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!