Thursday, November 25, 2010

Peace Week


Tuesday was our day in the computer lab. Not many people showed up for our conversation class due to the Peace Week activities.

Today we finished our review of the front vowels, syllables and word stress. Then we played a game to review the phonetic symbols.

Monday we will start with a mid-central vowel!

Have a great weekend and remember: Peace - think it, say it, do it!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Front Vowel Review


Today we started class with an pairs activity just to get you thinking about all five front vowels. I handed each pair a set of five cards. On those cards were printed the words "bet, bit, bat, bait and beat." Your job was to put them in order from highest in the mouth to lowest in the mouth. I told you that you would need to put your hands on your jaws to figure this out. Ina and Rose got it right the second time, once they moved the word "bit."

Pretty much everyone got the highest and lowest, but the middle ones were harder! I hope this exercise got you to thinking about how we pronounce vowels.

Next we did choral repetition with a 5-column chart of words. We practiced saying lead, lid, laid, led, lad and dean, din, Dane, den, Dan. And so on. This was an excellent exercise for seeing which sound you are having the most trouble with. We noticed that our Arabic speakers have trouble with the /I/ sound as in "sill." I'm glad Lina stayed after class to have me work with her some more on this sound.

For the next activity, we put a bunch of words into the correct column according to the vowel sound. Be careful, you can't always go by spelling. That's English, I'm afraid.

Finally, we listened to a dialogue. Then you had me read it, and then two pairs had time to perform it before we adjourned. Don't worry, we will pick up where we left off on Thursday.

Tomorrow is computer lab day, and Wednesday is our conversation circle. I hope you will work on your front vowels in the lab tomorrow. You could also work on sentence stress.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Lowest Front Vowel


Today we covered the last of the front vowels. This is the relative "a" sound as in "cat." Some teachers and books call this the short a sound.

We started with talking about how the sound is formed in the mouth. You really have to open your mouth for this one, don't you? We also looked at the Sammy Diagram to see how low this one is compared to the other front vowels.

Next we compared some word pairs like pen and pan, left and laughed, bet and bat. We did a short listening exercise and then learned some vocabulary by matching the words with the pictures.

Finally we listened to a dialogue. You were to put a check mark by the items described in the dialogue.

Next I passed out the text of the dialogue so we could check your answers. You wanted me to read the dialogue once before you all tried it, so I did. Then we had one pair of students read the dialogue for us.

It was a very big class today, so we made the best use of class time by practicing the dialogue with a partner.

Besides focusing on the vowel sound, we also took note of the word stress patterns in the dialogue. We have already talked about content words and structure words. We usually put most stress on the last content word of a sentence or phrase, especially at the beginning of a conversation. But then what happens? As we saw in the dialogue, then we stress the new information.

On Monday we will review all five front vowels. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Three Truths and a Lie


I hope all our Muslim colleagues had a wonderful holiday yesterday. Eid Mubarak!

Today was conversation day. We played a game called "Three truths and a lie." I started us off by putting my example on the board:

  • I used to have rats for pets.

  • I don't have a television.

  • My mother is a famous artist.

  • I have visited 12 countries.

Three of these are true and one is a lie. Can you guess which is the lie? The idea is to think of true things that seem very unusual. You want to deceive your classmates!

I gave you ten minutes to think up your sentences and write them down. Then we got into groups of three to four students to play the game.

I had fun learning very interesting things about each of you! We learned that Ricardo was a famous dancer when he was a child. We learned that Lena's mother has chickens, goats, ducks and rabbits. We found out that our new colleague Svitlana is a geography teacher. She can help me when I don't know where a country is. People educated in America are not very good at geography, I'm afraid.

Oh, and I also got you all to guess which of my statements was a lie. The lie was about my mother. She is an artist, but not famous. I showed you pictures of my pet rat, Stella. She is dead now, but I loved her a lot when she was alive.

Tomorrow we will continue with the lowest front vowel. See you!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sentence Stress


As I said in class today, we have to take a brief break from vowels to talk about word stress. We talked about words that carry meaning and words that are only necessary for grammar. Words that carry the meaning are called content words. They include nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, negatives, wh- question words, numbers, etc.

Then we have the other words, the little words that are not as crucial to meaning. These we call structure words or function words. They are words like a, the, for, but, I, him, etc. These are the prepositions, articles, conjunctions, pronouns and so on.

To illustrate this, we looked at a telegram or text that you are sending to your friend in Detroit to ask that person to meet your aunt at the airport and interpret for her. We pretended that to send the telegram or text will cost us $5 per word. We really need to save money, so what can we take out?

After we edited the text message, we put the words we kept and the words we took out into two columns. These were our content words and structure words.

Next we talked about the rhythm and timing of English. Unlike French, Spanish, Romanian and Japanese, English is a stress-timed language. What on earth does that mean?

To answer that, we looked at the sentence "Wolves eat sheep." Each content word gets stress. each stressed word is like a beat in music. How many beats are there in that sentence? Yes, three. We clapped it out to get the rhythm.

Then I put in a function word: The wolves eat sheep. Now how many stressed words? Still three. You said it with me and we clapped. What happened? We still only clapped three times. Why? Because "the" does not get any stress. It is very short and soft.

What about when I added another "the?" The wolves eat the sheep. How many stressed beats? Still three. And it takes a native speaker the same amount of time to say this sentence as it does to say the first one. Wow, eh?

Then I changed the sentence to: "The wolves are eating the sheep." Now how long does it take me to say it? How many stressed syllables? It's the same. Three.

This is the key to the rhythm of English!

So now we looked at our new dialogue (still using the /ey/ sound) and practiced saying it with the correct sentence stress. Everyone did a very good job. You are starting to sound more natural every day. Knowing the music of English really helps others to understand you.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Front Mid Vowels


Today we covered the other front mid vowel: the /ey/ sound. We started by talking about where in the mouth it is formed. We looked at a diagram of the mouth and compared it to the vowels we have already learned. It is lower than /iy/, but also has an off-glide, as does /iy/. We put our hands on our jaws and felt the jaw drop lower for /ey/ than for /iy/.

After some choral and individual repetition, we started our exercises with listening discrimination. Then we did some minimal pair and minimal sentence exercises. Everyone did great with the sounds in wait and wet, later and letter. I am noticing a lot of improvement in those of you who were with me the last time we covered vowels.

We listened to a dialogue and then practiced it in pairs. Finally we performed the dialogue for the whole class.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Week Flew By


This week really flew by. Tuesday was our bi-weekly computer lab day. Then on Wednesday, I asked you all if you would be willing to spend our class learning how to fold an origami crane. I asked this because I will need a few helpers when we do this activity for Peace Week. You all said yes, you were willing to donate one of our classes to this cause, so that's what we did. Ina, Angela and Lena are good at folding the crane, so I hope they will help me that week.

Because you didn't get your conversation day on Wednesday, we did it on Thursday. So that was a short week!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Falling and Rising Intonation


Today we continued working with the dialogue from Thursday, but we took a look at more than just the vowel sounds. We looked at the intonation of the yes/no questions and the wh- questions. I asked you to tell me what intonation is. We agreed that this is when the voice goes up and down like in music. To learn the music of English, we have to learn the rhythm (syllables, word stress, sentence stress), but also the tones of the language. These are somewhat like the high notes and low notes in music, aren't they?

We listened to an audio recording of the dialogue and I asked you to pay close attention to the intonation of the questions. You asked me to play it a second time, as well.

Next we practiced rising and falling intonation by isolating just the questions from the dialogue. Then it was time to practice the dialogue again. Pairs of you performed it for the class. Great job!

We continued practicing the /ɛ/ sound in place names. Then we practiced a scripted dialogue in pairs and a freer discussion in small groups.

Tomorrow is computer lab day. Don't forget that there are dialogues in Ellis Intro for practicing rising and falling intonation. See you then!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Contrasting the Front Lax Vowels


Today we finished up our worksheet from Tuesday, which was about lengthening /i/ and /I/ before voiced consonants. We did some oral practice chorally and individually. I notice that you all like it when I listen to each of you separately and give immediate feedback.

We looked at a continuum of four words demonstrating how a final voiced consonant affects the length of the preceding vowel sound. Say bit, beat, bid, bead. The shortest vowel is bit and the longest is bead. But we hold the /I/ in bid longer than the /iy/ in beat.

