Comfortable Intelligibility

Our goal is comfortable intelligibility in connected up speaking and listening.

Pronunciation is a core ingredient of comfortable intelligibility and must always be in the service of this greater. For me as learner and teacher pronunciation is more than sounds and ‘correctness’, and more than stress and intonation. Pronunciation is everything that requires muscles, the physical movements of mouth, throat, air, voice, that make the sounds as well as the subtle neurology that makes this possible. It is the embodiment of language, it brings life to language and language to life. As such it can tap into a stream of experiential motivation and bring language learning to life.

In this ‘embodiment definition’ I do not specifically include gesture and other aspects of body language in connected up speech, but nor do I exclude them. This is not the standard definition of pronunciation, but it’s good for me and for my learners since it gets everything we need into the frame from the beginning.

In this series of posts on Comfortable Intelligibility I intend to highlight some very simple thinking frames and practical awareness activities that enable learners/teachers to focus on the details and the language bits, while constantly putting them into the context of the language whole. Some will be my own selections from our shared received methodology, , and some may be less familiar. Here is the first.

Practical awareness no 1: Three levels of pronunciation

This is something I worked out when writing the first draft of Sound Foundations, in fact the book is structured around this principle. It’s obvious and simple and I’m sure others thought of it before me. It provides an elegant scaffolding for moving between sounds and connected speech during all parts of any lesson. It’s this:

Instead of the usual division of pronunciation into segmentals and suprasegmentals, a straightforward distinction that serves the purposes of the linguists who created it, I divide pronunciation into three levels:

Level 1: Sounds The sounds/phomemes and their variants of the new language. These are shown on the Sound Foundations and other charts.

Level 2: Words Words spoken in isolation, made by putting level 1 sounds together (allowing for the way neighbouring sounds modify each other). The new factor introduced at level 2 is the energy profile across multi-syllable words, usually referred to as word stress though word unstress is just as important. Words and their stresses are shown in a dictionary. NB: Level 2 therefore includes citation form (ie ‘dictionary’ pronunciation) as well as the reduced ways words are pronounced in connected speech.

Level 3: Connected Speech Words connected together to make a stream of speech, conveying the speaker’s meaning. As at level 2 there can be changes to the words where they join, as well as simplifications/reductions. The new factor introduced at level 3 is intonation which overlays the utterance with a second energy profile, this time across groups of words, helping the speaker convey their relationship to their words, their meaning and their listeners.

Keeping the parts and the whole in sight These three levels help me to keep in mind the whole when attending to the parts and the parts while working with the whole. Quite a bit of class work is necessarily at levels 1 and 2 (sounds and words) but then we must embedv that output at level 3 before moving on. Then again if we are working at level 3 (connected speech) and we hit a problem we may slip down to level 2 to work on words or word order and during that we may again slip down to level 1 for roadside repairs on crucial pronunciations within the word itself. Or we might pass from level 3 (connected speech) direct to level 1 to enhance some individual sounds that make a difference, and then re-contextualise that new awareness at level 3.

Not new I’m not describing this as if it is something new, it’s just that the scaffolding concept Levels 1, 2, 3 enables learners and me to track the learning challenges and pronunciation pathways and to make visible the processes by which small pronunciation changes affect intelligibility in speaking and listening. I think this in turn enables learners to be more self directing and demanding in the matter of pronunciation.

How do you conceptualise pronunciation, do you share this with your learners, and how does this affect your way of teaching and learn it?

Next time I’ll propose a second practical awareness activity and combine it with the 3 levels to make an illustration.

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In Pursuit of Comfortable Intelligibility

         “The Great Wall of Sound”    (Beijing Oct 2015)

“The Great Wall of Sound” (Beijing Oct 2015)

Last month I made a pronunciation workshop and lecture tour in Thailand, Vietnam and China. It was immaculately organised by the local teams of Macmillan Education and attended by lively, interesting and informed local teachers.

And they talked about the practical pronunciation challenges they face: the issue of accents, sentence stress, final consonants and consonant clusters, reduced syllables, impact of monosyllabic L1 word patterns, and connected up speech, and so on. And these conversations were not just from academic interest, but from the absolute necessity of the goal of comfortable intelligibility, the holy grail of practical pronunciation work.

