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During these last few weeks I have had the chance of carrying out my favourite activity in my third-year teacher trainee Lab courses: th...

domingo, 8 de octubre de 2017

Brief conf report: English UK North Academic - University of Liverpool, October 7th.

Yesterday I got on the train from York to Liverpool (in what ended up being an endless 3 1/2 train-train-bus journey...yes, transport may also fail in Britain!) to attend and present at the English UK North Academic conference (programme here).

It was a really friendly, welcoming environment of teachers of English working in the North of the UK, and there must have been over 100 attendees.  I would like to very briefly report on three of the talks, and then comment on my own presentation as well.

Michaela Seserman from the University of Liverpool discussed the tools she uses in her EAP courses to do pronunciation work. Michaela discussed some important questions we need to ask prior to deciding to use certain apps, and also weighed some pros and cons of each. Seserman proposed a form of integration of the in-built voice recognition systems that smartphones currently hold, the tools that Quizlet offers, and the messaging possibilities of the WeChat platform. Even though it was perhaps not very clear how pronunciation improvement actually came to happen, the idea of teacher and students exchanging audio recordings for practice and dictation via mobile messaging is a very appealing one. As Michaela pointed out, these are tasks that learners can also spontaneously decide to do outside class.

Russell Stannard, the TeacherTrainingVids guy, showed how screen capture software (he recommends SnagIt but there are free alternatives available) can help you give better feedback on written work. So a teacher may videocapture a student's written assignment and give feedback (as we might do face-to-face), by highlighting areas of the essay, for instance, and making oral comments on it, or showing the assignment instructions on screen to point out what may not have been addressed. It reminds me of the type of recorded feedback I used to give my students, and I agree with Russell that this whole idea of personalising feedback and having a sort of "conversation" with the student and the material really does make a difference. It's a way of "being there" when you cannot "be there", while also showing students we care for them individually and that we can address each of their specific strengths and challenges -which in writing we may fail to do clearly, or which may be misinterpreted-.

I particularly enjoyed the workshop on corpus linguistics by Dr. Vander Viana from the University of Stirling. Vander showed us some easily accessible corpora (sorry, readers, but I cannot ensure that this will be freely accessible to you in your context/country) and search engines that we can use to help our students test the frequency, acceptability and likelihood of their lexical choices when writing, or speaking. We discussed collocations, colligation, and semantic prosody (which apparently in corpus ling is different from how we understand it in SFL!), and we reflected on the claim that we actually process speech in an "idiomatic" way (not referring to idioms, but to chunks....it was such a great intro point to my own talk later, to be honest!). Most of the cited material came from Sinclair (1991); McCarthy et al (2005); and Tognini-Bonelli (2001), and you can read Viana's work if you visit his webpage.

I was invited to make a presentation thanks to the generosity of Mark Hancock, who put my name forward (I've thanked him publicly many times, but I believe we should always be grateful to the ones who do nice things for us)...and to make it even better, he got me a PronPack t-shirt! And also thanks to Nigel Paramor.
Even though I know my stuff, it is always a bit intimidating to stand in a room full of native speakers of English who teach English and theorise about their own language. I know it is a silly fear, but I know many other non-native teachers of English will sympathise. Anyway.

My talk ("Intonation building blocks for more comprehensive speaking skills training") was based on the type of speaking tasks that I designed for my Lab 3 and Lab 4 lessons at ISP Joaquín V González and Profesorado del Consudec during the last few years. Some background: most of the work that is done during the final two Applied Phonetics modules ("Lab") in teacher training in Buenos Aires (at least) is related to the application of phonological theory to the production of different speech genres (and for this, I am grateful to Prof. Silvina Iannicelli, because I got my first lecturing post filling in for her at ENSLV SBS in 2006, and she had a course planned along a sequence of texts ranging from rehearsed to more spontaneous text type production, and that sort of sparked my interest in the prosodic configuration of speech genres). As I became a bit more experienced, one of the things that usually made me uncomfortable about the type of work we did in these courses was that most of the tasks were based on reading, and there was always an assumption that intonation patterns were easily/automatically transferrable to spoken situations of language use. (It's a bit like doing a million fill-in-the-gap past tense exercises, and then expecting students to automatically and spontaneously use the simple past in their written or spoken stories.)
Plus, at times we also forget that reading aloud is an ability in itself, and that reading aloud as a result of previous imitation of a recorded model of the same text is also another type of ability that activates other skills and requirements. These are highly useful and valuable steps in the process, but they do not amount to, nor ensure, that the students will appropriate intonation patterns. In my tutoring experience, I have had students producing English fall-rises in reading and Spanish rise-falls on the exact same phrase, on a similar context, when speaking.

So at some point in my tutoring/lecturing history, I decided to change that a little, and to use reading aloud as one of the steps of the process, but then also create opportunities for use in slightly more spontaneous speech tasks in a way that ensures that students need to use certain intonation patterns that have been found to have a certain regularity in specific speech genres, or in connection to certain lexico-grammatical structures.

So, back to EUKN: My talk was about speech genres, and how several speech genres have higher degrees of "writtenness" in them (Eggins, 1994), and how these have perhaps more easily predictable and stable patterns of intonation and chunking; whereas more interactive genres challenge the intonational descriptions as we know them (such in the case of "list intonation", or the intonation of questions).

I put forward the metaphor of building blocks as a means of proposing that for some speech genres, it is useful to see information units (and some lexicogrammatical collocations) as part of the same block that students can monitor as a whole as they plan their next block (rather than worrying about putting together a string of words, one after the next, when they talk).

I have followed a process that goes from the breaking of the dichotomy between spoken vs written texts, into a continuum of levels of writtenness-spokenness (as SFL scholars have done for a couple of decades), and the use of a building block metaphor consisting of LEGO type blocks that occur in more written-like spoken genres (where the blocks have a set role, position, and the final goal is clear), and TETRIS blocks that we may encounter in more interactive texts (where trajectories are built as we go along, and there are lower levels of pre-planning.

I will only be able to share a few of my slides, as I am writing an article/resource on the whole notion and application of intonation blocks (and I'm also seeking psycholinguistic and further classroom evidence), and I owe the English UK North attendees the preview of the full set of slides (because I have authorised EUKN to do so).

Some comments on challenging, through corpus-study, the notions of "question intonation", and "list intonation". How intonation in real life as manifested in different speech genres does not easily exhibit the intonation patterns described in ELT textbooks.



Reflection upon the fact that we generally don't do speaking training in an integrated manner, as we may do with written genres.
Possible (though never definitive, nor exhaustive, nor always fixed, because language use.... ;) ) organisation of different speech genres along a cline.
The building block metaphor I propose to inform lexico-grammatical, sequential and intonational choices.


