Many sounds: if we connect those eight vowels

people have learned KK at their young age, but have they ever heard of IPA?

me, it is when I took the course “Introduction to English Linguistics” in my
second year of college that I came into contact with this word. Furthermore, it
is then that I finally understand and clarify all the difference between
vowels. One of the reasons I want to teach IPA vowels is because Taiwanese are
not so familiar with IPA. Another one is because many people distinguish sounds
like / i / / ? / merely by their length, including in-service English teachers.
With an eye to spreading the concept of IPA and conveying the idea that tongue
position is the major difference between vowels rather than the length, I
choose IPA vowels as my teaching topic.

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  In my teaching demonstration, I will have my
students do a pretest first in order to

their understanding and familiarity with the vowels. The test is divided into

parts: part A (12 questions) and part B (18 questions). In part A, I would like

if the students can recognize and distinguish the eight vowels: / i / / ? / / ?
/ / æ

/ ? / / ? / / ? / / u /. The students need to circle the vowel sounds they
hear. Besides, in order to prevent the students from using the process of
elimination, the answers may appear twice. In part B, the students do not have
to bear the basic knowledge of IPA or KK symbols, but they are expected to have
the ability to distinguish minimal pairs showed in the questions. The words I
select are simple so as to prevent students from choosing the words they are
familiar with. This part only aims to test students’ listening skills, and I want
to know whether the students have problem distinguishing those sounds without
the help of phonetic alphabets.


  In the lesson, I will briefly introduce what
IPA is and its main difference from KK. Tongue position (height ;
backness) and lip rounding are the two skills to help students pronounce the
eight vowels accurately. I even create a tip to help students remember those
sounds: if we connect those eight vowels and pronounce them very slowly, we can
find out that the sound we link up together sounds very similar to Chinese word
During the lesson, I will ask student to repeat after me (audio-lingual
method), so as to make sure they perceive the correct sounds. Besides, at the end
of the lesson, I also show students the online video about how to pronounce IPA
vowels and do some listening practice (which will focus on minimal pairs).
After the lesson, the students will take the post-test immediately to see is
there any difference after the teaching. The whole teaching demonstration takes
up about 30 minutes.


  Take one of my students, Mr. Chen, to be the
case. Mr. Chen is 23 years old, majoring in department of chemistry, NSYSU. His
gets 535 in his TOEIC score. As far as I know, he seldom studies English after
entering the college (except for some original text books). He learned KK
before, and yet he only remembers some. In the pretest, Mr. Chen gets 8/12 in
part A and 10/18 in part B. Based on his previous knowledge of KK, there is no
problem for him to distinguish / i / from / u / or / u / and / ? /. However, he
does have some difficulty in make a distinction between / i / and / ? / or / ?
/ and / æ /. As in part B, I also notice that the answers he gets wrong are
mostly related to the four phonetic alphabets mentioned above such as reach
v.s. rich, man v.s. men and whale v.s. well. Mr. Chen even points out that he
actually pronounces the same in words like reach and rich, and that no one has
ever reminded him the difference. Thus, when he hears one of the sounds, he
cannot tell which it belongs to. As to solve this problem, I focus on those
sounds in the lesson, and tell him to be careful on the words which sound very
similar. In the post-test, Mr. Chen makes an obvious progress. He gets 10/12 in
part A and 16/18 in part B. Most of the parts related to / i / / ? / / ? / / æ
/ are correct this time. After seeing his progress, Mr. Chen says that he never
thinks he can learn phonetic alphabets in such a concrete way. He learns how to
actively make use of his tongue position and lips to help him pronounce the
sounds. He even points out that IPA vowel chart really helps a lot, though he
totally has no idea about what it is at the first sight. However, when he
figures out the chart, it becomes very simple and useful.


  I am so glad to see the students’ great
progresses after my teaching demonstration. And it is always a lot of fun
teaching and interacting with them. However, I think there are still some
spaces for improvement. First, in the part B of my test design, if the
test-takers are not familiar with the words such as kook, they may need the
help of phonetic alphabets or I should replace those words with others. Second,
I find out that the student gets some questions right in the pretest, but get
them wrong in the post-test. Maybe I focus too much on the student’s mistake
made in the pretest and ignore those they get right. I think I should not only
strengthen students’ weakness but also their forte. Third, I want to add some
activities or games in my teaching next time in order to have more interactions
and fun with students, hoping students can learn from playing as well!

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