Out of the Dip, Part 2: Unit 3 Phonology Interview

Having looked at Unit 4 Teaching Practice in Part 1, it is time now for Part 2 looking at Unit 3, the phonology section of the Dip (if the ordering of these parts seems strange, I am going through them in the order I completed each one).

At the start of the course, this was the part I dreading. I had never maintained a regular focus on pronunciation in my classes, only dealing with simple things like past simple endings (/d/ /t/ and /Id/), drilling new vocabulary, and reactive correction of communication impeding errors as they came up.

However, by the end of the course, I would say that this was the biggest change in my teaching. I feel like a new skill set has been added to my professional knowledge and I now push my students to focus more on the way they speak (see this post from last year for more details).

Anyway, here's my overview, assessment of the strengths of the course, advice and suggestions. Please share your own experiences and thoughts in the comments:

Everyone - like this: /ʃ/ Image via Pixabay.com

What it entails
  • a 30-minute interview with the Trinity assessor divided into three parts.
  • Part 1: you have 5 minutes to present an activity you have used with your learners focusing on an area of pronunciation.This is followed by a further 5 minutes of Q&A about your activity.
  • Part 2: transcription. You transcribe lines of dialogue read by the assessor in phonetic script, marking features of connected speech (5 minutes)
  • Part 3: discussion. You engage in a discussion about pronunciation with the assessor for 15 minutes. This may begin by focusing on some aspect of the transcription and will branch out into more general discussion of the role pronunciation work plays in teaching and learning English.
  • Speaking from my experience with OxfordTEFL, thorough preparation, both in the online moodle course and the face-to-face component.
Strengths
  • Simply the fact that it requires teachers to focus on an often neglected area of language teaching. I will hold my hands up and say I was one of those who shunned pronunciation at times but I am glad I took this course and started to focus on it with my learners more.
  • Lots of practical ideas for integrating pronunciation. Through OxfordTEFL, we were encouraged to go beyond drilling, recasting, and course book activities and look at predictive activities, receptive and productive pronunciation work, and other ways to get students thinking and not just parroting (thanks again Mark and Sinead!)
  • A different kind of assessment. You have the observed teaching practice, research projects and written exam. It ıs a refreshing change to get to sit down with someone and talk about an aspect of teaching.
Advice
  • Start on the set reading early, before the Phonology modules start. During Phonology A, I found myself reading huge sections of Gerald Kelly's 'How to Teach Pronunciation', attempting online forum tasks and trying to force pronunciation into my lessons all of a sudden to have something to reflect on! It was too much but by the time the later Phonology modules came around, I had read ahead, experimented more, and I was ready to engage with the tasks and reflections in a more productive manner.
  • Related to the above, start including pronunciation work in your lessons as often as possible. I started by finally paying attention to those pronunciation activities in the course materials. After trying those out and reflecting on them, I experimented with a few ideas from the readings and my coursemates and I slowly built up to a point where I was able to try out my own ideas. This is also vital so you have a tried and tested activity to talk about in the assessed interview.
  • Practice transcribing your own speech or short audio clips you hear (news report introductions, etc). For a while on my course, we did this under our own initiative as a group and it helped to compare and discuss.
  • Make notes of your students' difficulties and think of activities you could use to address them. Increased awareness of what your students struggle with, especially if you have a monolingual class, will give you more to talk about.
  • Stick with what you know. Present an activity you have used a few times with your students. Don't present something you have only used once just because the interview was coming up. Likewise, focus on a group of learners you know well. I did my interview after working with French-speakers in Gabon for only a year so I talked more about pronunciation issues Turkish speakers have based on 14 years of teaching there and my own knowledge of the language. That helped me feel I was on more familiar ground.
  • Check out Gemma Lunn's post on Unit 3 Phonology.
  • Watch the sample videos on OxfordTEFL's YouTube channel to get an idea of what the interview is like:
Part 1: Presentation


Part 2: Post presentation discussion


Part 3: Discussion


Suggestions
Not a great deal to add here. The preparation OxfordTEFL provided was spot on and the interview, far from being stressful, turned out to be the component of the assessment I felt most at ease about.

The only part that lacked clear classroom relevance was the transcription. While it is an option to use in the classroom, it is not the only way to address errors and explain pronunciation so it seems unnecessary to give it such prominence.

I would also do away with all the technical parlance about place and manner of articulation (labio-dental plosives anyone?) Luckily, it didn't come up in my interview but a different examiner may well have expected me to use such descriptions and then I would have been struggling!

Overall, I enjoyed this unit of the course and got a lot more out of it than I expected to. I was aiming not only to pass and get TEFL-Q status but also develop as a teacher and expanding my knowledge of phonology and preparing for the assessment definitely helped me do that.

Comments

  1. I'm rally enjoying your series of posts on the Dip - bring back lots of memories! I thoroughly enjoyed the phonology unit too and your advice about reading ahead is spot on - I found myself going over Kelly a number of times. But it's also important to find your own sources too - I quoted from an older, lesser-known book in my interview and it turned out to have been written by a friend of the assessor! And finding a topic you're familiar with and can talk around is key: I chose to focus on ch and sh (can't do phonemes here) because it's a particular problem for Spanish speakers in my area - it even came up in class the other day when a student was talking about washing sharks.

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  2. Agreed once again. Even though I was working mainly with French-speakers at the time of the interview, I focused on Turkish speakers more as I had more experience with them and more knowledge of the L1 (I chose an activity about raising awareness of unstress and instances of the schwa as that is a problem area for both French and Turkish learners).

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