Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pronunciation confusions are always good for a laugh

One of my Spanish speaking students was asking me (I thought) about the difference between shit and sheet. He was asking me about something and I heard "Have a shit". As he is a mechanic and works in a garage I thought he was talking about the rough and ready language the 'blokes' use at work and proceeded to write "Have a shit" on the board. My students know that I will discuss any words and help them avoid embarrassment, for example can't/cunt etc.

As it turned out he was trying to say "Have a seat" but we all heard "Have a shit"!!! So he had been saying to all his customers "Have a shit" when he was offering them a seat whilst waiting for their car.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Intonation and vocab work with a nurse lecturer at Sydney University

Every so often you get a client who you really get on well with. This has happened with Tebbin and me. She is a lecturer in the School of Nursing at Sydney University so her English is very good. However, she felt that the students were having a bit of trouble with a bit of left over interference from her first language, Cantonese and especially her lack of appropriate grammar at times and of course vocab.

We have worked on the usual vowels, softening language, assertive language and recently chunking of her lectures to introduce more pausing and stressing of key words. It has had a dramatic effect and the students are much happier.

Today , however we had a great laugh. She ws talking to one of the other academic staff and they were discussing the students. Tebbin said "I really like that student.". The other lecturer raised her eyebrow sand said "What?" Tebbin said that no she didn't mean it THAT way as he was married with children etc.

We discussed today whether the other lecturer interpreted her sentence the wrong way because she only meant that she thought he was a nice person.

We decided that the usual stressing of the  last word in a chunk, that is the tonic stress, was as in example 1, the best way to sound unambiguous. However as in examples 2 and 3 stressing really or like can make the statement ambiguous.
  1. I really like that student.
  2. I really like that student.         
  3. I really like that student.

The main reason we had laugh was over he mis understanding and misuse of a word for many years. In her lecture she was talking about a certain type of care that "Can sometimes be timely."  I said that something either is or isn't timely .It couldn't sometimes be timely. She thought that timely meant for a long time. Then she said "Now I know why this sentence never made any sense to me."

"Nurses must perform their duties in a safe and timely manner."

Fung Koo    Lecturer in Nursing at Sydney University

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Intonation teaching can be fun

Trying to fit a pronunciation course into an inflexible national system based on competency assessment is difficult as pronunciation is a skill that fits into every spoken competency. However, if they want boxes ticked I'll do it and chose the competency "Can negotiate a complex problematic exchange". We watched many snippets from Getting it Right at Work by NSW AMES (I worked on the video scripts) and used good models.

Then we looked at the intonation patterns and their associated meaning  from eachclip, such as assertively stating needs or establishing rapport or showing empathy. Like any aspect of training in pronunciation, these were of course drilled and practised independently.

Part of the analysis of the texts was also looking atstressed  keywords as well as pausing and chunking into thought groups.

Finally it was all put together and the students produced wonderful role plays. They all still have pronunciation issues but the way they communicate their intended meaning has improved. The work on chunking and pausing has increased fluency and intonation work has 'softened' their more direct ways of speaking.

One student who has a very direct manner has softened her language and is using upward rising intonation more. She is also putting more emphasis on keywords with a change of pitch and this has had the effect of softening her speech as well. Another has benefited from pausing and intonation which alleviates, to some degree her difficulty with the actual sounds. Another has been helped with his linking problem by grouping words together and focusing on "chunks" rather than individual words. One, who you will readily be able to recognise, has used intonation, expressions and body language to emulate his boss! He sounds like a very laid-back Aussie! (Don't you just love the classroom effect of the snake-like cord)

Listen to Olga, Nanpha, Wassim and Rodrigo negotiate their needs beautifully.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teaching Intonation

Students love rules and want the 'rules' for intonation. However there are only guidelines for intonation patterns as intonation and meaning are closely linked.

Falling intonation is suppposed to be used at the end of a statement but what about the dreaded Australian high-rising terminal. "Wh" questions have a falling tone but then again it rises if you are clarifying information.

What's the time? (falling)


What's the time? ( rising)

Tag questions, for example "You're going to the movies tonight, aren't you?" can have a rise or a fall on the tag. The meaning completly changes.

Students can sound too aggressive or too passive or tentative if they are not using the right intonation pattern. It makes a huge difference to their rhythm and the intended meaning of their speech and is much easier to learn and embed in their everyday speech than 'th'


Monday, June 6, 2011

Transferring skills from classroom to everyday

You may be a very diligent student and practise regularly and know what all your pronunciation problems are - speaking too quickly, r/l confusion, misplaced word stress, upward rising intonation at the end of every sentence. However, you still revert back to the same old problems when you are at a meeting, or chatting with friends.

How do you make that change? I ask my students to 'be in the moment' for 5 minutes every day and focus on one aspect of their pronunciation, be it 'th', chunking and pausing, intonation and focus with full concentration on their speech for just five minutes. Little by little it will change.