An example of a production task (which probably we have done in our lessons a million times!) that we can exploit to teach step-ups in pitch, and contrastive accent.
Examples of lexico-grammatical blocks in initial position that do anticipatory work. These have been found to be quite consistent in LEGO types of texts (the ordering and tone choice works differently in interactive texts)
Example of an outline for student production of short conversational stories that focus on grammatical choices and the preparatory (loop) or advancing (increment) contextualisation by rising or falling tones (respectively)

Example of ways in which we can contextualise reported speech through level tones and contrastive stress in TETRIS-like situations of language use (though also common, with direct speech, in speeches, or lectures, LEGO text types)

Examples of ways in which we can create opportunities for use of level tones in conversational lists (vs counting, or sequences of steps where lists may be found to have rising tones)

During the presentation, I systematised briefly some of these (basically, it was like teaching my whole Phonetics 2 syllables in 50 minutes!) and presented a number of activities to illustrate how we can generate opportunities for use of these building blocks, and then, of course, it is up to every teacher to find ways of helping students monitor their spoken texts, block by block. 

I am sure that the idea of working on speech chunks is not new, or revolutionary, but I wish to emphasise how intonation can be an active, essential, part of each of these blocks of processing and production, and how the notion of a block can contribute to students' awareness that linguistic structures work together, making different contributions in the contextualisation of meaning and structural organisation of speech.

(And the refs!)



All in all, this was a really enjoyable event, and very special for me, as I haven't been teaching for a year (starting this week again, yay!) and I spent this whole year trying to find an excuse to write down the principles and ideas that informed my integrative intonation teaching methods when I was lecturing in Buenos Aires. Hope they make sense to you!

(And now...back to my research. Enough productive procrastination!)

P.S.: this post somehow opened up a chest of memories for me, and I forgot to acknowledge another lecturer, Prof. Claudia Gabriele, who in her own way showed me that there are ways of "creating opportunities" for practice of intonation. I was her Lab assistant for a few years, and I was particularly inspired by her use of role plays and other speaking tasks for a more natural application of intonation patterns. Sorry about this unintentional omission in the original post.

jueves, 17 de agosto de 2017

PTLC, part 3

Hello, again! This is my last post on the Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference at UCL (click to read parts 1 and 2 ). I will not be able to to report on all the content of every talk, so you'll have to excuse my selection. Any error (if any) is due to my low caffeine levels or lack of understanding of what the claims in the talks were, and I'm happy to make corrections if the authors point them out. And the proceedings will be available soon, so you will be able to read the full papers in a couple of months!

Andrej Stopar Perception of the General British vowels /ʌ/, /ɑ:/, /ɒ/, and /ɔ:/ by Slovenian speakers of English
Stopar presented a continuation of his presentation in 2015, in which Slovenian speakers of English are reported to have participated in perception experiments on different English vowel contrasts after instruction. Slovenian vowels are very similar to Spanish, so I found the results quite interesting, since the vowel that appears to have given students more trouble is that in the LOT set. Stopar mentions a few errors that could actually be due to the fact that words and non-words were used (students choosing a THOUGHT vowel for the nonsense word "fot"). In general the perception pre-test results were quite good for one of the groups, but the biggest difference was made in the group whose pre-test had been quite weak.

Kakeru Yazawa, Mariko Kondo and Paola Escudero: "Modelling Japanese speakers' perceptual learning of English /iː/ and /ɪ/ within the L2LP framework". This talk discussed  Escudero's model of Second Language Linguistic Perception for Japanese students working on American English vowels /iː/ and /ɪ/, and they discussed their results in the light of Boersma's (1998) Stochastic Optimality Theory, that unlike traditional OT sees a gradient (and not a categorical set) of ranking values and constraints and the perception process as a continuum that should not easily assign vowel perceptions to a particular phonological category. 

Yumi Ozaki, Kakeru Yazawa and Mariko Kondo: "L2 English speech rhythm of Japanese speakers: An alternative implementation of the Varco metrics" Ozaki et al propose an alternative form of using the Varco metrics, because Japanese constraints render the use of the regular Varco metrics for vocalic and consonantal intervals as problematic. Instead of using the mean duration of intervals, they suggest an nVarco: using overal segmental durations. More proficient Japanese learners have been found to exhibit more variability in vocalic and consonantal duration.

Hui-Chuan Liu:  "Identification of Mandarin high-level tone and high-falling tone by Vietnamese learners"
Liu discussed the problems that her Vietnamese learners had in the identification of two contrastive tones, high-level vs high-falling. Since Vietnamese tones have no large falling slopes, this tone brings about difficulty for those learning Mandarin. In her study, Liu found that duration of syllables had a bearing on the type of errors made by learners, but she recommended  not using length as a teaching resource because it is not distinctive, nor reliable.

Eva Estebas-Vilaplana: "How imitation can help the acquisition of L2 pronunciation"
I love Estebas-Villaplana's presentations in general (and her book is so useful!), and even more so because she teaches at UNED, a distance learning uni in Spain. Teaching English pronunciation to Spanish speakers in distance education is a great challenge, so I was very curious about what she would be presenting this time. The experience that Estebas presented involved getting Spanish speakers to read a text in their own L2 English accent, and another version in an accented English version of Spanish (Spanglish or Englishñol, should I say?). Her students imitated English rhythm and reduction better in their "mock" versions, than in their real L2 English. 
Estebas suggests using these "mock" Spanish accents to see what kinds of features students store in connection to how they believe English sounds, and use them to improve their L2 English accents.
For some years now, we have used this strategy in Buenos Aires for /t/ and /d/, and it worked quite well. Many of our students have access to accents of Spanish like Puerto Rico or singers like Ricki Martin, whose /t,d/ are alveolar, and that has proven useful. But I had never considered that students can also improve on rhythm using this strategy!

Yusuke Shibata, Masaki Taniguchi and Young Shin Kim: "A brief intensive method to help Japanese learners perform English tonicity" Shibata et al presented a few methods they have used to help learners acquire narrow focus. Basically, they worked on short exchanges like the ones in textbooks where there is verbatim repetition, and they trained learners in deaccenting repeated items. They tested them before and after instruction, and their improvement was considerable. Some audience members suggested doing a longitudinal study to see how much of this "sticks" some time after instruction, since the exchanges used to test were very short, and students may have got the hang of it strategically rather than actually learning about narrow focus.