Next we started a new set of vowel contrasts: /I/ and /ɛ/. We did some minimal pairs, listening discrimination and minimal sentences. We did a couple of rounds where you held up one finger or two depending on which sentence you thought I said. Then you each took a turn challenging me and the rest of the class to guess which one you were saying. With just a few tweaks, everyone who had a problem with these sounds improved their production of it quickly. We all agreed it was time to move on and do the dialogue.

After listening to the audio and answering some questions, we only had time for two pairs to perform the script. We will pick up where we left off on Monday.

Have a nice weekend! Do you think it will snow?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Question Circles


Today was another conversation day. Before we started, I put four guidelines on the board:
  1. take turns; everyone gets a chance to talk
  2. speak English
  3. stay on topic
Then we went over them together.

I told you that guideline #1 is very important. I want to see everyone getting a chance to speak. I used my green marker to put a big check mark by guideline #1.

I told you that guideline #2 is pretty important, but I don't mind if you occasionally help each other out using your first language. But let's keep it to 95% English, okay? I put a big green check mark by rule #2.

And then I told you that guideline #3 isn't important to me. You do NOT need to stick to the topics I offer you. I only offer topics to help you get started talking. The whole point of conversation day is to practice speaking. If your group gets excited about another topic, that's great. Run with it. The point is to speak.

Next I showed you a game boards and explained the rules. You told me you prefer to talk in mixed-level groups. We divided into three groups of three and one group of four. Then you all spent the next hour chatting away using the question prompts on the game board.

At 12:27 we had to tidy up and give the classroom back to Chris and his students. Four or five of you came up to tell me that you really enjoyed this activity and want to do it again in the future. I'm really glad I bought that book A Grab Bag of Socializing when I was at the conference in Toronto. I think we're going to have a lot of fun with it on Wednesdays.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dialog for Vowel Practice


Today we continued with our study of the two highest front vowel sounds in English: /iy/ and /I/. First we practiced some vocabulary words chorally. We did a quick gap-fill on the dialogue and then read it aloud. Then we performed the dialogue in groups of three, each of us taking one of the parts.

I noticed that many of you are saying "fifteen" and "fifty" so that they both sound like "fifteen." We talked about all the ways we can distinguish the "-teen" numbers from the "-ty" numbers. The stress is different (we talked about the exceptions). The quality of the /t/ is different, as well.

Next we did an exercise for practicing pronouncing the numbers. We also talked about when and why the stress sometimes shifts to the first syllable of "-teen" numbers.

Finally we looked at what happens to the vowel sounds in the words "bit," "beat," "bid," and "bead." Which vowel is held the longest of the four words? Which is held for the shortest time? Why?

This is why I don't like the terms "short vowels" and "long vowels" for our pronunciation class. As you can see, we hold the vowel sound in "bid" longer than the vowel sound in "beat." Instead of short and long, we will call them alphabet vowel sounds and relative vowel sounds. We'll talk about that in a couple of weeks.

Tomorrow is conversation day. See you then!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sleep or Slip?


Today Lena shared treats with us to celebrate her birthday. Happy birthday, Lena!

Before the lesson got under way, we chatted about our five days off. You told me about your Halloween and you asked me to tell you about my time in Toronto. I showed you the two new books I got for our conversation Wednesdays. I passed them around to see if you thought I had made good purchases.

Today we continued our journey through the vowel sounds of English with sound number two: the lax i sound. This is the second highest front vowel. We looked at a diagram of the mouth. The highest front vowel is /iy/, which we learned and practiced last week. The next highest is /I/, which is just slightly lower than /iy/. But there are other differences between the two, aren't there?

You told me that for /iy/, you use your facial muscles a lot more. That's true! The vowel sound in sheep is a tense vowel. You use your muscles to stretch your face into a smile. Also, it sounds longer. Then there is the vowel sound in ship. Your face and mouth can relax more for this one. And your jaw drops down just a tiny bit from /iy/.

We practiced some minimal pairs chorally and then individually. Most of you did perfectly, but some of you were saying hell instead of hill. This means you have dropped your jaw down too much. We practiced that some more. But don't worry, we will have one or two days when we just practice the difference between /I/ and /ɛ/.

Next we did a listening practice; you wrote S for SAME and D for DIFFERENT as I read out some pairs of words.

Then we did a minimal sentences practice. You held up one finger or two to tell me whether you heard the first or second sound. Most of you did really well. Then I let you test me and the rest of the class. You picked one of the pair to say and we held up one finger or two to tell you which we heard.

For our last activity, we played a few rounds of Pronunciation Journey.

See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Computer Lab Day - Syllables


Wasn't I surprised when I walked in the classroom to find Florin sitting there! He did get the job in Toronto, but he came back to say "goodbye." We are going to miss him, aren't we? But life goes on.

Today many people were absent. I think it's because we have a little break starting tomorrow. Perhaps some students started their break early.

I saw everyone working hard in the lab. Many of you were using Ellis Master Pronunciation Course to practice vowels. Some of you opened Ellis Intro and worked on the dialogues and practice activities for syllables. That's great!

I also notice that many of you get out your notebooks and write down new vocabulary with pronunciation notation. What a great idea. People with such good study skills will progress through the LINC levels quickly.

Have a wonderful five days off. Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Syllables, Stress and More /iy/


Today we took a short detour from our adventure with vowels to talk about syllables. We will do much more with syllables and word stress later. For now we just needed a brief orientation to syllables and stress.

I asked you what a syllable is and you first told me that it's a part of a word. Yes, it is! What else? Together we discovered that every syllable has a vowel sound. If every language has a certain music, then to learn the music of English, we must learn the rhythm of English. To do this, we have to learn about syllables and stress.

I handed Ahmed G. a large item covered in a big fabric case and asked him to open it. What was inside? It was my djembe. That's an African drum. Together we talked about syllables and passed the drum around so that we could beat out the syllables of different words.

I made four columns on the board and asked you all to give me some food words. Together we figured out where to put each word: column one for one-syllable words; column two for two-syllable words, etc.

Next we talked about stress. What is word stress? You told me that there is always one syllable that is stronger. That's right. The stressed syllable is longer. It has a clearer vowel sound. It also has higher pitch and is sometimes a bit louder.

With this new information, I asked you to look again at our handout from yesterday. In some words we hold the /iy/ sound longer than in other words.

For example, we hold it longer in: tea, bean, meal and three.

We don't hold the /iy/ sound quite as long in pizza, peach, repeat or meat.

What's the rule?

  1. All vowels are longer before a voiced consonant.
  2. All vowels are longer in a stressed open syllable.
  3. Vowels are not held as long before voiceless consonants.
  4. Vowels are not held as long in unstressed open syllables.
So now you know why I don't like to use the terms "short" and "long" vowels in our class. Those words are great for teaching little Canadian children about vowels. But you are not children. We are adults. The fact is that all vowels are longer before voiced consonants. So I will be using different words to classify the vowels.

After talking about the rule, we did some more practice with the /iy/ sound in words.

See you tomorrow in the computer lab. On Monday we will resume vowels with the /I/ sound.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Vowel Sound /iy/


Today we did a quick review of voicing and then got into vowels. We talked about how many of your first languages have fewer vowel sounds than English. Spanish has five symbols and five sounds. Romanian has seven symbols and seven sounds (the same five as Spanish plus two more, Ina told us). I don't know how many vowel sounds Arabic has.

I asked you how many vowels English has, and you told me five: a, e, i, o and u. (And sometimes y and w.) But how many vowel SOUNDS does English have? Way more, eh? It's more like twelve, not counting diphthongs. Don't worry, we will study all of them.

Today we learned the first one: /iy/. We talked about how to form it in the mouth. We also talked briefly about the difference between English /iy/ and the /i/ sound of many other languages. We said that one big difference is the "off-glide." Don't worry if you didn't understand. We will be talking a lot more about the off-glide.

We practiced some words and then listened to a dialogue of three people ordering in a restaurant. After listening twice and answering some comprehension questions, we practiced the dialogue in groups. Once we had practiced enough, we decided to try some impromptu role playing using the same menu.

After two people declined to play the part of the wait person, Angela was brave enough to volunteer. Thank you, Angela. You did an amazing job! I especially liked how Angela said, "And you, sir?" That is exactly how the waiter or waitress would say it.

Enjoy your weekend. We will continue with /I/ on Monday, and we will contrast it with /iy/. Fun!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Conversation Day - Active Listening


Today we talked about the importance of the role of the listener in communication. The speaker's role is important, of course! But the listener's role is just as important. We cannot have communication without a speaker AND a listener. The listener's job is really important, isn't it?

