domingo, 5 de febrero de 2017

Taking a blogging break

Hello, everyone.

As I may have mentioned before, life here is really hectic. There are quite a few deadlines, and there is my daily reading and writing routine to attend to. I have fabulous professors around, and of course I am being trained by my impeccable supervisors, and I am learning lots, which over here usually means asking myself lots of questions and trying to solve lots of methodological and theoretical problems. Apart from all the studying (some 50-60 hours a week these days), there is another fact: I am no longer teaching. 

This blog was born mostly as a result of questions or difficulties I encountered during my lessons and debates with colleagues. It has been an attempt to put in writing just a few of those many things I have taught, which I have not seen anyone else put in writing. It has been a way to share ideas that others may find useful when teaching. Now, this blog has, to a certain extent, changed its direction, and it has become a sort of personal log, which is really fine by me, as I have always considered myself a teacher-learner.

It should be quite obvious right now, but this is not a commercial endavour of any kind, either. I may in the future consider publishing some handouts or theory sheets, but it is not my motivation really to use this space for profit (something that many people still don't understand).

I feel the pressure to share with you all my new daily findings, and still do so in a way that will not tarnish my university's reputation, or misrepresent my views (after all, if I wanted any misrepresentation, I already know a few people who never sat in my classes and are now talking about me as if they knew me or truly understood the theoretical undepinnings of my work...anyway). Writing in a rush, and in one sitting, has somehow worked for me in many opportunities, but perhaps that is not necessarily something I want to do anymore, or at least it's something I want to do less frequently. Recording my "chirpy remarks" on the go was fun, but it may not have been as professional as I would have liked it to (though it does the job as my own way of keeping an accent log, I must admit!).

The thing is, over here, I have made lots of discoveries, and I have also proven a lot of my hunches right. This makes me really happy, and at the same time, makes me feel a bit bitter. I have a lot to say, but perhaps I am not ready to present it in the best possible way.

I am in the transition from teacher-researcher into a researcher that carries a teacher in her mind and heart.

And in order to do this the way I want to, I need time. At this point, it is either my own research project in the making (plus the challenges of having moved abroad really recently), or doing this properly.

So rather than putting more pressure on myself on getting all my drafted blog posts out, or using this space as a response to uncalled-for criticism, I have decided to take some "time out", and focus on my own research until things start falling back into place. 

I may publish my drafted posts in a month or two, I may not. I don't really know. I just want to make sure my Pronunciation Bites blog stays as a place of reflection and enjoyment, a place to continue pouring my passion for phonetics and teaching, as I have conceived this blog to be from day 1.

My Facebook page and collection will still be very much active, so I'll surely see you over there. Thank you for your continued support.

miércoles, 25 de enero de 2017

Blog posts I would like to write

Time goes by and my guilt for not doing any writing over here increases exponentially, especially as my mind is always relating every single piece of my reading to my former teaching.

I thought I might just sketch below a few thoughts that in the future, (time- and imposter-syndrome-permitting), will become full-fledged blog posts.

  • Teaching phonetics to EFL teaching trainees vs (?) teaching phonetics to future linguists. This post is already sketched, but yet not ready. It compares the type of training (goals, biblio, assessment) we provided in Buenos Aires (and more specifically, in the places where I worked) versus the training students get here in their BA in Linguistics. 

  • Teaching intonation to non-native speakers of English: genre-specific training is the key. Ever since Abercrombie (1965) we have heard that descriptions of intonation are better suited to "spoken prose" than to what happens in interaction. I believe that many of the descriptions in intonation manuals (those that are not based on introspection and made up examples...not pointing my finger at any but you know which ones I mean) work very well with the production of "monologic" (a contested notion for us, discourse people) texts, such as lectures, and stories. Some descriptions might even work well with some institutional encounters, where some patterns may be a bit more stable (though not always, I always sit next to the counter at coffee shops to see how baristas take the orders!), but conversation needs its own model. And that is very difficult to establish, at least, prescriptively*. So perhaps the textual/discoursal function of tone works pretty well against real life, but transactional and interactional descriptions of tone need a lot of corpus analysis yet. I still think that even though intonation does not have a "meaning" in itself, many of the generalisations we make are all right to be on the "safe side" for our EF learners, but if we want to transcend this and be able to describe what is going on in real interaction, we need more analytical and theoretical tools (and if you give me four years, I might come up with something...after my thesis, of course!).