Marina Cantarutti: "Questioning the teaching of “question intonation”: the case of classroom elicitations" - My paper had two big parts: the first section consisted in reviewing the theory on 'question intonation' that you can find in the intonation textbook materials used at Teacher Training Colleges in Buenos Aires (Wells, Tench, Brazil, Baker...). Starting from their assumptions, and based on my prior experience of these materials being insufficient to account for the choices speakers make in different speech styles and genres, I did a short corpus study of Teacher Talk (one of the speech situations we train teachers on in their 3rd year), in particular, of teacher elicitations in the recitation stage. By making a conversation-analytic approach of turn-taking, sequencing, and embodied behaviour, I have found the role of "terminal" tone (the last tone in the question) to be related to epistemic assymetries and the handling of the turn-taking system, and not in any way related to the syntax of the question, or attitudinal approaches, neither to finding out or making sure concerns (unless we redefine these notions, something I mention in the full paper). My biggest claim is that we can no longer apply "one-size-fits-all" syntactic and attitudinal approaches to intonation, and that functional approaches work only if properly combining top-down generic analyses with bottom-up, local, turn-by-turn analyses.

Miriam Germani and Lucía Rivas: "A genre approach to prosody teaching intonation from a discourse perspective" 
I'm a big fan of Germani & Rivas' work, we are quite like-minded in our approaches to intonation teaching, and I was very lucky to work with them on different occasions. Germani and Rivas (as I did on my own preso) discussed the shortcomings of intonation textbooks, and the simplifications that these make, that create two common problems (that all of us who do real discourse intonation face!): a) students taxonomise but do not do any real discourse-functional study, they merely repeat classifications; b) students fail to see the contributions that intonation makes to textual organisation and interpersonal projections of meaning. By using Systemic Functional Linguistics, and following the basis in Martin & Rose's (2008) "Genre Relations", and the descriptions of intonation in Brazil and Halliday & Greaves, among others, Germani & Rivas have helped their students make better top-down, holistic descriptions of meaning in text, and have improved their students' accounting of intonation choices.

Hajar Binasfour, Jane Setter and Erhan Aslan: "Enhancing L2 learners’ perception and production of the Arabic emphatic sounds". Binasfour et al describe how the use of Praat can help learners improve on their perception and production of Arabic emphatic sounds, by teaching them how to identify pharyngealisation in spectrograms and compare their production of sounds to that of accurate Arabic emphatics.

Pekka Lintunen, Aleksi Mäkilähde and Pauliina Peltonen: "Learner perspectives on pronunciation feedback" Lintunen et al reviewed the results of an experience of peer and teacher-led feedback on pronunciation. There were some interesting findings, including the fact that students valued peer feedback for pronunciation, and that they trusted the feedback of their non-native teachers of English. Lintunen et al also made a point of the fact that pronunciation feedback-giving is different from other feedback practices, and so it needs to be taught to teacher trainees as a special skill.

Gladys Saunders What does the rapid spread of /u/-fronting in American English have to do with the teaching of French phonetics? Saunders mentions the now established process of GOOSE-fronting and the way this can be used as a reference point to learn specific French vowel sounds.

Daniela Martino: "Sequencing and technology–aided activities in the acquisition of foreign sounds" Martino presented a sequence of presentation and practice of phonetic and phonological features and a number of web platforms that she has used to help her trainees improve on their English pronunciation. The first stage was identification, and she used Sonocent AudioNotetaker (which Cauldwell has popularised), PlayPhrase.me (now down, unfortunately), and TubeQuizard, to create tasks and quizzes leading students to perceive processes such as weakening. Students are also invited to do transcriptions in IPA by using subtitling software. During the imitation stage, students use Soundcloud to record and upload their productions and they use the front facing camera of their mobiles to monitor their articulation. Martino has found the combination of these tools and this sequence to be effective for her students' progress.

 Ana Cendoya: "Technology–aided pronunciation teaching in an ESP/EAP course" Cendoya described the techniques she uses to help her engineering students to improve on their pronunciation when making presentations. She mentioned the use of E-portfolios and strategies to build proprioception, and mentioned how students with time became less "resistant" to recording, and feedback.

Hsuehchu Chen and Qianwen Han: "A corpus-based online Mandarin pronunciation learning system for Cantonese learners: development, evaluation, and implementation" Chen et al described the new Mandarin corpus system (http://ec-concord.ied.edu.hk/mandarin_pronunciation/) and how by using its features, and Praat, they have helped their Cantonese learners improve on their pronunciation.

Shawn L. Nissen, Kate E. Lester, Laura Catharine Smith, Lisa D. Isaacson and Teresa R. Bell "Using electropalatography in second language pronunciation instruction: a preliminary examination of voiceless German fricatives" Nissen showed us the evolution of electropalatography through the ages, and displayed the newest technology, which has made access to these devices much cheaper. The experiment presented, though limited to a few participants, shows how the information derived from EPG may help learners fine-tune their sounds, especially when the differences between their production and the expected target are quite small.
(Image credits: PTLC Twitter account)

Lunch and coffee breaks were as enjoyable as the talks. PTLC seems like a small conference, but it has the right atmosphere, and UCL with all its phonetic history makes the perfect setting for this meeting. Unlike other conferences, PTLC requires in their call for papers that full papers (not abstracts) are presented, so if you are thinking of participating in 2019, get your research going today!

Thanks to Michael, Joanna and Molly for organising, and thank you for trusting me with paper reviews as well. It's been a fabulous experience, and I really hope I can present more interesting stuff in two years' time, when my own research will (hopefully!) have yielded some results!

sábado, 12 de agosto de 2017

PTLC 2017, part 2

Find below a brief report on the two keynote presentations on day 2 at UCL's PTLC conference. As usual, you will see info from the presentations interspersed with my own comments. Any errors in interpretation are my own!

Jim Flege - The cross-language acquisition of stops differing in VOT: Historical review and key findings 
It was truly exciting to see THE Jim Flege in the flesh, and I am not going to include much factual information on the presentation, as it is freely available here. I think I would like to mention a few things I have found really useful and/or comment-worthy in Flege's very interesting presentation on VOT acquisition and learning in different languages.
First, it came as a bit of shock to hear from Flege that his interest lies with pronunciation acquisition in "naturalistic" contexts, that is, his research is not necessarily concerned with instructional settings (where, funnily enough, many of us have studied/applied his models), but with how the Speech Learning Model works in contexts where the L2 is spoken (and yes, this is a common phenomenon, much of the research we cite is for second language in immersion contexts, rather than foreign language pronunciation learning in places where the L2 is not spoken outside the classroom...).
Flege makes an interesting criticism to experimental work:

It was really inspiring to see Flege criticise his own past research, and to see what "mistakes" (sic) he has made in past papers (e.g. 1987) regarding data collection, participant selection, and conclusions drawn. I think that only a true respected academic can really admit that things may not have been done correctly (unknowingly at the time), and the ability to look back and reflect using the current state of knowledge is really brave, and also promotes good, honest science. Part of this review of past research included the current need to displace the role of age of acquisition and the Critical Period Hypothesis to foreground the role of L1 input.