Inspired by these strongly voiced needs I’m planning a series of blog posts under the heading In Pursuit of Comfortable Intelligibility in which I will look at ways of working on the bits (sounds, clusters, wordstress, unstress, linking, reduction, vocabulary etc) while always serving the greater purpose of the whole (comfortable intelligibility in connected up speech). How do we ensure that the roadside repairs on the bits serve the whole journey and do not become ends in themselves? How do we keep connected-up speech in front of us during every other kind of language activity?

This is not a new question, but it is always a key issue, and the pronunciation chart may enable us to approach it in new ways and perhaps with some new solutions.

By the way, while I was there Paz from Macmillan Education in China took the photo above, which may amuse you. We were in Beijing hence the caption…

In July 2015 I had the pleasure of working with a group of teachers from many countries at the Bell Teachers’ Campus in Cambridge. This was a two week training programme for experienced teachers interested in making a real breakthrough in integrating pronunciation with all other classroom activities. I was in the learning seat along with the others as we tried to push the edges not only of teaching and learning sounds, words and connected speech, but of how the learning of sounds is embedded into words, which are in turn embedded into connected speech, and how connected speech serves the personal expression of the speaker.

In order to explore the speaker’s choices of intonation, sentence stress, pause, silence, voice tone, body movement, gesture, delivery, and in fact the qualities of their personal presence while speaking, we used short stories, to be learnt by heart, and to be spoken from the heart, though told differently every time. Thus we each had extended opportunity to rehearse and speak with personal meaning, allowing pronunciation and prosody to serve our personal presence, performance and presentation skills in creating intelligibility that could be engaging, touching and comfortable. These ideas will feature in the series of posts I mentioned above – In Pursuit of Comfortable Intelligibility.

Should you be interested in taking that teacher training course in 2016, it will be titled Pronunciation and Storytelling: from Phonemes to Fluency. Look here for course details

And go here for comments that participants were kind enough to make – scroll right to the bottom of the post.

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 26: Discovering the vowel /æ/

Example words: cat, app, fab, add, taxi, sanction, accurate, vocabulary, language, catch, vanish, narrow

General setting of /æ/: The lips are spread and quite open, and the jaw is lowered. The lips being open and spread may give a slight sensation of muscular stretch near the corners of the lips. The tip of the tongue rests just behind the lower front teeth, probably – though not necessarily – touching the teeth. The centre of the tongue is higher in the mouth than the tip.

As you experiment with these positions try to sense the position of your lips, jaw and tongue, and to feel these positions internally. One way to strengthen the sensation of the muscles is to make very small changes to the positions of each, and at the same time to notice the slight changes in the resulting vowel sound. Try with the sample words given above. The more you can sense these fine adjustments the better you are likely to become at finding new pronunciations (in general, and in any language).

So really there are two exercises to do at the same time, and each informs the other. One is to sense which muscles you are moving and how much effort you are using, and to become more familiar with new muscular postures. And the other is to listen to the small changes in the acoustic vowel sound that these small muscular changes produce.

Two practice activities: The practice of static minimal pairs eg bad v bed /bæd/ v /bed/ is widespread and very useful for a number of reasons. But I also advocate the additional use of what I call dynamic pairs, where you take the two vowels in question and slide slowly from one to the other and back, several times, making sure to catch all the in-between sounds produced during the movement of the muscles from one position to the other, like this /e…. æ…. e…. æ…. e…./ This develops control of the muscle movement and of the shades of the vowel sounds they produce

Here are two dynamic pairs: shown as slides from a neighbouring vowel to /æ/to help you to sense the position, alter it, and in the end control it.

Dynamic slide 1: From /e/ to /æ/. Make the sound /e/ (see Episode 21) and slide slowly to /æ/. Notice how the jaw lowers slightly, how the tongue lowers with the jaw, how the lips maintain their spread but increase their openness, and how the tip of the tongue remains in the same position relative to the lower front teeth. Try this slide a number of times, taking it slowly, so that the change from /e/ to/ is gradual, and you produce and hear the sliding range of in-between vowel sounds.

