lunes, 17 de octubre de 2016

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

Event Report: PronSIG's Different Voices - University of Brigton

Yesterday I travelled some 500 km to the lovely University of Brighton to attend and present at PronSIG's "Different Voices" event. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues and also to see how pronunciation teaching is "handled" in other parts of the world.

Here's my report on the talks I had the chance of watching (as usual, any misrepresentation of the information here is entirely my fault, and evaluative comments are entirely my own). The full programme is available here, and the live-tweeting/facebooking, here and here. (Otherwise, you can check the storified version of all tweets at the bottom of this post)

The opening plenary was by John Wells. His talk, "Don't be frightened of intonation!" was a brief review of the some of the content and examples in his 2006 intonation book, so to us, many things looked pretty familiar, but there were some people in the audience scribbling non-stop on their handouts, so there was a lot of new content for some attendees. Wells' presentation started with a discussion of what systems of intonation could be said to be universal, and which, language-specific. Among the first, tonality was included (perhaps I will not entirely agree that it is wholly universal, myself, but then, I don't know as many languages as Prof. Wells does!) and then tone was considered to be partly language-specific, partly universal. A large focus of the talk was on tonicity, and there were cases of broad and narrow focus, contrastive focus, event sentences (which Wells called "events and disasters" ;)  ) and some intonational idioms. Regarding tone, Wells reviewed the typical fall vs rise distinctions and their associated typical grammatical contexts (statements, pardon questions) and the implicational meanings of the fall-rise. There was also a mention of major vs minor information (instead of using his reference to trailing and dependent tones), which somehow reminded me of Tench (1996). I think the best tip given was the importance of teaching tonicity through deaccentuation rules. At least for Spanish learners, this is essential!

The second slot was made up of two smaller sessions. I attended Michael Vaughan Rees' "The do it yourself tongue twister kit", which was a truly entertaining and creative workshop on alliteration and rhythm that included a competition and even a final group chant jazz session!. We had fun building rhythmic and alliterative verses based on the idea of "X bought Y", (X=name; Y=product, and the verb "bought" could also be replaced by an alliterative synonym or other verb). Such a simple verse, and so versatile!
BTW, I personally love Michael's book "Rhymes and Rhythm", and I fully recommend it to teach aspects of connected speech.

The next session was by the wonderful Richard Cauldwell. On this occasion, Richard reviewed the use of the software Sonocent's Audio Notetaker to train students for oral examinations and presentations. Through the software, different chunks of audio were colour-coded according to the criteria selected (the choice of tone, for example) and feedback was added to students' recordings. Cauldwell demonstrated how a textbook unit can also be presented in AN, on a single page made up of the combination of text, video, image and the audio panels (this looked like a particularly attractive idea for materials design!). I particularly love Richard's ability to make complex ideas so simple, and the use of metaphors is certainly one of his greatest achievements: the idea of "mountainous" speech (using rises and fall rises, chunking appropriately) vs the flat monotone"valleys" many learners engage into in their reading or speaking activities. Richard specified that his goal was to help students make their speech "listenable" without perhaps going a bit deeper into rules of intonation which could make the speech predictable, but not necessarily "listenable". This last bit reminded me of many of my teacher trainees who were somehow "overadapted" to intonation rules, and overapplied the same patterns in their speech, devoid of all expression and meaning (and I am not talking oblique orientation here, I mean the fall-rise + fall pattern trap, the continuous use of the same pattern over and over again!). At times the overapplication of rules does make machines of us, and we forget about expression, about making words mean....
Richard's handout is available here.

