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!