Dynamic slide 2: From /ʌ/ to /æ/. Make the sound/ (see Episodes 21/22) and slide slowly to /æ/Notice that the jaw remains the same height (open), while the lips have to spread a little more, and the centre of the tongue rises a little. Look for the small movements and their acoustic effect, and become sensitive to them.

Length: Any vowel can be made longer or shorter. But the five long English vowels /iː uː ɜː ɔː ɑː/ are typically longer than the others and are thus marked with the length indicator /ː/. Although usually indicated as a short vowel /æ/ can typically be longer before a lenis (or voiced) consonant. Thus it may be longer in sad than in sat, in bad than in bat, in man than in map. This is not a critical distinction but worth pointing out as you will notice this on occasions.

Are you finding vowel sounds ‘slippery’ to locate? That’s because they are. For more on this and how to deal with it, and perhaps even take advantage of the fact, see Episode 14, Introduction to Vowels

Proprioception: Throughout The Story of Sounds I have been emphasizing the benefits of sensing internally what your pronunciation muscles are doing, of attending to the physicality of pronunciation. The term for this from neurology is Proprioception. If you would like to see the video of my talk Proprioception in learning new sounds and connected speech and talks of other speakers on pronunciation, recorded at the British Council earlier this year, click here

It is my experience that developing your proprioception skill is likely to reduce the time and increase the precision of your pronunciation learning.

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 24: Discovering the vowel /ɑː/

The Story of Sounds: Episode 24: Discovering the vowel /ɑː/

You can think of a vowel sound as the result of the shape of the tongue coupled with the resonant space in the mouth created by lip shape and tongue/jaw height. As I’ve said before vowels are not made at ‘fixed locations’ like most consonants, but are on an endless continuum, each vowel merging at some point into the ones around it

This is why it is a great help to learn vowels in relation to each other, to learn them holistically, as a set, alongside each other, because each vowel helps define the ones around it.

The use of minimal pairs is a step in this direction, because you contrast two vowels with each other, while the other sounds remain the same

Eg Hit / heat   Fast / forced.  But the use of minimal pairs falls short in two respects:

1) If you do two sounds and then stop, without relating the sounds to one or two others

2) Each vowel is static, so it is less easy for the speaker to get insight into what the tongue/lips/jaw are doing. Whereas if there is a glide from one to another there is a proprioceptive sense of movement, which affords the speaker the necessary insight into what muscles move in order to change a sound. I’ll illustrate this in a moment with the sound /ɑː/

1.. Approximate tongue shape and resonant space for /ɑː/

The jaw is relatively open (bottom jaw lowered)

The tongue is low in the mouth, and also relatively back.

The lips are quite open and rather rounded, but not pushed forward or pouted in any way.

But as I said we can get much more precise if we also do some ‘minimal slides’ between /ɑː/and its neighbouring vowels. Here are two:

 2.. Slide from /ʌ/ to /ɑː/ eg luck to lark, tusk to task

2.1.. Start with /ʌ/ (see Story of Sounds Episode 23, March 2015).

Note the spread but lax lip position, and the relative openness of your jaw when you say /ʌ/. Notice the position of the tip of your tongue. It may be touching or close to your lower front teeth (either case is fine). Now start to slide slowly from /ʌ/ to /ɑː/ voicing aloud as you do so. As you start to move towards /ɑː/ there are several key things to note:

2.2.. The back of your tongue moves a little down in your mouth, allowing the air to flow quite unobstructed from the airway and through the mouth (saying this sound enables a clearer view of the top of the air passage, so a doctor might ask a child to say /ɑː/ in order to examine the top of the pharynx). If you put a pencil of your finger flat across your tongue, and then make the slide, you will be able to notice this movement of the back of the tongue.

2.3.. This movement in turn causes the tip of your tongue to move back a little in the mouth, away from the lower front teeth.

2.4.. There is a sense of an unrestricted relaxed throat, alllowing the air stream to pass through easily. /ɑː/ can be an expressive sound of release to accompany a massage (please conduct experiential research and report findings).

