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Learner Views Of Using Authentic Audio To Aid Pronunciation You Can Just Grab Some Feelings


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  • 1. BRIEF REPORTS AND SUMMARIES TESOL Quarterly invites readers to submit short reports and updates on their work. These summaries may address any areas of interest to Quarterly readers. Edited by CATHIE ELDER University of Auckland PAULA GOLOMBEK Pennsylvania State University Learner Views of Using Authentic Audio to Aid Pronunciation: “You Can Just Grab Some Feelings” CAROLYN AUFDERHAAR University of Cincinnati Cincinnati, Ohio, United States I Although many TESOL professionals advocate using authentic lan- guage in teaching materials, little research has investigated using authen- tic aural text to contextualize teaching pronunciation. Based on research and the instructor’s observation of how authentic text enables learners to internalize speech and articulation rules, this study investigated how learners perceived audio literature, including poetry, radio theater, and short stories, used to supplement a pronunciation course curriculum. The interview data in this descriptive study serve as a foundation for a study in progress investigating how students’ analysis of filtered and intact aural text influences pronunciation. METRICAL TEMPLATE THEORY Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwin (1996) emphasize that second language learners need to internalize suprasegmental features, a process that, according to Crow (1977), occurs when learners can produce acceptable structures without consciously thinking about them. As part of this process, second language listeners construct and internalize a metrical template (a pattern of strongly and weakly stressed syllables) and seek meaningful phrases compatible with it (Rost, 1990). McGregor and Johnson (1997) describe the metrical template as a well-practiced TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 38, No. 4, Winter 2004 735
  • 2. constraint on verbal output used during utterance planning, and Gerken (1991, 1994, 1995) argues that it accounts for native-English-speaking children’s tendency to delete unstressed syllables that fall outside their developing template for producing a strong syllable followed by an optional weak syllable. In line with Gerken’s theory, Rost contends that the adult language learner’s poor command of suprasegmentals indi- cates that they have internalized an inaccurate schema (an inappropriate metrical template) for the prosody of the target language. Thus, they continue to filer incoming speech through the abstract prosodic catego- ries of their native language. Internalizing suprasegmentals enables infants to acquire phrase brack- eting, grammatical categorization, and syllable segmentation within the context of prosody (Morgan, 1996; Peters, 1983). Adults, however, unlike children, process pitch differently in linguistic and nonlinguistic con- texts (Ioup & Tansomboon, 1987). Ioup and Tansomboon found that adults had more difficulty acquiring the Thai tonal system than did children, but both groups could replicate a tune with perfect accuracy, suggesting that both groups develop prosody by processing nonphonemic pitch in the right side of the brain. These findings suggest that adults might develop holistic speech processing strategies by focusing on speech’s suprasegmental aspects. The adult learner’s need to recognize the target language’s supra- segmental patterns means that intonation must be taught at the dis- course level using authentic speech samples, such as conversations, story narrations, and news reports (Chun, 2002). Analyzing different types of speaker roles and relationships in various genres can help learners understand how stress conveys the discourse functions of information focus, contrast, emphasis, or contradiction. Chun suggests that learners first listen holistically for overall shape and character, then identify thought groups and prominent or reduced syllables. How do students perceive the value of listening to authentic audio text, as Chun advocates, for understanding pronunciation, particularly suprasegmentals? Do authentic poetry, radio theater, and short stories enable students to understand and develop an interest in course content? Is one type of authentic audio literature better than another for this purpose? PRELIMINARY STUDY Twenty-four graduate students from Asia and Latin America enrolled in a course on improving pronunciation participated in this study. All participants had failed a state-mandated oral English proficiency test. To help them develop the intelligibility necessary to serve as international teaching assistants, individual academic departments had recommended 736 TESOL QUARTERLY
  • 3. that they take the pronunciation course, which focuses on using English intonation and word stress patterns to enhance presentation skills and overall communication. Authentic audio text in this study refers to audio text created for native English speakers. The participants received the following literature on audiotape: (a) poems by Silverstein, selected for their predictable rhythm and rhyme; (b) CBS Radio Mystery Theatre productions (Battista, 1978, December 22), selected for the slightly exaggerated prosodic features inherent in the various characters’ voicing by several different actors and the corresponding variety of intonational cues; and (c) selected stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul (Canfield & Hansen, 1994), which was chosen out of interest in how extended narrative influences learner perception of suprasegmentals (Rubin, 1994). Although a large body of literature supports the role of kinesic and visual input