miércoles, 13 de julio de 2011

I don't claim to be an A-student

Like the great Sam Cooke, I don't claim to be an A-student. But here goes anyway...

How would you pronounce the A vowel in these words:

flares, gravy, mask, amazing, star, lash, air, hammer, bark, lake, slay, tail, ram, grate, cart

Where would they go on this diagram?

I'd put them into four groups, at least in standard British English:

mask, lash, hammer, ram

lake, amazing, tail, grate, gravy, slay

star cart bark

flares, air

And here's where I'd write them on the quadrant. (I won't fill each one in.)

I've been noticing more and more recently that my students seem to be under the impression that there is no correspondence between spelling and sound; that there are no rules for spelling in English. A new word comes up in class (say "slate") and when I ask my students to guess the pronunciation, it's hit-and-miss between /sleɪt/ and /slæt/, with the occasional /slaɪt/ thrown in.

I know from my brother in the UK that my 7 year old nephew is doing phonics, and I've had a look at his classbooks. So I've been trying to formulate what I "know" as a native speaker, and get students to notice the patterns more. And after looking at a collection of samples, the quadrant helps to scaffold a bit.

Now I know that this isn't the whole story of A, but it's a good start. In fact, even getting student to grasp the top half of that quadrant is a huge improvement on guesswork. Pronouncing 'flares' as /fleirz/ or 'bark' as /bærk/ is close enough for most circumstances. The r-effect can come later, IMHO.

Do you teach letter-sound relationships? If so, how? I know the spelling guru Johanna Stirling touches on phonics, but I haven't found anything like this among her copious materials. If I've missed it, Johanna, please let me know!

I ain't doin' no phonics in class.

Trivia Corner

Standard BE is not my native accent, I hasten to add, so I still feel a bit like a learner myself when it comes to this. In Scotland, most speakers have a central /a/ and an open front /e/ replacing /ei/, not to be confused with /ɛ/.

Also there is no big r-effect, maybe because it's just a separately articulated consonant, and not a kind of diacritic.

I think most Scots would say:

BAIT:  [bet]
BET: [bɛt]
BAT: [bat]
BART: [bart]
BEARS: [berz]

Do you have a non-standard English accent? And do you teach your own pronunciation or a standard model. I'd love to know.

PS Sandy Millin has posted here a wonderful set of UK accent samples. Don't miss!

2 comentarios:

  1. Hi Alan,

    I really enjoyed this post! I've never been big on pronunciation, in fact, I avoided overtly teaching it for many years because I never felt comfortable with the IPA until I did my diploma course. I still don't do that much to be honest because I find it very hard to fit it in with everything else - I tend to do bits of pronunciation work when trying to teach listening skills rather than speaking!

    As for phonics, I've used Jolly Phonics with young children who are learning to read in Spanish because I think it's important that they realise as soon as possible that the spelling systems in English and Spanish are different. It does help stop (most of) them from reading words as if they were Spanish later. I hadn't thought about using phonics with adults, but I think you may be onto something - if we could devise a way of making synthetic phonics more adult and sophisticated (but not too complex) it would be a fantastic tool/skill for learners to have, especially at lower levels.

    I have pretty much lost my Potteries accent after all these years away, except when I go back there for a few days! I tend to speak a more standard English in class. However, I am not quite able to speak RP - my vowels are still more northern. I hate modelling /ʌ/ because I can never get it exactly right! I do try to make my students aware of the /a:/ sound in words like BATH, GRASS, GLASS even though I use an /æ/ because they will come across it in listenings.

    I'll stop rambling now! Thanks for the post!

  2. Oh no, ramble on ;) Glad I'm not the only one with mixed feelings about RP.

    Are there any recordings of yourself talking on the net? I know we were both sitting in on Karenne Sylvester's session in Madrid, but I can't say I noticed a specific accent of yours.

    I honestly think I've lost most of my accent through teaching phonetics, not through living abroad. And it's starting to worry me a bit.