IATEFL Day 1: Trojan Horses and Mouth Gymnastics

Donald Freeman opened the conference with a thought provoking talk re-examining what he referred to as ‘myths’.

Myth 1:  Teaching directly causes learning.

Donald:  Teaching influences and provides opportunity for learning.

Myth 2:  The teacher is solely responsible for what happens in the classroom.

Donald:  When you teach you have to manage what you can’t control.

Myth 3:   Proficiency as a goal.

Donald:  Proficiency brings with it the Trojan horse of nativeness.

If you’d like to read an uncondensed version of his talk Lizzie Pinard has done a great job here or you can watch it here.

Roslyn Young’s workshop on using the silent way with advanced learners came with the promise of a practical class demonstration but unfortunately there wasn’t time in such a short session.  There is, we were promised, a video clip of her working with a class on the pronsci website.

While it’s unlikely that I’ll ever have the chance to use the silent way in its full form, charts and all, Roslyn’s methods for improving students’ pronunciation are definitely worth exploring. (Plenty of teaching aids and lessons are available on the pronsci downloads page.)

After teaching the room a few vowel sounds using the charts, she soon moved onto debunking the myth that blowing on paper helps students understand how the plosive /p/ is aspirated.  I have to admit that I’ve never had great success with that one.  Making the whole room stand up, she got us to feel where the air comes from when saying /p/.  The answer: somewhere around the pelvic area.

Next she compared learning a new language to learning a new sport.  Different languages have different articulatory settings and so students need to ‘feel’ their mouths, she says. By using what she calls ‘mouth gymnastics’ she trains students to use their muscles differently.

Roslyn argued that the listen and repeat model of drilling is flawed because by asking students to imitate they are using their ears and not their mouths. ‘They have to feel it.’  This does make sense.  I remember never being able to say the French /r/ sound until one day finding an explanation of what I had to do with my mouth to make the sound.  Further proof of this came in Luke Medding’s session when he was showing us how to imitate the Queen, which he did by showing us what to do with our mouths.

An added bonus was watching how deftly Roslyn used her fingers to aid pronunciation (ask me about the word ‘variety’).

I have to admit, teaching pronunciation has never been a strong point of mine to the point that I was once asked by an observer ‘Do you do pron?’  I put it down to lack of confidence in my own skill and knowledge and maybe because I’m also stress deaf. However, when presented with a pronunciation page on my return to work I have to say that compared to previous pron sessions, it rocked!  And the students loved my queen imitation. Thank you Roslyn and Luke.

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