The second session was led by Laura Patsko, talking about…
Creating effective pronunciation materials.
- Why include pron in materials and classes?
- Market demands vs market needs (not always the same thing!)
- Principles for designing useful pron activities
Research says it works – controlled practice carries over to other contexts. Helps intelligibility and listening, but also improves reading speed for example, spelling, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Students may avoid structures because they can’t pronounce them rather than because they don’t know them. Teachers around the world often lack confidence and training (related – training and confidence go hand in hand!) Students and teachers want help with pronunciation. Laura has done lots of training with different teachers, in different places, they often say the want it!
Market demands vs market needs
When teachers look for pron in materials, they are looking for activities that will help students get rid of problematic pronunciation and sound more native-like. Worth reiterating that the vast majority of English users do not speak how materials suggest they should. “We are already living in a world where most of the varieties we encounter are something other than British or American English” (Crystal, 2000) so we are not helping students if we only teach them using British/American models. Research also shows that accent and intelligibility are not the same thing. They are related (Derwing and Munro, 2009 or anything they have written is worth reading on this issue) but they are separate phenomena. Communication and pronunciation is a two-way street. A listener’s expectations of what they are going to hear will impact the extent to which they find someone intelligible. Ample research suggests that monolingual native speakers are often the most difficult to understand in international settings.
Market demand that requests native speakers is largely our own fault as an industry as ss are stuck in a vicious circle that we perpetuate. “All varieties are equal but some are more equal than others” is the message if the only variety they encountered in their materials is a prestigious minority variety (which has been the case for many years). We need to bear in mind how much of what markets say they want vs what they need (what they will encounter outside the classroom or even inside the classroom). Realistically and psychologically we are also asking for a leap of faith, we are trying to get students to leap into the 21st century – even if we are convinced, students need convincing. So materials need to be high quality.
Evolution not revolution with regards to approach: we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Principles for designing effective pron materials for an international world:
- identify appropriate priorities for the syllabus (nothing new but we need to consider what these are in an lingua franca English setting, what we are preparing students for)
- identify the key markets for the course – cover the needs of speakers from those L1 groups. The strongest influence on L2 pron is L1 pron. Important to match areas of ease and difficulty. Hard but not impossible for a global market. You may need to research the L1 if you don’t know a lot about it.
- Distinguish between productive and receptive focus in activities. Issues in listening can arise from pronunciation. Make it clear why activities are useful, what they are focusing on, for both students and teachers.
- As a general rule, start productive tasks by raising receptive awareness, within a syllabus and within activities.
- Include a variety of authentic accents not actors doing voices. Hard if writing for a publisher, hard to find actors etc from all over the place but if you have a voice actor putting on an accent, it’s false and defeats the object of what you are trying to do – raise awareness of the diversity of accents.
- Pronunciation can and should be integrated with other skills. E.g. in guided discovery of grammar, include some pron questions. Developing phonological awareness can improve all four skills.
- Repeat key features across multiple levels. Repeat, revisit, revise, just like you would with anything else.
- Include pronunciation in revision/review sections – not only grammar and vocabulary. Don’t give them impression that it didn’t really matter or you justify skipping it.
- Be careful in the rubric about how you present information about accent and voice. E.g. “we say” – who is we? There are ways of grading that avoid that kind of possessive language. E.g. “some speakers say”, “clear.
- Ensure design is consistent with other important sections. Don’t make it look expendable. No smaller font size or different heading. It makes it look less important. With bigger publishers and extensive teams, designers may not know this so have that discussion. If it looks missable, it will be skipped.
Principles for supporting teachers through materials. (Research suggests that published materials could do more to support teachers.
- Offer guidance in how to evaluate and assess students’ pronunciation. How do they know if the students achieved it well? Explain it clearly.
- Include clear explanations of pronunciation features – don’t assume teachers know. Otherwise they will skip it because they won’t know how to answer student questions.
- Remind teachers of other points in the course that it might be useful to refer back to. E.g. “We’ve seen this in unit three” or “See explanation in unit 3” i.e. where they can find the information elsewhere.
The rest of the session was spent on the practical workshop aspect, in which we were applying these principles through looking at tasks in Laura and Katy’s new book:
Based upon this talk and the tasks we looked at, I would highly recommend having a look at it!