Which Pronunciation?

I’m sure as language teachers that this thought goes through our head a fair bit. It’s not a difficult decision for most languages since there is the standard. And yes, while there are varying dialects and accents, there is typically the one golden standard that we can revert to. Let our students fall back on if they want to work their new tongue in a familiar and intelligible style. The problem here is that English doesn’t have this golden standard. There are just too many standards to count. The powerhouses are British English (BE) and General American English (GAE), with some others gaining popularity and credibility – Canadian English, Australian English, Irish English, and so on. On top of these we also have the concept of English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) that has some momentum thanks to linguists. I believe that in the international community with international communication being the main objective that ELF is a fantastic notion, but there are still problems with it in design and implementation. Basically, ELF looks at removing those phonological features that if omitted don’t hamper intelligibility. Great right? Well, here’s the catch… do the students really want to learn this reduced variety of English? In a recent study I conducted (with Koreans as my focus group), I tried to find out from a sample of learners just what they wanted… The result? Overwhelmingly GAE for pronunciation. Next challenge… ‘Native’ models of English are supposedly difficult to understand… hence ELF being a notion of importance. However, what happened in this study? GAE was found to be the most intelligible to this sample as well. So.. a unanimous decision from my Korean sample. Irish English was the biggest surprise for me since it received quite high ratings for pronunciation desirability. Intelligibility was on par with BE and Korean English, which wasn’t so bad considering the majority of participants informed me that it was a totally unfamiliar sound to them. Something they had not heard before (or too often). But this poses the question… Since GAE is what is most familiar to English learners in Korea, then did it only return the number one position due to this familiarity? If given more exposure, will Irish English be the global standard of...

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Digesting The Language

Nothing too technical here… this is just a short post about how to trick yourself into learning. I’m sure you’ve heard countless times before how you should learn in context… but it can be a little vague at times right? So… in laymans terms.. the mythical in context beast is one that pretty much means “try to live in your language” By that I mean your target language should become part of your everyday life and routine. And what are some ways to do this? Watch tv, read a book, listen to the radio, go to the local market, etc.. One of my favourites though is cooking… and this is where the digesting part comes in. We all have to eat… so combine the two. Use Google – or better yet, use your target language’s search engine, like Naver for Korean – to find some recipes for some of your favourite dishes from the countries that speak your language… Even if you’re not a culinary genius, chances are that your disastrous attempts at cooking the food will still be edible and you’ll learn vocabulary items for the ingredients and methods, as well as just getting some practice at reading procedural texts in your target language… which will help you with reading instructions for other things and what-not. If reading recipes isn’t your thing… try i-Tunes for podcasts or videocasts of the same kind of thing. I learnt a lot of Korean recipes by watching cooking shows and just reading recipes online. So.. get in the kitchen and start digesting your target...

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L1 Tests, L2 Setting

I’m sure if you’ve been a teacher for any length of time you will have stumbled more than once at creating a valid and reliable test for your classroom. The question is, why are we always struggling along attempting to reinvent the wheel? Countless people before us have researched and implemented successful assessments for the classroom… the problem is, many of these are for the L1 setting. If you’re following me, I’m talking about tests like Informal Prose Inventory (IPI), Early Names and Names Tests, St Lucia Graded Word Reading Test and so on and so forth. Assuming you’re familiar with any of these then you’ll know they tend to focus on reading skill primarily. And correct me if I’m wrong… but our L2 students still read don’t they? So, why can’t we use them in our classroom and cut back on some preparation time? Well.. there’s not reason why you can’t… A minor tweak here and there, modify some of the data analysis and away you go… assessment in hand. Things like the Early Names and Names Tests don’t need to be touched. They focus on phonological awareness and give you an idea as to which areas of phonology are troubling your students. The St Lucia does something similar, but has the added bonus of assigning a reading age to your students. This in itself is nothing but a number… but let’s introduce the big daddy of the ones I mention above… IPI. Without a reading age or intimate knowledge of your students abilities, the IPI can become pretty invalid. The material will be too difficult or too simple and the whole process will be fruitless… but let’s assume you select something in the right atmosphere for your students… you have a winner. IPI is designed to be primarily a reading test. It is supposed to assess decoding skills, reading strategies, comprehension through question and answer… and also has a retell aspect that indirectly assesses speaking and structural awareness. …Now, let’s side step a little… you’re in a L2 classroom… how can you use IPI and what will it assess? Assuming your students are literate in their own L1 – which is likely in most instances …unless you’re teaching refugees, asylum seekers or similar – then we can ignore the area of decoding skills and reading strategies as metalinguistic transfer from their L1 should take care of this. Instead, the direct read aloud aspect can be used to analyse and assess phonological awareness. Something of use to monitor progress and development in earlier level learners that wish to improve (reduce) their accent. Comprehension Q&A covers some listening and...

