Pronunciation Mirroring with EnglishCentral.com
Heather Torrie, Purdue University Calumet
When attempting to teach pronunciation, teachers often wonder how much focus should be placed on segmentals and suprasegmentals. While both are important in improving intelligibility and communicativeness, suprasgemental pronunciation instruction may be a better choice of emphasis in a classroom with diverse L1 backgrounds. Some research also supports a focus on the suprasegmentals (see Hahn 2004 and Pickering 2001).
To teach suprasegmental pronunciation, including intonation, sentence-level stress, rhythm, and linking, one useful activity is mirroring. Basically, mirroring means that learners listen to a short segment, such as a sentence or phrase, in the video, and then repeat the speaker immediately after hearing it. If you think about it, this is how we learned our L1 in the first place—by hearing and imitating the intonation and rhythm of our parents. In the classroom, mirroring native speech in movies or recordings can be extremely fun and engaging.
What is EnglishCentral.com?
While mirroring can be done with any pre-recorded audio or video passage, it is easier for students to use a resource that includes the transcript. Websites such as About.com or Randall’s ESL Cyber Listening Lab (esl-lab.com) are great tools for mirroring, since they allow learners to see the text while they here it.
EnglishCentral.com is a great site that has an extensive gallery of short video clips with subtitles. Videos can be searched by keyword, genre, or difficulty level. A basic account is free and contains all the capabilities needed for successful mirroring. After the login, there are three modes. The watch mode shows the video clip with or without the captions. The learn mode stops after each line, allowing learners to replay the line slower, as well as do a cloze listening exercise. The speak mode is where learners repeat back and record their own speech samples, getting instant computer-generated feedback.
While instructors can have students work on this site independently as homework or in the computer lab, it is also useful in class. Instructors could select a meaningful video clip, perhaps based thematically based, and have students do a choral mirroring of each line.
To add even more focus, instructors can choose a particular pronunciation feature for the class to work on, such as thought groups. EnglishCentral.com includes the complete transcript, in addition to showing the text line-by-line. Instructors can then print out the transcript and have students mark pronunciation guidelines as they listen, and then follow them as they mirror the speaker. In this example, students could draw short lines to mark the divisions between thought groups. This will then help them to focus on dividing the speech into chunks as they repeat after the speaker.
After teaching a particular pronunciation feature, an assessment could be having the students record their own version of the video clip in its entirety. Although EnglishCentral.com allows recording, it only saves the student’s speech temporarily. For assessment purposes, a good option is to use a free audio recording tool, such as Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/). Once recorded and submitted via email or Blackboard, the instructor could use a focused scoring rubric. In this type of assessment, the only thing being graded is the pronunciation feature in focus.
The Bottom Line
Overall, this is a great tool that students love! The broad range of video clips ensures something for every lesson and every proficiency level. Of course pronunciation mirroring can be done with any website with speech samples and a transcript, but the interactive features and self-recording make this one of the best.
Hahn, L.D. (2004). Primary stress and intelligibility: Research to motivate the teaching of suprasegmentals. TESOL Quarterly, 38(2), 201-223.
Pickering, L. (2001). The role of tone choice for improving ITA communication in the classroom. TESOL Quarterly, 35(2), 233-253.