PSLLT 2021

As some of you know, instead of attending the IATEFL conference, I ended up attending the 12th Annual Pronunciation and Second Language Learning and Teaching conference. This was not planned at all and I learnt about this conference one day after the registration had been supposedly closed, but the organisers were kind enough to let me register and attend. To make a long story short: this conference literally blew my mind, gave me an understanding of what my next CPD step should be (will be announced later), and pushed me to start planning how I am going to re-design my pronunciation course.

Below are short summaries of some of the talks I attended yesterday and the day before yesterday (I simply cannot summarise all of them!).

1) Foreign language learners’ views and attitudes towards the type of label used in perceptual training: phonetic symbols vs. keywords
If you ever wondered, which is better – phonetic symbols, keywords, or something else (e.g. pictures) – here is the answer: more students prefer phonetic symbols, so it is definitely worth teaching them. The use of keywords only will most likely confuse them and create a double cognitive load because, as we all know, letters do not equal sounds. I usually use phonetic symbols + keywords to create a stronger link. You could also try using pictures, e.g. flags, geometric shapes, etc.
Another thing to try is the Color Vowel Chart developed by Karen Taylor and Shirley Thompson. I have not used it with my students but it seems to be pretty popular among ESL/EFL teachers in the U.S. and Canada.

2) Whose input matters? The influences of various input sources in adult L2 phonetic learning
The aim of this research was to see if adult learners actually differentiate between teacher’s pronunciation and other L2 learners’ pronunciation, and which they prefer as a model.
A fake language was used. Participants were exposed to 3 models: teacher, students, and test (teacher and student). Different voices were used to ensure reliability. For the test model, they had to decide which pronunciation is better based on the knowledge of how these words sound when produced by a teacher or student.
Results: Participants showed a preference for the teacher talker pronunciation. This means that not only are they sensitive to various phonemic features (in this study, aspiration), but it also matters who produces target words. For us teachers it means that we have to be aware of what kind of pronunciation model we give to our students (does not come as a surprise, right?).
Personally, I think that aspiration, for example, is an important feature and should be practised and acquired by students as it enhances intelligibility because in fast speech, an unaspirated /p/ can sound very similar to /b/. However, as for /th/ sound, it seems that more and more people nowadays do not articulate it as clearly as they kind of should. Some speakers pronounce it as /f/ and /v/, some go for /t/ and /d/ or /s/ and /z/. As Dan Frost said, when middle-class women in their 20-s stop using these interdental consonants, we will know that /th/ is officially dead, and this might happen even earlier than we think!

3) Talks about teaching prosody: Put prosody first and Using lip synching to teach L2 prosody
These two talks introduced great ways of working on prosody which is usually the most crucial point in acquiring a more intelligible L2 pronunciation, especially if we talk about learners whose L1s are syllable-timed. One of the activities was very similar to what I do with my students, but it was using phrases instead of numbers, so I will definitely give it a try! Another activity focussed on students doing regular lip-synching exercises to better understand how rhythm in stress-timed languages works. They would start with slower songs and slowly progress towards faster ones. I have never tried anything like that with any of my students and am excited to actually try and see how it goes. These talks also made me think that I do not focus on prosody as much as I should (probably due to the fact that my students are mostly Russians, and Russian is a stress-timed language). I do have one Japanese student and several French and Italian students, so I already know who my guinea pigs are going to be 😀

4) Multiple talks about the use of visual feedback in pronunciation training
Research has shown that students are likely to improve their pronunciation faster if they can see their speech; for this, we can use software like Vowel Viewer, Audacity and Praat (I am already working on this). Unfortunately, to be able to use these tools effectively, you need some advanced knowledge and understanding of lab phonology, which is, obviously, not taught to CELTA and Delta candidates (so a degree in Linguistics/Applied Linguistics will be of great help).

I officially pronounce PSLLT conference the best conference I have attended in 2021!

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11 thoughts on “PSLLT 2021

  1. Great post! Phonology is the best. I would err on the side of caution with colour charts mind: you have the colour blindness problem and also there is a chapter I read the other day that was evidence against it (which I thought would be the other way round, so surprising – will re-comment tomorrow). Pretty jealous, but also time difference is a thing.

    Praat: not as difficult as it seems, to get started with, by the way. If you are interested, I can send you some stuff to ‘dip your toe in the water’.

  2. Hi Marc, thank you for reading 🙂
    Totally agree about colours. To be honest, I found this chart a tad confusing and wouldn’t use it myself unless I have a student who loves colour-coding. It has its advantages, of course, but still, not as simple as I’d like it to be. And yes, as you said, it can’t be used with those students who are colour-blind.
    I’ve watched some online tutorials and managed to get the pitch analysis up and running 🙂 I think I’m able to interpret the data more or less correctly although I have some doubts. If you happen to have any advice on this, I’ll be more than happy for you to share it with me!