Around the world, listeners show that they are listening in different ways. Since I lived in Japan for a year, I was able to show you how Japanese people indicate that they are paying attention to the speaker.

What do English speakers say and do to show that they are listening? We came up with the following phrases, to name just a few:

Oh, I see.
Uh huh.
That's great / wonderful / awesome / good.
That's terrible / awful / too bad.
I'm sorry to hear that.
You must be so happy / disappointed.

We also said that if you want to show you are really listening, you should ask questions. Of course you should ask questions when you don't understand, but you can also ask questions to encourage the speaker to tell you more. This shows that you are enjoying the conversation and are interested.

What about body language? We talked about leaning back versus leaning slightly forward. We talked about nodding and eye contact.

Next I put some conversation prompts on the board and we divided into four conversation groups. You could choose any topic or topics on the board, or just talk about anything your group chose to discuss. Some ideas on the board were:

My most embarrassing moment.
An event that changed my life.
If I could invite any famous person to dinner (dead or alive), who would I invite and why?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Describing Sounds


Today while we were waiting for the rest of the class to arrive, we did a quick review of the symbols we learned yesterday. I used the flashcards and quizzed you on the symbols for all the consonants. You gave me words for each.

Next I drew a picture of a cross-section of a head with an open mouth on the board. This is called a Sammy diagram. You can see more Sammy diagrams here. We learned the parts of the mouth: top lip, bottom lip, top teeth, alveolar ridge or tooth ridge, palate or roof of the mouth, hard palate, soft palate (also called velum), tip of the tongue, back of the tongue.

Then I put this on the board:

1) Where
2) How
3) Voicing

We can talk about the consonant sounds in three ways. We can talk about where we form them in the mouth. We can talk about whether we stop the air or let it flow. And we can talk about voicing. I asked you what are the two kinds of voicing. Those of you who have been in pronunciation class for a few weeks gave me the answer: voiced and voiceless.

We put our hands on our throats to determine the difference between voiced consonants and voiceless ones. Then Lina came up and helped me. She showed you each flashcard and I stood at the board with a marker. You had to tell me which column to put each sound into: voiced or voiceless.

Next I gave you a handout. On this handout was a graphic organizer just like mine on the board. I asked you to work with a partner and the list of symbols from yesterday. You had to put the symbols into the correct box. This took a while, but it was fun! I heard lots of debate and saw you all touching your throats. Wonderful!

Lina gave us the answers to the voiced consonants and Esterlin gave us the answers to the voiceless ones. Great job!

Then we had some questions to answer. For example: If you say the /f/ sound and then add voicing, what sound do you make? You are right. You have the /v/ sound!

If you say the /b/ sound and take away the voicing, what sound do you make? Yes, it's a /p/!

Which sounds are made by bringing both lips together? You all did a great job brainstorming together. Someone said /b/; someone else said /p/. And then someone said /m/.

Which sounds are made by touching the tip of the tongue to the alveolar ridge? I heard /t/ and /d/ and /n/ and /l/ and /tʃ/ and /dʒ/. I love it when you are all shouting out answers faster than I can write!

Which sounds are made by closing the velum against the back of the tongue? You said /k/ and /g/ and also /ŋ/. I didn't even think of that last one until you said it! You are becoming linguists.

This was a really fun class. I noticed that the level one students were busy filling in their boxes with the right symbols. I also saw some surprised expressions on the faces of the upper level students as you discovered that the only difference between /d/ and /t/, /g/ and /k/, /f/ and /v/ is the voicing! They are produced in the same manner and in the same place. Only the voicing is different.

Tomorrow is conversation day. See you then!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Sound Symbols


Today was day one of a new pronunciation course. We have two new students, Tauny and Ricardo. Welcome!

Today was all about the phonetic alphabet that we will use in this course. I asked you WHY we need a phonetic sound system in English class. You told me it's because English is so crazy. It's not like Spanish or Arabic or Romanian. You can learn to pronounce Spanish in one day or one week, no problem. Each letter has only one pronunciation. Is English like that? Oh, no, it isn't.

There can be many ways to spell one sound: too, to, two; one, won.

There can be many ways to pronounce one letter. Look at all the sounds that the letter "o" can make in English: to, son, not, most, cost, doctor, woman, women. Yikes!

So we need a reliable system for referring to the sounds of English.

I passed out a sheet with the symbols that we will use in this class. We won't worry about the vowels quite yet. Today we just looked at the symbols for the consonant sounds. Most of them are pretty easy to remember, aren't they? Many of them look just like the English letter: /b, p, g, k, d, t, h, f, v, s, z, m, n, l, r, y, w/.

But some of them are really weird looking symbols! For example: /ŋ/, /ʃ/, /ð/, /θ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/. Those are the ones we have to memorize. To help you learn them, I used flash cards and quizzed you individually and as a group. You all did really well with most of them.

For our final activity, we played BINGO! Each card had 25 words on it, most of them food-related. We went over the rules of the game, then passed out beans as markers. I held up a symbol and said, "Find a word that has this sound at the beginning." We had to clarify what "at the beginning" means.

Everyone did really well. I saw some people helping the newer students. I appreciate that! We had four people BINGO at the same time. I had some little prizes for the winners.

Every day we will continue to drill the consonant symbols for a few minutes at the beginning or at the end of class. Pretty soon we will know them by heart.

See you tomorrow. There is NOT a computer lab day this week.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving


The week of October 11th was a short week, wasn't it? Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving. (Americans celebrate Thanksgiving in November.) Tuesday was our biweekly computer lab day, so that left us with only two days in the classroom!

Wednesday was our weekly conversation day. We talked about the poem that we read last week. I really learned something that day. I learned that if the goal is for us to have conversations, I should not give out a list of discussion questions to each person. That makes it too tempting to get out pencils and spend a lot of time writing. Next time I will put the discussion points on the board, or I will give out prompt cards. Also, we might say, "No pencils."

We did have a good discussion about the poem.

Thursday was our day to read aloud and talk about the words that were difficult to pronounce. We looked at words from the poem to see if we could guess how to pronounce them using some rules we learned this term. We used the Two Vowel Rule to figure out how to pronounce many of them.

We also discovered that the past participle form of a verb can often be used as an adjective. To pot a plant means to put it in a pot with soil. A potted plant is a plant in a pot. There were many words like that. We discovered that the same rule we use for determining how to pronounce the regular past tense (-ed) endings also applies to adjectives that come from the past participle of regular verbs.

Food adjectives are a good example of this: grilled, baked, fried, steamed, tossed, chopped, diced, etc. All of those can be used as adjectives, and the same rule applies to their -d endings.

Okay! As we've said, I will begin the course again on Monday. This time we will take it very, very slowly. This means that we can study each pronunciation point in greater depth than before!

See you then!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reading Day - a Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye


Today we continued our discussion of stereotypes for the first five or ten minutes of the class. I put a new word on the board - "gender stereotypes." We learned that gender means sex, as in:
  • my gender is female
  • I am of the female gender
  • Bashar's gender is male
  • Federico is of the male gender
You might see that word on a form that you have to fill out. M stands for male, F stands for female.

I admitted that I am sometimes guilty of gender stereotypes. I also told you about a boss of mine that I had in 1990. She assumed that women were not good at computers, so she did not send any of us women employees for computer training. She only agreed to fund training for the men. I quit that job and went to work in an academic library where I had access to computers and computer training books. I taught myself to program in Visual Basic and designed software. Later I had a job supporting software users.

To get an idea of how we all have gender stereotypes in our heads, I told you this little riddle:

A man and his son were riding in a car. They were in a car accident. The father died. The little boy was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The little boy was lying in the operating room. The doctor came into the operating room, looked down at the boy and said, "I can't operate on this boy. He's my son."

How is that possible?

Some of you suggested that the boy had a real father and a step-father. One of you said that perhaps the boy was adopted. Finally Elena said, "The doctor was the boy's mother."

Tania, who is a doctor, admitted that even she is guilty of gender stereotyping. I think perhaps we all are.

Next I explained that I wanted to pass out a prose poem for our reading material. I also explained that each of us will have a pronunciation evaluation sheet that I will use to give you feedback on your progress during the course. I passed them out. The top section has two blanks for you to fill in: "name," and "my goal for this class." The rest of the spaces are for me to complete as I listen to you speak and read in class.