In order to help ‘fix’ both the proprioceptive and the acoustic experience, it is useful to try another slide, so that you arrive at /ɑː/ from a different direction, and with complementary observations. So lets start from /ɜː/.

3.. Slide from /ɜː/ to /ɑ:/ eg further to father, fur to far,

3.1.. Start with /ɜː/ (see Story of Sounds Episode 18, October 2013).

Say /ɜː/ aloud, and start to sense what you are doing to make that sound. Note the neutral lip, tongue and jaw position, and the lack of muscle tone there and in the cheeks. Notice the position of the tip of your tongue. It may be touching or close to your lower front teeth (either case is fine). Now start to slide slowly from /ɜː/ to /ɑː/ voicing aloud as you do so. Once again there are several things to note:

3.2.. You probably notice a lowering of the jaw, and with it the tongue, thus creating a larger resonant space in the mouth above the tongue.

3.3.. But the tongue doesn’t just stay in the same position relative to the jaw, but is a bit lower. You find that the back of your tongue moves back and down a little relative to jaw and teeth allowing the air to flow quite unobstructed from the airway, as I said above.

3.4.. Note the movement of the tip of your tongue. Does it also move back a little back in the mouth, away from the lower front teeth?

4.. Four comments about this discovery activity .

4.1.. Try both of the slides until you can feel what is going on. Also try the slides in reverse, as that will strengthen the proprioceptive insights.

4.2.. These are approximate shapes not exact locations, therefore you need to keep experimenting in order to ‘tune’ your mouth to the required vowel.

4.3.. The very action of sliding from one vowel to another, in this case from /ʌ/ or /ɜː/ to /ɑː/, helps you to contact the muscles that make the difference, and that enable you to experiment and tune the sound. You do not get this insight from standard (static) minimal pair practice.

4.4.. After experimenting with sounds in isolation, put them into the context of words and then into the context of connected speech. It is important to put things back together after taking them apart.

And finally, these exploratory and discovery activities are for teachers and students alike. We are all explorers in this field. And it is a way of knowing.

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Sound Foundations: Teacher Training Videos update

Here is an update of links to my new 3-Minute pronunciation video series, other recent teacher training videos, articles and resources including the Sounds App and The Interactive Phonemic Chart (British and American English versions)

1.. The first 24 of the new 3-Minute teacher training videos are available to view here. Shortly all 35 will be available

2.. On this new Macmillan One Stop English page you can find the following: – Sound Foundations videos – Recent articles on pronunciation teaching (not available on this blog) – British and American English Interactive phonemic charts, with sounds and optional sample words – The Sound Foundations App v3. These are all accessible here

3.. My talk Proprioception in learning new sounds, words and connected speech is available on Youtube here

.. One Hour Sound Foundations teacher training video, plus various shorter extracts, is available to view here. Recorded at Oxford University

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 23: Discovering the vowel /ʌ/ part 2

You can think of a vowel as the result of a certain position of the tongue, jaw and lips. You can also think of a vowel sound as the result of a shape (of the tongue) and a resonant space (created by lip shape and jaw height). I find the second view helpful. The fact is that vowels are not at fixed places like consonants, but are on an endless continuum, each vowel merging at some point into another vowel. And that is why we need to learn the vowels holistically, all together alongside each other, because each helps define the ones around it. And, where one becomes another will vary from one accent or variety to another. At the same time it is useful to zoom in to work on one vowel in detail, to zoom back a bit and work on two vowels together (sometimes referred to as minimal pairs, but see below) and to zoom further back to put them all in the context of each other.

Minimal pairs generally refers to two sounds that are produced close together in the mouth, so they may be confused with each other both acoustically and proprioceptively. In the case of vowels, the following would be considered minimal pairs: beat:bit; pit:put; look:Luke. And in the case of/ʌ/: bad:bud /bæd/bʌd/; bud:bard /bʌd/bɑː(r)d/ are minimal pairs

In this approach (Sound Foundations, based on the physicality of pronunciation) there are three aspects to work on minimal pairs, and all three are needed to maximise insight and learning. Our received methodology recognises the first, but (in my view) insufficiently recognises the other two, thereby disadvantaging learners. Here are the three:

1.. Traditional minimal pairs (ship:sheep /ɪ/ and /iː/ ) practised in contrast with each other

2..Dynamic sliding along a continuum between the two vowels /ɪ/ à /iː/, thereby enabling learners to sense the movements of the muscles and the acoustic change

3.. Putting the two vowels back into context of all the vowels and contrasting each with all their other neighbours.

