Experiences of an English Language Teacher

Category: reflections (Page 2 of 2)

The Balanced Approach: Can It Be Personalised?

Incorporating Dogme ELT, Martin Sketchley © 2012

What is the ‘balanced approach‘ I hear you ask.  Well the ‘balanced approach‘ was a philosophy of teaching that I proposed after research and writing up my dissertation on Dogme ELT for my MA at the University of Sussex.  This approach to teaching suggested that the best method of incorporating Dogme ELT was including an eclectic range of modern teaching methods combined with more traditional structured forms teaching method.  However, I haven’t fully explored or really considered what a ‘balanced approach‘ is.

Within my dissertation I considered a “Balanced Approach to teaching would offer EFL teachers the best of both worlds: the prospect of structured lessons or the opportunity to incorporate more exploratory or experimental teaching techniques, dependent upon classroom expectations” (page 55-56).  Essentially, this form of teaching would incorporate a range of methods or techniques which is dependent upon classroom dynamics, as well as learner expectation and previous experience of language learning.  Nevertheless, I am starting to question whether the above statement is really what I expect from a ‘balanced approach’.  Since the previous ELTChat discussion on more experimental forms of teaching methods such as the Silent Way, TPR or Suggestopedia, I was chatting to other teachers about ‘striking a balance‘ between structured and experimental forms of teaching through personal choice and adapting them towards your teaching. Here are some quotes from the discussion:

As Jenny Ankenbauer suggests, a ‘balanced approach‘ might be considered vague with teachers being given the opportunity to claim their progress within teaching via this approach.  Furthermore, due to the ambiguity of a ‘balanced approach‘, teachers may hide behind their claim.  Granted, the approach to balance in the classroom is vague and is not without contention with other teachers.  However, the suggestion to incorporate a method that is both immediate and personal to all parties in the classroom (both teacher and students in this case) is something that should be developed by all teachers.  Rachael Roberts looks at personalising the ‘balanced approach‘ below.

Rachael considers that a approach which is personally developed, which I guess is reactive and student centred, is appropriate but this ‘personal approach‘ should be developed through informed decision making.  Essentially, teachers should be striving to develop an approach that is both conducive for language learning while at the same time supports learner expectation.  This key point of ‘learner expectation’ is something that Marjorie Rosenberg considers.
Marjorie considers that there is no one best method for all students or classes.  Much of this has to do with learner expectation, the culture of learning as well as the perceived role of the teacher in the classroom.  What Marjorie suggests from her own personal experience is to take the best out of all methods/approaches and adapting them appropriately for the classroom.  During the ELTChat discussion, it was mentioned that ‘cherry picking’ methods or approaches were seen as best practice and would also provide a personal lesson for learners.
Suzanne Guerrero also echoed Marjorie.  Suzanne suggested that a teacher could ‘assimilate the principles’ and then ‘adapt them’ to different teaching contexts.  It appears that most teachers which participated during the ELTChat developed a ‘personal approach’ to teaching and it was also seen as best practice.  This approach is available for teachers to develop as they see fit and can personalise their own teaching.  It is related to the whole context and principle of humanising the classroom.  From reviewing the latest ELTChat, I can see that a ‘balanced approach‘ is both limited in its focus: for example it either considers a structured form, less structured form or a combination of both forms of teaching in the classroom.  It does not really consider the teacher, the learners, the context or culture of learning and the perceived role of the teacher.  However developing and adapting lessons on a personal level is more open for teachers to develop as they see appropriate.  However, I would consider this a ‘bespoke approach‘.
A ‘bespoke approach‘ to teaching would provide a different experience to any learner (or teacher).  As teachers we are always striving to develop a curriculum which accommodates all forms of learners (or teachers).  I remember teaching two different groups but at the same level but present at different times. The first group was very active in class whilst the second group was quite passive.  Thus, I tried to stimulate the second group more using different techniques than I would with the first.  Essentially, I was offering a bespoke English course for learners: accommodating learner requests, expectations and experience of language learning.  I believe a ‘bespoke approach‘ would offer more opportunity for teachers to customise their lesson based on a number of factors, using appropriate teaching techniques as well as making informed decisions for learners, lessons, etc.
Nevertheless, do you think there is a difference between a ‘balanced approach’, a ‘personal approach’ and a ‘bespoke approach’?  As teachers, are we spreading ourselves too thin when trying to incorporate various different teaching techniques or methods?
As ever, please leave your comments below.