After lunch, we were all looking forward to the always great Adrian Underhill and his very unusual presentation title "...somewhere in the air, floating, not reachable...", based on a lovely piece of reflection Adrian received as feedback after one of his training courses. This is a very difficult presentation to describe, because it was all about proprioception. It is one of those things that you need to film and watch and try over and over again. Just a few highlights that I feel I can communicate in writing:
Underhill's premise is always the same, and it gets more and more real and clear with every presentation I see: we have to take pronunciation out of the mind, and into the body, pronunciation is an "embodied" thing, and a greater part of this is about developing propioception, "the inner sensing of what the muscles are doing, and how much pressure is being applied". Underhill claims that many teachers fail to help students with their pronunciation because they are not aware, physically speaking, of what is going on in their mouths, and they just try to refer back to their books.
We tried a number of metaphors for different parts of the mouth (trees, sky, marshes...), we reviewed the four "buttons" (lips, tongue, jaws, glottis), we tried word choreographies and different speeds and voice qualities that enabled us to feel articulation of words, connected speech as it were, in different ways. We were also invited to try different sound discovery sequences, looking at how one sound can help us discover the others.
I am sorry I cannot do justice to this presentaion, but I guess it's one of those things that need to be "experienced". Some of the pics of the slides will at least give you an idea of the different propioception prep we tried together:

I was up next, discussing some ideas on "pron-tegration". Since I will not be making this presentation any more (and I wonder if there will be more pronunciation teaching presos from me in the future, given my current teaching-less status! *cries a little*), I am sharing my slides with you here (those of you attending my talks for E-Teaching Online and UNSAM will probably recognise some of the proposed activities):

Liam Tyrrell was in charge of the last concurrent session. He discussed "attitudinal intonation" and the challenges that teachers find when trying to teach intonation for attitude, the sort of  reasons behind this "benign neglect". There was a mention of some current and previous literature on intonational descriptions, and how difficult these appear to be when it comes to applying the concepts to practice, and a few remarks on how pitch range is different in different cultures, which makes an intercultural class even harder to teach in this respect. An interesting discussion ensued after the presentation, regarding all the aspects that pertain to intonation, and to whether certain things can, or should be taught, not only in terms of production, but also in terms of being able to read pragmatic meaning (sarcasm, for instance).
My personal take on this is that intonation can be taught, that there are underlying rules, and thus, it is not erratic (otherwise we would not be able to recognise meanings, I believe), but then there is also a lot of variation in the choices made (as with all other linguistic systems!). So I guess there is a standard "intonational toolkit" of meanings that can be generalised, applications that can be made to be "safe", and others, which will definitely depend on context, and on genre. We cannot teach intonation outside genre, outside context, and I believe that is one of the great "sins" in intonation teaching, the presentation of de-contextualised examples that apply as generalisations. (One of the reasons I am doing this PhD, by the way, is precisely to overcome those limitations. Anyway, this has become a very long personal detour!)


All in all, it was a lovely meeting of pron-thusiasts and experts, in a beautiful setting (the Falmer campus is really something!), in an atmosphere of genuine attempts to share in our passion for pronunciation teaching.


miércoles, 5 de octubre de 2016

Colloquium report #1: Researching, Learning and Training Late Second Language Speech', by Kazuya Saito

Hi, there! I've been looking for excuses to blog before my read-load and write-load become bigger than they already are, and I have found one! Every Wednesday, one of my Departments (yes, I am member of both the Language and Linguistics and the Education departments) has a colloquium, and today's talk was highly relevant to us, pron-lovers.

Kazuya Saito, from Birbeck Uni in London, has presented the results of his research on late L2 acquisition. "Late" acquirers would be those individuals who start learning a second language after puberty, here defined as people aged 16 onwards. His study involved Japanese speakers in their late teens and adults who had settled in Canada.

Find my (informal) report on the event below, with a few of my own comments, of course. (The usual disclaimer: all misinterpretations or misrepresentations of the info presented are my own)

The talk began by reviewing two well-known models of L1 and L2 acquisition (or actually, "learning"? That is a whole separate debate....): the Speech Learning Model (SLM) by Flege (1993, 003, 2009), and the Critical Period Hypothesis (for this, Saito quotes Abrahamsson 2012, DeKeyser 2013, but the CPH dates from much earlier). Saito claims that these theories trigger different predictions as to what could happen to late learners.