  • Obliqueness, stylisation and intonation teaching. As I mentioned in one of my "chirpy remarks", obliqueness (Brazil et al, 1980) is something that happens in many languages, and may not be a result of L1 transfer when L2 learners produce it. It has got to do with the approach to the task, and I could argue that "direct orientation" is also an ability that could be taught and learned, even in L1. Stylisation, on the other hand, is really very common, and following Ladd (1978), the whole notion of obliqueness could be seen as a continuum that includes stylised versions of other tones, such as the rise and the fall-rise.

I know these remarks may look very obscure, but there is "matter in my madness", I swear. All I can say is that years of trying to test intonation hypotheses and methods with my students have not been in vain, I got nice evidence for many of my claims, and I hope to be able to lay them out to you over here in the future. And of course, I've got a million other questions and new theoretical quandaries that I expect to be able to sort out some time in...the next....20 years?

See you around!

*Just in case: I am not arguing we should be prescriptive, I am just assuming that intonation teaching in ELT and teacher training (if done at all) is pretty prescriptive.

miércoles, 21 de diciembre de 2016

More chirpy remarks (November & December 2016)

Hello! Doing some proper writing is really tough these days, so here's an update of my latest rambles on pronunciation issues and accents while on the go. Enjoy!

miércoles, 7 de diciembre de 2016

Workshop report: "Pronunciation Matters (?)" - Uni of York, Dec 7th

Today I was really lucky to get to attend a fantastic workshop/talk on pronunciation at my Uni called "Pronunciation Matters (?)", delivered by Prof. Sam Hellmuth. I was really eager to attend because I had the chance of auditing Prof. Hellmuth's classes this term and I can attest to her great knowledge, experience and teaching skills (and many of you know I am not easy when it comes to praising people!).
Below you will find a short account of the talk in my usual colloquial style and in one sitting (so sorry about any potential typos!). As I always say, any misunderstanding of the content presented is my own fault, and evaluative comments on the presentation are attributable to me alone (unless explicitly attributed to someone else!).
The session began with Sam's exploration of her journey from being a learner of Arabic -and a few embarrasing moments of her own- to becoming a teacher. This first anecdote lead to questions regarding pronunciation goals and how we can measure pronunciation gain, issues which were discused during the presentation by the presenter and the participants (as there a few slots for group discussion, which was really exciting!). (BTW, if you want to learn more about pronunciation goals and the complexity behind their selection, you can always go back to my early 2015 blog posts: here and here)

The first group discussion already triggered those heated pron-teaching-related discussions we are all familiar with: accentedness vs intelligibility, the difficulties in defining intelligibility, what accents we should teach, what accents learners want to learn...After the discussions, Sam also mentioned some well-known references in the EFL and ELF worlds, such as the paper on L2 accent and credibility issues, and accent discrimination problems in the US in the job market, among other things.

The following step in the presentation included a quick review of studies on three forms of "pronunciation gain measure": (foreign) accentedness, intelligibility, comprehensibility (these terms have been widely defined in the papers and books by Derwing and Munro if you need to trace them back, more currently discussed in the 2015 Pronunciation Fundamentals book, which guides some of the discussion by Sam Hellmuth in this lit review). There was a very interesting overview of different research findings which could potentially point to interesting teaching priorities, which I will try to summarise below:

  • accentedness, that is, the "perception of how different the accent in question is to the L1 accent used as reference" was highly dependent on suprasegmentals, though of course segmentals also play a part (Anderson-Hieh et al 1992)
    • Quick detour! Here's a fun fact that Sam presented: an accent can be even detected in speech recordings played backwards, according to Munro et al 2013 (which could be attributed to voice quality, or in my view, to base of articulation)
  • intelligibility, that is, "the extent to which someone understands whath was said", is not dependent necessarily on levels of accentedness. That is, a native-like accent does not necessarily make an intelligible accent. Suprasegmentals appear to have a diminished role in ensuring intelligibility according to the studies by Munro and Derwing (1999) and others. (I have my objections here, as usual...but they would need a whole post)
  • comprehensibility, in other words, "the listener's perception of how difficult it is to understand an utterance", can also be affected by prosodic choices.
  • An alternative measure could be that of fluency, but it was not planned as part of this presentation (and I agree, it does deserve a presentation of its own!).
Consequently, these variables can be affected by different types of "pronunciation errors" and carry important teaching implications regarding goals, and the teaching of segmental and suprasegmentals.

Another quick reference was made to the (in)famous Critical Period Hypothesis and the findings by Munro and Mann (2005) stating that it is possible to improve your pronunciation after puberty (which, to be fair, is what most of my teacher trainees and myself have done! We ought to consider ourselves heroic!?). (BTW, more on the CPH and pronunciation in my review of Linda Grant's "Pronunciation Myths" book here). This could be seen as part of the "good news" regarding pronunciation improvement.

A very interesting comparison ensued, between two possible selections of features to teach when it comes to pronunciation:

Fraser (2001)
Jenkins (2000)
> NS hearer
1.     word and sentence stress
2.     syllable structure (phonotatictics)
3.     vowel length distinctions
4.     major consonant distinctions
5.     vowel quality distinction (those with a high functional load)
6. minor consonant distinctions (those with a low functional load).
>NNS hearer
1.     consonant inventory
2.     some phonetic detail
3.     consonant clusters
4.     vowels
5.sentence stress (especially for contrast)

 Note: Jenkins' proposal is described in more detail in the ELF blog:

A brief explanation of functional load followed, together with some comments on possible criticism to current teaching materials that place too much emphasis on contrasts like /ð,θ/ which have a low functional load in English. And here I need to input my own voice: I agree entirely with this point, but I think the problem is not the inclusion of this pair as part of the materials, but the actual grouping of features. I completely understand the fact that these two sounds are articulatorily similar and differing in voice, BUT I think a more teaching-friendly approach would present this sound together with those that may bring trouble for learners, such as /d/ vs /ð/ or /s/ vs /θ/ for Spanish speaking learners of English, for example.

Finally, in this lit review, some of the most interesting bits appeared: the discussion of how possible ways as to how we can actually measure pronunciation gain, and what different bits of research have found.
  • Saito (2013) has reported that training phonetic perception may be a way of improving in production, which is a claim that has been also tested in other previous studies in other languages. (BTW, if you want to read my report on a talk by Saito earlier this term, click here).
  • The Beginner Language Learner Survey conduected in June 2014 with learners of German at the Uni of York compared students' answers regarding their feelings when it comes to pronunciation: native speakers of English learning German valued comprehensibility more over intelligibility and accentedness, though the three of them were rated high. Those learners of German whose L1 was not English valued intellibility more highly over accentedness (with quite a low rating in comparison) and comprehensibility.
  • A very interesting piece of research by Sam Hellmuth and Florence Edwards compared learners' accentedness ratings to establish whether pronunciation improvement could be due to their "year abroad" experience or to individual cognitive abilities. The data, which included a questionnaire regarding their "learning context factors" (age of acquisition of L2, experience abroad, motivation for a native-like accent, etc), and the results of a non-word repetition task (Gupta,2003) pointed at very interesting findings: students who appear to have been graded as more native-like are in fact those who have a better "phonological working memory" (PWM), the ability to retain phonetic detail in your mind and reproduce it.  These were presented as the "bad news", since the "year abroad" experience did not necessarily lead to a more native-like accent, and this would relegate accentedness achievements only to the "gifted". However...
  • a second study, this time on "stress deafness", implies that there are many things that can be learned and taught, and that the phonological working memory can be trained, and that the knowledge of other languages is really beneficial when it comes to pronunciation matters. This other study was initially done for French by Dupoux et al (2007) and it was replicated by by Bethany White (2013 graduate), and it tested native English speakers' perception of stress in English, Spanish and Japanese non-words. In short, the results revealed that students had a lot of trouble in the "sequence recall task"  (retrieval task of strings of words with different stress patterns and a final "OK" which blocked access to acoustic memory), and those students who had some knowledge of Spanish did slightly better for Japanese. This study also established that in fact stress "deafness" in another language is a phonetic "business", as lack of reduction (lack of schwa) was a defining factor in those who had trouble identifying stress in Spanish and Japanese. (I have to admit I chickened out of asking this because I may have been entirely wrong, but as we listened to some of the non-words which were supposed to be controlled for intensity and pitch changes, I could not help noticing that the Japanese renderings did show some pitch difference across syllables (naturally!?) and I myself believe this can also affect perception, for obvious reasons. But I did not ask at the time, so treat this as just a fleeting impression!). This study has interesting implications for teaching, at least for English speakers learning another language, since it can be used to redefine the teaching of stress by actually helping students to tune in to phonetic features over stress rules, at least for perception purposes. And this also supports the tenets of those models of second language learning based on inhibition of first language perception (Darcy et al 2015, for example)