You are all familiar with no 1, so I will illustrate work on /ʌ/ using no 2.

Here is a travel guide for two such journeys using/ʌ/

Journey 1 from /ǝ/ to /ʌ/

1.. Find the sound /ǝ/ in your mouth. This requires zero muscle tone (ie letting go of any muscle effort) in lips, tongue and jaw. Now voice that shape with minimal breath and volume. If you can’t find the sound readily, then start with the longer energised version /ɜː/ and then minimise breath, energy, volume and length. For more on how to produce these two sounds refer back to Episode 18 and Episode 19

2.. Now introduce muscle tone, breath and volume and slide the tongue down a bit (lower it), creating more space above it in the mouth. Also lower the jaw a little to help create that space. This will also open the lips a little, which alters the resonance of the space.

3.. In doing this slide make sure you voice the whole slide, as if you were saying a diphthong, so that you hear one vowel at the beginning and something different at the end, and between them a continuum of changing vowel sound. This helps you to notice the change in vowel sound, which may be quite small, and to notice the very small muscle movements that produce the change. You will still need to experiment to find the sound /ʌ/, and at first you may not be sure if you have found it.

4.. Now compare both the sound and the mouth shape and space of /ʌ/ with other monophthong vowels on the chart, just to get the acoustic and proprioceptive feel of this sound and how it differs from others. If you keep experimenting with small changes you will be freeing yourself from the grip of your mother tongue pronunciation (if that is what you wish) and developing the awareness you need to fine tune the sound in due course, and to make the best use of models given by other speakers in person or through recordings.

Journey 2 From /ʌ/ to /ɪ/ yielding the diphthong /aɪ/…

Yes I know! /ʌɪ/ does not look like /aɪ/…For their own reasons phoneticians designing the International Phonetic Alphabet chose the symbol /a/ as the starting point for the glide to /ɪ/ that produces the diphthong /aɪ/ as in five, my, height. However /a/ is not used as a solo vowel, so I use its nearest equivalent /ʌ/ as the starting point for the glide, while continuing to use the symbol /aɪ/ for that diphthong (because /aɪ/ is used in the dictionary).

This causes no problem as we teachers and our learners are essentially interested in phonemic distinctions rather in the phonetic differences that interest language scientists

1.. Locate the separate sounds /ʌ/and /ɪ/

2.. Now join them together with a long slow voiced glide /ʌ/ à /ɪ/ from one to the other. Notice the spectrum of vowel sounds in between. Do this both slowly and quickly. And also do the journey in the other direction from /ɪ/ to /ʌ/ to produce the glide /ɪ ʌ/

Final reminder: The aim of all this attention to detail is for learners to become comfortably understood by their listeners, and to be able to understand other speakers comfortably themselves. Connected speech requires attention to individual movements, in the service of smooth connected speech, just as a complete ballet requires dancers to attend to multiple small details of movement in the service of the connected up whole. My aim is not to get learners to be ‘perfect’ but to show them that they can be free to choose their own accent and variety, starting off with the accents of their teachers and others they hear and meet in person and through recordings.  Have fun!

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The Story of Sounds: Episode 22: Discovering the vowel /ʌ/ part 1

In the previous 21 episodes of the Story of Sounds we have explored 24 consonants and 8 monophthong vowels. I have tried to tell their stories from the inside, not offering the external technical descriptions you might find in a phonetics handbook, but guiding you towards the internal kinaesthetic sensation, the internal signposts to look for when you are actually trying to find or make or rehearse of alter a sound in your own mouth, throat, lungs, nose.. This internal feeling or sensation concerning which muscles you are moving and how much pressure you are applying is referred to by neurologists and physiologists as proprioception. When we learn any new physical skill (touch typing, dance, a musical instrument, knitting, a sport, etc) we rely on our proprioceptive sense to take us beyond the initial clumsy movements to smoother faster more fluent coordinations.