Flege highlights the role and importance of L1 input ("good input from native speakers", I quote) in the acquisition of VOT contrasts and timing. I totally see the point of native speaker input, and I support it, but I wonder if this view somehow undermines all our own input as non-native speakers (I did not ask this question, so I cannot really say if this is what Dr. Flege actually implied...again Flege's concern is with language learning "in situ", as it were). I think that even though our daily input in lessons may not be native-like, we also provide instructional input, based on our own knowledge and experience of what it is to have learned the phonology and phonetics of a language other than our own, so...complex stuff.
Flege proposes that there should be a 10-year period  (!) of native speaker input for phonological features to be fully acquired and formed (in particular with relation to VOT), since the formation of categories in L1 is also a lengthy process.
Flege also reminds us that the acquisition and formation of phonetic categories does not need then to be related to age, nor to a "special ability"

I also found interesting that studies on the "loss" of L1 features have been carried out, and yes, I believe I may have lost the naturalness of some of my own Spanish features (I would say in terms of intonation, especially).

Please refer to the slides in Flege's website for a review of all the research on VOT presented, which I obviously cannot do any justice to!


Dominic Watt - Private Ear training: Phonetics teaching for the next generation of forensic speech scientists  

Watt discussed something I have found fascinating for years: forensic speech science. He discussed some principles and features of this way of doing phonetics, such as the fact that a great part of what is done includes applied sociophonetics (synchronic and diachronic variation is taken into account); that both the typicality and the similarity of voice features get analysed, and language is seen as a "moving target", and not as a stagnant, stative thing (something we all ought to remember, especially for pronunciation!)


The work that people in FSS do is quite tricky, as it requires objectivity, conservatism and caution bearing in mind that their duty is to the court, and the results can only answer specific questions but clearly not assess levels of innocence. Human analysts can and do fail, and problems like confirmation bias and perceptual priming are to be avoided. We were shown a few cases where experts cannot agree on what the words of a certain segment are, and different kinds of evidence are weighed in order to submit candidate hearings. Plus, as we were told and show, the work that FS scientists do differs greatly from what you can see in CSI and other crime series!

Some interesting things about FSS that Watt has mentioned include:
  • the need to focus on the individual as a potentially unique language user, and of each human voice as a holistic Gestalt as well as a constellation of features;
  • the fact that even though the degrees of freedom in individual speech is unknown, the assumption is that there is  less intraspeaker variability than interspeaker variability;
  • the quest in FSS is to identify most potent/reliable speaker discriminants;
  • the fact that technology has advanced, but it will never yet replace human work.
Some of the tasks that FSS carry out include: 
  • speaker profiling
  • transcription
  • resolution of disputed content
  • speaker attribution
  • enhancement
  • authentication
  • design of voice parades
  • acoustic scene reconstruction
  • language analysis for determination of origin (LADO)
  • speaker comparison 
The University of York has an MSc in Forensic Speech Science, and if you want to read further about the programe, just click here.

miércoles, 9 de agosto de 2017

Brief report: PTLC 2017, part 1

I'm still conference-crawling, and this time, I'm at UCL, in London, for the lovely Phonetics Teaching and Learning Conference (PTLC), held every two years (hashtag for all the live-tweeting: #ptlc2017). The "Argentinian Delegation" is quite large this time, which makes me really happy and proud, so I got to be reminded of some of our everyday struggles and challenges when teaching Phonetics in my country.

Here's a brief report on Day 1 (click on the presenters' names to access their academic websites), with my usual "comment bites". As always, any error or mis-representation/misunderstanding of the content of the talks is entirely my fault!

Jane Setter "Research-led teaching in phonetics: an exercise in research literacy"

Prof. Jane Setter made a review of the work she has done in her undergraduate courses to contribute to developing students' awareness and literacy of everything involved in research, which is also part of the University of Reading's own strategy. The paper illustrated a few ways of involving students in phonetics research by conducting "research-led teaching", that is, teaching based on someone's (in this case, Jane's) own research on Global Englishes. I once again enjoyed the reference to Dale's Cone of Experience (1969), that estipulates that students retain only 5% of what is presented in a lecture, and 90% when the content is to be taught or applied immediately. Prof. Setter's students made a few interesting remarks after the experience that reveals that they are better acquainted with the challenges of good phonetic research, such as problems with obtaining good quality recordings, liasing with other collaborators, and setting up the technology.

Marina Grasso "Reflecting upon students’ problems in phonemic dictations"

Grasso (whose paper was read by Daniela Martino) discusses a very familiar picture to us, Phonetics professors in Argentina: the number of failed written transcriptions and dictations because of segmental features in Phonetics II exams, where the focus and training is on suprasegmentals. Grasso's list of errors included the misuse of strong and weak forms, overgeneralisation or lack of application of transcription rules, spelling-to-sound and grammar errors. Part of the proposal for improvement consisted in asking students to follow three steps during the transcription revisiion period: 1) Go top-down: reread the transcription to make sense of meaning; 2) Go bottom-up: review rules; 3) after marking intonation: go over weak and strong forms. Error correction activities may also help the reactivation of information presented.
During the question period, two interesting comments came up. RA Knight mentioned that surprisingly, those native speakers of English she has taught make the same type of phonemic transcription errors, which means that there could be some other sort of underlying problem. M Ashby suggested the possibility of doing transcription copying activities, basically, doing some "scribe-like" work of copying a transcription, since errors do also come up in these activities and they can tell us a lot about what processing issues may be at play.
I still think there are quite a few factors involved in the problem that Grasso discusses and which at least those of us who have taught Phonetics in Argentina know very well about, and I think these problems lie in a multiplicity of factors. It's quite fascinating, in any case, to see how common these issues are, and how we can, perhaps, find a way of researching them together, given that we all seem to encounter the same issues!