Dogme Lesson: from Sea Creatures to Question Tags

I was covering a Young Learner’s class the a number of weeks ago at the British Council and it was the second time that I had taught this class.  A few hours prior to the class, I prepared a story board activity based on the “The Ugly Duckling” but when I walked into the class, the lesson was put down as soon as I saw what the children had.

At a popular supermarket in Romania, they offer free sea animal cards if you spend a specific amount (above 40 Lei I believe).  As with the cards, there is a book which you can put the cards in.  Children in Romania are keen to show off, trade and compare the cards that they have (even in the classroom).  Anyhow, as I walked into the classroom the children were trading and showing the different cards they had in their possession.  As I mentioned, I was prepared to focus on a lesson about swans in the course book and with a story board activity about the “Ugly Duckling”.  As soon as I saw these cards and the students enthusiasm about them, I decided to delve into Dogme territory.

I picked up a number of cards and as a class decided to look at the vocabulary of the creatures of the deep.  I was eliciting vocabulary, writing a number of the words on the board and drawing some examples of words.  As soon as I got about ten names of sea creatures on the whiteboard, I got students to work in groups and decide the creatures in order of least to most dangerous.  This was a wonderful activity and I transcribed their group decision on the whiteboard and compare differences.  During the decision process a discussion emerged (in English) during the activity: I was walking around and making a note of good and poor examples of English.  At the end of the lesson (with these examples of English utterances produced during discussion), I got each group to guess which sentence was appropriate and which was not.  This developed into something else.

A typical example of many learners is to utter a sentence with a rising intonation to create a question.  For example: “You think it’s dangerous” changed to “You think it’s dangerous?”.  As mentioned, this is a typical error that I have encountered with differing nationalities (especially Asian learners).  The above example was uttered during the discussion and a learner tried to ask a question but used the imperative form.  After the grammar auction activity (choosing which sentence was appropriate or not), I decided to focus on ‘Question Tags’.  I took the example above and elicited the correct question form (“Do you think it’s dangerous”) but then asked the young learners how else they would ask a question.  One clever young learner suggested using question tags.  I wrote up an example: “You think it’s dangerous, don’t you?” and tried to illustrate the common rule of question tags.  Next, I wrote up some example sentences and got all the learners to add the question tag at the end.  This was followed by some drilling and reinforcement to ensure all learners had learnt the use of “Question Tags”.  The total time of the lesson was an hour and a half but I worked on the above activities for about an hour and a quarter. With fifteen minutes left of the lesson, I decided to use some IWB game (Wordshake which is available on the British Council Teaching English website).

It was the first time that I had used some of the material that the learners had brought in to the classroom (especially with Young Learners) and it was so good to see all students appear to be enthusiastic.  In reflection, the lesson was immediate to the learners and involved material which was brought in by learners and exploited to its full potential.  The biggest thing that I have noticed when incorporating aspects of Dogme in the lesson is that I have developed my understanding of language acquisition inasmuch that acquisition (or emergence in some cases) is based upon interaction.  I have noticed that as a teacher, I feel happier when teaching, find planning lessons less burdensome and not as keen to plough through numerous student handouts.  The above sharing of the lesson is a good example when planned lessons can be put on hold and opportunistic areas of language learning are exploited.  Hopefully readers can relate to the above lesson and share their experiences of a ‘materials-light’ and opportunistic aspect of their teaching.

Reflection of 2011 – The #11from11 Challenge

I can’t believe it.  The year has literally flown by and I sit with wonder with a cup of coffee thinking about what I have actually done with the time.  Having read Mike Harrison’s blog post reflecting on his 11 posts from 2011 (challenged by @yearinthelifeof), I thought I should take up Adam Simpson’s challenge and write about 2011: it would offer some aspect of reflection and highlight what has been achieved during the past 12 months.  So without further ado, here is a reflection of my top 11 blog posts from 2011.

