your lightbulb moment or what blew your mind this week?
The opposite happened this week. I spent most of the week doubting or at least questioning all of my decisions, despite having done well in the previous five weeks. It was a difficult week to get through.
What has stressed you out most this week?
LSA4 and the abovementioned crisis of confidence. I was glad to have the support of my coursemates. Not only to vent to, but also to check ideas with. At one point the only thing that kept me from giving up was the thought that if I failed LSA4 (ie. got a referral), while I wouldn’t mind having to plan and teach a different assessed lesson some months from now, I’d do anything to avoid having to write a new background essay!
What do you wish you could have done this week?
Found a way to get my confidence back. I suppose if I was doing Module by distance, teaching my normal classes might have helped.
What have you done to relax this week?
After finishing my LSA4, I still had essays to work on but I took some time in the evenings to read a novel. I rarely make time to read novels in general, so this was really nice!
What book have you added to your wishlist (or wish you’d already read)?
I want to work through the whole of Teaching Collocation instead of just dipping into it with my background essay in mind.
What’s your top study tip? Make sure you have study habits in place. I missed having input sessions to add structure to my day. I preferred working at the school rather than studying at home, but I didn’t usually make it in until 10am or 10:30am for no real reason other than being quite tired at this point in the course. I’m looking forward to having morning input sessions again next week for Module 1.
What’s your main priority for next week?
To learn more Spanish! Although I’m starting the Module 1 course, the exam isn’t until December so I’m hoping to do some language exchanges to improve my spoken fluency while I’m still in Spain…
I really struggled this week. I would not have had a sufficient support system in place if I had been doing the course by distance, especially as my lovely flatmate had moved away. Whichever way you do the Delta, I think it’s important to have good friends or family who will listen. I think it’s also helpful to have Delta-level teachers or fellow trainees you can talk to. I’m so glad I was doing the course intensively in that respect.
The other thing about the final week is that I feel I should have thought about LSA4 much sooner. Before doing the Delta, I knew we had to do Grammar for LSA1 and I was set on doing Listening for one of my LSAs. I had a preference for writing over speaking (although that’s a whole ‘nother story) but for LSA4 I was considering Lexis, Spoken Discourse or Phonology. In some ways, it was good to have options but I do wish I’d “saved something good” for the final LSA, or at least something I was confident in!
I handed my final few essays in on the Monday following the course. With a whimper rather than a bang, Module 2 is all over. Thank goodness!