Next I passed out the poem, which is entitled "Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal," by Naomi Shihab Nye. You asked me to read it all the way through first as a model for you. I did that. Then you asked if we could discuss the new words before we took turns reading. So we did that. Before the end of class, four or five people got a chance to read.

Tuesday is our day in the computer lab, so we will continue practicing reading the poem on Wednesday. I think we will probably do that again on Thursday, as well. Then on Monday we can start our new unit.

Have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Conversation Day - Stereotypes


Well! We had our first ever conversation day today. How do you feel it went? Did you enjoy it?

We had fourteen students but then two had to leave early. First I asked you if you knew what the word "stereotype" meant. Federico used the adjective in the example of "the stereotypical costume of a country." I said we were going to do an exercise in groups, and then we would ask the same question at the end.

I had posted about 12 items on the whiteboard for each group to do. I gave each group a piece of lined paper on which to record the group's answers. The items went something like this:

_____ are crazy drivers.
_____ are fat.
_____ are good at math.

And so on. In groups, you were to discuss which nationality you think should go in each blank. There was much animated discussion in each group. I was happy to see everyone talking.

At about 12:05 we stopped to compare notes. Some said Russians are good dancers. Many agreed that Asians are good at math. We think Canadians are polite.

By this time, I had put several discussion questions on the board. For example:

  1. What is a stereotype?
  2. Are stereotypes good or bad?
  3. Where do stereotypes come from?
And so on. We had a good time thinking about our answers. All of those ideas are stereotypes. As Bashar and Husnieh pointed out, some people in every country are tight with money. Some people in every country are rude. I am from America, but I'm not too fat, eh? My brother and mother are not at all fat.

I hope you enjoyed our first conversation day. I think we will try to do this again almost once a week. Maybe we will do it three times per month. Also I will begin incorporating more conversation into our regular classes.

Again, thank you all for speaking up and helping me design the course!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

More Tag Questions and Canadian "eh"


Today we had more practice with tag questions. I hope you feel less confused and more confident about using tag questions with rising and falling intonation.

First we went over the explanation of what a tag question is. Then we practiced saying them with falling intonation and with rising intonation. We again explored some contexts in which each would be used. Some of you are really getting the hang of it now. Federico said that rising is easy for him, but the falling one is hard. Just remember that for the falling one, your intonation is pretty level throughout the statement, then you raise your intonation on the auxiliary verb and fall again on the pronoun.

We got out our bouncy ball and did a chain drill to practice tag questions some more.

Next I told you a little bit about the Canadian "eh." We talked about the fact that it is a stereotypical feature of Canadian English, which made you all ask me what "stereotype" means. We will explore that more tomorrow during conversation day!

I told you about three uses for "eh." It is like a little tag question that means, "right?" or "okay?"

The narrative "eh" means "are you listening?" People sprinkle that one through a story they are telling. "Eh" can also be informative. "It's cold out, eh? You should put on a coat."

We looked at some examples. We did not practice that because you don't need to use "eh." You just need to know about it in case you hear a Canadian use it with you.

Here is a link to a YouTube video where you can hear someone using "eh."

For our last 15 minutes, we pretended to go shopping in pairs. Each pair had a clothing or furniture catalog. We practiced saying things like, "Those are pretty curtains, aren't they?" and "That's a good price, isn't it?"

Tomorrow is conversation day. See you there!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Question Tags


Today we did a little reviewing of what we learned last week, then I introduced a third type of question. Some books call it the tag question and some books call it the question tag. Either way, this is a little question at the end of a statement.

First we looked at how to form the question tag. Here are some examples we worked out together:

It isn't cold, is it?
You're from Jordan, aren't you?
You like chocolate, don't you?
Wen wasn't in class Thursday, was she?
We turn left here, don't we?

One use of question tags is in initiating small talk with a stranger or acquaintance, such as while waiting for a bus or riding the elevator with a neighbour, coworker or colleague. I asked you what Canadians talk about with strangers and Husnieh gave us the answer: the weather! Sometimes we might also talk about last night's hockey game, but mostly we stick to the safest subject... the weather.

We practiced matching statements with their question tags. We also talked about what it means if we say the question tag with rising intonation versus falling intonation. To sum up, we use rising intonation when we are surprised, doubtful or really need to know the answer. For example, "It's not snowing, is it?" If you say this with rising intonation, you really want to know if it is snowing outside.

We use falling intonation when we are just making conversation or commenting on something. We are just being friendly and we are looking for agreement. Also, we are pretty sure that what we are saying is true. For example: "You're not from Canada, are you?"

If someone says this to you with falling intonation, they are just trying to start a conversation.

We practiced asking and answering the tag questions with our partners.

Finally, we tried to remember some of the things we learned about each other last week. We learned each other's favourite foods, favourite colours, where we're from, when we came to Canada, where we live, etc.

So we were able to practice question tags by saying things like:

  • "Your favourite colour is white, isn't it?"
  • "You came to Canada three months ago, didn't you?"
  • "Bashar's favourite food is chicken, isn't it?"
Tomorrow we will add one more question tag to our arsenal: the Canadian "eh?" Then we'll practice all of them in the same activity.

Oh, please remind me to get out our new name cards every day, ok? Oh, hey! There's another question tag: "OK?"

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Survey Results

Thank you to everyone who participated in our pronunciation class survey. The results of our survey are here.

We will try to have a conversation day almost every Wednesday. Let's try that for a while and see how we feel in a few weeks, okay?

Also, I will try to have more games. About 80% of you said you like games at least twice a week.

Keep giving me ideas! I love it when we work as a team to build the best class EVER!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Needs Assessment Day


Today we had a full house! Almost everyone showed up, plus two new students: Eric and Rehab. Welcome! After introductions, I listed on the board the language points that I feel a good pronunciation course should cover:

  • sentence stress (content words, function words, etc.)
  • word stress
  • intonation / pitch
  • linking
  • vowels
  • consonants
  • assimilation
  • deletion
  • palatalization
I told you all that a misunderstanding on my part has recently been brought to light. I do not have just three months in which to cover the material. We can take it as slowly as we wish! This is wonderful news, isn't it?

In light of this, I wanted to get everyone's ideas and opinions on lots of things. For one, would you like to incorporate a full hour of conversation now and then? If so, how often? Once a week?

I also wanted to get your feelings on the format of the lessons. I wanted to know how many of you like the worksheets and how many want more variety in the lessons. I need to know how often you want to play games or go to the computer lab.

After we talked about this as a group, each of you shared with me your personal goals for the course. As many of you remember, we did this at the end of the spring term, and I did my best to incorporate your ideas and needs into the summer term's curriculum.

Finally, I passed out a questionnaire so that each of you could share your opinions anonymously. I will read those this weekend and begin thinking about changes that we can make to the course so that all of your needs are (hopefully) more fully met.

I really appreciate how all of you share your ideas with me freely. I value your trust and hope to be able to deliver an even more effective and fun class beginning Monday.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Intonation in Wh- Questions


Most of you showed up for computer lab day yesterday. Many of you seem to be getting a lot out of Ellis Intro and the accompanying pronunciation quizzes. That's great.

Today we reviewed intonation and had fun with a few exercises to loosen us up. We took a question such as "Would you like some juice or pop?" and practiced saying it with two different types of intonation. If you go to a friend's house and they ask that question with rising yes/no question intonation, they are just asking if you are thirsty. It means, "Would you like something to drink?" But if they ask the question with intonation that rises on juice and then, after a little pause, falls on "pop," you are being given a choice between juice and pop. Right?

You divided into groups of three to take turns practicing similar questions. One person was the host and the other two were visitors.

Then we practiced falling intonation in WH- questions. I gave you a list of questions and explained that we would be playing a little game. We divided the class into two teams. Each team was given 15 minutes to find out all the answers to all the wh- questions from each team member. You were supposed to memorize all your teammates' answers to the best of your ability. The questions were things such as:
  • What's your favourite colour?
  • What's your favourite season?
  • What's your favourite food?
  • Where do you live?
  • When did you come to Canada?
  • etc.
After 15 minutes, we put a score table on the white board. Team one won the coin toss and got to ask anyone on Team Two a question about a team mate. For example, Husnieh on Team One could ask Angela on Team Two: "What is Bashar's favourite food?" When Angela correctly answered "chicken," she won a point for her team.

At 12:30 both teams were tied at 8 to 8. It was fun, eh?