The SPM would predict that enough exposure ("experience effects") to L2 will help learners to invoke those speech learning abilities that we applied for our L1, so age will have an effect on their ultimate level attainment, and so will the length of residence in a foreign country. The CPH, on the other hand, predicts that near nativelikeness is not attainable after puberty, which would affect late learners, and it also establishes that the skills employed for the learning of a second language involve general cognition -that is, explicit and intentional processes - rather than the explicit and incidental language-specific processes. (This latter point, I think, is very, very important when it comes to favouring explicit pronunciation instruction. However, the role of explicit pronunciation instruction was somehow argued against -or downplayed- in this presentation). In other words, for the CPH, the effects of the length of residence will also be limited.

This lit review finished with references to conflicting results in studies related to the effect of length of residence and age (mental note: go back to Linda Grant's (2014) edited volume for examples!). There was also a reference to something that is highlighted in other studies I have read, the role of motivation and aptitude as well in determining the levels of ultimate attainment. What is more, the presenter made some slight criticism to the methods employed in some of the studies, as they focused on native speaker evaluation of accents globally. Thus, Saito's "niche" lies in the focus on one specific pronunciation feature: the Japanese flap [ɾ] vs English /r/. (Two comments: I have used /r/ for the English version because it was not very clear to me whether the target was an actual retroflex approximant [ɻ], or the alveolar [ɹ] one. And for the Japanese sound, the alveolar tap symbol was used, but in the speaker's description, I often wondered if it was not the alveolar lateral flap [ɺ] that was referred to. The Handbook of the IPA says that for Japanese it's [ɽ], actually, so I should have asked! ).

The difficulties that Japanese speakers face when it comes to English /r/ are threefold: two of these are related to adjusting cues already present in Japanese: the retraction of the tongue body -shown as the lowering of F2 values, acoustically speaking -(which is why I guess the target /r/ is a retroflex, perhaps) and the prolongation of length/duration; whereas the new feature for these learners would be  the presence of labial, alveolar and pharyngeal constructions, manifested acoustically in the lowering of F3.

The study was aimed at discovering some patterns in terms of the effect of AOA (age of acquisition) and LOR (length of residence), and it involved a number of Japanese people who had moved to Canada after they had turned 16, and most of them had only had instruction in English at school -using a Grammar Translation method, according to the presenter-. They have all been described as being "highly motivated" to attain a high level of English because of their need to communicate. The experiment consisted of testing the subjects' production of English /r/ in a picture-description spontaneous production task (adapted from Munro and Mann, 2007). In all the pictures there were target words with /r/, and in order to make sure participants were tested in a more spontaneous situation, the first 3 descriptions were presented as being "for practice", and the other four were used for the test.

The results of the study revealed the following:
  • In terms of tongue retraction, most participants improved over their first six months of residence, and after that period, in this respect, their performance was deemed native-like.
  • As for duration, the correlations were significant after 12 months of residence.
  • When it came to the development of the new parameters (F3), levels of attainment were diverse and late acquirers were definitely at a disadvantage (only those moving to Canada before the age of 20 achieved better results in this study), but definitive changes were seen after 10 years of residence (!).
(Very interesting!)

Some implications for teaching were mentioned later. (I have to admit that this is perhaps where I would disagree the most, but it is true that I have worked in non-immersion contexts, and things are definitely different there). Based on these results, Saito contended that an effective tool is the use of contextualised instruction over explicit instruction of the target sound. Some of the activities mentioned included the use of prompted discussion and role plays with target words that were corrected on the spot. Some included /l,r/ minimal pairs, others did not. The testing of these activities after training students for 4 hours in two weeks rendered an improvement in students' /r/ sounds from 60% to 75%. (Plus, the "shock effect" of constant correction cannot, of course, be underrated, if these are highly motivated students!) In my view, explicit pronunciation instruction (because of the employment of these cognitive procedures mentioned earlier) is necessary to help create these new articulatory habits. I do, however, strongly make a case for contextualised and communicative pronunciation work, but not as the entry point to learn the sounds, but to make explicit instruction somehow transferrable to more spontaneous contexts (and this is, after all, the end result that Saito was seeking).