  3. PLEASE RECONSIDER about the Color Vowel Chart. It CAN be used with color blind learners.

    AND It’s the most useful and intuitive thing I’ve found in …probably EVER, for teaching pronunciation. It’s unfortunate that the creators were not able to present at the PSLLT (which I, also, attended for the first time and LOVED!), because it should not seem confusing at all. I would be happy to explain how it works to you, or guide you to some introductory stuff about it.

    Long story short, it is the phonetic chart for vowels, but substitutes color words for the phonetic symbol, thereby giving us vocabulary to talk about sounds. So instead of using /ɛ/ to represent the vowel in “bed,” we can say that “bed” is a RED PEPPER word. (RED is the color that represents /ɛ/). And SILVER is /ɪ/, and BLACK is /æ/ and so on. This is useful because it’s much more accessible to…everyone. Children and adult students with low literacy are not likely to know or have the capacity to learn the IPA, for example. Even teachers who may not have learned how to teach pronunciation (like most public school ESOL teachers here in the States) can easily adopt this method.

    The Color Vowel Approach encourages learners (and teachers) to think of any given word as a particular “color,” which in fact has nothing to do with rods and cones or vision at all, but rather just using the word itself as an example of a word with that color. So color blindless is not a problem. Even people with no vision at all can use it because it’s about the sound of the word. Anyway, I started to say that it incorporates prominent stress into its use, so that multisyllabic words are defined by their prominent stress vowel sound.

    Such that “photo” is a “ROSE BOAT” word (there’s a noun with the same vowel sound in each pair, in order to have two examples of the sound), but “photographer” is a “OLIVE SOCK” word, and “photographic” is a BLACK CAT word. So it really trains the users (again, any age or educational background (or state of visual impairment! :)) to listen for primary stress from the very beginning.

    And it makes the problematic words so easy to organize and document, without knowing the IPA.

    There’s more to it than that, but I dropped everything when I saw you say you were inclined to turn away from it, Lina. You really need to check it out. It has completely transformed the way I teach (even when I’m NOT teaching pronunciation per se, it’s VERY rare that I don’t at least use it). I use it with kids, adults, every L1, every educational level (even advanced level..I frequently use it to help business people prepare for presentations, for educators to prepare for lectures, etc.

    In fact, its simple and colorful appearance can work against it. Sometimes, my advanced students see it for the first time and assume it’s for kids. But they are soon converts when they see how useful it is.

    Well, I could go on and on…but for now I will just say that I’m going to try to find some material to send you to for more info.

    A couple of caveats:
    1. I missed the workshop you refer to (about using symbols vs words), but intend to go back and watch it. (Yes PSLLT was AMAZING. My first time, too. I was very surprised at how good it was, too!)
    2. I am actually trained as a Color Vowel Trainer, but only cause I love it so much. I don’t do a lot of work for them, (occasionally I help with a training course but it’s a very insignificant part of my income), but I’m VERY involved in their Facebook community because it’s just so fun to toss ideas around with that group.

    Lina, you would love it, I think.

    1. Hi and thank you for leaving a comment.
      The reason why I’m not sure about using the Colour Vowel Chart with my students is that it represents the vowel system of American English, and I am teaching British English pronunciation. For example, ‘auburn dog’ won’t work in BrE because these words are pronounced with two different sounds, /ɔː/ and /ɒ/ respectively. At university, I was taught British English phonology and phonetics, and as a teacher, I was trained to teach British pronunciation. Everything I know about American English sound system comes from listening to the accent and analysing it, as well as reading some articles containing general information; I’ve never been trained to teach American pronunciation and, even though I can speak in an American accent (people in Scotland often assumed I was from the U.S.), I’m not sure I can teach it. It’s a pity though because there’re tons of awesome resources for learning American English pronunciation, but I really struggle to find any adequate alternatives for those who study British pronunciation.

      1. Oh now I get it! They have a British version of the chart too. But to be honest I don’t know that much about it. Do you want me to dig around a little?

      2. Oh, I didn’t know that! Of course I’d be interested in having a look at the British Colour Vowel Chart, so I’d be grateful if you could check it for me.

  4. Marc, I am very interested in reading the article you refer to about color charts (the Color Vowel Chart is the only one I know of…maybe there are others..?) Please post more about it! Thanks!

    And I also am really curious …and intimidated…by Pratt. Your comment is encouraging, Marc. Maybe I’ll try to learn it. Anyone know of a good tutorial for it?

  5. Sorry for the confusion, Lina. I had some trouble getting my first message to post, and accidentally posted as “bigmura,” which is my email address. Anyway, “bigmura” and “Liz Bigler” are both me! 😊

  6. This sounds like a fascinating conference. Thanks for introducing us to the Color Vowel Chart, and Liz, thanks for the information about how you use it. If you can find a British English version of it, I’d definitely be interested in experimenting with it.

    1. Hi Sandy! Yes, it was indeed a fantastic conference, I’m already looking forward to the next year’s one.
      As for the British version of the colour chart, I have it:
      Also, I know that Rhiannon Carter uses the Commonwealth Edition of the Color Vowel Chart to teach English sounds; I think you could ask her to share some tips 🙂

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