Welcome to the IA902 Blog

This is a blog for thoughts, discussions, and links to supplement the IA902 Practical Description of English module, Autumn 2013. Please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and indeed write your own posts. We only have 10 2-hour classroom sessions together, so it is hoped that this blog will give us the chance to explore a wider range of issues than we might otherwise have time for.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

What is a word?

Anyone tackling question 2 for their assignment will recognise some text on page 4!

Monday, 28 October 2013

Session Four: Links for the Lab

It will be a good idea to keep this web page open and visible throughout this week's lab session.  The powerpoint presentation is full of screen caps from websites, some of which you will be encouraged to explore.  A list of links in the order in which they *should* appear is below:

1. Oxford Dictionaries Online
2. Google Fight
3. Leeds University Collection of Searchable Corpora
4. Wordsmith Tools and Antconc
5. Wordle
6. Dr Johnson's Dictionary
7. AWL Highlighter
8. The Sketch Engine
9. Oxford Collocations Dictionary (google it!)
10. Compleat Lexical Tutor
11. Collocate Cloud
12. Touchstone : from Corpus to Coursebook
13. Cobb, T. 1997 "Is there any measurable learning from hands-on concordancing?" System 25 / 3

You might also like to explore:

1. An extensive blog post by Alannah Fitzgerald
2. Google books n-gram viewer (explained in this lovely presentation on TED)
3. A Handbook of Spoken Grammar
4. Spindle - turns audio into text AND analyses it!
5. Flax
6. Mark Davies' website - enables you to work with 7 different online corpora
7. VOICE - Vienna-Oxford International Corpus of English

If I've missed anything, let me know and I will add extra links later.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Neologisms, Dictionaries, and Etymology

If you'd like to explore any of the neologisms we discussed at the beginning of session three, this article on the Oxford Dictionaries Online blog provides a brief overview and some handy links to online dictionary definitions.  Elsewhere on the web, the term celanthropy is discussed on the Economist website, and the Washington Post encourages its readers to coin creatively in its annual neologism competition.

If "a game of cat and mouse" sparked an interest in everything cat-related, the ODO entry for cat is worth looking at. Interestingly enough (or not, perhaps) etymological details are provided below definitions and related phrases. Do you think this kind of information is useful for students?  The archives of the ELT Journal contain two articles from the 1980s on the value of etymology to the language learner - click here for "Etymological information : can it help our students?" and here for "Using Etymology in the Classroom". For an online dictionary of etymology, click here.

Do you think that etymological information is useful for language learners?  Please don't be shy: post your thoughts as a comment below (underneath the ones written by 2011's MA TESOL students).

Monday, 21 October 2013

Diphthongs : "The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain" from My Fair Lady

Find more details of the film from imdb.com, or explore the George Bernard Shaw play on which it was based (Pygmalion) via Bartleby.

Teaching pronunciation

We discussed several resource books for teaching pronunciation in last week's session, particularly Mark Hancock's Pronunciation Games and Ann Baker's Ship or Sheep.  There's also an apparently unrelated website named Ship or Sheep (not sure if it was possible for Ann Baker to copyright the expression "ship or sheep"), and I referred to some clunky but potentially interesting exercises on the Centre for Independent Language Learning website.  Further suggestions will come in future sessions, but I am also very keen to read about your experiences of teaching (or being taught) English pronunciation.  Do you have any tasks or exercises that have worked particularly well for you?  Has reading and discussing the topic sparked off any ideas that you'd like to share?  I'd be very happy to read your thoughts either as comments on this post, or as individual blog posts of your own.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Does Steve McClaren know about voice-setting phonology?

These three videos may help provide a way into Scott Thornbury's article "Having a good jaw: voice-setting phonology".  The first features an American man making up streams of language which he thinks sound like Chinese, French, Italian, and so on.  Note that he doesn't speak any of the languages he imitates, so what he produces are simply what he believes are the SOUNDS of each language:

Would you be able to guess which languages he is impersonating without the subtitles?  Does his brand of Fake Chinese sound in any way like real Chinese, for example? At the beginning of the clip he invites people from around the world to submit clips of themselves speaking "Fake English", and if you search for this term on Youtube you'll find lots of clips of people trying to do exactly that.  One variation on the theme is this clip of a couple speaking Fake American English.  The idea here is to show English-speakers what some dialogue in American movies can sound like to people who don't understand English:

If we wrote a script for this dialogue, it wouldn't make almost no sense, but to my simple British ear, they sound like an American couple.  So how does this relate to Scott Thornbury's article?

Thornbury's starting point is the observation that although a "top-down" approach has been adopted in many areas of English language teaching, the attention given to pronunciation remains (or remained, since he wrote the article way back in 1993) very much "bottom-up", with attention to the sound and production of individual phonemes and lots of activities featuring minimal pairs.  His argument, then, is that a more top-down approach to pronunciation is needed, and that this can be achieved through attention to a wider view that takes in all elements of speech production at the same time.  Within this view, the position of a speaker's jaw, and associated facial expressions come into play.  Go back to the first clip above and notice how the man's face changes as he switches between languages.  Does this have an effect on the sounds he produces? Think about someone you know who speaks a second language very well.  Do they look in any way different when they're speaking that language compared to when they speak their first language?  What do you think?

I promised three video clips, and I can't resist including this last one.  This is an interview from Dutch TV in which the new manager of FC Twente discusses his team's forthcoming Champions League Matches. Do you notice anything strange about the way he speaks?

The man speaking is Steve McClaren, once labelled "the wally with the brolly" after the end of a short and humiliating  career as England manager.  At the time of the interview, he had just moved to Holland to manage a Dutch team, and had just started learning Dutch.  It was his first job after his failure with the English national team and he was still a figure of fun for the British media, so when people saw this video they found it hilarious. For some reason, he is trying to speak English with a Dutch accent.  At times he reverts back to his "normal" way of speaking, but the Dutch accent keeps coming back in.  He even says "what you call underdogs" to the interviewer as if SHE is the English-speaker and he is speaking Dutch.

This clip is quite famous among football fans, and I personally find it very amusing.  I laugh every time I see it.  But perhaps Steve McClaren knows about voice-setting phonology and this was simply his strategy as a language learner.  Perhaps by imitating the Dutch accent when he spoke English, he was simply employing good language learning techniques.  What do you think?

Wednesday, 9 October 2013