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Needs Analysis

As a teacher it is ultimately up to us to decide what our students should be learning… but on the other hand, it’s also up to the student to let the their teachers know what they could be learning. This is where needs analysis comes into play. Teachers aren’t mind readers as much as we pretend to be and we will quite often need a kick in the right direction when it comes to understanding our students’ wants and needs. This is particularly the case when it comes to English for Specific Purpose (ESP) classes. It’s fine to teach engineering English, but which engineering? This is one of the things we need to find out and getting that information doesn’t need to be a complicated process. In fact, it’s as easy as providing your students with a questionnaire of sorts. Things like background information (college department, language experience, L1, how do you use English) act as a nice softener and can lead into language needs (technical reading, instructions, assignment writing, listening to presentations, discussion participation, etc) together with a self-assessment of their English abilities across the four skills (R, W, S, L) together vocabulary knowledge and grammatical understanding. The final section could include how they want materials and classes to be presented. This is something of a formal questionnaire in effect and can be somewhat leading in the answers you receive… so perhaps the better option? A blank sheet of paper…. Just ask the students to write a short paragraph about their background, language ability and what areas they want to improve. This has the added bonus of giving you some direct feedback on their actual language level as well. From this feedback it’s possible to perceive which directions the class should be heading in and how the existing syllabus can be tailored to suit this classes specific needs. And voila… everyone should be a happy camper by and large. (If you want to take it a little further, you can focus a bit more on the students’ learning styles and look at people like Gardner and his Multiple Intelligences – which I will write about...

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Multilingual Children
Oct02

Multilingual Children

As Nayoung and I have just had our first baby boy – Leon Jaewoo – I may as well do a write up on multilingual children and the common methods surrounding the raising of them. Obviously, we would love for our boy to grow up as a coordinate bilingual of English and Korean… but how are we going to do it? The most popular way parents achieve this goal is either the one parent, one language (OPOL) policy or the minority language at home (MH@H) policy. OPOL was our initial plan… but even a week into it, it’s pretty difficult to maintain. We code-switch a lot in our relationship and this is likely to transfer over to our parenting. On top of this, our situation is a little twisted in the sense that we are only likely to be in Australia for another 10 months or so before returning to Korea…. where our OPOL attempts may needs to switch to ML@H – minority language in that instance being English. To lessen the impact of drastic switching between OPOL and ML@H we are considering situational languages to incorporate our code-switching… Think of our overall approach as an inverted ML@H at the moment; meaning, we speak English at home (inverted minority since we are in Australia) and Korean outside of the home as this will replicate the circumstances one we return to Korea next year. The complications with this are possibly that when he realises we both speak both languages, he may take the easier route and reject English as Korean will be the majority language at the time…. Which brings up back to OPOL. At the end of the day, I doubt there is too much to worry about… Leon will work out what is going on in due course… And we will work out what is going on at about the same time πŸ˜‰ If anyone has any ideas or experience raising a child with more than one language… please drop a comment letting us know how it went! Methods for raising multilingual children One Parent, One Language As the name suggests, one parent speaks one language, the other parent speaks another. This is sometimes called “One Person, One Language”, which allows you to utilise au pairs, etc. Basically, if mum speaks English, then dad speaks Spanish… and this is the way it stays. The child becomes aware that they must use a certain language with a certain person. Minority Language At Home This is where the home language is not the community language and is very common with immigrants. For instance, an Polish family in England would speak...

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