I hope you enjoyed the game and practicing the falling intonation of wh- questions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Intonation in Yes / No Questions


Today we continued talking about rising, falling and level intonation. I asked you which intonation we use in questions. You said rising. I asked you if we use rising in all questions or just certain questions. Together we figured out that we use rising intonation in Yes / No questions, but not in Wh- questions.

I asked if any of you had ever played the game "Twenty Questions." None of you had. I explained the game and showed you some cards I had made up with names of some famous people, some places, objects and jobs. On one side of the cards was the category, such as JOB. On the other side was the name of the job or person or place, etc.

I demonstrated the game for you and then we brainstormed some good questions to ask the person who has the secret. For a person, we came up with questions such as:

  • Is the person dead?
  • Is the person a celebrity?
  • Is the person a man?
  • Is the person in politics?

For the category THINGS, one question we often start with is: "Is it bigger than a bread box?" Click here to see a picture of a bread box.

For a job, we can ask things such as:

  • Does it pay well?
  • Is it a dangerous job?
  • Is it an outdoor job?
  • Is it physical work?
  • etc.

Next we practiced rising intonation while practicing these questions orally. Then we got into groups of three to play Twenty Questions.

I hope you enjoyed the class. See you in the lab tomorrow!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Field Trip: Thiessen's


There was no pronunciation class today. Those who went to Thiessen's had a great time. We will show you pictures when they have been printed.

See you Monday!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Intonation in Lists and Choices


I began the class today by giving you some news about the pronunciation class. Nick has told me that I (we) do not have to cover all our pronunciation points (vowels, consonants, stress, linking, intonation, etc.) in three months and then start over. We can take four months or five months or six months to cover all the aspects of pronunciation.

This is very good news! This means we can go as slowly or as quickly as you want me to. We can spend three days on a difficult sound if you want, or even a week. We can go to the computer lab more often than twice a month. We can even have one day of conversation per week if you want that. So I told you all to begin thinking about what you want to change. I will give you each a questionnaire on the last day of this term to gather your ideas and opinions.

Today we reviewed yesterday, then continued learning about intonation / pitch. Chris had written on the whiteboard what we need to bring with us to the orchard tomorrow. I asked you what are three things we need to bring. You said, "good shoes, a lunch, and an umbrella." What do you notice about the intonation of that list? You're right. The pitch falls on the last item in the list. That's how you know the list is finished.

We practiced the intonation of lists with seven statements about tomorrow's field trip.

Next we practiced the intonation of choices. "Do you want your cider hot or cold?" "What do you want on your sausage: mustard, onions or relish?"

On the back of the worksheet, there was a table. I asked you three things this table tell you about the apples at Thiessen's. Tania said, "description, uses and availability." That's right. I gave you a chance to study the table for a while, and then we asked each other some questions such as:
  • Name three apples that are red
  • Tell me two apples that are tart
  • Name three apples that are hard and crisp
  • Name three apples that are good in salads
  • Name two apples that are green
  • Tell me the names of three apples that keep well
  • Name two apples that are good in pies
  • Name three ingredients you need to bake an apple pie
And so on! You all did a great job with listing intonation and seemed excited about the information. Wen said she would carry the table with her tomorrow into the orchard.

See you at 9:00 in front of the building!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Introduction to Intonation


Today we learned about pitch and intonation. Bashar told us that pitch is the way the voice goes up and down, high and low. It's like the notes in music, isn't it?

I asked you if you thought intonation was important for learners of English, and you said yes. You are right! If you don't learn the natural intonation of English, people might think you are rude or bored when you are not. I told you about my own story of learning Spanish. I had to learn to control my intonation because if I speak Spanish with American intonation, I sound sarcastic or condescending.

We took some words and tried to say them as many ways as we could think of. We started with the word "hello." How many ways can you say "hello?"

Say "hello" to:

  • someone you haven't seen in a year
  • someone you are angry with
  • your boss
  • your teacher
  • a little baby
We talked about how intonation can change some words. Take, for example, the word "hey." How would you say it if someone cut in front of you in line? Use it to greet your friend. Use it to show disappointment in what your child just did.

We practiced saying some words three ways: with rising, falling and level intonation. For example, if you are answering a question, "fifty" has falling pitch. If you are asking a question, use rising pitch to say "fifty?" And if you are counting "forty, fifty, sixty...," then "fifty" will have level pitch.

Next we practiced falling pitch in declarative statements and commands. It was all about our field trip to Thiessen's Apple Orchard this week. And we practiced rising pitch in statements that express doubt. "I THINK we turn left here."

The next part was kind of fun, although some of you found it a bit confusing. We had three dialogues and for each dialogue we had three situations to read about so we would know which kind of intonation to use when performing the dialogues. Isn't it amazing what a difference intonation can make?

See you tomorrow!

Monday, September 20, 2010

B and V

Well, of course! The Mandarin speakers in our class were not present for the lesson on L and R, and the Spanish speakers were not present today for B and V. That's called Murphy's Law.

That's okay, though. We had a lot of fun with the V and B lesson. I noticed that Mandarin speakers do have a hard time with V, so we spent a lot of time practicing the V sound.

We had some fun minimal sentences using pairs like cupboard and covered, cabs and calves, boating and voting.

My favourite activity was when we looked at the picture and talked about it with a partner using as many V words as possible. You all came up with some I never would have thought of. Good job!

That wraps up our work on consonants. Tomorrow we start our 6-day unit on intonation and pitch. See you!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

L and R


Today we worked on L and R. A lot of students were absent. Maybe they got tired from going on the ESINC field trip on foot. In any case, those of you who showed up seemed to get a lot out of this lesson. I know Florin is really working hard on his native-sounding /r/, so today's lesson was good for him.

We had some listening practice then went right into minimal sentences. Everyone seems to enjoy minimal sentences a lot.

Our communicative activity was to fill out a little chart using "always, usually, occasionally, hardly ever and never," and then compare answers with a partner. The topic was whether you are a night owl or an early bird. Some of us are clearly morning people, some obviously night owls. But a few of us reported being a bit of both. For example, a person might naturally prefer to stay up late and sleep late, but because of a job or school makes an effort to rise early and enjoy the morning.

I am not much of a morning person, but I do love seeing the sun come up.

Enjoy your weekend!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Potluck and Pronunciation Lesson


There was no blogpost yesterday since it was just another lab day; we followed our routine of choosing among Ellis Master Pronunciation Course, Ellis Intro with Pronunciation Quizzes, or Internet-based pronunciation sites. Many of you have told me that you really like Ellis Intro.

Today we started class by clearing up an earlier confusion. I said I thought there was a caribou on the Canadian quarter, but one student said that in another class, they learned that it was a moose. So I brought in a picture of a moose and a picture of a caribou and let you decide for yourselves. Florin, Bashar and Federico decided it's a caribou. Wikipedia also says it's a caribou. However, many Canadians think there's a moose on their quarter. Maybe you should tell them!

A caribou is an animal like a reindeer that migrates in very large herds--south in fall, north in spring. The caribou are very important to the native peoples who live in their territory. They use every part of the animal from antlers to meat to pelt to hooves. Nothing goes to waste!

I gave you each a scavenger hunt sheet to help you review everything we've covered so far, and we went to the potluck. Unfortunately, there was some confusion around whether our whole class had been invited by Zakieh or only the women. I will do a better job of communicating with Zakieh next time, if there is a next time.

Wen finished the scavenger hunt page. She found a food with an alphabet vowel sound, a food with a relative vowel sound, a food that forms its plural with /s/ and one that forms its plural with /z/. She found a food with linking and one with each kind of consonant sound: voiced and voiceless. Back in the classroom by 12:15, we took up the answers together.

Hopefully Thursday will go more smoothly.

See you then!

Monday, September 13, 2010



Welcome to our new students! I sure missed you all while I was away on vacation last week. I hope you had a good time with Stephanie learning p/b, sh/ch and consonant clusters.

Today we talked about the North American English /r/ sound, which is different from the R sound in most other languages. Spanish, Italian and Romanian have the tap R and the trilled R. They say R-r-r-r-roberto. The tip of the tongue taps or flaps against the ridge behind the top teeth once or many times. The Scottish dialect of English also has a trilled R. But we don't have that R in North American English. Our R is very different.

I showed you how to produce the Canadian R. You can look up at the ceiling and relax the tongue. Just let it fall down in your mouth. It will curl back toward the back of your mouth a bit. Now bring your head back down while keeping your tongue right there and say "er."

