Glynn talks about his new life in Spain
Watch the video of Glynn talking about his new life in Spain. What features of his speech might be difficult to understand for some listeners?
Watch the video again. What do you notice about the way he says the following sentences. Which words or groups of words are potentially unclear for some listeners?
- I just bought a boat.
- So, we’re going to start a charter company.
- We’re hopefully going to do tours here in Barcelona.
What’s the problem for the listener?
One consideration you could make here is whether you would want to draw the students’ attention to accent. Glynn has American pronunciation, so it would depend on how much experience your students have had with this. As Scots we may want to show his pronunciation is different to ours, especially in terms of vowel sounds and some consonant sounds. We may also feel that our students have had ample exposure to American pronunciation through the media therefore choose not to deal with it at this time. The important thing here is to know your students and consider what is most relevant to them.
Another difficulty here could be that a student listening to Glynn may hear different sounds to those expected or might also hear one word when there are actually two. As Richard Cauldwell and John Fields pointed out in their talks at Iatefl 2017, a word can take many different shapes. It can sound totally different depending on the surrounding sounds and rhythm. We can help our learners hear those words by exposing them to fast, messy speech and by helping them to decode the streams of sound they are hearing.
As we discussed in a previous post (Emma Talks Friends), there are certain features of connected speech involved here that could cause this messiness. Let’s look at what Glynn says.
I just bought a boat.
/aɪ dʒəs bɔdə bəʊt/
There is vowel reduction in ‘just’ to the schwa and the /t/ sound is elided. There is liaison between ‘bought’ and ‘a’. The final consonant sound linking with the initial vowel sound of the next word. Listeners may only hear one word in this case if their attention hasn’t been drawn to this feature of connected speech. Adrian Underhill refers to this as liaison; we tend to use the term linking when talking to students as it tends to be clearer for them. However, the important thing is that they know what is happening and why.
So, we’re going to start a charter company.
/səʊ wɪr gʌnə stɑrə tʃɑrtər ˈkʌmpəni/
There is assimilation of /ŋ/ in the word ‘going’, so this sound becomes /n/. The /t/ in ‘to’ elides. The ‘to’, reduced to just a schwa sound, links with the final /n/ consonant, making it sound like just one word. The /t/ sound in ‘start’ elides and, as in the previous example, the final consonant sound links with the initial vowel sound in the following word, which also reduces to the schwa.
We’re hopefully going to do tours here in Barcelona.
/wɪr ˈhəʊpfəli gɒnə du tʊrz hɪrɪn ˌbɑrsəˈləʊnə/
Again we have linking between the final consonant sound of ‘here’ and the initial vowel of ‘in’, as well as the reappearance of ‘gonna’.
Strategies to develop this feature of pronunciation
A supportive cycle
In this post, we will show how the above cycle can help us to effectively integrate pronunciation into a lesson and move beyond a simple listen and repeat after me. This cycle foregrounds some key factors in second language acquisition to ensure effective integration and teaching of pronunciation. It could also act as a general guide for teaching any language point. These key factors include:
- Hearing and noticing language in context
- Working with language in a cognitive way that involves some negotiation of meaning and or form
- Practising and using the language (in context)
- Repetition and recycling
We want to ensure that there are more supportive steps between the initial listen and the subsequent repeat. The students need time to work on and develop the target sounds. Therefore we want to give them a series of tasks that will progress towards developing a good understanding of sound production and an ability to produce those sounds.
Introduce/ isolate/ model
Knowing your learners and what pronunciation problems they have will help you decide what is relevant to them here. For example, you may decide that ‘gonna’ is quite high frequency in spoken English, so you can just draw their attention to it again, while introducing linking or elision. There are quite a few features of connected speech involved in these three utterances, so what and how much you decide to focus on depends on previous exposure and practice your students have had.
If you are introducing a feature for the first time, it would make sense to concentrate on just that feature. Our aim here is to give them thorough and memorable practice with the target feature. Let’s say we are going to introduce liaison/ linking for now. Here we can simply put each utterance on the board while modelling them. We could also provide a visual to give context.
I just bought a boat.
So, we’re going to start a charter company.
We’re hopefully going to do tours here in Barcelona.
The idea is to isolate the language and its sounds. We are telling our students, ‘Listen. This is what we are going to look at.’
Time to hear
We can then underline which parts we want the student to focus on. For example, ‘I just bought a boat; So, we’re going to start a charter company; We’re hopefully going to do tours here in Barcelona. We then model the utterances again.
The important thing in the first two stages is that we are isolating the sounds we want to focus on while allowing our students time to hear the sounds with no pressure to produce them or do anything with them.
At this stage we want students to do something with the target sounds. This helps them understand what is happening and become more familiar with the sound. This could involve them making a choice between sounds or making a decision of some kind.
