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!