January
MA ELT – Assignments Complete: This was a brief blog post that reflected upon my studies at the University of Sussex and it is quite nice to look reflect on what I was focusing on during the beginning of the new term.  It is nice to look back and take stock of the Advanced Practical Teaching course (with my Dogme experimental observed lesson).  It is nice to see that I had posted/achieved what I planned to focus on: posting about the IATEFL in Brighton, wrote further book reviews.  Unfortunately, it was rather ambitious to write a weekly ELT related blog post and this was not fully exploited.

February
Pronunciation & Language Learning: This is one of my favourite blog posts this year and I continue returning to it to retrieve the same lesson plan (Pronunciation Phone Numbers) for my own YL/Adult classes.  It is successful and the learners love doing this lesson again and again.  It is also useful for readers to learn more about pronunciation and get some idea about pronunciation aims from the perspective of learners as it also included a little research analysis.

Using Newspapers in Class: This was an earlier blog post in February and it was reflection on the use of newspapers in the classroom as I had a formal observation at the University of Sussex as part of one of my courses.  In this blog post there were some images of my Teaching Practice portfolio and the materials that I prepared in class.  Also included in the blog post was the PowerPoint that I prepared for the lesson and all necessary materials that were required so that other readers could do this lesson if necessary.

March
Unplugged Teaching Practice – Formal Observations: During March, I was focusing on Dogme ELT for my Teaching Practice and it was the first ever time that I attempted a Dogme-related lesson.  Furthermore, I was having it being recorded and was also observed … so the pressure was on.  In this blog post I included my formal lesson plan, a video of Scott Thornbury, a self-evaluation of the lesson as well as a poster promoting a Dogme talk by Luke Meddings.  I suppose had it not been for attempting the Dogme lesson, I would not have researched Dogme ELT for my dissertation.

April
The 2011 IATEFL Brighton Conference: Life As A Steward – Day One: Having applied to volunteer as a Steward at the 2011 IATEFL Brighton Conference, I was requested to attend a training morning at the weekend and then start stewarding for the start of the conference.  It was a wonderful chance to meet so many people that I met in the twittersphere/blogosphere.  I always remember so many boxes piling up by the entrance in preparation for the rest of the week.  Thankfully, they all had disappeared the following day.

May
Teaching Unplugged – My First Video: This was a blog post focused on my Dogme ELT Teaching Practice from March 2011, which was recorded.  Having received the entire recording of my lesson, it was really useful to watch it back and look at how the lesson developed.  Over the following two months, I edited the video to a more manageable viewing of eight minutes.  It was so nice to share this with my readers.

August
Dogme for Elementary Japanese Learners: Whilst I MA classes had finished, I had some time to write my dissertation (which was focused on Dogme ELT) as well as teach part-time.  I was provided the opportunity to teach at the University of Sussex with Japanese Learners that had visited for two weeks.  It was so nice to incorporate my research in the classroom and decided to share a case of emergent language with Japanese Elementary Learners.  I have used this example within many teacher training workshops … so it is an incredibly important blog post that I hold close to.

September
Dogme ELT – Dissertation Short Summary:  Having completed and submitted my Dogme ELT dissertation, I decided to share an abridged version for all those people that helped directly or indirectly with my research.  It provides readers the opportunity to view a short summary of the dissertation and offer ideas for their research (if they are undertaking an MA or other related course).

October
iPad Game Lesson Plan: “Jetpack Joyride”: Having read (prior to reviewing the book) “Digital Play”, I was inspired to create a lesson plan that included some form of game.  It was a challenge but I decided on an iPad game called “Jetpack Joyride” and also included a video that was available to watch on YouTube.  I used some of the images of the video on the basis of a storyboard.  I used this in class the following day and the Young Learners were really receptive and enthusiastic to use a game in class.

“Digital Play” – Book Review: The second blog post during October that I consider important is the book review of “Digital Play”.  This book I found pushing the boundaries of gaming in the language classroom and have personal experiences of this in South Korea by playing on my son’s Nintendo in Korea or visiting a Korean PC Café.  It was so nice to receive a copy of this book and write one of the first online book reviews.

