Voice-Setting Phonology by Sarn Rich
for my professional interest
I am drawn to the teaching of voice-setting phonology by my
experiences both as a teacher, and as a learner.
first time I taught a class of beginners (ILC Prague, 1992)
the coursebook was 'Flying Colours' (Greenall 1990). This
introduced the phonemic script and spellings of all vocabulary
from the outset, and included work on stress and intonation.
However, the progress the learners made in other areas always
seemed far ahead of their pronunciation. In fact their pronunciation
seemed little better than that of other beginners I taught
who were following the 'Cambridge English Course'.(2) Since
then, other teaching experiences with a segmental, bottom
up approach to phonology have confirmed this initial impression
that the time expended can be disproportional to the results.
On the other hand, with learners not yet familiarised with
phonemic script I have found an even greater inclination to
translate the sounds of L2 into sounds of Li. For example,
a Pole might enter 'melancholy' as 'melankoli' in a vocabulary
notebook as a reminder of how to pronounce the word, but the
Polish spelling conventions will encourage a 'Polish-ish'
pronunciation. Arguing for a top-down approach to phonology
teaching, O'Connor suggests 'better results are achieved when
the learner gets the basis of articulation right rather than
trying for the foreign sound sequences from the basis of his
own language (1973:289 in Thornbury 1993: 128-9).
a learner I have made most progress in pronunciation when
I have thrown myself into the role of an L2 speaker. I learnt
this approach in Latin lessons (oddly enough), as a teenager:
the teacher encouraged us to pronounce Latin in an exaggerated
Italian accent, insisting that we conclude words such as 'amo'
with an Italian 'o' rather than an English /~ti/. Having found
this helpful in my own learning, I have suggested to learners
(e.g. Japanese learners on short courses in Britain) that
they 'think themselves into English', for example by using
simple but typical-sounding words and phrases ('Good', 'Sorry',
'Thank you') in situations where they would normally use Li.
Seeing the approach as one of getting into role (or at least
easing oneself out of an Li role) I have also looked for ideas
in books dealing with drama techniques in the classroom, though
most practical suggestions seem to be scattered in a variety
of other sources.
have not yet tried any of the activities outlined in the Appendix,
but feel they probably suit my teaching style, as many involve
the learner in discovering rules for him/herself and thinking
about the learning process. Several also draw on roleplay,
which I enjoy using in the classroom, finding it an effective
way to ease learners out of Li- into L2-speaking behaviour.
I intend to try a selection of the activities, adapting some
of them, to
- improve the learners' general English pronunciation.
- help focus the learners' thoughts on English pronunciation,
to improve their noticing and awareness.
- clarify L1/L2 differences in a way that helps the learners
to adopt an appropriate voice-setting when speaking English.
- (if there is time) improve the learners' ability to identify
and to convey thoughts and emotion expressed through English
find out to what extent these objectives have been met, I
- listen to recordings of the learners speaking at the beginning
and at the end of the lesson.
- at the end of the lesson, discuss with the learners, having
let them know at the beginning that the activities are experiments,
for the learners to evaluate.
- get a general impression of how the learners respond to
each activity, and how their voice-setting skills develop.
of approaches followed in the experiment, and considerations
for future inclusion in my teaching
Listening to five languages drew some useful and wide-ranging
observations, expressed in terms decided by the learners themselves
('strong' 'soft' 'melodic' 'all the same'). This was useful,
though it might be difficult for lower level learners to discuss,
unless they do so in
L1. It would be interesting to try the activity in a multilingual
class, to see whether the learners have the same impressions
of other languages.
questionnaire was a good introduction to the lesson. In future
I might change question 1, since these learners' responses
('When foreigners mispronounce Spanish I think it's funny.')
might suggest that they could become objects of amusement
when they mispronounce English (like Manuel in 'Fawlty Towers'),
and so make them nervous of speaking. The last question elicited
some common phrases ('Anyway' 'It doesn't matter...), and
is probably suitable at all levels (perhaps for homework),
since most learners are exposed to English in films and the
media. In future (especially in Britain) I will follow this
up by encouraging learners to 'think themselves into English',
by using the expressions in everyday situations out of class.
Spanish in an English accent generated the most laughter.
My impression was that the learners did it well and exercised
their mouths very usefully. The learners themselves agreed
that it was the most enjoyable activity of the lesson, but
thought it not the most useful. In future I shall include
it in my teaching with learners of all levels, and ensure
that it keeps to a few minutes.
was surprised at how poorly the learners tackled the bilingual
minimal pairs. I speak no Spanish myself (I drew up the pairs
with the help of a phrasebook.) and had forgotten that English
contains far more distinctions between vowel sounds than Spanish,
making the sounds involved in this exercise far easier for
me than for them to discriminate and to produce. However the
learners did not appear to be at all demotivated by the task,
but were intrigued when I read out the English words that
there were such distinctions. We agreed that this was a useful
For the future I will have to consider that finding the pairs
may be difficult in some languages, and make clear the purpose
of the exercise, being to draw out general distinctions between
Li and L2 rather than a more segmental approach of examining
each word in detail.
the video, the learners quickly identified the language from
the speakers' mouthshape and were pleased to see their assumptions
confirmed - that English-speakers hardly open our mouths.
This, and Jenner's suggestion about putting a penlid between
the lips, is a quick and motivating activity I shall make
use of again.
We also discussed Honikman's suggestion for arranging the
articulatory organs, but the learners were less convinced
of its usefulness, perhaps because it leads away from what
learners can discover for themselves to ideas expressed by
an external authority.
learners also did very well at identifying relationships from
body language and voice- setting.(3) Discussing their deductions
from a video clip was a very useful way to focus on particular
linguistic and paralinguistic (and cultural) clues.
learners were most impressed by shadow reading, and wanted
to keep practising and practising. By the end their jaws ached,
which we agreed probably indicated that they had been well
and usefully exercised.
Our overall impression was that all the activities explored
were useful and that the experiment objectives had been met.
This was incidentally confirmed by comparing recordings of
the English spoken by the learners at the beginning and the
end of the lesson.
As in other areas, I feel that top-down and bottom-up approaches
to phonology teaching are naturally complementary, and look
forward to experimenting with the combination over the period
of an entire course.
(1)My own feeling is that pronunciation teaching (and English
teaching in general) should not be seen as inevitably a threat
to whatever language(s) the learner has already, but as offering
something extra. The idea that it is bound to undermine native
languages and identities appears to rest on the mistaken assumption
that monolingualism is the norm. In fact, despite what the
world minority of native English-speakers might take for granted,
multi-lingualism is quite common, and the learning of additional
languages and pronunciations is not necessarily threatening
or morally problematic.
is not necessarily to suggest any deficiency in Flying Colours'
as a coursebook, only that in my hands its emphasis on pronunciation
did not prove as successful as I had hoped.
quickly deduced from a very brief extract that the characters
were a brother and sister who had not seen each other for
a long time because of animosity between the brother's wife
and his sister.
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the lesson plan
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