Archive for the ‘Speech’ Category

English Central

Pronunciation Mirroring with EnglishCentral.com

Heather Torrie, Purdue University Calumet

Teaching Suprasegmentals
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.

Classroom Application
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.


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When students give a speech that gives instructions or write a paragraph that gives instructions, they sometimes need to remind their listeners or readers about something. The attached presentation gives examples of reminders and the grammar that is used with them. It then presents sentences with errors. I use this presentation in class. I ask the students to sit in pairs and then show them the sentences with the errors. They work with their partners to correct the mistakes, and then we discuss the corrections as a whole class.


Image — http://blogs.colgate.edu/pancakes-syrup.jpg

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The discovery of this video is an example of the benefits of wandering. I am not sure why or how I found this fine piece of student work, but I am sure that it was the result of following curiosity and also some rather inefficient, but enjoyable, wandering. In any case, I wanted to share it with you.

It was made by young learners of English, and even though I teach college students, I use it at the beginning of a speech class I teach because it is so nicely organized.

My students are in a language program that develops their English language skills, so that they can take content courses in college. One of the skills that is vital when taking college courses is the ability to both recognize and use organization. Especially in college where students are processing large amounts of information, this understanding is useful for both comprehension and recall. In speech class, students are required to write an outline, give a speech plan or preview in their introduction, and use signal words so that their audience can clearly recognize the parts of the speech. This video is a useful and interesting introduction to organizing a speech. After viewing it, we discuss how it is organized and then, in pairs, students write a phrasal outline of it.

SchoolTube Video on Vietnamese Culture 






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Some languages have a rhythm that is quite similar to English, while other languages place stress on syllables that English would not.  A Japanese friend of mine named Tomoko was amused by the way her Canadian friends pronounced her name. In Japanese, none of the three syllables is stressed, but Tomoko’s Canadian friends (who were unfamiliar with Japanese) naturally applied the rules for stress found in English to her name and stressed the second syllable. When I asked Tomoko if she corrected her Canadian friends’ pronunciation, she said that she did not. She felt that their pronunciation of her name was very cute — a lovely example of  flexibility.  Flexibility is one of the many reasons that she so successfully interacts with people from a wide range of cultures.

The language teaching point that I would like to make is that speakers of some language groups have an easier time picking up the stress and rhythm of English than other groups do. When I lived and taught in Tokyo, Nanci Graves (a colleague) and I created an activity for a speech class that would give the English language students at our university a chance to practice the rhythm of English. We called the activity “Cats and Other Animals” and centered the lesson around four poems about animals. One poem came from T.S. Eliot’s Jellicle Cats and the other four are children’s poems written by Shel Silverstein. The drawings are also Shel Silverstein’s.

I have resurrected this activity and now use it in a speech class I teach from time to time. I use it as one of the lead up activities to a speech my students give that requires them to tell a folk tale from their first culture. One of the points that is assessed is their use of drama and the activity “Cats and Other Animals” is a fun way to give them some practice before they give their presentations.

Digital technology has enabled me to add this activity from several (two or three hundred?) years ago. I scanned it, and I am now adding it to my “TESOL File Drawer.” Take a look. Use it if you’d like, and have fun.

Cats and Other Animals

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I took an online class this past semester, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. One of the things that I learned in the course was how to make PowerPoint pesentations with audio. It was surprisingly easy and I plan to use it for an online course that I will be offering in the fall. I am also thinking about asking my summer term students to use this method for one of their presentations.

The two things that you need are Audacity and Movie Maker. Audacity is software used to make audio recordings. It’s free and very easy to use. If you use Microsoft Office, you probably already have Movie Maker. It might be under entertainment or under Microsoft Office. After you make your presentation, you can upload it to YouTube so that others can access it. You can find a very clear presentation that explains how to do this at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZmOVt_BIAEvideo.

The process of making the presentation for this class was interesting. Along with learning how to use the technology, I also learned some things about what presentation features are appropriate in this format. Since I had never made a presentation of this type, I struggled with how to do it.  After some thought, I decided to approach it as if it were a research “paper” put to PowerPoint. However, later when I viewed my classmates’ projects, I realized that this type of presentation is not really a research paper on PowerPoint. The presentations that I thought were the most successful took a different approach. In my opinion, they were a bit more casual and noticeably shorter. They also tended to display more of the affective features of language. After the course was finished, I went back and edited my presentation to make it more appropriate for the medium that we used. My second draft can be found at 


If you would like to see the original version, click on this link.

If I decide to ask my students to make a presentation of this type, I will experiment with giving them the following guidelines:

  • The presentation should be between five and seven minutes. (I think that this type of format is best if it is not too long.)
  • Use two to five sources. (This is not a research paper.)
  • Use some emotion in your voice. (To be honest, I am not sure about this one. I think that this point would depend on the topic of the presentation.)

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