December
Zeitgeist 2011: A Lesson Plan: My final blog post for this challenge has to be the Zeitgeist 2011 YouTube videos that I decided to use as a basis for a lesson plan.  It received some interest from my PLN and appeared to prompt a conversation-driven, materials-light approach to teaching.  I used this lesson with my private language learners and although they are teenagers, they were incredibly motivated and keen to share about their experiences during 2011.  It seems fitting to have this lesson included as a final of my eleven best blog posts.

Naturally, there are many blog posts that I would like to include in this list but the above the best eleven posts during 2011.  Nevertheless, I look forward to 2012 and am wondering what the next year will bring in terms of achievements but you can rest assured that I will be sharing my experiences, thoughts, lesson plans and book reviews in the future.  The biggest event in my diary for 2012 is my IATEFL Talk on Dogme ELT in the Classroom on March 23, so I look forward to seeing you all in Glasgow in a few months time.  Finally, I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year.

Dogme for Elementary Japanese Learners

Although the past few months have enveloped me in reading, research and writing for my Dogme Dissertation, I have found enough time to teach for two weeks part-time.  I have been teaching at a local university and was kindly asked to teach Japanese learners.  They arrived last week and I didn’t know what to expect.  However, since I had spent the past few months reading and writing about Dogme ELT, I really wanted to put this into practice with the class.  The first day was spent relaxing the students and providing an environment whereby we could all get to know each other.

Nevertheless, I was provided with Macmillan’s “Move” which is a wonderful coursebook with some great ideas and tries to link the CEFR with learning objectives.  However, I feel the coursebook falls short with some of the selected topics.  For example, there are hardly any topics about food, sports or education (albeit sparingly).  As I had never used this coursebook before, I thought I would give it a go.  I prepared a lot of material to be used on the SMARTBoard in my classroom with reading, images, etc but I started to think why I really had to go through the process of trying to improve a coursebook which was not really suitable for closed groups.  I must mention that I believe the coursebook is professionally written and has a lot of possibilities for classes but I noticed that for the Japanese young adults, it wasn’t that suitable.  Anyhow, I persevered through the first week with a combination of coursebook and complimentary material.

I know there was an ELT Chat about Dogme and whether this was possible with Beginners.  I hope the rest of this blog post provides an opportunity to suggest that Dogme is possible with Elementary and hopefully with Beginners if there is patience and perseverance.  The first Dogme related moment occurred during the third day when the class were describing their home-towns (a topic that was selected from the coursebook) and a Japanese student mentioned:

There is Army base in home-town but not there now.

I knew exactly what the student was trying to say and she tried her best to convey her message but she didn’t have the linguistic knowledge for accuracy.  So I stopped with the coursebook (and mostly the lesson plan) and I transcribed her utterance on to the IWB.  I tried to elicit and check if any other students were aware of the correct form with the above sentence.  There were a few students shaking their heads and a bit of silence, so I made the leap and thought that I would scaffold the language that had emerged in class.  I wrote the following statement on the board:

There used to be an Army base in my home-town.

I underlined the phrase ‘used to’ and drew a timeline to ensure that students were aware of the above statement.  Once the timeline had be drawn, I checked students’ understanding with the use of CCQs (Concept Checking Questions).  The next part of my Dogme-styled lesson was to drill students the structure and provide them with a couple of personal examples about myself: “I used to be in the RAF”, “I used to live in South Korea”.  I asked students to make a note of some personal examples and write them down.  Once these were written, I got the students to mingle and compare their sentences.  There was a lot of chatter in L1 but mostly L2 about some of the statements.  Once students settled a little bit, I decided to elicit any interesting facts that they had learnt about each other.  The whole lesson lasted about 45 minutes but it was a nice distraction for the students to learn something that had emerged from themselves at the beginning of class and was relevant.  I checked other coursebooks to establish when “used to” is normally taught and it is generally introduced for Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate learners.  I suppose emergent language and the teaching of language is not predictable.  It changes and develops from interaction among the other people in the classroom.

