She Sells Seashells hand jive

Today, I went to the Korean Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (KoTESOL) conference in Busan. This 6-hour event cost less than $5 for registration (plus another $2 to ride the subway there and back).

The speakers were amazing: funny, skilled, informative. There was a good presentation on digital storytelling and another on professional development, with emphasis on self-reflective teaching. That is, how to take time to figure out what you’re doing that works and what needs improvement, and how to understand ‘who you are’ as a teacher. cool!

I went to one presentation on how to teach pronunciation. This is a tricky area because unlike spelling or grammar, what makes good pronunciation seems more like art than science. Just pronounce it like I do, isn’t really good enough.

An English speaker with a different first language can’t often hear the sounds we’re trying to get them to make, and can’t see clearly what’s happening inside the mouth, nasal cavity, or catch the movements of the jaw and lips.

One speaker illustrated how the placement of the tongue is critical to:

  • S: tongue is up (at 90F roughly), and produces some focused friction of the air that moves from the back of the throat through that opening, thus the “ssss” sound
  • SH: tongue is back and scrunched over (^..kinda), and produces a bigger surface for friction, thus the “shhhhh” sound
  • TH: tongue is straight forward through the lips

To help teach this, he has students learn a hand jive moving their hand in the same shape as the tongue needs to move to form the initial sound of each word in the tongue twister. What’s cool about this is how it brings something invisible out to being visible, uses movement and rhythm to help the student absorb it in a visceral way:

She           Sells         Seashells          by            the             Sea-shore

Hand movements:

scrunch    up         up – scrunch     ??            (straight out front)    up – scrunch

^                                         ^                                ____                                        ^

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