Go here for my post on proprioception. And here for the video of my plenary workshop last week on proprioception.

Our sense of proprioception enables us to get behind our habitual repertoire of movements and to learn the sophisticated movements and coordinations that relate to the new activity. It is the same with pronunciation, where we find ourselves in the grip of our mother tongue, necessarily habituated to the muscle movements and postures that make the mother tongue sounds.

So to learn a new set of sounds we are not starting from zero, but from a set of L1 habits that yield a set of distinctive sounds, many of which are not quite the ones we need for the new language (even if some are ‘close enough’). And we find ourselves in the grip of muscular habits. And this is where we need our sense of proprioception, to help us feel and sense the muscles enough to interrupt their habit and to tweak their movement. But if you are not connected with your sense of proprioception, it is less likely that you can liberate yourself sufficiently from the mother tongue grip, of if you do it will be more by chance, and you may be less able to find your way back to the new sound later.

I said this post was about /ʌ/, but I have spent a little time on these other matters which I think are fundamental. I intend in the next few posts to deal with the rest of the vowels and diphthongs and to complete the Story of Sounds. Meanwhile I invite you to revisit Episode 14 and Episode 15 which contain insights that affect the learning of all vowels, and also to look at the proprioception links given above.

But just to introduce /ʌ/ and the next post: /ʌ/ is an interesting sound. Some native speakers articulate it in a way that is close to /ǝ/, and others do not use the sound, substituting /ʊ/ in its place. It is also quite close acoustically to its two horizontal neighbours on the chart / æ/ and /ɑː/

I hope this has been useful or interesting. Next post in a few days will be Discovering the vowel /ʌ/ part 2!

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Videos from Feb 21st Accentuate Conference, London

Videos from Saturday’s Conference “Accentuate: Bringing pronunciation to the fore” can be viewed at the links below.

The conference was put on jointly by IATEFL Pronunciation SIG and NATECLA, at the British Council in London.

Click here for the link to the playlist which includes the opening plenary from David and Ben Crystal, and sessions from Mark Hancock, Roslyn Young and Piers Messum.

Click here for my closing plenary talk “Proprioception in learning new sounds, words and connected speech”

For the full programme see the post below

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Visual impairment and using the pron chart

To followers of this blog: A true story to start the year…

la foto 1 Blog

Here is a very special post which tells a story. It starts last September when Laila, who lives and works in Spain, meets her new class. This follows two months after our Pronunciation and Storytelling programme at Bell Teachers Centre, Cambridge, last July.

I find it touching, which is maybe a hallmark of a transformational  event. There is a quality here which you can feel, and is without words, a simple and fully human quality which we can all recognise, and perhaps aspire to in our teaching. Focus not on what I write, but on the experience of Laila the teacher, and Carme the learner, through the words of Laila and her pictures, and at the end through the words of Carme.

4 Sep 2014, Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: I have a new C1 class of 6 students who are really nice. My biggest challenge is my eldest student, 53 years old, her name is Carme :) and she is visually impaired.

No one told me about this before my lesson, so I had prepared lots of eye contact, physical-mingle type of activities which I had to leave out on the spot and come up with other things to do instead.  She has a really positive attitude towards learning and towards life itself , so that makes it much easier for me considering the circumstances.

So this has definitely made me reconsider many of things we take for granted when we plan a lesson and I need to be as creative as possible regarding presentations and prompts. It’s being an interesting thing to work around. It’s probably the best time to give Teaching Unplugged a shot :)

Here is a pic of my classroom :) As you can see, the phonemic chart was there to welcome me as I entered for the first time.

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I am happy to say I have used it from day 1, although I had to present it in two slots – first vowels and diphthongs and on the second day consonants. This is because Carme leaves half an hour earlier than the rest and I thought that even though she could have perfectly followed all the physical awareness exercises, as she would’t be able to participate pointing at the chart or seeing where the others were pointing I thought it would be best to do the presentation once she had left.

