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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Teaching Reading: CELTA Demo Lesson #2

I love reading. I learned how to read even before I started talking – no jokes here, I kept silent until I turned 3 and communicated with my family via gestures and some random non-word sounds. And yes, I already was fascinated with books back then. I cherished them, took care of them and hugged them in my sleep. And well, I still do.

I love teaching reading. I am constantly monitoring for interesting and inspiring articles and blog posts and add everything I like into my ‘For Reading lessons’ collection.

An ideal reading lesson as I see it is a lesson focused on some interesting and somewhat controversial, and a little bit emotional topic like happiness or failure, or positive thinking. Students read the text, learn some interesting words, and, the most important, they discuss it and share their thought on this matter. They’re engaged, inspired, and motivated. When the lesson is over, they might say it was difficult (who said learning is always easy?) but they will definitely say they enjoyed it.

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Teaching Vocabulary: CELTA Demo Lesson #1

I went totally crazy when I was offered to teach a set of two demo lessons for a group of 8 Upper-Intermediate students at the upcoming CELTA course in August in St Petersburg. Like really, just a year ago I was a trainee myself observing experienced teachers giving demo lessons and being determined to stand in their place as soon as possible. And now, a year after, I did it. Last Friday, I was there, teaching lessons I had spent a week planning and preparing for and holding a Q&A session afterwards.

The requirements for the demo lessons were easy: 2 lessons 1 hour each, one on systems and one on skills of your choice. It didn’t take long to decide that I wanted to teach lessons on vocabulary and reading, my ultimate favourites.

I love teaching vocabulary. The reason behind this is simple: without words, how can you communicate? When deciding on what words to teach, I always start with the topic.

What are some topics we often talk about? What are some topics my learners will most likely discuss outside the classroom? These are two important questions to ask yourself when you decide on vocabulary topic. Emotions seemed a perfect choice since we evaluate everything happening in our lives emotionally. We constantly feel something: anger, stress, frustration, or joy, happiness, and satisfaction. So I’ve chosen 10 adjectives, 5 negative and 5 positive (some of them were taken from English Vocabulary in Use):

  • apprehensive                                                     ecstatic
  • anxious                                                               thrilled
  • frustrated                                                           stirred
  • miserable                                                            content
  • fed-up                                                                  relieved

My favourite structure for teaching vocabulary is:

1) match & test yourself -> 2) analyze & learn -> 3) memorize & recall -> 4) use & be happy 🙂

Let’s see how it works…

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Systems Presentation: Deep End

I heard this term for the first time during CELTA when we had an input session on TBL (Task-Based Learning). To be honest, I didn’t really understand what it was and how to use it (neither of us did, really). Next time I heard about ‘Deep End’ was during training at my current workplace. It sounded somewhat familiar. I went through an imaginary CELTA folder in my head trying to get a tiny bit of information but failed. It didn’t really ring a bell. The only thing I could remember was the observation video of Jane Comyns-Carr teaching a lesson on Past Perfect using TBL approach, and there was something about ‘Weak End’ and ‘Deep End’, too.

So what is ‘Deep End’?!

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Systems Presentation: Guided Discovery

As promised, today’s entry is about Guided Discovery (GD).

So what is GD?

For me, that’s the most exciting way to present TL! Technically, you just have to provide a good example of TL and help your students to find the rules themselves, without you teaching a single tiny thing. Easy to say, yep. Difficult to do? Not really!

First, let’s look at some pros and cons.

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CELTA: Impressions & Practical Tips

Here I should thank Hugh Dellar for writing his critique of CELTA. To cut a long story short, he questions CELTA as a golden standard and its suitability for native trainees with no prior teaching experience. I must say I do partly agree with him, but, in my opinion, for me, CELTA was a really good way to expand my horizons and boost my teaching career.
So I’ll start my blog with reflecting on CELTA as a course, and, hopefully, some people who are only looking at it thinking if they should go for it or not will find it useful.

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