Even though it was a very short session (time did fly by! I wanted more!), a lot of very interesting comments, findings and debates cropped up. Once again, this shows how "hot" pronunciation is as a topic (in all possible senses!), how much research is still needed, and on a personal note, how I wish all the work being done in Argentina could get researched on and published, as we have so much to say on pronunciation teaching, and so very little reported.

sábado, 12 de noviembre de 2016

Course report: Managing your Voice

Those of you who have been students of mine will know that as a pronunciation trainer I got very serious when it came to voice care. Working on pronunciation requires working on your voice (and of course, finding your L2 voice): stretching your pitch range, finding new articulations, and thus, new "resonances", etc. At times, for some people, this may result in strain, and that is when we need to intervene. We are not speech therapists, but we have the duty to tell students when we feel there is something that needs to be seen to by a professional. And as we are (well, I was) training teachers, I think it becomes all the more important that we train our students on ways in which they can take care of and manage their voice in a healthy manner. Denying that voice care is part of our job, is, in my very humble opinion, a serious neglect. I have seen far too many colleagues and students get serious vocal trouble, and I would not want to see this happening to more teachers.

I personally underwent some training at the Instituto de la Voz in Buenos Aires (I am so grateful to Carlos Demartino and Fga. Liliana Flores, they saved my voice!), because I needed to take care of my own (at the time, "decaying") voice, and then I felt I was responsible for passing this on to my students. I had an opportunity yesterday, here at York, of reviewing some of my training and doing a bit more in a short course called "Managing your Voice", delivered by the two most fantastic facilitators I have met lately, David Howard and Francis Newton.

So in the next few paragraphs, I'll be sharing some of their "tips and tricks" with you. (I don't have access to the slides, so I will have to describe them for you, I am afraid!)

The course began with a lecture. David Howard is an engineer (who actually also trained in UCL with Gimson!) and gave a very interesting review of the organs of speech. What made it fascinating is that the description was made in both biological and engineering terms. So alongside the diagram we are all familiar with, he included one that showed fabulous representations of the diaphragm as a piston, the intercostal muscles as a bellows. He discussed the whole phonatory and articulatory process in the three stages, according to activity: the power source, the sound source, and the sound modifiers. With the help of some videos and some gadgets (pic below!), David showed how the whole mechanism works.

Through some eletroglottograph (EGG) recordings, the facilitator showed us the "noise" the vocal folds make before they are amplified and turned into specific sounds. He recorded members of his choir, and we heard their "singing" through the EGG output. It was fab!