Finally, the first difficulty that I faced with these learners was trying to develop their conversational skills.  I have tried to work very hard to improve interaction with the use of continuation questions.  For example, a topic that the learners wanted to focus on today was related to sports.  The students were provided with an opportunity to practice speaking.  I was making a note of the emergent language that was suitable and language that needed scaffolding (I don’t want to be overly critical with the learners and demotivate them – so best to provide the best of both), writing language and phrases on the board.  I really did feel that the students made some great progress today and they felt more comfortable conversing in English with each other.  Interestingly, the second part of the lesson (which lasts for an hour and a half) focused on conversation and there was a lot of interaction between all the people in the class.  Before I knew it, the lesson was over.  I enjoyed the lesson so much that it flew by.

The whole experience of incorporating my research into the classroom has been a rewarding experience and I thank the learners in the class for being so flexible and open to the personal approaches and techniques that I decided to incorporate during lessons.  A final note to add, my dissertation will be submitted in the coming weeks.  I will be sharing some of the procedures and materials that were used during the research in due course.

Teaching Unplugged: My First Video

A few months ago, I was lucky to get my first attempt at teaching a Dogme ELT lesson recorded.  I received a copy of the recording from the language department at the University of Sussex.  With this video, I copied to my PC, edited some of the clips and then made it more suitable for YouTube.  A copy of the video is available to watch below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bN75uheAVl0]

A copy of my original lesson plan and reflection is available to read on my blog.  This will hopefully provide further information about the lesson that I prepared for the formal observation.  Some of the language that was encountered during the lesson included:

  • Did/Do you know about …?
  • I don’t … much but … (I don’t exercise much but I watch TV)
  • I just heard that …
  • I’m aware that …
  • First Lady
  • International Women’s Day
  • Mother’s Day
  • The Iron Lady

This is a brief summary of the language that emerged during class and hope it’s a good illustration how useful an unplugged lesson can be.  Finally, I have been wondering whether Dogme ELT could be a useful topic to research for my MA Dissertation and will be posting more information regarding this in due course.  I will be seeking teachers and institutions to answer some questions so please feel free to contact me if you wish to be included in my study.  You never know, I might be presenting my findings in next year’s IATEFL Conference.

Unplugged Teaching Practice: Formal Observations

Earlier this month, I was getting towards the end of my Teaching Practice (as part of my MA in ELT at the University of Sussex) and decided to experiment as part of my final lesson.  I decided very early on during my Advanced Practical Teaching course to attempt an unplugged lesson.  The Advanced Practical Teaching is regarded as a DELTA equivalent qualification and is recognised by the British Council.  I have to create a portfolio for my course and reflect back on teaching.  Nevertheless, I have never attempted a ‘Dogme’ style lesson per se and I thought it would be a good chance to get some feedback on an unplugged approach from my tutor.  Obviously, I consulted more on “Teaching Unplugged” by Meddings & Thornbury (2009) and read verious articles and blog posts on the Teaching English website.

Prior to the lesson plan, I sat down and watched Thornbury explain the pros and cons of an unplugged approach for formal observations or as part of in-house training.  This was invaluable prior to writing and assisted with concentrating more on the rationale when writing a formal lesson plan.  The video that I watched is illustrated below:

Should I do a “dogme” lesson as part of my DELTA course experimental practice?

I decided to attempt the “Space Travellers” lesson recipe which is suggested within the “Teaching Unplugged” textbook.  As I had used technology quite effectively in previous lessons, I decided to turn the projector and PC off and have a ‘materials light’ lesson.  My lesson plan is shared below (for those that are interested) and I would be keen to hear from other ELT professionals that have attempted a Dogme lesson.

Dogme Lesson Plan
Dogme Lesson – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

I found the experience of a formal observation with my Dogme lesson challenging but incredibly rewarding.  The feedback that I received from my tutor as well as the support from my colleague was satisfying and I was pleased that it was positively received by the students.  The students were a strong group of Upper Intermediate level, a range of nationalities and of all ages.  Within the lesson plan, I attempted to lay the foundation for the lesson and worked out (as best as possible) all potential scenarios.  As the lesson focused primarily for students suggesting and communicating their opinion, I tried to look at possible language for providing an opinion, disagreeing, etc.  I had to consult with other material and provided the possible target language.  Once I completed the teaching practice, I had to write a self-evaluation and reflect on the Dogme lesson.  Again, this was a great chance to reflect on what went well and what could be improved in the future.  My self-evaluation is available to view below.

