miércoles, 25 de enero de 2012

Histoire d'O

This is my third visit to the problematic area of sound-spelling relationships in English. As before, I'm going to try to show that the link between a written vowel and its sounds, though not perfect, is far from arbitrary. Our students can learn at the very least to make an educated guess about the pronunciation of a written word, and an educated guess about the spelling of a word they hear. I know that we do a lot of the former in class, but very little of the latter. As a language learner, I find it really useful to mentally visualise the written form of a word I hear.

Today, boy oh boy, it's O! The Big O!

This time, we're going to start modelling the pure sound. Adrian Underhill seems to favour this, rather than practicing syllables, words or phrases, at least at lower levels. I've tried this method out in class, and it does focus attention marvellously. 

So, here we go. Today we're only going to contrast two sounds:

ɒ - lock, bottle, song

əʊ - show, coat, phone

Practice this yourself first if you don't feel very comfortable with pronunciation. ;)

Make sure your students get it spot on. If you think you can get away with it, do it Silent Way style - you can mime or wave your arms around, but not a sound. This forces your students to find the sounds themselves. Search for Adrian Underhill on youTube to see a couple of extracts of him presenting sounds.

Make it clear that əʊ is a diphthong. In other words it's a sound that starts in one position and glides towards another. Note that if you're uncomfortable about finding the schwa yourself, don't hesitate to use the Standard American version ɔʊ. I've given Roy Orbison the American version below.

And that's the hard bit done!

ɔʊ prɪtiwʊmən!!!!!!!

Now that they can make a really good approximation of the sound, they'll find it easy to relate to the IPA symbols. I like to get my students practising drawing huge versions of them on the board or leftover paper.

Now write up a few transcriptions like these:

fəʊn    rəʊz    bəʊt    lɒk    sɒŋ    pɒt

Ask the students (maybe in pairs) to decide what they sound like. (Ask them not to worry about the meaning at this stage.) Elicit their versions and model/correct if you really have to. Remember you can still do it Silent Wayly.

Now do they recognise any of them?

You can give them some clues:

transport on water; a flower; something musical; a common gadget; something to keep a door closed; a container for cooking.


Please note that I write up one or two IPA transcriptions on the board in pretty much every class, and model them, so my students will already have a minimal familiarity with IPA symbols. Simply doing this exercise I've shown here in isolation will have less impact if you don't follow up with tiny regular doses of IPA.

səʊ lɒŋ!

Oh! A footnote. This is Adrian Underhill doing his other thing...

martes, 17 de enero de 2012

Mi no save mekim ol poster*

I thought I would share with you an attempt at a poster project. Whoop of triumph, cry for help or death rattle? You be the judge.

I have a class of four 10 year-old boys. Although the boys are no trouble whatsoever, I always feel at a loss trying to find appropriate content or materials for them - I have absolutely no formal training for YL. Or put another way, we all enjoy ourselves in class, but I have the sneaking sensation that they're not learning any English :)

Recently I thought we would try to make a poster in class. It would be about a single country, since we've done a few online quizzes in class and they generally like geography. We had a few goes at an online geography quiz as a warm-up. I specified that it couldn't be a European or Spanish-speaking country. The most geographically-curious student, A, plumped for Papua New Guinea, and the others were fine with that.

Now this was a bit of luck, because my old friend Tiziana had spent a few weeks there some years back. Did the lads fancy composing an email to her asking for her impressions and maybe a couple of her photos? Fine. So we team-wrote the email and I sent it.

Come lesson 2, Tizi hadn't let me down. So we looked at her text and photos, doing a little language work on them and composed a short reply, with thanks and a couple more questions.

What to do now in the rest of the lesson? Clever Alan hadn't given the slightest thought to this bit. In the end, we stumbled rather untidily to the end of the lesson, looking and reading snippets from YouTube and Wikipedia. Wish I had put more thought into this. (Surely the third conditional is the saddest tense...)

For the next lesson, I had found a couple of short relevant You Tube videos, although in the end they didn't make much impact on the lads. What actually crystallised them more was the results from Google Images. PNG is visually arresting, with spectacular flora and fauna,and dazzling cultural artefacts like carved masks and face-paint. It's also one of the least Westernized countries in the world, in whose highlands many people live largely stone-age lives, complete with terrifying inter-tribal violence, and the occasional practice of head-hunting and ritual cannibalism. Things which ten-year old boys love.