There were some very brief, but interesting questions. The issue of U-shaped learning and plateaus that is described in some psycholinguistic theories (if I remember correctly, Major's Ontogeny model, for example?) was brought up, inviting in a way the exploration of a more diachronic study of the same subjects. Another issue mentioned is whether a similar effect would be reached for the training of VOT as a low functional load feature, which was considered non-distinctive (well, I may have disagree with that, I believe that both VOT and vowel length can be distinctive in native-speaker's ears, no matter their allophonic status!).

All in all, it was a very interesting and thought-provoking talk with many implications for pronunciation teaching, both in immersion and other ESOL contexts. And a confession: at first, I was doubtful about attending a talk about Japanese, but I have to admit this whole uni experience has really widened my horizons to all the beauty and human and cultural wealth there is in this world.

domingo, 18 de septiembre de 2016

The only permanent thing is change

"The only permanent thing is change", they say. And even though my life has changed to different degrees in these last 15 years as a teacher, at times things change a bit more drastically.
If you have been reading me, you will probably know that I am an Argentinian EFL teacher, lecturer in Practical Phonetics and teacher trainer in Buenos Aires. This is the life I chose for myself many years ago, and after years of hard work and relentless study (and yes, at times a little bit of luck...), I have little by little been able to attain different teaching posts. I can't really say how grateful I am for this decade of pronunciation teaching. I have learned so much from lesson planning, and grading, and first and foremost, from my students, and my success and failure while accompanying their process. 

But today, a new challenge awaits. I envisaged a new life for me, because I think I don't know enough (to my own standards, that is) about phonetics, conversation, pragmatics and communication in general, and I want to learn more; I have this thirst to continue improving on  my understanding of English phonetics to be able to put all my intuitions and hunches in line. And I had to be honest with myself and tell myself that perhaps I was not going to find all that knowledge and all those resources I needed close by. So I made a bet, a sort of dream investment, a couple of years ago. And today, I can say I have achieved a new dream, the beginning of a new dream.

I will temporarily stop being a teacher (well, working as a teacher, because..."once a teacher always a teacher"!) to become a full-time PhD student. And I will be leaving my beloved country for some time, where English is my classroom-only language, to move to a place where I will be probably only use English, from dawn till dusk. And yes, Pronunciation Bites will perhaps change as well. It will may become a log of personal stories of social failure with my apparently posh English, or a blog of observation of different accents of English, a set of reflections on things worth teaching, and who knows what else may become blogging-worthy!

I am so grateful to all the people who have taught me so much in Argentina, in direct and indirect ways. I learned tons from both confrontation meetings and coffee sessions with colleagues and friends; I learned a lot from master classes and from words in passing; from books and from behaviour; from gossip and from advice. I am grateful to my friends, my students, my colleagues and the administrative staff at each and every place I've taught or studied at. I am also grateful to all those people I cannot, sadly, take as role models. I have been infused with ideas of who I want and I don't want to be from each and every person I've encountered, and each and every situation I've had to face, and I am deeply grateful for that.

I won't lie. I find this new experience equally scary and fascinating. I can't wait to embrace the world of learning that awaits. I can't wait to start a life of having almost nothing, of giving up on so many things I've achieved and collected over the years, to humbly get into this "you know nothing, Jon Snow" type of state. I may succeed, or I may fail miserably. But I will try to keep this space open, because I believe in sharing and  because I will always be a teacher, and think like a teacher, and live like one, and most importantly, because pronunciation is, and will always be, my passion.

viernes, 26 de agosto de 2016

Brief Briefing on IV Jornadas de la Didáctica de la Fonética - UNSAM

Hello! Today I got the chance to take part, for the fourth time, in the Jornadas de Didáctica de la Fonética, which will from now be named after the wonderful Clem Durán. This conference in pronunciation teaching is held every two years at Universidad Nacional de San Martín. 

Due to personal reasons I will not be able to make it to the second day, so I wanted to briefly comment on some of the things I found interesting about today's activities.