in language learning (Allen, 1999; Hurley, 1992; Kellerman, 1992), audio- only material was chosen to ensure the participants continuous accessi- bility to the materials. They could use a boombox or a portable cassette player with headphones to listen to the material at any time (e.g., in the car, while walking somewhere, sitting in the lab, doing housework, etc.). More important, perhaps an absence of visual information motivates learners to attend more closely to phonological aspects of prosody, thus avoiding the potential problem of competing aural and visual channels in which the aural mode may be sacrificed to make sense of the visual (Anderson & Lynch, 1991; MacWilliam, 1986; Tuffs & Tudor, 1990). METHOD Participants were introduced to the material through three weekly 20 minute in-class sessions on suprasegmentals. With instructor guidance, the participants identified suprasegmental features of a poem or portion of a monologue or dialog by underlining the stressed syllables, circling the focus words, and drawing intonation contours. Following this analy- sis, participants listened again to the given selection, and, with instructor feedback, practiced performing it. Following these introductory sessions, the participants prepared three audio journals during the quarter (see Appendix A). After listening to the tapes, they transcribed and analyzed portions of the recordings for suprasegmental features in their journals. Participants were then asked to imitate the recorded phrases and compare their own speech with the recorded material to identify possible areas of improvement. Participants were also asked to reflect on the activity by identifying new words, phrases, expressions, or usage they had learned (see Appendix B). Participants then performed the analyzed portions in class, thus engaging their increased awareness of the suprasegmental features BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 737
  • 4. targeted in the audio journal. After audiotaping each participant’s performance, the instructor provided feedback regarding his or her pronunciation. At the end of the 10-week quarter, participants answered open-ended interview questions about using the audiotapes, any per- ceived improvement in pronunciation and fluency, and which genres they found to be most and least helpful or enjoyable (see Appendix C). Interview data were transcribed by the author, analyzed using descrip- tive statistics, and coded based on patterns and trends. The author used the coding procedure suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), which provides a meaningful analysis by assigning meaning to chunks of data: words, phrases, sentences, or whole paragraphs. RESULTS Perceived Benefit of Audio Literature Although all students reported that the audio literature was helpful, they differed widely regarding the particular ways they perceived it as beneficial (see Table 1). Fourteen students cited as helpful the opportu- nity to repeat the literature on tape and to self-correct, and 11 reported that audio literature had increased their awareness of suprasegmental features such as stress, intonation, and thought groups: I think word stress is very important. And thought groups. Previously, I never pay attention to these concepts. I speak English using the same velocity, and no word stress. So it’s really hard to understand me for other person. But now . . . I can understand, oh, when I’m speaking I must pay attention to what I speak . . . In my study, I can talk with other persons slowly, and stress the words, so they can understand me. And that’s OK, I think. (Chinese Male 2; italics added) In addition to a newfound appreciation of pronunciation features, five students reported that the audio literature helped them discover new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms and cited as important the material’s authenticity, the fact that it had been created for native speakers of English rather than for strictly pedagogical use. Fourteen students found that the audio literature improved their fluency, includ- ing their ability to link words and syllables effectively. Preference for Specific Genres Descriptive statistics regarding which genres were reported as most and least helpful to pronunciation and fluency reveal a wide range of preferences and opinions (see Table 2). Radio theater received the highest number of “most helpful” and 738 TESOL QUARTERLY
  • 5. TABLE 1 Participant Comments on Audio Literature Number of Number of Helpful to pronunciation students Helpful to fluency students Repetition / self-correct 14 Improved linking (important Listen / hear in new ways: stress, to fluency) 2 intonation, thought groups 11 Increased sentence / utterance New vocabulary / expressions / idioms 5 length 1 Authentic spoken English 5 Idioms and grammar help improve fluency 1 Benefits of memorization 3 Linking 3 Improved listening comprehension Vowels 2 (important to fluency) 1 Improved listening comprehension General 2 (important to pronunciation) 3 Greater access to repeatability over other modes 2 Helped participant to Not helpful to fluency feel the language Need more time to improve 4 Reciting important to feeling 5 Need more practice to improve 2 Feel stress, intonation, Want to speak more, not just listen 1 thought groups 4 Can feel the language (not specified how) 5 Feel variations from different people / situations 2 Can feel the beauty of English 1 Feeling emotional content / effect helps understanding 1 Note. The study had 24 participants. “most enjoyable” ratings, but just over half of the students indicated that either poetry or short stories was, and seven students selected more than one genre. Students found genres that had interesting content or prominent suprasegmental features to be the most helpful or enjoyable. A majority of the students who found the radio theater or short stories to be the most helpful and most enjoyable reported that an interesting plot or message was the reason: I think radio theater is most helpful, because story’s very interesting . . . the background of the tape is very good. It makes as if I’m in the story . . . the narrator . . . the roles in the theater, the characters. (Chinese Female 8) BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 739