Any advice on this Adrian? I will also say that I am quite satisfied with the work we’ve done so far with the chart… One my students even confessed to have been practising the position of the vowels while walking on the street :) :) :) :) :)

Today my tutor came to observe my class for the first time and she congratulated me specifically on the way I integrated pron work throughout the lesson. She did suggest though I could include more drilling both choral and individually.

4 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Thanks for this. Your classroom looks lovely! So glad to hear you have got started straight away with pron, and doing it this way you will learn as you go and get better and better at it!

Take your tutor’s advice and do a bit more drilling, as long as it is attentive Demand High drilling, ie practice without becoming mere repetition. Perhaps I don’t do enough of it myself, but I suggest only do it when a student has made a discovery that is worth practising, and even then keep stopping to check who is doing less than they can, and help them to keep the bar high.

Re Carme, these are my thoughts to push against, test and improve. For the purpose of this advice I will assume she is quite blind, so adapt this for how much she can see:

  1. Tell her what the chart is, describe it, let her feel it or whatever is her way of knowing it.
  2. Describe that there are 44 boxes, and that when you point, a sound is indicated. Have her listen to the class at work using it.
  3. Give her a pointer and have her point at symbols on it (which she can’t see, so it will be random) and you say the sounds. Keep going til she begins to understand that there is a logic, and it becomes less random. Have other students watch and learn as this goes on. Include everyone in all of this.
  4. Maybe have her listen to some of the class working with it even if she cannot see
  5. Ask her how the chart, and the activities using it, could be adapted to work for her. This could be:
  6. a) She has a personal copy of the chart and puts some braille/feeling/touch sensitive things in each box.
  7. b) Could just be a raised number on each box.
  8. c) Or she might like to have the lines of the boxes raised so she can touch them, and she would get to know each box by location.
  9. d) Or whenever you point on the class chart, another student sitting by Carme puts Carme’s finger in the correct location on Carme’s own touch version of the chart.
  10. e) Or she makes her own touch version of the chart, much smaller, raised edges
  11. f) According to how she deals with writing and reading (?) check if she can make use of phonemic symbols. Does she do braille? Do phonemic symbols work in braille??
  12. The rule of thumb is, do all the usual activities, and ask C what adaptation would enable her to enter the activity.
  13. Maybe let her play with the Sound Foundations app (if she does touch screens) and play with the chart on the screen til she learns the layout (without seeing it)

Careful not to patronise by being too kind, over helpful, anxious, making it easy etc.  Assume she can do miraculous things, and be guided always by what she can do. Be with her, not with yourself (this advice is for all of us).

Laila, those are my immediate thoughts. Maybe the situation is different from what I am imagining, but can you adapt this?  Tell me what you think. This is a wonderful opportunity that has been offered to you. Now you can really practise being taught by your student.

6 Sep 2014, Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian, Thanks for all the great advice :)  As far as I know, she can’t read at all or look at images on paper or screen… but she said she writes emails on the computer. Taking this into account I have made a chart with the raised boxes like you suggested and will try to use it next week with her and the rest of the class.

One of the things my tutor suggested I should work on is building up cooperation in the classroom and educate the rest of the students in verbalising anything they do, which at the same time is good speaking practice.

Some of the ideas you suggested could be integrated into this objective, like have her point and I say the sounds, also others could speak as she does so to help her to make her way through and memorise the locations of the sounds and have someone next to her help her get to the box that is being pointed by whichever student is at the chart.

I’m really enjoying the challenge. Will keep you updated with the progress. Thanks again. Here’s a pic (I am not really crafty so this is quite an achievement. :) )

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7 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Great! That looks really good. She’ll love it! I agree that you should build up cooperation in the class, so that this becomes of interest and importance and care to everyone. This is a great opportunity for real community building.

Check she’s ok with it, and invite her to talk in class about how they can help her and how they should/not treat her, and ask how she can help them too. With the aim that whenever an activity comes up that assumes some sightedness, the class can pause and sort with her (in public, not 1:1 you and her) how she would like to join in the activity. It’s much better when there is real life to focus on, the whole class can grow up and stop behaving like ‘students’. Tell me how it goes !

9 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian, So on Monday I gave Carme her own chart and she was delighted and very grateful. :) Despite that, at the beginning as I guided her hands through it she found it unnecessary to keep moving through it while others spoke because the inner part of each box had nothing on it to her.