When R follows a vowel sound, it changes the vowel sound a bit. This is called "r-colouring." For example, the /ir/ sound in "ear" is not really the tense vowel /iy/ + /r/ and it's not really the lax vowel /I/ + /r/. It's somewhere in between.

We practiced some words with the schwa + r sound, like purse, earth, hurt, girl. There are so many ways to spell this sound, eh? It occurs a lot at the end of job names. You helped me come up with a long list of those: plumber, teacher, doctor, lawyer, manager, ...

We also said that many comparatives end in "-er," like taller, shorter, bigger, smaller, smarter...

Next we practiced at words in which R follows the other five vowel sounds.

We read a passage about Kelly's holiday in Muskoka. The story had lots of words for practicing r-colouring: starts, meteors, farm, garden, bear, clearer, cooler, cleaner.

Finally we had some conversation topics to choose from in order to practice R-colouring in conversation with a partner. Most of the topics involved comparing two things, such as your home town with Windsor, or city life with country life, or a doctor's earnings with a dentist's.

After ten minutes, I asked you all to share what you had discussed with your partners.

I hope you enjoyed practicing the Canadian R sound today.

See you tomorrow in the computer lab!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

I Like Yellow / Jell-O


Today we did some practice with the sounds in "jail" and "Yale." This was for the benefit of the Spanish speakers, so I appreciate how everyone else helped out. Don't worry, the day will come when the Spanish speakers will be able to help you with a difficult sound.

First we looked at the Sammy diagram and talked about what our tongues do when we make each of these two sounds. You told me that for the J sound, the tip of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth behind the teeth. (That is the tooth ridge.) You told me that for the Y sound, the tip of the tongue doesn't touch anything; only the sides of the tongue touch your molars (back teeth).

We did a listening exercise where you told me whether two words were the same or different. Then we practiced with minimal sentences. Federico reminded me to go over the minimal pairs on the board.

If you want to know what the words mean, click on the links:

We practiced some minimal sentences first together and then with partners. I asked all the Spanish speakers to work with someone who does not share their first language.

Next we practiced a dialogue about someone looking for an apartment in Windsor. He looked at three units near the university and one loft over a yoga studio in a yellow building in Walkerville.

Finally we went on a quest around the classroom to fill in form. The goal was to find someone who used to be a university professor, someone who used to play the flute, someone who used to wear a uniform to school...

None of us could find anyone who used to be a university professor because Wen wasn't in class. Darn it.

I hope you have a great long weekend. Have fun with Stephanie! I'll see you again in a week.

P.S. Do you want to see where I'll be? I'll be HERE.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Palatalization and Relaxed Speech


We covered two topics today, but they are sort of related. We looked at some cartoons in which we found the words "wanna" and "gonna." We analyzed these strange terms to see where they might have come from. We decided that they are the end result of a multi-step process.

I stressed the fact that you do NOT need to learn to use these reductions. In fact, it would sound very unnatural for you to do so now. Just wait ten or twenty years and these forms will creep into your language on their own. In the meantime, you need to be able to recognize and understand them when native speakers say them to you. So today was all about tuning our ears to these patterns of relaxed speech. These forms we talked about are not at all formal. They are the opposite of formal: very casual, to be used among children, relatives and very close friends.

Next we looked at a process called palatalization. We practiced saying words like tissue, issue, question, fortune, television, usual, soldier, gradual, etc. We analyzed together some rules for why we hear a /ʃ/ in issue and a /dʒ/ in gradual.

I gave you a table of rules so you could see what's what. We see that inside of a word, the palatalization is standard and has nothing to do with polite speech and relaxed speech.

Between words, like "Is your mother ready?" the palatalization will happen in fast speech. It's normal and again has little to do with formality.

In the third column we saw some forms that are very relaxed, an extreme example of palatalization combined with assimilation, vowels becoming schwa in function words, etc. For example, "got you" becomes "gotcha," and "did you" becomes "didja."

Okay, that's enough about assimilation, deletion and palatalization. Tomorrow we start our unit on consonants. We have lessons to help the Mandarin speakers, the Arabic speakers, the Spanish speakers and the Romanian speakers. It's gonna be...I mean it's going to be fun!

See you!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Assimilation and Deletion, Part 2


Whew. That was much better, don't you think? Ahmad and Wen were not in class yesterday, so they benefited from the review of what we covered yesterday. I thought we could use a little more practice with yesterday's concepts.

But first we chatted a bit about the neighbourhoods of Windsor: downtown, Walkerville, Old Sandwich Town, Pillette Village, Old Riverside, South Windsor, and The Via Italia (Erie Street). I asked each of you where you live and whether you like that area. My favourite neighbourhood is Walkerville because I love old houses. But I live in Riverside. I hope to move to Walkerville in the future. Florin said he lives there. He can smell the distillery, but only once a week.

I put twelve words and phrases from yesterday on the board. Some of them were examples of assimilation, like "these shoes." Some were examples of deletion, like "landlord." One was an example of consonant to vowel linking. I gave a pair of dice to Angela and asked her to roll. The number she rolled indicated the word or phrase on the board that she had to use in a sentence. Everyone did great! You are becoming very comfortable with linking, assimilation and deletion.

Next we went over a long list of other words that have silent letters. I did not tell you ahead of time which letters are silent. You told me that the "p" in raspberry is silent. The "n" in column is silent. You did a great job on those!

Next we asked each other some questions that included words and phrases from the lesson: landlord, next month, first country, favourite, beverage, etc. After you had about ten minutes to talk to your partner, I asked some of you what you learned about your partner. That was very interesting! I learned that Husnieh's favourite beverage is milk. Ahmad learned that when his mother tells him the meaning of a word in English, he can trust her.

I announced today that I will be gone next week after the long weekend. My boyfriend and I are going to Muskoka for a little vacation. I don't think we will see any colours; it's probably too early for that. On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Stephanie will teach the class.

See you!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Assimilation and Deletion


Today we started looking at two things that happen in fast, native-speaker English: assimilation and deletion.

First we talked about what assimilation means. Florin told us that it means when someone who is different starts to fit in and change to be more like the environment. This happens with newcomers to Canada, and it also happens to sounds in languages!

For example, it can happen across word boundaries. When we say "nice shoes," we don't hear a clear /s/ at the end of "nice" before the "sh" sound. It's more like one slightly longer "sh" sound.

We also looked at deletion or elision. This is when a native speaker, when speaking at a normal to quick conversational speed, doesn't pronounce certain letters. Examples are the second "t" in Toronto, the "d" in Windsor, the "t" in plenty and twenty, etc.

We looked at a passage about someone who found an apartment to rent on Erie Street. We found all the linking, assimilation and deletions. One thing that came up while we were taking up the exercise was whether we can drop the final -s (plural marker). We cannot drop that. When a sound makes a difference in grammar, we have to say that sound. I notice that almost all LINC students have trouble remembering to say the past tense markers /t/, /d/ and /Id/ and the plural markers /s/, /z/, and /Iz/.

I apologize for taking you through today's exercises too quickly. Tomorrow I will slow down and we will have more opportunities to use what we learned in conversation.

Have a nice evening (two syllables in evening)!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Linking C to Same C


While we were waiting for everyone to get to class, some of us talked about how the weather is starting to get a bit cooler. Those of us without air conditioning are finding it easier to sleep these past few days. I asked each of you if this will be your first fall in Ontario. Most of you said yes, this will be your first fall here. Those who were here last fall told the newcomers what they can expect to see this fall: lots of colour!

Before starting the lesson, we had a miniature side lesson about "a" and "an." An exception to the rule came up in her class, and I wanted to explain it. Two of the students from that class are in pronunciation with us.

I asked you for the rule and you told me that we use "an" before a count noun when it starts with a vowel. But that's not really true. We use "an" when the next word starts with a vowel SOUND. As usual, there I go stressing the fact that it's the SOUND that matters more than the spelling.

Consider: an umbrella, a unit, a uniform

We talked about why this is so. It has to do with the sound that the letter "u" makes in unit and uniform. It starts with a /y/ sound, doesn't it?

We also talked about how some native speakers say "herb garden" with silent "h" while others pronounce the "h." Those who pronounce the "h" would say "a herb garden." Those who don't pronounce the "h" say "an herb garden."

It's good to have that out of the way!

Today we looked at another type of linking. When you have the same consonant sound at the end of one word and the beginning of the next word within the same thought group, you say the sound only once, but hold it slightly longer. Examples: call Laura, phone number, big girl, bad dog. This also occurs between the two parts of a compound noun, such as bookcase. However, when a consonant is doubled inside a normal word, we say the consonant sound only once: carrot, bullet, simmer.

