Week Sixteen: Phonology C

What was this week’s module about?

This was the third module on phonology, this time focusing on connected speech. There’s a final module next week to round it all off.

What’s connected speech?

Simply put, it refers to the way that speech sounds when we put it all together. Take those last six words. In isolation, they sound very different to when we say them in a sentence. Compare these two transcriptions. The first one is the automatic RP transcription from Photransedit (a goldmine if you want quick phonemic transcriptions. The second one is more or less how I would say it naturally.

Put it another way. The first one is how our students might be producing it, and probably what they’re expecting to hear it to sound like. The second one is what they’ll hear. Instead of all together they’ll hear tall to gethuh. What does to gethuh mean, teacher?

What does ‘tall to gethuh’ mean, teacher?

So it’s important to teach, then?

It’s crucial. Trouble is, if all you’ve done is a CELTA / CertTESOL and you’re working in a language academy and diligently following a coursebook, chances are you’re not teaching it. In the assessed teaching segment of the Dip, one of the requirements is that every lesson has a phonological focus. This reflects the way that phonological awareness informs virtually every aspect of language reception and production. Trouble is, the vast majority of teachers at the coalface never make it to a grand level 7 qualification, and their phonology teaching is confined to the pronunciation mcnuggets which are occasionally slotted in to each unit of a coursebook.

Bold statement.

I know! I’m getting my confidence back!

In what ways can we better integrate this into our teaching?

There’s a tonne of ideas, and I realise I’ve only scratched the surface so far with my studies. Top tip is to make sure we spend time each class focusing on how something sounds. In an earlier module looking at reading skills with young learners, I read about the value of going back to reading texts and giving students the chance to read the text aloud. Why not pick out a few chunks from this, read it in natural speech, and explore the sounds that the students hear.

In our live lesson this week, our (excellent) tutor Sinead Laffan demonstrated a post-listening task, for B2+ learners. Find a few segments of connected speech from the audio (especially where the ends of words elide or assimilate into the subsequent syllables). Dictate these to your students; they can use the phonemic script, or their own pidgin script – whichever is easiest and allows them to represent the sounds. Next display the audioscript. The aim is to match the connected speech samples to the written form in the script. You’ll need to do a lot of scaffolding at first, such as doing the task with the class, picking out a few alternatives from the script for them to choose from, or matching the speech samples to set phrases from the script. It’s important that this isn’t a one-off. The first (and second, third, fourth…) times doing this will be laborious and time consuming for sure, but building up awareness of what words sounds like in context will start to make a difference to their listening ability.

That sounds neat.

It doesn, doesn’t it? I’m going to work on this some more in the summer. My mother is a talented poet and writer, and for quite some time we have been speaking about doing some kind of collaboration. The lightbulb moment came a couple of days ago when Owain put out a request for poems with a sustainability focus to use in a new teacher training course. The trooper that she is, my mum got to work and forwarded more than 20 options, and I’m sure there’s many more. It strikes me as very possible to create a series of short listening-based activities using these, integrating a sustainability focus into standalone listening / phonology lessons.

That sounds like quite a highlight!

Indeed it is.

Any others?

Phonology is a fun topic, and combining an awesome tutor with a group of colleagues who are really keen on collaborating and sharing ideas (finally!), it’s been a win-win.

Were there any lows?

None this week. There was a little more marker drama the week before, but best to leave that in the past!

What’s next?

As I mentioned at the start, we’re moving on to the final week of phonology. I do wonder if there could have been two more weeks instead of one, as it seems like we’re combining intonation and tonal units with ELF/EIL and unit 3 phonology interview practice. Between that, exam preparation, an upcoming GISIG article, and another article based on the TESOL workshop, I have plenty to be getting in with!

See you next week!