Mirjam J.I. de Jonge  "Spectrogram reading as a tool to teach acoustic phonetics"

This presentation by de Jonge was really enjoyable. We were challenged as an audience to do spectogram reading several times (oh, yes, audience participation! Scary!), first to guess a mystery word, then to match spectograms to the pronunciation of Dutch numbers. de Jonge proposed a sequence of introduction to the acoustics of English and Dutch, beginning with the introduction of vowels (not from a spectogram, but from a waveform, in order to show how periods work), and diphthongs. Later on, plosives are best introduced, which reveal that even gaps in the spectogram can be useful information to consider, and finally, fricatives, recorded in different audio qualities and sampling rates, to show how problem recordings can really spoil the output and the readings. I particularly enjoyed the fact that students in these sessions at the University of Amsterdam are invited to record themselves and bring spectograms to class. I also found it really impressive that they get to introduce tone, intonation, acoustics, speech perception and production, and quite a few other big topics in just 12 weeks (with a three or four session-a-week frequency).

Claire Timmins "Online video assessment of clinical phonetic transcription skills in Speech and Language Pathology"

Prof. Timmins discussed a pilot experience meant at testing the validity of their final exam in a module in the training of speech and language pathologists. The final exam situation is meant to be quite close to a real speech assessment situation where professional faces the client and needs to phoneticially transcribe their speech in real time. Timmins highlighted the need for speech therapists to be aware and use the IPA and the extension to the IPA for disordered speech in order to take down as much detail as possible regarding the child/adult facing speech difficulties (I was immediately reminded of the transcriptions in Local and Kelly's "Doing Phonology"!).
What I found interesting (and which I keep insisiting I would have looooooved to be able to do in my own final exams) is that students were each given a PC, and the audio sample was played in each computer, so that students could listen to the sample through their headphones, and do the transcription (in one go, however! Just one, fleeting, listening chance!). A considerable number of students who tried the pilot enjoyed the experience and valued the possiblity of listening to the sample on the PCs (previous exam experiences consisted in live dictations, a speaker dictating in one room with all the students there). Technical issues were always there, ready to spoil the whole thing, as some students reported, but this was just a pilot, and it was great, in my humble opinion, that the professors at Strathclyde were considering ways of changing their exams and were setting up pilot trials to that end. 
An issue which also came up is that of the actual assessment of these transcrptions. Triallers were given "competent" or "non competent" as a grade, and Timmins mentioned that as a sociophonetician she was more demanding in her expectations than speech pathologists.
My own, humble, personal opinion, is that speech therapists should have great control over the IPA in order to make observations and find common patterns..

Hyunsong Chung "Review of the Lingua Franca Core for English pronunciation teaching in Korea"

Chung started his presentation by reviewing some of the basics of the Lingua Franca Core (Jenkins, 2000, 2007), in order to address issues that Korean speakers find problematic when speaking English: vowel qualities, and liquids-rhotics, for example. Some interesting audio samples were presented that illustrated some of these problems. Chung mentioned several points, among them the fact that the LFC as an idea appears to be appealing, but in practice, many learners may not want to be trained for intelligibility in the terms proposed in the LFC, and also that what is intelligible for a group of speakers may not be for others. Chung makes a bold proposition (which I cannot truly assess because I am not familiar with his context), which is, training learners in different world Englishes for listening purposes, but with a native-like aim for production purposes, leaving the LFC priorities for more advanced leraners, who are then in a position to make all the possible accommodations. 
The need to work on "GloCal" Englishes came up, which also seems to have been discussed by David Deterding, and in other materials (which to be entirely honest, I am not familiar with, so I will not comment on further!).

Lilián Ariztimuño "The expression of emotion in fairy tales: a multimodal approach to improve EFL students’ oral renderings"

Lilián Ariztimuño shared some of the findings of her MA research on fairy tales and the expression of emotion. On a corpus of stories (read by the same speaker), the presenter used the model of Appraisal developed by Martin & White, and the constructs of Inscribed Affect as described by Bednarek (2008) to trace all the emotion-related tokens in the stories that were part of the corpus. Using the description of Emotional Speech and the phonetic features described for it by Roach et al (1998, 2000), Ariztimuño put together a framework that relates the expression of un/happiness, in/security, dis/satisfaction, un/expectedness, dis/inclination with their realisation in the prosodic parameters of pitch height and range, loudness, tempo and some "paralinguistic" features such as voice quality, vocal effects and voice qualifications. This framework has been found to be useful to help students ( teacher trainees) make their readings more expressive.
When asked about whether the "voices" in the texts were considered, the presenter explained that these prosodic parameters were heightened when the voice of the character was evoked. There was also a remark made about different readers possibly choosing different parameters, which is why some of these features may not hold true if compared with other samples.
I think that working on a genre-based type of approach to prosody is something that some of us advocate, and using real English speech to make observations, find generalisations, and translate those into teaching, is always something to be celebrated. There are always things we can do differently, or perhaps be more precise or systematic about, but I agree that this is the way to go.

Christelle Exare "Intrusive tokens of aspiration in French learners’ L2 English"

I enjoyed this presentation very much, but I don't think I can do justice to it, because there was a lot of important and fascinating information I could not take down (soooo looking forward to the proceedings!). Basically this presentation was about French learners of English adding [h] (aspirating, from a Gestural Phonology perspective) to initial vowels, in combinations like "I ate" (as "I hate") . [h] intrusion was done either through aspiration noise, or via a breathy vowel segment. Acoustically, these intrusions were characterised by undetected F0 trace, aspiraton noise in mid frequencies, F1 weakening, and F2 and F3 clear continuous transitions. They would not happen after a fricative or a plosive, and this could be explained through gestural configurations of the larynx and the vocal tract. Perception and production tests were carried out to explain this phenomenon and contrast it to initial glottaling. Some interesting possible explanations included the reconstitution of a CV type of syllable, also gestural mistimings (Davidson and Stone, 2003).

There was a lot more going on in this presentation, but I am sure that the paper in the proceedings will provide all the information I have not been able to provide here.

There is a very exciting line-up for tomorrow, and I don't think I'll be as effective as today, but do expect more live-tweeting on tomorrow + Friday's presentations, and a post like this some time next week!

sábado, 5 de agosto de 2017

Brief report: some phon-related talks at IPrA 2017 in Belfast (July 16-21)

Hello, hello! Hope you are all doing well. Life over here is hectic, as usual, and a few days ago I decided I had to take a holiday after a year (or more) of basically working non-stop, so I'm back at work now, with renewed energy, for a while, at least.

Two weeks ago I attended the fantastic International Pragmatics Association conference in Belfast (hashtag to look up lots of live-tweeting: #ipra2017). I was there in Antwerp in 2015 (see report on panel on prosody, parts 1 and 2), and it was great to be back in this craze of six days of talks and papers and coffee breaks with colleagues, friends, and "academic crushes" (!). I have to admit I was a bit emotional as well, because two years ago at this conference all I was dreaming of was my PhD at York with all this inspiring people, and today, here I am! (Dreams do come true, folks, you just need to work really hard...only to keep working hard!)

