Learning how to speak: Pronunciation, pragmatics and practicalities in the classroom and beyond
It is beyond dispute that learners who want to develop good speaking skills in a language also need to develop good pronunciation, and yet research continues to report that pronunciation still has low visibility in the curriculum and is often treated as something of a poor relation in the classroom. Many teachers are still wary of pronunciation as a specialist area that is somehow separate from the other skills necessary for successful communication - an isolationist tendency that can make its consequent neglect in the curriculum and in teacher training programs only too easy.
In this plenary I go back to basics and focus on what it is that learners need to do outside the classroom with the language they are learning. Drawing on studies that have explored the lives and communicative needs of immigrants and international students, I will illustrate not only the importance of pronunciation in their lives, but also its close interrelationship with other spoken skills. I will then consider the implications for how we approach the teaching of pronunciation proactively as part of developing students’ repertoire of speaking skills in the classroom and beyond.
Models, metaphors, and the evidence of spontaneous speech: A new relationship for pronunciation and listening
This workshop has the goal of improving the teaching of listening, by identifying and exploiting a new relationship between pronunciation activities and listening goals. New concepts and techniques (both high- and low-tech) will be illustrated. Participants will leave the workshop with new ideas to consider, and activities to use immediately in the class-room. The workshop will begin with thought-provoking theory, and end with the ruthlessly practical: but throughout there will be a constant reference to the evidence of recordings of spontaneous speech, and continual opportunities for suggestions and questions from participants.
For pronunciation and speaking, we encourage clear intelligible speech. We present learners with a model of speech which is built around dictionary pronunciations (citation forms) and rules of connected speech. We can think of the citation forms as greenhouse plants. They are isolated forms preceded and followed by a pause, with their component parts, the vowels, consonants, syllables and stresses, all clearly present. The rules of connected speech: linking, elision, sentence stress, etc., can be thought of as guidelines for transplanting and arranging greenhouse plants into orderly pleasing arrangements in a garden. However, the greenhouse forms and the gardening guidelines are not appropriate for teaching listening. This is because the speech that learners encounter outside the classroom is more like jungle vegetation than garden or greenhouse plants – much wilder than the forms they encounter in the classroom. Such speech contains phenomena which are rarely seen in textbooks, and words, like vegetation in the jungle, are blended into their neighbours in ways which are not predicted by the rules of connected speech. They are squeezed into bursts of the stream of speech, and it becomes difficult to recognise where one word begins and another ends, or indeed whether word-endings, syllables, or whole words have occurred at all. In class, we need to prepare students for their encounters with jungle listening, while continuing to promote intelligible pronunciation. This workshop will describe and explore ways of working on these separate but related goals.
Part 1: Models and metaphors - The goals of listening and pronunciation are different. We need different models of speech for each goal. We have good models in place for pronunciation, we have inadequate models for teaching listening. We need to distinguish between goals and activities – pronunciation activities can serve the goal of listening.
Part 2: Evidence from spontaneous speech - Words have many different soundshapes, of which the citation form is only one. The soundshapes are formed by interactions between the language and speaker factors: gender, accent, choices of speed, prominence and clarity.
Part 3: High-tech solutions: computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. - Recent developments in technology enable us to examine what happens to words in the stream of speech, to compare how words sound different as speakers and contexts change. We can manipulate and play with the sound substance of speech, in ways which promote faster learning of the listening skill.
Part 4: Low-tech solutions: teachers; and learners' voices in the classroom -The teacher's voice, and students' voices can together be used in class to create, savour and handle the soundsubstance of the stream of speech. We will look at a number of activities that can be used and adapted to different teaching contexts.