Dogme Self-Evaluation & Reflection
Dogme Lesson Reflection – Sussex University(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

As with a Dogme related lesson, there are a number of possible scenarios that could form during the teaching practice but there was one ‘critical incident’ that I was not expecting.  A lower level student walked into class a little late and I found out early on that she was not in the correct class.  She attempted the lesson but she was incredibly shy and my colleague directed her to the correct classroom.

Nonetheless, would I recommend other trainee teachers, or those completing the DELTA or equivalent course, to attempt a Dogme lesson?  Naturally, I would say yes but I would warn that an unplugged lesson can either work incredibly well or it could fall apart but for those that are experienced, or have prepared well in advance, this would present itself as a positive challenge.  This type of lesson combined with a formal observation (as well as being filmed – which I was in this case) is incredibly nerve-wrecking but highly rewarding.  I do believe that Teacher Trainers regard and reward teachers that wish to experiment as part of CPD with a DELTA or a related course.  Have you done a Dogme lesson as part of your training?  What was your experience?  Would you recommend others to attempt an unplugged approach to teaching during a teaching practice course?

I have decided to focus on an unplugged approach to my classes with my local language school in Eastbourne.  Today, I worked on the similar lesson as part of my teaching practice with my teenagers and my Upper Intermediate students were incredibly receptive.  The language that emerged during the lesson was incredibly (‘lactose intolerant’, ‘GM crops’, etc).  I hope with future practice and development that I am able to incorporate and include more of a Dogme approach to my lessons.  As Meddings & Thornbury (2009) suggest, it is best to include a little of Dogme often until students become more receptive to this approach.

Finally, there is an organised TeachingEnglish Seminar for 5 April 2011 (that I hope to attend) which features Luke Meddings that is arranged in London soon.  More information is detailed below:

Luke Meddings – 5 April Seminar – Spring Gardens(function() { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “http://www.scribd.com/javascripts/embed_code/inject.js”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

Pronunciation and Language Learning

Pronunciation

Used by ELTChat (2011)

The most recent ELTChat was related to pronunciation: “How and when do you teach pronunciation?”. Also my most recent seminar and lecture at university was coincidentally about phonology and pronunciation.  The ELTChat was quite interesting and there were many great suggestions by other fellow educators that contributed during the live chat with twitter.  I thought I would share some ideas and focus on some other areas that teachers mentioned in the most recent ELTChat discussion in this blog post.

Why should teachers focus on teaching pronunciation or including pronunciation work within the ELT classroom?  Many teachers seem to, as illustrated by the ELTChat, is often overlooked by teachers and coursebooks, teachers are quite passive and believe that pronunciation, stress, intonation as well as connected speech will be acquired by learners as if by osmosis (this point is also demonstrated by my own personal research with a local school), and the rules of phonology is hard to ‘pin-down’.  It has been recognised by Seidlhofer (2001; pp. 56-64), that pronunciation is the ‘Cinderella’ of language teaching.  However, some teachers just lack the confidence to formally include pronunciation in their lessons due to the fact that teachers “often aren’t trained to teach pronunciation” (ELTChat, 2011).  Nevertheless, what areas of phonology should we focus on in classes and when is the best time to include pronunciation work?

TeachingEnglish | British Council | BBC (2011)

When looking at the phonemic chart above, which is available to download for the iPad or on the internet (http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/try/activities/phonemic-chart), teachers are able to focus on pronunciation at the letter level with individual sounds but is this useful?  As with any teaching, the emphasis should be on meaningful and useful language yet with the phonemic chart, students are focused upon ‘letter level’ pronunciation.  This is neither useful nor meaningful if teachers are introducing new vocabulary.  It is only useful when focusing on particular sounds but I believe that this approach is limited as teachers are ‘unable to see the words from the trees‘.  Obviously, I do believe that phonemic chart does have its uses; for example if teaching monolingual classes, teachers could focus on target sounds that learners find difficulty creating (with Korean learners they have difficulty creating some vowel and consonant sounds).  Nevertheless, if teachers are analysing new vocabulary and looking at pronunciation at a ‘word level’, areas that may be focused upon could include; stress and unstress.  Scrivener (2005) introduces the analysing of word stress and unstress by various activities which include marking stress, finding stressed syllables, and sorting stress patterns (with the columns).  A good awareness raising activity (which was introduced at my University lecture/seminar) was to use similar sounding words which contain various vowel sounds and trying to get students to transcribe a partner’s telephone number by using words which have a corresponding number.  It is best illustrated by the example below:

Pronunciation Phone Numbers
Pronunciation Phone Numbers – Ten Vowel Sounds

Phonetics Focus – A Sound Choice (2011)

There are some great resources available on the internet which can assist in incorporating phonetics in the classroom, particularly with younger learners.  However, I have used Phonetics Focus with adult learners as it is visual and the visual cues can assist adult learners just as much as younger learners.  Furthermore, there are so many activities included and the fact that flashcards can be printed for classroom use is great.  I remember when I first came across this website almost three years ago and I used the flashcards to help create a pelmanism game.  For those unaware of the term ‘pelmanism’, it is referred to by Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2011) as “a game in which players must remember cards or other objects that they have seen”.  It is more common for learners to try to match a picture on one card with the corresponding word.  For further information about pelmanism, please look at the Teaching English | British Council | BBC website (2011).


When I visited my school (LTC Eastbourne) during the week, I asked some teachers and learners to fill out a questionnaire about pronunciation.  The questionnaire is available to view below:
Pronunciation Questionnaires
Pronunciation Questionnaires – Combined 2011
Teachers’ Answers
1. “Second language pronunciation cannot be taught in the classroom, only learnt outside it” – How much do you agree with this statement, and why?
All teachers interviewed disagreed with this statement.  One teacher suggested that a combination of both classroom and individual learning is required, another teacher suggesting that teachers could concentrate on individual sounds “specific to particular nationalities” and the other teacher suggesting that students need to be aware of pronunciation to “effectively listen” to differences.

2. How important is it for second language pronunciation to sound natural?  Why?
With regards to teachers, it was interesting to note that some teachers referred to pronunciation as important but in context.  For example, it “depends on the situation” with another teacher questioning what natural is.  However, it was generally acknowledged that students, if applicable, should be “understood outside the classroom”.

3. Do you believe it is possible to achieve pronunciation similar to a native speaker?  Why/why not?
Again, all teachers agreed that students should be able to achieve pronunciation native speaker ability.  However, the statement above does not take into account English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) or World Englishes.  One teacher suggested that intelligebility is more important than native-like pronunciation.  Obviously one area that is not mentioned by teachers is that perhaps individual student ability is not taken into account and perhaps some students are able to have a natural ability to acquire a recognised native-like pronunciation.

4. What can learners do to try to improve their pronunciation?
Some suggestions by teachers were to practice particular sounds, listen and imitate sounds, watch and listen to TV or radio as well as attend classes.

5. What can teachers do to improve their students’ pronunciation?
During the ELTChat discussion, some activities that learners could use could include recording “your students and use it to focus on pronunciation issues”, modelling “the shape of the mouth, and ask [students] to think about their tongues and lips” as well as taking “chunks of text and look at the connected speech”.  There are some great ideas suggested during the discussion.  The teachers that were interviewed suggested using drills, repetition to incorporate habits (Information Processing Theory), etc.

6. What factors influence pronunciation most?
All teachers interviewed considered L1 Interference as the most important factor that influences L2 pronunciation.  However, one teacher considered word stress, tone, intonation and pitch just as important.  Additionally, as referred to by one teacher, if a student is influenced by a particular culture perhaps the student decides to emulate that particular accent (such as British English or American English).

7. How do you feel when you meet someone who speaks another language well, with a good accent?
All teachers mentioned that they would be impressed if they meet someone if they are able to speak another language well with a good accent.  It is perhaps this perception of language ability connected with pronunciation which fails to recognise other foreign accents that may interfere with pronunciation but has no impact on intelligibility.  However, as with any language, intelligibility is more important than accent or pronunciation.