The first noticing task you could try is to put the students into pairs or small groups, ask them to listen to each utterance in turn, and discuss what they notice about the underlined parts. To encourage the decision making, you could ask them to come to a consensus on what they notice. They should be able to notice that two words sound like one and that they seem to join together. At this stage we can pass on useful information to them. In this case the final consonant sound of the first word links with the initial vowel sound of the second word. This is linking; this tends to happen in fast fluent speech. This is important for our learners to know. This kind of ‘inside information’ boosts their confidence and increases their knowledge of the sound system of English.
As you do this task, the students may well begin to notice other things about the utterances apart from the underlined parts. They may notice the vowel reduction and elision of /t/ in ‘just’ or ‘gonna’ instead of ‘going to’. This is positive noticing work if they offer this information to you. We tend to deal with it as part of the task if they do, as this can increase their confidence. You may also decide to deal with these other features and also reinforce liaison/ linking by revisiting this listening at a later date.
Another noticing task which you may want to try is taken from Richard Cauldwell’s greenhouse, garden and jungle technique. You can see an example of this here.
The greenhouse version is a clean, slow sentence without connected speech (transcribed with a rhotic accent)
We are going to start /wiː j ɑːr gəʊɪŋ tʊ stɑːrt/
The garden version is slightly messier and faster
We’re going to start /wɪər gəʊɪŋ tə stɑːrt/
The jungle is the full speed and messy
We gonna start /wɪ gɒnə stɑːrt/ (final sound might even change to a glottal stop here)
By drilling the phrase in the three ways we help students to see what is happening in the version they hear in the audio (the jungle version). It helps to raise awareness that words do not sound how they look and learners need to be prepared for that!
To develop this awareness, we need to extend the work on this a little, and we can do this by working with other similar phrases. As we have done some explicit noticing work on linking, and there are two phrases with ‘going to’ plus verb, we could do more listening work with different sentences that include these phrases. You could try some of the activities on the Cauldwell site in the link above. Elicit some plans learners have for the next few days and write them on the board. Ask students to predict what parts of speech might change when they are spoken quickly. You could ask them to do this in pairs. Then, model the phrases in greenhouse, garden and jungle style. Ask learners if they correctly identified the parts that changed and discuss what changed. This can help prepare learners for the next time they hear phrases with ‘going to’ or linking sounds in rapid speech. They will learn to anticipate the possibility of there being more than one word in a chunk of sound. They will also learn to focus on the main verb and not what they don’t hear in the grammar (gonna) bit!
For students to fully understand and develop these sounds, they need to work on making them physically. They need to practice the musicality of them. First of all, we can isolate the sounds we have been practising by separating them into chunks of sound. For example,
We’re // going to // do // tours // here in // Barcelona.
// wɪr // gɒnə // du // tʊrz // hɪrɪn //ˌbɑrsəˈləʊnə //
We can then drill each chunk of sound individually. This also marks the natural rhythm of the sentence, as it incorporates the function words ‘to’ and ‘in’ with their content word partners ‘going’ and ‘here’. Then we drill them together building it up each time – // wɪr // gɒnə // – // wɪr // gɒnə // du // – // wɪr // gɒnə // du // tʊrz // etc. This way you can really drill the rhythm of the sentence and add focus to the sound of the target chunks. We can can build it up going forwards, backchain, or both. We can drill it chorally to boost confidence, then individually. It eventually sounds like a song, and you can all get right into the music together. The drilling can continue with the examples of the plans they have given you.
Work on connected speech is mostly relevant for listening – we want our learners to be able to decipher rapid speech. However, we can help their fluency, by working on their pronunciation of chunks of speech. We can also support their listening skills through speaking practice, as the students build up a better understanding of the sounds by being given opportunities to produce them and hear them in conversation. As a follow-up activity to the greenhouse to jungle listening task, ask students to practice speaking by going from greenhouse to jungle with a partner. This pair work will give them a safer space to experiment in, and you can also listen and assess how well they manage to do this. It may be that they become better at the garden variety and this is sufficient. That is still progress! We can come back to this point another day, and another, and another! They will get there in the end!
Feedback and consolidation
If you decided to work on your learners’ speech then it is important to consolidate work done with focused feedback and repetition or recycling. Give learners an opportunity to use the language in a contextualized, communicative task. Listen and make a note of good language use and any errors. Stop them, go over this language, being careful to really work on any physical aspects of pronunciation that are causing blocks (mouth position, elision of sounds etc.) and then tell students to carry on with the task or to repeat the task with a different person.
In next class start with some review to carry on with the cycle – does it need further work?
Underhill, A. (1994) Sound Foundations. Macmillan
Cauldwell, R (2013) Pronunciation for Listening. Speech in Action
Cauldwell, R. http://www.speechinaction.org/
Field, J. (1998) Skills and Strategies, Towards a new methodology for listening. ELT Journal Volume 52/2 April 1998 © Oxford University Press 1999