So by the end of lesson four, we had the poster wrapped up, complete with a few printed photos, their own hand-drawn illustrations and a couple of short texts.

Lessons learnt? Well, it was useful to find out the effectiveness of Google Images. And secondly, posters are fairly easy to do in class, logistics-wise - just some rudimentary art supplies. Thirdly. the reality of writing to a real person did make a difference, even at this young age. Fourthly, they seemed to enjoy making their own drawings more than I expected - I thought they'd opt for the slicker printout rather than the hand-drawn stuff.

And maybe most encouraging of all, the kids responded well to WEIRD STUFF.  The little glimpse into a faraway place. I'm not especially anti-coursebook, but I would like to see more weird stuff in books. Stuff that extends people's mental horizons more, rather than opting for the lowest common denominator.

But, I'm not all that happy about the amount of English used and produced. Essentially we spent four hours to produce a few short snippets and two emails. (And the emails were the result of a lucky coincidence.)

And I have no idea how to go about scaffolding or recycling the language generated.

And the poster itself can't be taken home to show to parents, either :(

Would I have been better preparing texts for them beforehand? I would love to find a more learner-driven way of doing research during class time, but with four young students, I just couldn't think of a way to do it. Any ideas?

*" I don't know how to make posters." in Tok Pisin.

miércoles, 4 de enero de 2012

Go to Sleep of a Prostitute Time

Recently in Jose Antonio Millán's great but sporadic blog El Candidato Melancólico, up came the curious subject of the children's book Go The Fuck To Sleep.

I found Millán's analysis a lovely introduction to that most bizarre of linguistic habits, taboo language. I've taken the liberty of translating an extract here. [Spanish speakers can read the original post here.]

Go The Fuck To Sleep is published in Spain as Duérmete Ya, ¡Joder! (Mondadori) although more literally it would be Duérmete de Una Puta Vez.
This kind of swearing shows two interesting features: Firstly these elements are superfluous, at least to the simple meaning of the sentences. (Of course, they add an expressive and pejorative charge). Secondly, they have lost their literal meaning: We can't say Go the Copulation to Sleep, or  Go to Sleep Of A Prostitute Time.

Millán also remarks how the Spanish translation for the Latin American market is Duermete, ¡Carajo! Is carajo less offensive in American Spanish than Iberian Spanish, he wonders. (Carajo is yet another name for the dangling trouser bishop.)

Millán goes on to list a few other translations of the title. Here I've translated his list literally back to English. See if you can identify the languages and reconstruct the original foreign-language titles. Full points wins a chicken curry at my house.

Do this prick of a sleep.

Bollocks, go to sleep.

Damn shit, sleep one.

Sleep and don't shit!

Go to sleep, fuck you.

Cheats will find the answers on Millán's original blog post - link above.

 *!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#*!&#*!&#*! &#*!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#*!& #*!&#*!&#* !&#*!&#*! &#*!&#*!&#

Dealing with taboo language in class has a multitude of pitfalls:-

Do we allow it in the first place? Is it an inevitable part of communication? Can we teach it? Should we? If so, how? Is it approachable through dogme? Does it depend on whether each individual teacher uses taboo language in their own speech, or is that imposing our own linguistic identity on others? Will we get into trouble from our DoS or parents? Is its use just too complex inguistically or socially? Etc, etc, etc.

What do you think?

I'm going to copulate off now and prepare some lessons.

martes, 3 de enero de 2012

Thanks for a lovely future.

This is my first January as part of an online community of EFL teachers. I started reading blogs around this time last year, starting with the venerable Ken Wilson, and accumulating more blogs through the blogrolls. In March I was persuaded - very much against my instinct - to start tending my own little vegetable patch.

And now I can't imagine what the hell I did without it....

Readers and writers, colleagues and penpals,

Thanks for what you've done,

but even more, thanks for what you're going to do this year.

[Oh and a tiny footnote. I didn't see this post because I hadn't realised that Chiew Pang's A CLIL to Climb has moved!]