  • 6. TABLE 2 Genres Reported as Most and Least Helpful Description Poetry Radio theater Short stories Most helpful 11 15 5 Least helpful 5 2 4 Most enjoyable 7 14 8 Least enjoyable 6 3 4 Note. Several of the 24 students stated two or three genres as most helpful or enjoyable; several did not cite any of the genres as least helpful or enjoyable. Most of the students who cited poetry, rather than radio theater or short stories, as the most helpful or enjoyable reported that the saliency of stress, intonation, and thought groups was the reason: When people read poetry . . . you can feel better about their intonation, emphasis . . . thought groups. . . . These things are very important for our pronunciation, and all of these things can show it completely in the poetry. (Chinese Female 2) It is interesting that four of the students who found poetry to be the most enjoyable cited “play with words” as the reason. For two students, however, any poetic license was clearly a liability: In case of poetry, I couldn’t understand very well, because there is many, uh, substraction, between word, because I think it’s some kind of rhythmical writing. (Korean Female 1) I think poetry, it’s difficult to understand, because it’s some scrap of a sentence. (Chinese Male 5) An overall consistency emerged regarding the reasons some students preferred particular genres and considered them helpful: Participants who reported the radio theater and short stories as most helpful cited content as the most important reason; those who preferred poetry cited the perceptual saliency of the suprasegmental features as the reason. The Audio Journal’s Role in Increasing Motivation and Understanding of Intonation The audio journal appears to have enabled students to examine intonation by both encouraging them to do the task and providing a tool with which to accomplish the task. Twelve students stated that the assigned audio journal motivated them to focus, and nine students specifically indicated that marking the intonation was helpful: 740 TESOL QUARTERLY
  • 7. I don’t find any others way to mark the intonation. And I think this way is easy way, maybe is a convenient way for us to have knowledge about the music. I think maybe it’s enjoyable and interesting. At least I know this way to do. (Chinese Male 9) Challenges of Using Audio Text and Audio Journals Although students perceived using the audio journal as valuable, using audio text and audio journals highlights the difficulty of ensuring that students understand the text and the task. Four students reported the short stories as least helpful and five as least enjoyable because they had difficulty understanding them, despite being supplied with lists of key words and phrases prior to listening. One student reported that this struggle to understand impeded one of the assigned goals—his percep- tion of word stress: Short story. I think, it’s difficult to me. It takes me the most time to understand, not pay attention to the pronunciation, the word stress. I can’t understand the story, so, it’s beyond my ability. (Chinese Male 1) He considered the radio theater more enjoyable than the short stories because its intonation was highly salient: Short stories. Difficult. Tedious. It almost has the same sound. Not like the radio theater. High, low. (Chinese Male 1) Two students reported that identifying stress, focus, and intonation in the audio journal assignment was confusing or not helpful: I think the way for everybody to speak is different. So I don’t know if it’s helpful. (Chinese Female 9) The teacher also faced a challenge beyond her control. Six of the students stated that they had little or no time to listen to the material. Internalization Through Feeling Spoken English Perhaps the most promising finding concerns 18 of the 24 students’ unprompted reports that they were better able to feel the language in the audio literature, including the ability to feel the speech of different people in different situations: I can feel different kind of pronunciation from different kind of people in different situations. The materials are original, so I think it’s very helpful. (Chinese Female 8; italics added) You can understand the meaning from both side each person, and . . . you can feel the emotion from the context. (Chinese Female 4) BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 741