Students’ Answers
1. At what age did you start to learn English?
One student started learning English as early as 4 years of age whilst other learners started from either 9 years of age or 14 years of age.  The students that were interviewed were all from South East Asia.

2. How long have you been here in the UK?
All students have been in the UK for less than a year.

3. Have you ever lived in an English-speaking country before this course?
Most students had not lived in an English speaking country prior to commencing their course in the UK.  However, one Korean student had lived in India for 2 months.

4. What is your main reason for learning English?
Three of the six students interviewed decided to study English to get a good job in their home country.  Other students suggested that they wanted to speak English to a good ability.

5. In the future, who do you think you will speak English with?
Most students suggested that they would communicate with colleagues or foreigners in English.  It was all related to their future employment with some students relating their reason to whom they would communicate with in the future.

6. How important is it for your English pronunciation to sound natural?  Why?
All learners suggested that English pronunciation is very important to sound natural.  One learner mentioned that “good pronunciation” will assist the listener with what you say (Thai interviewee).  Furthermore, “clear pronunciation … [will help] understand the sentence that we speak” (Korean interviewee).

7. On a scale of 1-10 how would you rate your pronunciation?
It is interesting to note that Thai learners rated their pronunciation in the middle and scored it 5 whilst Korean learners were more confident and rated their pronunciation as 8 or 9.  Both sets of learners are Upper Intermediate students but this difference in perception could allow learners to judge their pronunciation accurately.

8. Do you believe it is possible to achieve pronunciation similar to a native speaker?  Why/why not?
Again the answers from the questionnaire is quite interesting.  One Korean learner suggested that pronunciation is quite easy to acquire as they had studied English since they were children.  Two Korean students made some suggestion to L1 interference with English pronunciation (“that’s not my mother tongue”).  The Thai leaners were more confident suggesting that “practice makes perfect” and pronunciation will improve over time.

9. What do you do to try to improve your pronunciation?
All students interviewed mentioned that they watch TV or listen to the radio.  One learner mentioned that they speak with L1 speakers and another learner suggested that they mimic native speaker pronunciation.  They were all quite active to improve their pronunciation and aware of the differences between their pronunciation and a native speaker.

10. What factors influence your English pronunciation most?
Half of the students interviewed suggested that the most important factor for their pronunciation was with their teacher; “When I heard good pronunciation I practised”.  The other learners suggested that it was with the other learners and that listening was just as important.

11. How do you feel when you meet someone from another country who speaks your language well, with a good accent?
All students mentioned that they were impressed if they heard a foreigner speaking their native language with a good accent.  One student said they would be very strange but proud of their own language.

12. “Foreign language pronunciation cannot be taught in a classroom, only learnt outside it” – How much do you agree with this statement, and why?
All students apart from one agreed with the statement and regarded the teacher being able to teach pronunciation formally in class; “natural pronunciation can be taught in the real situation”.  However, one Thai student disagreed with the statement saying that they would be able to learn outside the classroom perhaps by recording the inside or outside the classroom and referring to this back home to focus on pronunciation.

All in all there are some really interesting points suggested by teachers and learners.  Most students expect the teacher to formally introduce correct pronunciation but with most teachers suggesting that improved pronunciation is only achievable outside the classroom.  Additionally, there appears a difference in expectation between learners and teachers.  Perhaps with this knowledge, teachers could incorporate more pronunciation in class and provide learners the opportunity to focus on pronunciation in class.  As educators, we are able to record lessons (if all learners provide consent) and upload this for a podcast for learners to study in due course.  Additional resources could be introduced by teachers so that learners could study in their own time (http://www.englishcentral.com/speak).

Other resources suggested by the ELTChat discussion offered teachers and learners include the following:

Personally, I would encourage teachers to read more about pronunciation skills for the classroom (there are some great articles on Onestopenglish.com), share ideas with other teachers, read some books on phonology and phonetics as well as write their own blog post about their experiences of pronunciation.  Try to use the questionnaires share above and try to incorporate in a lesson.  Your learners may provide completely different opinions compared to my learners.  It would be interesting to find out what European language learners consider important with pronunciation.  I only questioned six South East Asian students in my local school so the limitation of this is that they are all of a similar ability and in the same class.

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