In the ! morning plenary, Prof. María Emilia Pandolfi discussed some interesting priorities and areas that need attention when training Argentinian opera singers to perform in Italian. Some lovely audio samples were presented. I personally think the world of coaching in Phonetics formsingers, radio speakers and actors is something worth hearing further about. (And yes, Italian is sooo enticing and melodious to my ears..😍)

Prof. Adriana Boffi made a deeply thought-provoking analysis of oral exam descriptors, comparing English and Spanish assessment standards and discussing the underlying beliefs and (my take here) ideological underpinnings behind some lexical choices in he rubrics. Boffi made a point of all the different aspects that constitute a person's "pronunciation" and how difficult it is to establish clear boundaries and bands for assessment.  Issues related to the interlocutor's "effort" in trying to understand, intelligibility and identity were reviewed and problematised, and the role of intonation as a key element in the presentation of pragmatic meanings was highlighted. 

In the afternoon panel there was a historical and sociolinguistic review on the vicissitudes in the selection of a teaching variety for pronunciation (this reflection centered around Portuguese, but works for all languages!) by Prof  Nélida Sosa. Prof. Luiz Roos, in his own entertaining style, presented some reflections on the difference between "mistakes" and "errors" and the practice of correction to learn vs correction to assess. I had my own 15 minutes to make a brief, informal, exploration of ideas and principles in "pron-tegration" (BTW, I have to admit I am no longer a reliable speaker of Spanish..sadly...)

I was in charge of moderation of one of the concurrent sessions slot , so I was lucky to hear the presentation of five very diverse papers:

Esquibel, Eliana, Gordillo, Germán yRomán, Sandra (UNLaR) 
discussed their innovative experience in analytic listening (Ashby 1996) applied to intonation training -to tone perception, in particular- so as to enhance tone production alongside it. I myself think that a multiple choice task of the kind they suggest does help restrict the number of distractors for tone perception (which is why in the last two years I have replaced the regular dictation amd decoding tasks with other ear-training activities...worth another post!)

Peréz, Liliana(UNCuyo) made a literature review of the comparison between the processes and strategies involved in reading aloud vs reading silently. A case for reading aloud in the Phonetics class was put forward, after weighting down advantages and disadvantages.

Grasso, Marina y Martino, Daniela Lorena (UNLP) (lovely accents, in my view, btw!) made a very interesting report of the kind of work they do with third year teacher training students at university. Trainees are asked to record a lesson and provide an account of the prosodic choices associated with Teacher Talk based on the model by Sinclair and Brazil (1982, and others). On a personal note, I was looking forward to this presentation, as I've been working with classroom discourse in my Lab 3 and 4 courses for a couple of years, and to see how effective and significant this kind of work is, in all these different institutions, makes me believe we can find a way out of intonation L1 transfer by making use of our student's own working context ( yes, in my country most teacher trainees have already got a lot of teaching experience!). My own students admitted that the Teacher Talk unit in the syllabus is one of the few contents with immediate application outside College, into the real classroom (a lot to think about!).

Ibáñez, Karina.  (UNLP) discussed some of her findings in the use of the level tone in French, validated by native French speakers' perception of possible pragmatic meanings. I cannot fully appreciate the nuances of the language due to my own ignorance of  French, but Karina's proposal of studying language in context and with authentic materials in order to discuss situated values of one is transferable to other languages.

Panzachi Heredia, Damaris Ana Ruth y Luchini, Pedro Luís. (UNMdP – UCAECE Mar del Plata – Colegio Atlántico Sur (CADS) presented a very interesting experiment on processing times and comprehension of three passages: one with proper accentuation, one in which the choice of nucleus is unlikely, and an "accentless" one ( to be honest, I found this idea of accentlesness quite difficult to figure out. To me, it was more of an oblique version with a succession of accents maked with level tones, but then that could be the effect of my own "perceptual mould", or expectations). Subjects were asked to complete a number of tasks used to test info retrieval and processing times. This was a pilot study that promises to be quite interesting, once some adjustments are made. Looking forward to hearing more about this!

So here ends my brief briefing of what I have been able to take down and focus on at the conference. All misinterpretations of the theories and results presented and typos remain my own. Goodnight!

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":