  • 8. You can just grab some feelings . . . how about other people, say a whole sentence, what about a fluctuation. (Chinese Female 2) The beauty, the beauty in the English, the oral English. And sometimes especially in the Radio Theater, I can feel the fun, the fun stories, and different, different intonations, different stress, can make different effects, especially in the radio theaters. Different people under different circum- stance and different environment. And different feeling. I think the radio theaters is typical good materials for us to understand the stress, the intonation, the linking, so on and so forth. (Chinese Male 9) Two students reported that listening more often improves feeling fluency: I think it helped my English fluency, because if I listen them very often I can feel . . . if I listen more I can, I can speak them like . . . fluently. (Chinese Female 4; italics added) These participant comments suggest that engaging with an authentic, emotional context allows learners to feel suprasegmental features in a way that benefits not only pronunciation, but also fluency. Consistent focus on context, different environments and circumstances, and differ- ent feelings demonstrates that students are linking pronunciation and speaker’s intended meaning in a contextualized manner. DISCUSSION Participant accounts of being able to feel the language imply that focused exposure to and analysis of authentic audio literature may help learners to understand and internalize prosodic features. This internal- ization process hinges on the learner’s emerging capacity to decode native speaker speech, evident in participant comments, including the ability to automatically distinguish thought groups, recognize stressed syllables, interpret unstressed syllables, identify the full forms underlying reduced speech, and segment the speech stream into words that corre- spond to stressed syllables. These skills are critical to seeking meaningful phrases compatible with the developing metrical template, and to fulfilling the symbiotic relationship between pronunciation and the capacity to decode native speaker speech (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, & Goodwin, 1996; Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000; Garnes & Bond, 1980). The data concur with Murphey’s (1990) suggestion that consciously and intentionally stimulating the language acquisition device, or the “din in the head” (p. 53), may helps students to acquire a sense of rhythm and the ability to gather words into thought groups. Participants also reported improved ability to link words resulting in 742 TESOL QUARTERLY
  • 9. increased fluency, which suggests that preserving the speech rhythm marked by the metrical template requires language learners to adjust connected speech using internalized suprasegmentals (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996). Participants’ awareness of new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms is also noteworthy because it suggests that they have developed an audio-receptive vocabulary and a grasp of semantic chunks, routines, and collocations adequate to preserve speech rhythm. Without these abilities, they would have difficulty segmenting intonation units into words or chunks (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000). The learners’ appreciation for the material’s authenticity concurs with the call to allow learners the opportunity to listen for shades of meaning in natural conversational exchanges (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996). In this way, advanced learners are exposed to the full spectrum of cues available in everyday language use, which are often obscured in carefully articu- lated, pedagogically prepared listening material (Brown, 1990). This study shows how students can learn to recognize suprasegmentals and reflect on how native English speakers use them to convey meaning, practices that will enable them to continue to develop as users of English outside the classroom. CONCLUSION This study was the first stage of an investigation into how teaching methods using various genres of authentic audio literature influence student perception of improvement in pronunciation. Overall, these students reported that engaging with the audio literature helped them attend to prosodic features in a new way, increased their awareness of new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms, and helped them to feel the spoken English of different people in different situations, all within a reportedly interesting context. Some students, however, perceived their involvement with the materials and assignments as overly time-consuming, perhaps highlighting the need to ensure a clear understanding of purpose and procedure prior to undertaking the task, and other students found some materials too advanced. Students’ varied preferences for specific genres, evident in comments about perceived enjoyment and increased understanding and internalization of suprasegmentals, affirms the importance of providing a variety of materials. These findings also suggest the importance of continuing to study instructional techniques that help learners to internalize pronunciation features to adjust their metrical templates, resulting in improved listening and pronunciation that may enhance communicative success. BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 743
  • 10. THE AUTHOR Carolyn Aufderhaar is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where she teaches English composition, skills for international teaching assistants, and peda- gogical grammar, assessment, phonology, and theories of language acquisition for teachers in training. She taught adults and children in Korea, and served as an English teaching fellow in Ukraine. Her research interests include improving pronunciation using authentic materials, and language planning and policy. REFERENCES Allen, L. Q. (1999). Functions of nonverbal communication in teaching and learning a foreign language. French Review, 72(3), 469–480. Anderson, A., & Lynch, T. (1991). Listening. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Battista, L. (Writer), & Brown, H. (Director). (1978, December 22). The power of evil. In H. Brown (Producer), CBS radio mystery theatre. New York: Columbia Broadcasting System. Brown, G. (1990). Listening to spoken English (2nd ed.). London: Longman. Canfield, J., & Hansen, M. V. (1994). Chicken soup for the soul [Audiobook]. Deefield Beach, FL: Audio Health Communications. Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (1996). Teaching pronunciation: A reference for teachers of English to speakers of other languages. New York: Cambridge University Press. Celce-Murcia, M., & Olshtain, E. (2000). Discourse and context in language teaching: A guide for language teachers. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Chun, D. M. (2002). Discourse intonation in L2: From theory and research to practice. Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Crow, J. T. (1977). Dictation and second language acquisition in intermediate and advanced intensive English as a second language classes. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, The University of Texas at Austin. Garnes, S., & Bond, S. Z. (1980). A slip of the ear: A snip of the ear? A slip of the year? In V. A. Fromkin (Ed.), Errors in linguistic performance: Slips of the tongue, ear, pen, and hand (pp. 231–240). New York: Academic Press. Gerken, L. A. (1991). The metrical basis for children’s subjectless sentences. Journal of Memory and Language, 30, 431–451. Gerken, L. A. (1994). Young children’s representation of prosodic phonology: Evidence from English-speakers’ weak syllable omissions. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 19–38. Gerken, L. A. (1995). A metrical template account of children’s weak syllable omissions. Journal of Child Language, 30, 431–451. Hurley, D. S. (1992). Issues in teaching pragmatics, prosody, and non-verbal communication. Applied Linguistics, 13, 259–281. Ioup, G., & Tansomboon, A. (1987). The acquisition of tone: A maturational perspective. In G. Ioup & A. Tansomboon (Eds.), Interlanguage Phonology (pp. 333–349). New York: Harper & Row. Kellerman, S. (1992). ‘I see what you mean’: The role of kinesic behavior in listening and implications for foreign and second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 13, 239–258. MacWilliam, I. (1986). Video and language comprehension. ELT Journal, 40, 131– 135. 744 TESOL QUARTERLY
  • 11. McGregor, K. K., & Johnson, A. C. (1997). Trochaic template use in early words and phrases. Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research, 40, 1220–1231. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis: An expanded sourcebook. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Morgan, J. L. (1996). Prosody and the roots of parsing. Language and Cognitive Processes, 11(1/2), 69–106. Murphey, T. (1990). The song stuck in my head phenomenon: A melodic din in the head? System, 18(1), 53–64. Peters, A. (1983). The units of language acquisition. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press. Rost, M. (1990). Listening in language learning. London: Longman. Rubin, J. (1994). A review of second language listening comprehension research. Modern Language Journal, 78, 199–221. Tuffs, R., & Tudor, I. (1990). What the eye doesn’t see: Cross-cultural problems in the comprehension of video material. RELC Journal: A Journal of Language Teaching and Research in Southeast Asia, 21(2), 29–44. Appendix A Poetry Audio Journal Choose two favorite poems. Write down or type these poems, triple spacing. Mark the thought groups with a slash. / Underline each stressed syllable, and circle each focus word. Mark the intonation as we did in class. Above stressed syllables which are problematic for you, write the vowel or vowel blend. Listen to the poems again. Record yourself saying the poems. Compare your recording to the original poems. What do you need to work on the most? What new words, phrases, expressions or word usage did you learn from this activity? How often or how many times did you listen to the poems? Appendix B Radio Theater Audio Journal You have been given an audio cassette of Radio Mystery Theater which was recorded for entertaining native speakers of English. First, listen for overall enjoyment and meaning. The second time, you may find it helpful to pause the tape and repeat certain words and phrases. Choose a 3–5 minute segment of conversation anywhere in the story. Try to pick out the stressed words. Pay attention to the longer length and higher pitch of the stressed words. Write or type at least 10 to 12 consecutive sentences from this segment, triple spacing. Mark the thought groups with a slash. / BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 745
  • 12. Underline each stressed syllable, and circle each focus word. Mark the intonation as we did in class. Above stressed syllables which are problematic for you, write the vowel or vowel blend. Listen to the 3–5 minute segment yet again, stopping the tape after each sentence or phrase. Repeat the sentence with the same sentence stress pattern as the speaker. You may have to replay the tape several times. You also may choose to record yourself, and compare it with the original. What new vocabulary words, phrases, expressions or word usage did you learn from this activity? Appendix C Interview Do you feel that the use of audio literature (poetry, radio theater and short stories on tape) has helped your English pronunciation? If so, in what ways? Do you feel that the use of audio literature (poetry, radio theater and short stories) has helped your English fluency? If so, in what ways? Which genre (poetry, radio theater and short stories), if any, have you found most helpful? Why? Which, if any, have you found least helpful? Why? Which genre (poetry, radio theater and short stories), if any, have you found most enjoyable? Which, if any, have you found least enjoyable? How often and in what ways have you used the audiotapes (poetry, radio theater and short stories) outside of class? Have you found this helpful? Did you find the activities we did in class associated with the audio literature helpful? Are there any other ways, or any better ways, the audio literature could be used? 746 TESOL QUARTERLY