Part Three: A top-down approach
There are many ingredients to good pronunciation in English. In my last post on the subject I focused on individual, discrete sounds and their importance for our learners, but the thing that strikes me most when I hear a non-native speaker of English with good pronunciation is the rhythm and overall delivery of the chunks of language they use, not individual words per se. As a native speaker, if I hear a familiar pattern my ear can naturally pick out information which is being packaged in a way that makes sense to me. If some of the individual sounds are difficult to discern this is unlikely to affect my understanding to any great degree.
The importance of stress-timing
And I’m being quite literal when I talk about packaging language into meaningful chunks. Let’s see why this is and why one of the most important things we can do to help our students with pronunciation is to draw their attention to the phenomenon of stress-timing. Here’s a nice activity someone showed me years ago to introduce this at the beginning of a course. I don’t remember who exactly (my apologies) but I’ve never forgotten it.
Once every two years the Official Language Schools in Spain hold their national convention. This year’s event at the EOI in Valencia (this Thursday 30th March until Saturday 1st April) marks the 10th time they will come together to share ideas and best practices.
We at Pearson are also very proud to be taking part by providing three engaging workshops. Two of these talks will be given by award-winning ELT author, novelist and co-author of Pearson’s Speakout series, JJ Wilson, on the topics of creativity and authenticity in the classroom. Also on hand will be Spain-based Teacher Trainer for Pearson Michael Brand who will offer his perspective on the characteristics of a C1 user of English and how to get our students up to this level.
For more details and times please consult the information below.
Integrating pronunciation into your classes
Part Two: A bottom-up approach
At its most basic level pronunciation deals with the production of individual sounds or phonemes. For many students and beginning teachers this is what comes to mind when they think of pronunciation.
The approach of learning and practicing phonemes in isolation and then using them as building blocks to construct words or longer utterances is atomistic in nature, and suffers from obvious limitations which I will touch on below, but it also has its positive points, and chief among these is something I referred to in part 1 of this series: it gets students (and teachers) to listen to and feel what is going on with their bodies when they are producing sounds.
Here are some things to think about when teaching pronunciation in this way: Continue reading
Part One: The Basics
Pronunciation. It’s often the area most avoided by new teachers for lack of confidence, and also the first thing experienced teachers leave out due to lack of time and a desire to get on with the “meatier” issues of vocabulary, grammar and skills work. But like it or not our students are aware of the importance of pronunciation and will expect us to work on it with them, so getting comfortable with it and finding the time should be one of our priorities as teachers.
The following is the first part in a three-part series outlining some basic tips for successfully integrating pronunciation in your classes.
A big part of being an English teacher is gauging our students’ abilities in relation to what is expected at the level they’re in. It’s not an easy task by any means, but we do seem, after years of experience, to get a certain feel for it. But the real trick is actually being able to nail it down a bit more, to point to concrete features of their spoken output that are more reliable measurements of their proficiency. Let’s take a look at what fluency looks like for our advanced C1 learners.
Often times we might find ourselves saying things like “You know you’re fluent when you dream in English” or “You know you’re fluent when you think in English”, but what does that actually mean? I don’t know about you, but if I’m giving my advanced students feedback on their speaking I want to point to something a little more specific (and professional sounding) than their dreams.
Like most of you teachers, ELT Learning Journeys will be taking a much deserved break for the holiday season. We hope that your time will be filled with family, friends, plenty of good cheer and a healthy dose of rest as well. And my the New Year find you refreshed and recharged. We will be back with a fresh post on the 10th of January. All the best…
Getting into the zone
So, you’ve got a stack of writing assignments on your desk. You have a quick glance at the correction code you use with your students. “Gr” for grammar errors, “P” for punctuation, “V” for vocabulary, “R” for register, etc. The pressure’s on now. The sooner you get these back to your students the better. They’re anxious to see their grade and you want them to make corrections based on the code and notes you make as soon as possible. You have a quick glance at the clock and estimate that if you spend X number of minutes per assignment you might even be able to get in some lunch before your next class. So with a steaming cup of coffee at your side, and red pen in hand you dive in. You’re in full-on correction mode.
A familiar scene. We’ve all been there. And when we finish up and hand them back to our students we’re likely to feel some real professional pride at our ability to be so efficient at our job (I got them all corrected in how long?). Oftentimes though, for me at least, this is coupled by a nagging doubt that maybe I could have done just a little a bit better.
Cop or Coach?
Did my intentions to give meaningful, personal feedback take a back seat to my robo-corrector mentality as I plowed through assignment after assignment? After all, the power of the red pen does tend to bring out the authoritarian in us, transforming us from the friendly coach we like to think of ourselves as into the grammar cop pulling over our students at the slightest infraction: “Were you aware that you are using a register unacceptable for this genre? May I see your certification to operate at this level please? Put your pencil down and back away from the desk slowly.”
At the beginning of this month I attended the Teaching for Success Conference at the British Council in Valencia, and got to see the always entertaining and thought-provoking Jeremy Harmer deliver a rather ominously titled talk. “Through a glass darkly: does ELT have a future?” centered on the technological disruption we’re beginning to see in our sector and the possible effects on teachers and learners. Harmer made quite clear that he was not in the business of making prophesies about the always uncertain future, and raised far more questions than he answered, but he did serve to get across one clear and solid message to the audience that might be summed up in a single word: Beware.
That technology’s impact on education, and ELT more specifically, can no longer be ignored is a sentiment being echoed elsewhere by technophobes and technophiles alike (as well as many of those in between). There was a time when it may have been easier to think that the inevitable tipping point into this new age of English Teaching everyone had been predicting for so long would never come, but, as Harmer said, employing a fairly well-known saying, “change comes slowly, and then all at once.” So, if this is to be taken as general truth, I’ll throw in another useful motto from my days in the Boy Scouts – “Be Prepared.” Continue reading
In order to further prep myself for the Innovate ELT Conference in Barcelona where I will be giving a talk titled How technology helps you improve what your students can do I sat in on Ian Wood’s session yesterday at the Pearson Morning for English Teachers of Cambridge Exams event in Madrid. Ian is something of our own in house guru on all things testing and is extremely adept at using clear language and metaphors to express quite difficult and meaty concepts from the world of English language assessment.
So, in that same spirit of clarity I would just like to sum up the thrust of Ian’s talk with this very simple, but important question that he reminded us we all hear from our students, but are often at a loss to answer entirely adequately: How good is my English? All of us have our ways of dealing Continue reading
Following our visits to Zaragoza and Valencia last week for the Pearson Evens for English Teachers, Elena Merino and I would like to share our presentations with you as promised.
We hope these ELT Ideas for Secondary Teachers come in handy, and we certainly appreciate the thoughtful participation of all of those attending. Your comments helped us to come up with a few new ideas as well! Continue reading