Category Archives: Pronunciation

Lost in Translation

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Have you ever seen the movie Lost in Translation?  The main character, played by Bill Murray, has some strange experiences while working in Japan.  The situation seems almost surreal to someone who has not experienced Japan.  However, if you’ve ever lived there, what happens to him is not all that extraordinary.  After having been exposed to a bit of Japanese culture, what happens to him seems closer to everyday life.  Culture has a big impact on our activities and our perceptions of what is happening.  How much impact, then, does culture have on something as integral as communication?

It is very difficult to teach Canadian communication norms.  Most people who have been raised in Canada aren’t even aware that the language structures they use may carry a different meaning when literally translated, simply because the meaning of the expression has been internalized.  Often we think our expressions are logical.  Continue reading

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She Went Out With Newman? How Seinfeld Helps Teach Pronunciation!

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Like many of you, I have taught pronunciation from some books. You know, the ones that have the schematic diagrams of where the tongue is supposed to go. I’ve even seen some teachers have mirrors in their classroom so the students can see the acrobatics going on in their mouth. Does this method work? I suppose so, but I find it really boring. I know it isn’t fun for the students because it certainly isn’t fun to teach. One day, I decided to try something different. I don’t think this would work for lower level students, although I would like to try.

I really am a fan of Seinfeld. What I like about the characters is that they are over the top when they deliver their lines, even more than most comedies. I thought I would experiment with a scene from this TV show to see how it would work with my students. Continue reading

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Get-to-Know Activities in the Language Classroom

flickr_imageOctober is here and most of us teachers have completed our get-to-know activities. However, if our classes happen to be a continuous intake LINC or ESL setting, it may mean having to repeat these activities more than once. In addition, in some classrooms, we might even have students who have remained with us. In other classroom settings, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) – for example – students might be advancing seven weeks at a time. However, no matter what classroom setting we are in, it is important that everyone feels comfortable and welcome. One way to do this is by spending time with get-to-know activities. These activities do not need to be the same every time. We might not necessarily want to plan for the usual “Hi, my name is ____________,and I am from _____________, and my first language is ___________________,” drill, drill, drill, and stop there. For example, the well-known table name cards activity could be modified according to students’ language level: Continue reading

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About Misplacing Stress

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The topic of syllable stress in English is a difficult concept to teach, learn, or understand.  Often it is an error that is not addressed at all.  Why do teachers minimize it and learners avoid it?  Why are researchers baffled by it?  The rules to English syllable stress are unfathomable.  Oh, there are rules, but when these rules are put together, there would be enough to write a one-thousand page book in very small font.  Obviously a matter this complex is very difficult for everybody to comprehend and creates quite a cognitive load when we try to process stress rules that have been learned explicitly.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have discovered that stress usually only affects the comprehension of a word if the quality of the vowel is also affected.  What does this mean? I for one have witnessed numerous times in English and French classes how misplaced stress causes a second-language speaker to be misunderstood. Continue reading

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