I was particularly interested in the description of vowels, because in my previous training at IV I had also found the treatment of vowels by speech therapists quite surprising. At times when we describe vowels in articulatory terms in our phonetics courses we focus on tongue raising and lowering,  and of course, what part of the tongue is involved. For speech therapists and speech science in general, the focus is also on the areas of resonance within the mouth cavity that result from tongue movement, which is why for a vowel like // it is not just the front tongue raising that interests us, but also the resulting space in the back area . David showed vowel production and resonance with the use of an electrolarynx and two tubes that had already been set with three spaces of resonance for Japanese vowels [i] and [a]. (Of course, after the course I just had to get into eBay and see whether these were available!)
Elecrolarynx and the oral cavity tubes. The elecrolaryx would send air into the tubes and these would produce vowels! 
This is David's demonstration of an electrolarynx and the tubes:

After the theoretical presentation, we had our practical session with Francis. Some of the highlights are described below:
  • Dos and Don'ts (applicable 1-2 hours before performing/teaching/lecturing):
    • Don't drink: coffee or black tea (astringents), alcohol, fizzy drinks or coke
    • Don't eat: chocolate and banana (high levels of fat, cannot be "washed off" easily with water, you need acid, like lemon, to do so), dairy products
    • Don't shout: in difficult spaces with bad acoustics, just choose your spot and make sure there is more space in your mouth, overarticulate if necessary. It will make a great difference!
    • Dooo drink: lots of water, herbal teas.
  • Posture:
    • you need to make sure your neck stands high and tall but you should look forward, not up or down;
    • you need to stand straight, as a "Frankfurt sausage" (ha!), finding your posture by standing on tiptoe and making sure the golden thread that goes from your head to the floor acts like your axis.
    • you need to make sure your shoulders are not "crouched", so you should try to act as if you were wearing a "Bolero jacket" (that is quite high at the back) and you needed to bring the back of it down.
    • (sorry about this one!) in order to make sure your belly comes out (yes, ladies, essential, sorry to say!) and your diaphragm has enough room to do its job, you have to imagine you are holding a lemon between your butt cheeks (of course, we just had to laugh!).
  • Exercises:
    • going from a normal [a] sound very softly towards your creaky/frying quality helps you feel and somehow massage your vocal folds;
    • to check your that you are breathing properly, and to see how the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and belly work, you can try very energetic sequences of [fːtʰ], with the plosive halting the /f/ really strongly. You should keep a hand just above your belly navel to check this.

At the end of the course, we were asked to introduce ourselves briefly, and we received some feedback on our speech, posture, and presentation skills.

As teachers, our voice is our most precious treasure. We need to be systematic in our vocal exercises, before and after using our voice for a long time. Dr. Howard reminded us that over the course of one day, a teacher will have made her vocal folds vibrate over a million times (imagine getting other muscles of your body to move that much in just 8 hours!). So always keep your water at hand, work on your posture, make sure you feel grounded to the floor, and be kind to yourself.

Some extra tips I've learned at Instituto de la Voz:
  • To avoid clearing your throat or coughing (both could be really damaging to your vocal folds, if you need to cough, do so gently), you can produce a continuous alveolar trill [r] for a few seconds (easy for us, Spanish speakers!)
  • you can massage your larynx area gently with your thumb and index finger, going in circles.
  • you can create more space in your mouth by making sure your tongue has got enough tonicity. Stretch your tongue out (as dogs do when they yawn), to the front and to the sides.
  • Yawn!

jueves, 27 de octubre de 2016

This week's "Chirpy Remarks"

Hiya! I am finding it increasingly difficult to do any writing these days, as I'm terribly busy (believe me, being a student full-time is quite heavy!). But then, my mind still strays in the "pronunciation teaching" sphere every now and then (though someone told me today "that's not who you are anymore", and I have to come to terms with that), and I needed to voice some thoughts, so I decided to make the most of my 8 am morning walk to Uni to do some recording. These audio files are noisy and are not very cohesive, but they do serve as a sort of "diary" for my thoughts on pronunciation teaching, and how different classes, discussions and papers make me see my "past life" in a different light.

So here's the summary this week's early morning, out-of-breath but really passionate "chirpy remarks".

lunes, 17 de octubre de 2016

domingo, 9 de octubre de 2016

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

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.