Comfortable Intelligibility 2

In the previous post on Comfortable Intelligibility – I suggested using the three levels of pronunciation (Level 1: Sounds: Level 2: Words: Level 3: Connected Speech) as a kind of practical ladder for moving up and down between the whole of a language piece and the parts it is made of (and the whole is always more than the sum of those parts). The aim is to give the bits of learning (sounds, clusters, wordstress, unstress, linking, reduction) the attention they need while always serving the greater goal of learning connected up speech.

Here is an illustration of a 3 or 4 minute sequence of classwork, moving elegantly between Levels 1, 2 and 3 (ie between the detail and the connected up speech). This is made possible in part by using the pron chart.

Practical awareness no 2: Using the three levels of pronunciation

Here’s the first sentence from a 120 word course book text (New Straightforward Intermediate, Kerr & Jones, Macmillan Education) which is both recorded and printed in the student book.

I once saw a magician who did an incredible trick.

Assume you have introduced the recording (Level 3) and listened to the whole text in respect of general meaning etc, and now it’s time for a more detailed study of the language, in this case entering via pronunciation. The student books are closed at this point:

1.. T plays the first sentence one only: I once saw a magician who did an incredible trick.

2..Teacher: “How many words?” (Sts have to re-listen again internally in their mind’s ear in order to count. Levels 3 and 2)

3.. T: “So tell me the words”. Class calls them out individually. (Level 2)

4.. T: “What’s the 4th word?” (Level 2, Sts replay in mind’s ear, and say something approximating magician)

5.. Perhaps T says magician aloud once, Sts listen internally several times (Level 2)

6.. Sts say it aloud. Class listen to each other (Sts notice difference between inner hearing and speaking aloud. Level 2)

7.. T asks “How many sounds in that word?” (Sts count internally by discriminating sounds in their mind’s ear. This also prepares them to use the pron chart. Level 1,)

8.. Class call out number/s of the sounds (there are 7 in magician but there is no need to be accurate at this point, it is the fact of counting that triggers an internal discrimination, Level 1)

9.. T: “So what’s the first sound … and the next … ? etc..” Perhaps T counts the sounds onto her fingers as they are called, and deals usefully with wrong sounds. Level 1, sounds and feedback and assistance)

10.. Teacher invites a St (prepared by point 9) to come to the chart to point out the sounds /m ǝ ʤ ɪ ʃ ǝ n/ Class say aloud what the St points at, correct or not, so the St at the chart gets feedback and can adjust what she points at. Level 2, going down to Level 1)

  1. T and others assist, sufficient accuracy of individual sounds is established. Others come to the chart to have a go. All class is involved by saying aloud the sounds that are pointed at by the person at the front ,and then negotiating them if not right. (Level 1)

12.. Once the sequence /m ǝ ʤ ɪ ʃ ǝ n/ is established on the chart T says “Now in English!” A kind of joke but Sts know exactly what they have to do, ie connect it all up so it sounds like the original model (Level 2)

13.. Perhaps now the T invites people to the board to spell the word. (Level 2, developing insight into sound spelling relationships in English)

14.. And finally of course they put the word back into the original sentence with some speed, embedding the new word in the connected steam of speech, and then comparing it with the original recording (Level 3)


Breaking it down like this makes it look long, but as you know this kind of sequence goes very quickly, and perhaps you won’t use all of these steps, or use them in this order

I have tried to illustrate the movement between the 3 levels of pronunciation, applying this to putting a new vocabulary item into circulation, in this case by attending to its pronunciation in a deeper and more memory retentive way after only hearing the word. One could also start from just seeing the spelling, as when encountering it in a written text. That has a similar process to the above, but with some interesting differences which I’ll look at in the next post.

Meanwhile if this interests you, earlier this month I gave a short webinar on the topic of using the pron chart to introduce new vocab. You can find it here.

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4 Responses to Comfortable Intelligibility 2

  1. Elvira Carralero says:

    Thanks, Adrian, for the new post. Since we were counting sounds in Cambridge last summer, I’ve been doing this activity with my class regularly I really feel that it helps them to be aware of the sounds and to libarate themselves from their mother tongue pronunciation. Besides,it is fun. However, I think that being our goal connected speech, we’re missing something here. Having the correct pronunciation of a word is, of course, important, but quite useless when we are most of the times in need of more than one word. When we try to connect the word we’ve learnt with others, the problems arise: grammatical, lexical and pronunciation problems. So, what about counting chunks? If we could work with a small group of words we could deliver ready made material to be used straight away. We could count the number of sounds in the chunk and point out the sounds in the chart too. I’d like to know what you think, Thanks again for sharing such interesting ideas in your blog.

  2. Thanks Elvira for this question. I think this is a really good point. The basic purpose of asking the learner (and teacher) to count what is there, is that the activity of counting requires one to slow down the stream of language, to exercise discernment about what constitutes the ‘bits’ in that stream, and to identify the bits as unique or different in some way. This counting is usually done after hearing a word or phase, so that the activity of counting requires one to hold the sounds/words in one’s inner ear. (It could be done while looking at written language – a slightly different activity which I’ll deal with in the next post).
    So, in all of this, it does not matter what the final number is, we are not asking the question “How many…?” in order to obtain the ‘correct’ number, though that may be of interest, we are asking the question to get the student to listen carefully to what is there, to discriminate, and to use the inner ear, and so to get prepared for the physicality of the utterance of that bit of language.

    And what your suggestion makes me realise Elvira is that just as there are three levels of pronunciation, so there can be three levels of counting:
    Level 1 Counting (starting with a sound): How many movements when you make that sound;
    Level 2 Counting (starting with a word): How many sounds in that word; how many letters in that word; how many syllables in that word; how many stresses in that word
    Level 3 Counting (starting with connected speech): How many words in that chunk or phrase; how many chunks or sense groups in that sentence; how many tonic syllables (I call these ‘speaker stresses’) in that sentence; how many pauses in that sentence; etc

    Note that whatever level you start from, the action of counting takes you down a level, so it is important to finish off by putting everything back together, reassembling the whole, which is what I mean by the instruction “And now in English”. This embeds the new awareness back in the stream of speech, and serves the long term goal of comfortable intelligibility. And as you remind us Elvira, it’s important to keep the whole (connected speech) always in mind, and not get sidetracked for too long in the bits (sounds, words),

  3. Elvira Carralero says:

    Thanks Adrian for your reply. It’s very interesting the idea of three levels of counting, especially the first one, counting the movements when you make a sound. As for the whole thing, sometimes what troubles me is the selection of items. What makes a chunk memorable? Functionability? The relation to the topic? Frequency? The three of them? Your approach is perfect because it is physical and could be used with everything we do in the classroom. However, this ‘everything’ is the problem. Should we use the approach to improve the effectiveness of other approaches (lexical, functional…) or could the sounds approach be the one that leads us under their own rules (or logic or physicality) to comfortable intelligibility?

  4. Yes, good questions. For me the underlying aim is to help learners become aware, through their own discovery, of what the thing they are learning consists. Counting is an activity that can help this process in many though not all situations, not because the number itself matters, but because the process of counting requires the learner to place attention briefly on each component in turn, making them aware of what they see, and also marking out the territory for what they have not yet seen. You could say that counting is one way of becoming aware of all the things the learner will have to take into account in achieving mastery. And perhaps counting is particularly grounded when it comes to physical movements, and the embodiment of language.

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