I have to say that the number of phonetics-related talks was disappointingly small (see the book of abstracts here), and there was so much overlap (15 concurrent sessions or more!) that I could not see all the presentations I would have liked to see. From an Interactional Linguistic/Conversation Analytic perspective to the study of phonetics/prosody, three universities stood out: University of York & University of Sheffield (UK), and Universität Potsdam (Germany), and I am going to briefly comment on some of the talks I have seen. After my report of each talk, I have included my own remarks and reflections in italics.

Richard Ogden: "The actions of peripheral linguistic objects: clicks"

Undoubtedly, Ogden is one of the people who has studied clicks as a resource in interaction most widely (see a past lecture here). In this presentation, Ogden addressed issues such as how co-participants themselves establish what actions (if any) can be ascribed to clicks. Ogden studied clicks pre-, mid- and post-positioned in TCUs, and also standalone ones, and he has found them to do interactional work for the regulation of turns or sequence (as a "metronome" for the handling of transition space across turns, for example), and/or the display of affect. What is interesting about clicks is that they are not easily manipulated prosodically, but they may co-occur with peaks of embodied activity: examples shown included raised eyebrows, shifts in body posture, and tracing gestures.  In this particular presentation, clicks followed by other continuations (pre-positioned clicks) and standalone clicks treated as a form insufficient response were studied. Participants were found to make sense of clicks in interaction and/or orient to them through their positioning, their deployment in frequent collocations and usages, and through iconicity in their mirroring in next position, or the marking of incipient speakership.
Some of the conclusions after some careful analysis of data and participant orientation (that is, not through analyst-imposed categories but through participant behaviour in the next turn, as we do in CA) has led Ogden to conclude that:
  • clicks in these positions must be deliberate
  • the lack of accompanying verbal material makes participants reliant on other practices to interpret them
  • clicks are interpreted by participants in interaction through: positioning, multimodality, dialogic practices such as rhythm or mirroring.
Clicks are really exciting, and we use clicks and percussives so very often in speech even though they are not phonemic in English or Spanish as they are in many African languages. I have to admit I "fish" for clicks when I listen to my friends' WhatsApp recordings...fascinating!

Traci (Curl) Walker: "The differential design of other-repetition in repair initiation: does form follow function, or function follow form?"

As one of the organisers of the panel that discussed the function-form conundrum (because yes, this is a massive debate in linguistics!), Walker studied other-repetitions in response position. She reported some of the findings in the use of repetitions in interaction, such as the initiation of repair (because of acceptability issues), the checking of understanding, and the display of surprise. Walker identified two types of other-repetitions in her study: framing, and prefacing ones.
Framing repetitions consist of a sequence in which B repeats a part of what A has said, and A repeats/completes the rest. These were found to be hearing or understanding checks, mostly (suspending the display of understanding), and these have been cases where the first turn-compoments are picked up in repetition by interlocutors. Walker found these to be produced with the following prosodic parameters, completion-inducing in a way:
  • tempo: slower than first saying
  • final syllable lengthening
  • flat pitch contour (rises < 2ST)
  • articulatory features: audible release of final plosives, glottal constrictions rare
Prefacing repetitions, on the other hand, include situations where  B repeats a part of what A has said, but B keeps on talking, and in this case, turn-final components are the ones repeated. Most of these cases were followed by an explicit request for repair or further information. Prosodically, they were found to be produced with anticipatory phonetic design, thus:
  • tempo: slower than 1st mention
  • quieter in loudness
  • falling in pitch
Walker concluded that "form and function should be one, joined in spiritual union (sic)".

The form-function debate is a huge thing, and it affects me deeply as a former trainer in Applied Phonetics for speakers of English as a foreign language. The thing is that as teachers we rely a lot on form-function mappings, and for many years, I have felt very guilty when trying to systematise intonation because many of these mappings only work in restricted contexts, and after all, the real "meaning" of linguistic features in interaction is dependent on participant orientation, something we very hardly focus on. 
When analysing conversation and asking my students to decide on intonation patterns, I have tried (with varied degrees of success) to get them to focus on what co-participants do after something has been uttered, in order to trace how a certain stretch of talk has been interpreted (oriented to), what type of action has been ascribed to it. But I know I have sadly fallen into many of the form-function connections that Walker criticises (which, to be fair, ALL textbooks are filled with), due to the need for simplication for teaching purposes. In my defence, at least I know I have not "sinned" with contextless text analysis: context and genre were always at the heart of my intonation-teaching practices, however lacking in other things they may have been.
 The teaching of prosody in ELT and the training of teachers, in my humble opinion, would really benefit from following a conversation-analytic, inductive, qualitative approach (something I will rant about in my upcoming PTLC conference presentation!).

Susanne Reinhardt: "Tying next turns to question-answer sequences: How links between linguistic forms contextualize different kinds of sequence continuation"
Susanne is a PhD student from Potsdam, and has made a very interesting presentation on format tying in post-expansions after question-answer sequences (if you want to know the basics about post-expansions, see this chapter by Sidnell here). She described how clusters of linguistic features helped disambiguate between minimal or non-minimal post-expansions. Reinhard has found that minimal post-expansion initiators had narrow pitch span, and general lowering of pitch values in relation to the question turn, as well as some degree of prosodic matching with the question turn. Non-minimal post-expansion initiators, on the other had, had a wider pitch range, a medianization of pitch values (moving towards the median), and a clear contrast between the question-answer pair, and the third position, initiator of the expansion.

Dagmar Barth-Weingarten: "Discourse units in English interaction: a prosodic-phonetic perspective"
This was one of my favourite talks in the conference (together with other non-phon talks by Pillet-Shore, Raymond, Hoey, and Heritage). Barth-Weingarten discussed the bases of what she proposes in her new book, a boundary-based approach (rather, a "cesura"-based approach) to the analysis of speech "segmentation" (being particularly careful here not to discuss the notion of "units", which Barth-Weingarten somehow argues against).  The presenter made a very thorough review of different approaches to chunking, and discourse and conversation units, and focused on the similarities and differences between them, as well as the problems, some of which stem from the use of "monologic" data, or the mapping of chunks with syntax or specific pre-determined phonetic parameters. Since units in the end are an epiphenomenon of segmentation in talk as it happens, in order to avoid analyst-imposed categories, Barth-Weingarten proposed focusing on what creates discontinuities in talk, that is, what clusters of features appear to break the flow of talk (which, she states, are in fact what co-participants orient to in the online processing of talk, rather than the units) and how these prosodic parameters display differing degrees of cesuring. By looking at data, real recorded interaction (non-monological), the presenter identified a number of parameters that have a role in marking different degrees of cesuring, including pitch movement, voice quality, tempo, rhtyhm, articulatory features, settings and processes (especially in terms of release, aspiration and glottal constriction), and pauses. 

