domingo, 17 de octubre de 2010

English vowels for Spanish Speakers

Sounds are not often taught, and phonetics is a bugbear and source of fear amoung non-NESTS... but it is easy to do, and fun to do so. The vowels can be taught in under 15 minutes using the chart... so I hope this will be as useful for your students as it has been for mine.

Pitter patter, let's get at her.
I love pronunciation and I love hobbits.

Adrian Underhill is not a member of the Underhill family of hobbits, but his Phonemic Chart is a very useful, and enduring tool for learning sounds for anyone who has fossilized the phonemes (meaningful sounds) they hear. It is somewhat intimidating until you become familiar with it. (Macmillan has graciously put a lecture on youtube, which you can see here.)

It is:
-a map for your tongue.
-a means connecting voiced and unvoiced sounds
-a means of “seeing” sound

It is also possible to connect Language 1 sounds with English. As I am in a Castillian Spanish atmosphere, something that the Spanish have difficulty with at a phonetic level is vowels.

As a (mostly) phonetic language, they have 5 vowels that correlate like this:

a → æ ʌ ɑ:
i → i: ɪ
o → ɒ ɔ:
u → ʊ u:
e → e

They don't have weak form (schwa), so ə and ɜ: are totally foreign.
The quality of the vowels are different.

English goes louder: eeeee
Spanish goes softer: eeeee

Of course, phonetic symbols are frightening and confusing out of context, and our job is not to bring unnecessary complication into the classroom. So... how do we look at this effectively?

In walks Mr. Underhill's chart. Or at least part of it... the vowels.

here I put words, (training wheels, really) to contextualize the sounds. (I also mention that as a Canadian, I don't use a lot of /ɜ:/ )

I then teach the quick hacks, /i/, and /u/ (If I want to feel clever, I can mention that we use the Spanish sound /i/ at the end of words after L sounds, but I don't think it helps anyone. )

The hacks: (and convenient lies) for the Spanish: shorten the sound in /ɪ/ and /ʊ/, lengthen the sounds with colons (/i:/ and /u:/) , gesturing the time with hands. (or cigar boxes like in the video from my show at the end of the post.)

Then show the REAL sound by having them do a tongue slide from front /i:/ to /u:/ .
Tongue starts at front, slides back slowly, while lips go from "smiling" to "kissing". (you can probably ignore the lips, as they will naturally close as the tongue goes back if your students are thinking of their u sound.)

/e/ being the same, go on to /a/, which is a tongue slide from /æ/ → /ʌ/ → /ɑ:/ on the bottom of your mouth.

/o/ is going up and down from /ɒ/ and /ɔ:/

(Weak form is perhaps best seen on the Adrian Underhill video.) I have them make the sound that zombies make, (uhhhhhhh...) and change length. I point out that schwas are 30% of all vowels used, and that they are never stressed. Zombies don't yell.

Underhill points out that while many coursebooks teach one sound today, another tomorrow, it is when they are together that they all sort each other out. Have the class follow your finger around the chart while making the sounds... it is fun, and they can suddenly make precise sounds they may not be even able to hear yet.

If the phonemic chart doesn't interest you there is always phonetics through juggling like in my show, "Perception and Deception".

Un numero completo (teatro en inglés)
Cargado por mattledding. - Mira más vídeos divertidos.

lunes, 11 de octubre de 2010

George Macdonald on imagination in education.

The trend in the United States, which is slowly worming its way into Spain is to demand teacher accountability via standardized tests. Focusing too much on and offering teacher compensation (or "spanking teachers") based on the results of standardized tests means that we will attempt to produce standardized students that can write these tests, not independent thinkers that can solve higher level problems outside of the curriculum.

Students will be written by tests.

To see the focus of today on standardized tests, content based courses, and expensive inventions which supposedly "spark the imagination", but rather facilitate attention to "empty vessel" content-centered teaching makes me feel that imagination needs a defender much more capable than myself.

George Macdonald, (10 Dec, 1824 - 18 Sept, 1905) wrote fairytales and novels for "children and the childlike". He is not a terribly well known writer today, but is the source of many great writers. He inspired writers such as Tolkien, Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and his contemporary friend, Mark Twain. His "The Light Princess" is an excellent fairytale that can be used as teaching material (I believe Macmillan sells a reader, although the story can be downloaded freely.)

Mr. Macdonald has an excellent defense, in his "A Dish of Orts" available, at no cost, in Project Gutenberg. (Project Gutenberg is in itself an excellent defense for the accusation that internet is killing reading. It is a 24/7 omnipresent library where we can carry extensive libraries of books that have stood the test of time, and bring them with us in laptops, ebooks, and smartphones.) While his Christian viewpoint throughout the book may not be terribly popular with everyone today (nor was it probably in his time, as Macdonald attacked hypocrisy within the church of his day, throughout all his work.) there are messages here that ring true and clear no matter what your spiritual beliefs are.

* * * * *
following excerpts from A DISH OF ORTS  BY GEORGE MACDONALD. EDENBRIDGE, KENT. August 5, 1893. 
* * * * *

Those who would quell the apparently lawless tossing of the spirit, called the youthful imagination, would suppress all that is to grow out of it. They fear the enthusiasm they never felt; and instead of cherishing this divine thing, instead of giving it room and air for healthful growth, they would crush and confine it--with but one result of their victorious endeavours-- imposthume, fever, and corruption. And the disastrous consequences would soon appear in the intellect likewise which they worship. Kill that whence spring the crude fancies and wild day-dreams of the young, and you will never lead them beyond dull facts--dull because their relations to each other, and the one life that works in them all, must remain undiscovered. Whoever would have his children avoid this arid region will do well to allow no teacher to approach them--not even of mathematics--who has no imagination.
(...and a little bit later...)

For, if the whole power of pedantry should rise against her, the imagination will yet work; and if not for good, then for evil; if not for truth, then for falsehood; if not for life, then for death; the evil alternative becoming the more likely from the unnatural treatment she has experienced from those who ought to have fostered her.

The power that might have gone forth in conceiving the noblest forms of action, in realizing the lives of the true-hearted, the self-forgetting, will go forth in building airy castles of vain ambition, of boundless riches, of unearned admiration. The imagination that might be devising how to make home blessed or to help the poor neighbour, will be absorbed in the invention of the new dress, or worse, in devising the means of procuring it. For, if she be not occupied with the beautiful, she will be occupied by the pleasant; that which goes not out to worship, will remain at home to be sensual. Cultivate the mere intellect as you may, it will never reduce the passions: the imagination, seeking the ideal in everything, will elevate them to their true and noble service. Seek not that your sons and your daughters should not see visions, should not dream dreams; seek that they should see true visions, that they should dream noble dreams.
* * * * *
The Victorian novelist is not outdated today: we are in a new Victorian age, where information and access to it is plentiful. Anyone with an ability to read and imagine today can eventually make or push advances in uncountable areas, the same way that a high school graduate could make scientific advances then. With so many new intellectual and creative frontiers opening up, there is room for all to make their mark, if they so choose.

We have to allow children not only to solve problems, but to find the problems themselves.

We have to allow children to be productive individuals, not mere bubble test consumers.
We have to allow children to see true visions, and dream noble dreams.