Last year when I taught Sound and Language (Intro to Phonetics) for undergraduates, I decided not to put very much emphasis on the “articulatory phonetics” part–in other words, I didn’t really spend much time having them pronounce “strange” sounds like clicks or uvular trills or ejectives. I know that production is integral to many phoneticians’ classes, but I have never really understood how to grade students on oral production quizzes or exams. It seems to me that being able to produce [||] is not as important as learning that it’s an alveolar lateral click and being able to explain the vocal tract configuration necessary to produce this sound. If they’re unable to accurately produce the click, do they get a failing grade?
Having said that, though, I’ve decided that I actually do think that it’s important for students to try to learn how to produce new sounds. (Not to mention that some students told me afterwards that they were disappointed that I hadn’t done more of that.) But I have two questions about this.
(1) Does anyone have any tips/tricks for teaching students how to produce non-English/Germanic/Romance sounds?
(2) What methods have you used to grade students on oral production skill (if you grade them at all)?
Please post your answer here, or feel free to email me at lisa[dot]davidson[at]nyu[dot]edu. If I get a lot of email responses, I can post a LinguistList-style summary later.
Students do enjoy trying to produce new sounds. I agree with Lisa that it is hard to evaluate their success at this, though. Here’s what I do.
First, I always give students a choice of which sounds to try mastering. For instance, I might ask them to produce any 3 out of 5 sounds on a quiz. The fact is that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Since I still stink at making trilled [r], I find it hard to expect a student to do well at everything.
Second, I don’t try to do more than distinguish a ‘passing’ from a ‘not passing’ production of a given sound. There’s a lot of room for varying pronunciations of IPA characters, and I find it pointless to try getting too fine-grained here.
During a phonetics quiz, I go outside the room with my TAs, and students come out one at a time to sic their pronunciations on us. This avoids disrupting the class, works better for mroe self-conscious students, and makes it possible for us to hear what they’re doing.
Some tricks I’ve picked up:
1. You can get a pretty good voiceless pharyngeal by pronouncing ‘hot’ with the lowest, backest vowel you can muster, as in an exaggerated British RP pronunciation.
2. You can get a preliminary handle on ejectives by trying to say ‘p’, ‘t’, ‘k’ etc. while holding your breath.
3. English speakers already know some click place of articulations, e.g., the ‘tsk-tsk-tsk’ click (dental/alveolar), the ‘cork-pop’ click (post-alveolar), and the ‘giddy-up’ (horse) click (lateral).
Thanks to Lisa Davidson for her stimulating comments on phonetics teaching. Here are three quick replies from my point of view.
> “It seems to me that being able to produce [||] is not as important as learning that its an alveolar lateral click and being able to explain the vocal tract configuration necessary to produce this sound.”
True enough, but I think there is independent justification for teaching practical phonetics (real-life production and perception): it helps linguists in their future work with native speaker consultants. The linguist who does this (and I certainly hope this includes everybody, at least at some point in their careers) will be much more confident if she is prepared to hear and transcribe what the consultant is saying, and can also say the words herself, asking the consultant, “was that right?”
I also think that linguistics teaching and lecturing is more vivid and effective if you can pronounce the examples, and of course a lot of the people we teach are likely to do some teaching at some point.
> Does anyone have any tips/tricks for teaching students how to produce non-English sounds?
Ladefoged’s _A Course in Phonetics_ has a whole bunch of them.
> If theyre unable to accurately produce the click, do they get a failing grade?
Good heavens, wouldn’t this be rather extreme?
But yes, in my phonetics course, the people who can say the clicks get higher grades–all else being equal–than the people who can’t. (I test them one by one in my office, asking them to pronounce eight CVCV nonsense words, with one point off for each error.)
I’ve always been struck by the fact that students who are gifted at producing and hearing sounds are, with far greater than chance frequency, also gifted at “higher level” academic tasks. Maybe there’s something about the ability to pay very close attention…