I see and love the points and criticism made in the presentation and the book to the different theories of "chunking" (tonality). I have done corpus work on this, and I have found syntax-information structure and prosody mappings in pseudo-monological speech (lectures, stories, some speeches). Most of the materials I have developed for my students on this work quite well for these generic types, but it's completely true that when it comes to talk-in-interaction, chunking is fuzzy, and less explicitly (at least) rule-governed. 
At times I think that in ELT we see texts, even oral texts, as finished products. We forget about the essential value of online, emergent speech as it develops. In my intonation lessons, I always felt guilty when asking students to work on texts, because of the unnaturalness of having to see something already developed and treat it as if it was developing. But then again, we need to make peace with the fact that there are different tasks and activities meant to teach and test different things, and having to do transcription or reading aloud work for intonation practice, if applied properly, is a way of testing what was taught. However, if I had the chance to re-plan my intonation courses, I am sure I would go for activities that foreground this developing, online planning aspect of speech, which I did, to a certain extent, with my "first-sight speaking" tasks (emergent, prompt-induced speech tasks) in some advanced courses. 

The following are talks I would have liked to see, but couldn't (refer to the book of abstracts to read about them!):
  • Elena Becker: "Closing telephone conversations: The role of prosody"
  • Marjorie H Goodwin "The intertwining of touch, prosody, and voice"
  • Adriana Cáldiz "Prosody and evidentiality: About how some intonational features pertain the roots of discourse in the Spanish of Buenos Aires"
  • Brown & Prieto: "Multimodal (Im)Politeness"
  • Jesús Romero-Trillo: "The pragmatics of prosody in intercultural communication"

All in all, my IPrA 2017 experience was fantastic, and it spurred on me further feelings of passion about what I do and what I would like to do with my research, while at the same time stirring some of those feelings of inadequacy that come with taking some distance from one's teaching and thinking about what one would have liked to do better, or differently. I wrote a short commentary of what this conference was like for me as a postgraduate student at the ROLSI (Research on Language and Social Interaction) blog here, if you are interested.

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I am aware that my posts lately may have been a bit too technical, and yes, at the moment this blog seems to be a way of trying to make sense of English phonetics in real life (now that English is so readily available for me everyday), and my own past practices as a pronunciation teacher. I am sure I have done many things right, and if I see what my students have been able to achieve, and how many of them actually liked the subject and approached it passionately, I am sure I must have done quite a few things well. However, I am still trying, in my head, to find the best possible way to introduce the prosody of English to speakers of other languages based on what happens in real life (and not on the analysts' head as I am sad to see in many textbooks!), and I pretty much guess this will be an ambition to keep me going for a couple of decades.

sábado, 8 de julio de 2017

Brief review: Manchester Voices exhibition

This week I got my PhD confirmation (that is, I passed my first year, which means that I am now a confirmed PhD candidate at York, yay!), and I rewarded myself with a short trip to Manchester, to see the Manchester Voices exhibition (because my love for accents still is alive and kicking!). I will be reporting on what I have seen, very briefly, and informally. (And as usual, any misunderstanding or error is entirely my own!)

This exhibition stems from the Manchester Voices research project on "the accents, dialects and people of Greater Manchester" (see webpage link above), and it has been developed by Dr. Rob Drummond and Dr. Erin Carrie, from Manchester Metropolitan Uni.

The exhibition can be found in the very centre of the Manchester Central Library, and it consists of a huge panel that has as its major division the different boroughs of Greater Manchester: Bury, Bolton, Manchester,  Oldham, Wigan, Tratford, Tameside, Stockport, Rochdale, and Salford.  The exhibition is based on a collection of views in the form of video interviews, whose snippets you can access by scanning the QR codes in the poster with your phone. 

Note: The current division and unification of Greater Manchester as it is is quite recent (1974, if I understood correctly), and this historical division that included parts of Cheshire, and Lancashire, for example, still sports a great deal of dialectal, and accent variation, as the exhibition fantastically attests. 

Tip! If you make it to the exhibition, make sure you have your headphones ready, a QR reading app, and enough battery life (the library's got you covered with the Wifi). I must have stayed there reading the poster and watching snippets for at least a full hour, if not longer!

(Forgive the quality of the pics!)




I understand that the interviews were collected through a direct recruitment method. In late August and early September 2016, participants were invited to get into a van parked in central areas in each borough, and they were asked questions by a computer. Some of the questions are related to how they see their own accent and dialect, how representative they believe their dialect is of where they are from, and of what they are and do. Other questions invited them to offer expressions or pronunciations they considered typically local. (I do not have access to all the questions, but the video snippets available featured some of them.)

Maps and speech bubbles illustrate several of the contributions by the participants recorded for the project, and for each borough you have a purple box that summarises some of the pronunciations and lexical items that have been reported to be used in the area. 
Bury.

Northern girl.


the Manc twang.

All in all, the exhibition illustrates different individual viewpoints as to how locals view their membership to Greater Manchester, and how they see their own accent, and others, as markers of their local identity. Some participants reported their own identification with their own local borough as strongly related (or not) to Mancunian identity, others confessed to a closer association to Lancashire (in the western areas), or even Yorkshire (in the eastern areas). It was great to see non-linguists reflect on their own "repertoire of accents" and while talking about their accents, to notice how they also made adjustments to what they were saying, and how they were saying it. I personally got the feeling that some participants were going far "broader" than they would normally go in their everyday life, but that's just an unjustfied claim of mine in the shape of a "hunch". 

One of my favourites! Several participants reported having different accents for different settings, some called it a "posh voice", or a "telephone voice", versus the accents they would use at home, or with friends.

I found this exhibition really insightful, and as as a former EFL teacher trainer who once tried to help my trainees understand the social and political role of accents in the UK, I honestly enjoyed the fact that I got to see lots of invaluable testimonials as to how accent issues are always latent in everyday life (even for non-linguists!), and how accent is, indeed, a great part of the way people "categorise" each other, and even themselves, in different speech situations. 