It was really a matter of how I presented it to her and how awfully I explained myself ;( because as soon as I said that the intention was kind of like learning the keys on a computer keyboard, by location and so that this way she would be able to participate when we use the chart she was quite engaged.

She confessed to be very interested in working on her pronunciation and found all the discovery exercises (movement of tongue, lips, jaw) very helpful. She asked me to keep the chart so that she wouldn’t forget it at home.

Today she walked in with a grid drawn on a sheet of paper and with some notes (tongue moves back, jaw drops, lips go rounder) and asked me to please go over it to make sure it was correct. Someone had done it for her but she was so happy to have understood the dynamics of the vowels.

We have worked on it very little so far but I try my best to integrate it all I can. I’ll keep you updated.

9 Sep 2014 Adrian Underhill wrote: Hi Laila. Brilliant! Now what about raised phonemic symbols so she could feel them? That would help in knowing each sound ‘box’ on the chart. If they have velcro or magnets on the back she could make words, corresponding to what is written on the board. She would need a velcro board or a magnetic board. Some ordinary white boards are magnetic, so she could come up to it like the others. Sounds like she is delighted to have her needs taken seriously, and equally. Keep going and keep inquiring!

15 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Latest news… I upgraded it and now it’s absolutely tactile! See picture below. I used plasticine and some strong glue :) She loved it!

She blamed me for having spent some time during the weekend training her muscles saying out the vowels while in company of her friends and family!!!

It’s great that she can now fully participate when we use the chart… We just keep verbalising where in the chart we start ( top left / second line/ bottom line 2nd box) and she is finding her way through. She prefers I keep it for now but today she made sure that it’s really FOR her and that when the month is over and I get a different group of student she will be able to take it home. Isn’t that great? Thanks Adrian for the help and support :)

I still need to work on my presentation skills when it comes to the chart and refer to it even more throughout the classes. :)

25 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hellooooo. Today was my last class with this group and it has been great. They have all thanked me again and again for introducing them to the chart.It’s incredible how well they did on a phonetic dictation game we did :))))) they were arguing about the vowels, the stress, the shwa !!!!! Amazing!

Carme participated in this quiz with her tactile chart and was sooooo engaged in the task she forgot she had to leave early. She took it home today with her and a broad smile on her face:) The chart has added a whole new dimension to my teaching style and experience and it’s been great to see how wonderfully students respond to it.

A great anecdote : one of my students went to a lesson done by one of the TESOL Certificate students which are offered for free .. And at one point she asked the teacher “can you show me in the chart???” And the poor trainee went blank, blushed and couldn’t help her but then my student stood up, went to the chart and showed her which of the two vowel sounds she was debating about and they figured it out together!!!!! I feel so useful :)

25 Sep 2014 Laila Khairat Gomez wrote: Hi Adrian. I just landed in Madrid and can’t wait to hug my dog :))) Here is the photo of the tactile version with the plasticine. Thanks for all the support through all your emails.

la foto 1 BlogLater Hi Adrian, I arranged a short meeting with Carme to get some feedback from her in retrospect. Interesting points:

  1. Her previous experience with pron was when teachers would focus in a pair of phonemes during a lesson and they would listen-repeat- discriminate. She knew about shwa.
  1. This was her first experience with pronunciation from a propioception physical- awareness approach and it has made all the difference to her.
  1. She carries her chart to class and uses it for reference both in and out of the classroom.
  1. She is happy we put this on your blog and to mention her name.
  1. She is so efficient and excited about this that she even wrote the following letter . (I can’t stop smiling :) )

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Teacher Training Workshop with Adrian Underhill

Using the ‘Pron Chart’: a complete workout

 London: Saturday 17th January 2015.

Manchester: Saturday 31st January. 2015.

A few places still available

We will explore the chart, how to present it and use it to integrate pron with other language work; connected speech; proprioception and the physicality of pron; teacher training; how to work with any difficult sound or sound sequence for different L1 learners; teacher confidence; the politics of pron; and all the questions you’ve wanted to ask…

Come if you can!

Click here for info

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