We practiced this chorally and individually in words. Then we found the links in sentences, wrote them in, then practiced those sentences aloud.

Next we read a passage about what makes leaves turn orange, yellow, red, purple and brown in autumn. We practiced pausing, keeping thought groups together, and all three types of linking that we've learned so far.

After a brief interruption so we could learn about an upcoming session for the Men's Group, we asked each other some questions while paying attention to linking. We asked our partners things such as:

  • Will this be your first fall in Ontario?
  • Do the leaves change colour in your first country?
  • Are you looking forward to seeing the changing colours?
  • Have you ever been to the Muskoka area of Ontario?
  • Have you ever been to Quebec?

Have a nice weekend! I'll see you on Monday. Oh, and click here if you want to see some beautiful photos of northern Ontario in the fall.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Linking V to V


Today we talked about another type of linking in English. This is the linking between vowel sounds. You remember the alphabet vowel sounds, right? They are /ey/, /iy/, /ay/, /ow/, and /uw/. We also have relative vowel sounds, but we don't need to talk about them because English words never end in relative vowel sounds.

Today we saw once again that English is not pronounced as written. We write "I am," but we say, "I yam." There is no pause between the two words. The little /y/ sound at the end of "I" acts like a bridge or link to take us smoothly into the next vowel sound.

We practiced vowel-vowel linking in some phrases together.

Next we practiced writing a tiny Y or W between words to remind us of the link. Then we practiced saying those word pairs out loud.

We also practiced a dialogue. First we found the links and wrote them on our papers to remind us when to link. Then we practiced the dialogue with a partner. Finally you each had a chance to perform the dialogue for the class.

For the last activity, we asked each other some questions. Did you remember to link your final and initial vowel sounds?

Tomorrow we will be in the computer lab. See you then!

Monday, August 23, 2010

More Linking C + V


Today we finished Thursday's worksheet on linking final consonant sounds to initial vowel sounds. First we did a quick review of Thursday's work.

Next we worked on the dialogue, which I had put up on the whiteboard before class. You all took turns telling me where the links were, and I drew them on the board in red ink.

Next we practiced the dialogue together and then in pairs.

Then I passed out a little quiz on partitive and collective nouns. Partitives are the words that we use to count things, like a grain of rice or a drop of water. Collective nouns describe groups of things or animals. For example, we say a flock of sheep but a herd of cattle. The worksheet was divided into three sections: beginner, intermediate and advanced.

I gave you a couple of minutes to try the beginner's section, then we took it up. As you gave me the answers, I asked you also, "where is the linking?"

For example, we say, "a glass of orange juice." There are two C + V links there: glass-of and of-orange.

Great job! We didn't have time to go over the next two sections, but you have the answers on the back. Tuesday we will finish up that worksheet and start talking about V + V linking.

Don't forget: this week's computer lab day has been changed to WEDNESDAY. Another teacher needs the lab tomorrow. Thank you for understanding.

See you!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Linking C to V


Today we started our unit on linking, but before that, we finished Wednesday's worksheet on pausing and thought groups.

Then we began our unit on linking by learning about one kind of linking: the linking of a final consonant sound to an initial vowel sound. Why do I say "sound?" Because it doesn't matter what LETTER the word ends in or starts with. What matters is the sound, right?

An example of C to V linking:

We write "North America," but we say "Nor thamerica."

We practiced some pairs of phrases that sound exactly alike when said naturally at a normal conversational speed, such as "made a mistake" and "made him a steak."

Next we practiced some phrases that had the link lines drawn on them for you.

On the next exercise I gave you a couple of minutes to draw the link lines on some sentences. While you were working, I wrote them all on the board. To take them up, I said them and we repeated them and said how many C to V links there were and where they were.

We didn't get to the dialogue, so we'll do that on Monday. We'll be going to the computer lab this coming week, and you'll be able to practice linking with the Ellis software.

I was very happy to see such a big class! Pretty soon we will run out of chairs, eh?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pausing and Thought Groups


Oh, my goodness, what a big class we had today! Our little group is really growing, eh? Pretty soon there will be a waiting list for a spot in the class.

Today we started by taking up yesterday's homework. It was a puzzle about the pronunciation of "can" and "can't." You all told me yesterday that it looked difficult, but you did pretty well with it. I was amazed that Husnieh did the puzzle in about 3 minutes before class started, even though she wasn't here yesterday. Wow.

Today we started talking about thought groups and pausing. We said that English speakers seem to be speaking very quickly. Actually, they are linking together the words within thought groups. We need to learn to do that, too. But before we learn to link, we have to learn where not to link. There are places where we need to pause.

There are three reasons for pausing:

1. It gives your listener time to process information.
2. It helps break the language into chunks of meaning.
3. Sometimes where you pause changes the entire meaning of a sentence!

We read a passage about a couple's camping trip in Algonquin Park, which is in the Muskokas in northern Ontario. First you read it and predicted where the pauses would be. Then you listened to me and checked your predictions. Then we all took turns reading parts of it.

Next we looked at the rules governing what we should keep together. Some examples were noun phrases, verb phrases, prepositional phrases, and clauses. We saw examples of each of these from the passage. Also, there is no need to pause in short phrases or sentences such as "Nice to meet you."

Having reviewed these rules, we returned to our passage to read it again. I wanted to see if your phrasing was better the second time through. Again we took turns and I think your phrasing did improve.

Tomorrow we will learn how you can change the meaning of a sentence if you don't put your pause in the right place.

Here are some links you can follow to learn more about our vocabulary from today:

Algonquin Park - pictures


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Can and Can't


Today I started class with a bit of silliness. I said, "I can raise one eyebrow at a time. Can you?" I said, "My mother can wiggle her ears. Can you?" I said, "My friend can touch his tongue to his nose. Can you?"

We found out that Federico can touch his nose with his tongue.

Today's lesson was about the pronunciation of can and can't. Yesterday we learned about when function words can be stressed. When a function word is stressed, we call that its strong form. When we reduce it, which we do in normal speech, that is called its weak form.

Together we built the table of strong and weak forms for can, will, have, he and some other function words.

We practiced saying some sentences with can and can't. We said that can't is always stressed. Why? I heard two people say, "because it's negative." That's right. Negatives are content words. We said that can is usually reduced, but not always. When do we use the strong form of can? We will see if you know the answer to that tomorrow when we take up the homework!

Next we did a listening exercise. You were to circle the word you heard me say: can or can't. We took those up, then you practiced choosing one or the other to see if the rest of the class and I could tell which one you were saying. There were many things we needed to do to make ourselves clearly understood:

  1. Except at the end of a sentence, can needs to be short with a schwa sound.
  2. With regard to rhythm, can doesn't get a full beat.
  3. When you say can't, I need to hear a nice clear vowel sound.
  4. Can't does get a full beat.
  5. Also, Federico noticed that you can often hear a little pause at the end of the word can't. That's the unreleased /t/. He has a good ear!
Next we practiced those with our partners.

Finally we played a little game. It was a contest. Each person had to come up with five things they can do and five they can't do. Points were awarded for anything you came up with that you could do but nobody else in the class could do. Points were also awarded for anything you could NOT do that everyone else in the class could do. Bashar got a point for being able to play the guitar, Florin got a point for being able to drive a boat, Ina got a point for being able to speak Russian, Tania got a point for being able to play the flute, Federico got a point for being able to extract a molar, and I got a point for being able to speak some Japanese.

I wish we'd had time to play all the rounds of that game, but we ran out of time.

For homework, I gave you a challenging word game and gap-fill. You have nine words to unscramble. Those words go in the blanks in the paragraph. The paragraph is about the rules of pronouncing can and can't. Also, some of the squares where you will write the unscrambled words have little numbers on them. I showed you how to build a phrase at the bottom of the page using the numbered letters in unscrambled words.

Good luck with that. I can't wait to take it up tomorrow!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Stress for Correcting and Contrasting

Hello, students!

We have a new student. Welcome, Morgan! That's a pretty name, isn't it?

Today we started class by looking at some comic strips from the Windsor Star. I asked you to notice the bold type and underlining. The cartoonist used bold and underlining to show you which words are most stressed.

Then I asked you about two of the cartoons. What was going on there? Ghadeer said, "They stressed a function word!"