If you want to learn more about the project:
Manchester Voices Website: http://www.manchestervoices.org/
Twitter hashtag #McrVoices

jueves, 11 de mayo de 2017

Some phon bits I have learned lately - Part 2

Hi! This is another post on bits I have learned, unlearned, or re-confirmed, during my PhD studies here so far. I am already over six months into the programme, and I am starting to feel that combination of extreme happiness because of all the stuff I am learning, and the bitterness of not being able to do any teaching to apply it all.

So what I am doing at the moment is, apart from using this knowledge for my own research, to employ it to revisit my approaches to the teaching of segmentals and suprasegmentals. I know I am probably supposed to get over my past as a teacher trainer, but the truth is that for years in Buenos Aires I would spend my whole summer re-designing materials, re-thinking strategies, taking on board the advice, the criticism and the feedback, and I think I can now take some sort of distance with my previous teaching experience and yet continue building upon it, even if I may not go back to it for a while.

(Warning: this post is possibly addressed to people who have been doing very advanced or specific work on Phonetics in Teacher or Translation Training contexts, particularly Applied Phonetics lecturers in general. It may not be of practical use today to those looking to do intonation or pronunciation work in EFL contexts, but of course, feel free to go over it. My apologies in advance if you were expecting to find something different!)

So lo and behold, a few new findings I have made while reading stuff and auditing modules here:

Tone "shapes" and perception: Something I have always discussed with my colleagues in Buenos Aires is the inadequacy of the description of many intonational contours and combinations to describe real speech. And then, of course, there is always the imperative need to have a system that learners of English and teacher trainees can handle without despair. The tension between how much to say, how much to teach, how far we want to go... 
What I have re-discovered here at York (thanks for the heads-up on this many years ago, Fran Zabala!) is the detail of intonational descriptions made in the 50s, 60s and 70s, which competes with some simplications from the early 70 onwards, made for the sake of learners, such as O'Connor and Arnold's. Mind you, much as I personally find fault with O&A, it has helped me "hear" things, and produce things, and I will always give it credit for that. However, after a while, you do realise that the way you hear things may have been shaped by the way you learned to hear things. So basically, in order to write my transcriptions of spontaneous speech, my supervisors suggested "freeing" myself from the phonological constraints I had learned, as these obviously did not represent what I could hear (though, truth be told, many of these intonational descriptions work quite well in stories, and speeches, and lectures, and some institutional encounters!) . But then, my duty here in York is to describe speech in as much detail as possible in order to study it. So in a way I guess I would still make similar (perhaps now, better-informed) decisions like the ones I made in Buenos Aires if I had to teach intonation to EFL learners and teacher trainees, though I am not sure yet what intonational "menu" I would present, contour-wise.

E.g.: As a researcher in prosody (there! I said it!) working with casual speech, it took me a really long time, and I am still struggling, to characterise other kinds of "head" and "post tonic" movement, to mark intonation unit boundaries, and even, to see combinations and contours that may differ from those described in these traditional materials. Not because I don't hear what is  going on, but actually because theory has encased me a little. Of course, I am not alone in this, and I have been on transcription sessions where we compare our best efforts, and still see that we disagree over a few intonation units in the transcription of real speech (Richard Cauldwell has an interesting article on inter-transcriber reliability here).

Phonological units and descriptions can really play tricks on your ability to perceive what is really going on, but then, phonological descriptions are concerned with meaning-making, with the system, so one can really wonder whether the specifics of allotonic variation are actually important for an EFL learner if they really don't make a difference, contrast-wise (e.g.: does a difference between a wide or a narrow fall-rise actually mark a contrast beyond paralinguistics?  Perhaps, but I would claim that a fall-rise vs a rise-fall-rise, for instance, would mark a very important contrast, at least in terms of how participants in conversation react to them in their responses, but this is not something one sees in intonation materials...).

And then again, phonological units are, after all, analytical constructs: units which may be selected as such on ground that may not always fit the "slippery", "fuzzy" nature of speech.

Once again, the phonetics-phonology tension here.

Paradigmatic vs syntagmatic approaches: Phonology is about contrasts and systems, and perhaps in my training as a teacher of English, I have been more influenced by phonology than by phonetics. In my own reflective practice as a teacher trainer these last years, I kept stumbling upon different phonetic nuances that somehow completed the picture for me, because in many respects, my learners presented difficulties that were rooted in the phonetics of it all, rather than in the phonology. But I cannot help feeling that the boundaries are really quite blurry there.
Anyways. For many years, I have been concerned with paradigmatic, contrast-based approaches to segments and the suprasegmentals. And I feel it is fitting to the type of work one needs to do when one trains a learner or teacher of English. Now, however, I find myself being drawn to syntagmatic, Firthian prosodies (I am just starting on this, so I cannot elaborate much on this yet), and it can be quite challenging, and yet, liberating from those phonological "prisons" I have put myself in. I am sure I will be able to explain this further and in clearer terms some time soon.

Perhaps I can only mention at the moment the extreme importance of co-articulation. Phonemic approaches at times work against our production, as they may lead us to "compartmentalise" or "encase" sounds as if they were free-standing entities. And at times we are so concerned with getting to teach targets that we forget about all those trasitions, changes and adjustments that sounds make when they "meet". And this goes beyond phonological processes of assimilation, or elision, this has got to do with allophones and with co-articulatory processes that organically and naturally happen as one sound transitions into the next (in fact, many of these changes are even anticipated before we get to the next sound!).
This is a discovery that comes with experience, I think, and I have to admit I started paying a lot of attention to coarticulation in the last three years before coming here, as before that I innocently thought that it was enough to teach assimilation and elision late in the year, and also only focus on aspiration, devoicing and release as allophonic processes, leaving other processes unattended. I know better now!

(And yes, of course, these remarks refer to a very specific Phonetics teaching context, far perhaps from the context of the regular English language classroom where we may decide not to go all the way into the features that make up certain degrees of accentedness and rather, focus on making students mutually (or future-ly) intelligible and comprehensible).
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It is clear from these last two posts that over this half year I have collected more questions and self-criticism than answers. And I think that is the most valuable thing, really. That is what one needs to do to move forward: break the walls one builds for oneself, transcend the comfortable place, and know that one is not infallible. One has to be honest with the fact that if things worked well in the past, they might not work well forever, and that students change, and that practices need to change. Change is good, and necessary in this ever-changing world, especially for pronunciation.
Perhaps this was the right time for me to start over after all, before I started getting too comfortable in my own teaching "haven" and practice. Only time will tell. But what I do know now, is that all this new learning actually makes sense because I had the chance of teaching all this fantastic phonetic and phonological stuff to many of you in the best way I could with the knowledge and tools I had available back then. And I miss it immensely. And for this, I will always be grateful.