Oh, my goodness. I thought we said that content words are stressed and function words are reduced. We did say that, right? Yes, we did. The characters in the cartoon are breaking that rule. I asked you to think about why we might sometimes break that rule.

Ghadeer said we can break the rule if the function word is important. Exactly! I asked you to think about some situations where a function word might be important. We talked about some of those.

Next we looked at the following sentence written six different ways:

His book is in her desk.
His book is in her desk.
His book is in her desk.
His book is in her desk.
His book is in her desk.
His book is in her desk.

We practiced saying the sentence the six different ways and talked about the nuance of each. They answer different questions. Whose book? His what? Really? On her desk? In whose desk? In her what?

I told you that I am in a situation similar to yours. You often have to ask native speakers to repeat themselves. I also have a situation like that because my boyfriend is a low talker. He mumbles. When you don't understand someone, you don't have to ask for the whole sentence to be repeated. You can just ask for the part you didn't hear. Example: "You're going WHERE?" "Your mother said WHAT?"

Next we practiced some sentence pairs. Speaker A was making a false statement and speaker B was correcting him or her. How did speaker B choose the focus word? The focus word was the word that corrected the false imformation, right? We practiced those orally and then with a partner.

After that we had some more sentence pairs where a function word was sometimes stressed. For example, a store clerk says, "We have the Windsor Star and the National Post." The customer says, "I'll take a Windsor Star AND a National Post."

For our final activity, we were supposed to go around the room and say some statements for each other to see what the response would be. For example: Wen is from Japan. The response would be, as you know, "No, Wen is from CHINA. However, I found that you were all feeling shy today and didn't want to work with anyone but your first partner. That was okay, because we were able to do the homework assignment in class.

The homework was a gap-fill exercise. It was a list of the seven focus rules. When you finished the gap-fill, you had all seven focus rules!

Tomorrow we will finish sentence stress and then start a new unit. See you then!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Focus Word


Before everyone arrived in class, I polled a few of you to find out how you liked using the pronunciation quizzes in Ellis Intro. Many of you told me you wish you could access Ellis from home. I'm sorry to say that it isn't available via the Internet, but I'm glad so many of you like using it and feel that it's very helpful to you. Some of you chose to use Ellis Intro and some of you chose to stick with Master Pronunciation Course to work on your consonant and vowel sounds. That's fine.

Earlier this week we learned that content words are usually stressed and function words are usually reduced. That is a good foundation for training ourselves in the music of English, but it's not the whole story.

We started the class by talking about the meaning of the words "focus" and "pitch." You gave me lots of good definitions for focus, and Florin made us all laugh when he came up with "I have a Ford Focus." He always comes up with higher level nuances of words for us to learn and think about. Bashar gave us a good definition for pitch. It's how your voice goes higher and lower while you're talking. It's different from volume, which means how loud your voice is. A change in volume is also part of the music of English, though.

Today we learned that every clause or sentence has one word that receives the biggest focus. (In the case of choices, there can be two words that share the main focus.) That means we stress them the most. We repeated some sentences; you told me which word in each sentence sounded most stressed. There was a pattern. When you only have one sentence, or when you are beginning a conversation, the last content word is the main focus word.

Examples: The car hit a pedestrian. My dog likes water. What are you doing?

We practiced the intonation of some more sentences by humming them. Then we practiced them orally, making sure to make our stressed vowels longer and clearer.

Then we looked at a dialogue between two people. We saw that after the first sentence, the focus word is no longer always the last content word in the clause or sentence. The focus shifts! What is the rule governing how the focus shifts? We discovered one situation where focus shifts: the introduction of NEW INFORMATION.


A: What do you want to do after class?

B: Let's go to the AGW.

A: I've already seen the AGW.

B: [etc.]

In line two, AGW is the new information. But in line three, AGW is old news. Now seen is the new information.

With this new rule under our belts, we worked in pairs to identify the focus words in a series of short dialogues. We took each one up and then practiced them with our partners. We took turns performing them for the class, too.

Ghadeer said today's lesson was too easy. Well, don't worry. We are building a firm foundation for mastery over the music of English. If you can do this, you are well on your way to sounding very natural in English.

Have a good weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Reducing Function Words


Today we looked at what happens to function words in connected speech.

We practiced saying some sentences and phrases and noticed the pronunciation of words like the, a, to, for and as. We talked about the schwa sound.

We listened to some more sentences and talked about what happens to the initial consonant in he, her, him, his, and them. The "h" sound often drops out, doesn't it? The sound of "th" also sometimes drops out in a sentence like "Give them a break." But we keep the "h" or "th" sound if the pronoun begins the sentence. He is a teacher.

We practiced the sentences aloud.

Then we looked at what happens to the final consonant sound in of and and in phrases like "cream and sugar," "men and women," "a cup of coffee," and so on. You don't hear the /d/ in and or the /v/ in of, do you?

Next we had a gap-fill exercise to see if you could recognize and supply the correct function words in some sentences. Some of them proved very challenging. But I reminded you that you don't have to strain all day long trying to understand every single word native speakers say. Listen for the content words. They will be stressed, which means longer, clearer, a bit louder and said with slightly higher pitch. Remember our telegram exercise? We took out all the function words, but we still understood the meaning. Relax and just listen for the content words. Later you will develop a good ear and will begin to catch even the function words.

Finally we practiced a short dialogue with a partner.

We ran out of time before we could create our own short dialogues to practice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In the Computer Lab

Hello, students!

Are you done using Ellis?

You may use any of the websites in my sidebar (the links on the right). Have fun!

High intermediate students, you might want to try "Listen and Read Along." You can stop the audio whenever you want. You can click a line of text to play it again. Please notice which words the speaker stresses. Also notice which syllables are stressed in the words. Call me if you need help.

Very advanced students, you might want to try watching a TED Talk. Many of them have been translated into your language. You can read the text in your first language, then you can watch the lecture while reading the English text. This is good practice in listening, but it is very advanced. If you decide to try this, call me and I can help you learn your way around the website.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Introduction to Sentence Stress


Over the past two weeks we have been learning to count syllables, identify the stressed syllable, and pronounce the schwa sound. We now know that the stressed syllable is longer, clearer, maybe a bit louder, and has a slightly higher pitch. Now we have a good foundation for the rhythm and music of English.

Today I told you that most of the languages of the world can be divided into two main categories. Spanish, French, Cantonese Chinese, and Romanian are syllable-timed languages. That means that a sentence with 12 syllables takes four times as long to say as a sentence with three syllables.

English, Arabic, Russian, Swedish and Mandarin Chinese are in a different category. Before telling you what we call that category, I had you play a little game. I gave you each a telegram that was too long, too expensive. Your job was to make it cheaper. Each word was $1 and we started with 28 words. I only had $13, so you had to eliminate 15 unnecessary words without losing the meaning.

After we finished cutting out the unnecessary words, we made two lists: words we kept and words we threw out. I told you that the words we kept are called content words. These are the words that carry meaning. The words we discarded are called function words or grammar words. You need them for good English, but you don't really need them for meaning.

We talk to animals and very small babies using content words. Think about these:

"Bad dog!"
"Stove hot!"
"Good girl!"

In the next activity, we practiced saying a short sentence: Cows eat grass. I asked you how many beats there are in this sentence. You said three. That's correct. And how many content words? Three.

Then we looked at "The cows eat grass." We counted the content words (still three). And we counted the big beats. It's still three, isn't it? We barely say the word "the." It gets squeezed in and almost sounds like part of the word cows, doesn't it? What about the vowel sound in "the?" You're right; it's schwa!

We kept adding more and more function words to the sentence, but we still only had three big beats when we said it! It takes the same amount of time to say "The cows will have eaten the grass" as it takes to say "Cows eat grass." Isn't that amazing?

English is a stress-timed language.

In the next activity, we practiced saying some sentences. We drummed on our desks and tried to keep the same time between content words. "Dogs chase cats." "A dog has chased the cat." Each of those sentences should take the same amount of time for you to say. They have three big beats.

We then talked about the parts of speech that we usually stress in English and the parts of speech that we usually don't stress. I gave you a handout with the lists. We usually stress nouns, main verbs, adjectives, numbers, question words, negatives, helping verbs when they are alone (e.g., "Yes, I am."), etc. We quickly came up with examples for each category.

Finally we looked at some sentences and underlined the words that get the stress (all the content words). We took turns saying those sentences while stressing the content words.

Good work! See you Tuesday in the lab!