Suggestions for a more learner-centred approach

a more efficient strategy should probably encourage learners to devise their own maps and start from there. They have to explore and come to terms with the experience of sounding foreign to themselves. (1 & 2) All this requires empathy on the part of the teachers, readiness to grant learners autonomy, and in the last resort freedom to make personal choices and shoulder the consequences.
The teachers are then respectful educators who take the development of the learner as a person into account. Their job is to make the learning process and the integration of pronunciation within the overall language learning process possible. They become sympathetic guides and catalysts who observe, propose ... and propose again in order to find what suits the learners.
In all learning it is probably a valid assumption that by sticking to one single approach a number of learners are prevented from finding strategies that suit them. This is particularly true for speaking, because it involves the learners at numerous and very deep levels: physical, intellectual, social, emotional as well as aesthetic. All these levels need to be taken into account to ensure the success of as many learners as possible
A second look at the old joke about the person who tells someone who is asking for directions "If I were you I wouldn't start from here" can provide insight into learning. Teachers should possibly ask students, "Where would you like to start from?", or find out where they can start from. Equally importantly, learners could tell the teacher where they would like to go. A lot of the frustration in class comes from the divergence between the learners' and the teachers' implicit aims. In real life we may have to go where we do not really want to go. Teachers may have to show that the starting point learners feel like choosing may not be the only one, and possibly not the most efficient one either, and that choosing a certain destination may have consequences the learners have to take on board.
This would be very different from the kind of teaching I had: I was told where I was to go, where I was to start and how fast I had to go, not more slowly than the teacher, and certainly not more quickly! Though the route may, from the viewpoint of the teacher, appear to be circuitous, it is actually often much shorter for the learners. By finding out where learners stand and by involving them more, both learners and teachers are very likely to be more efficient as well as happier in their respective roles. Teachers will find new ways to help their learners; a practical example of how one perennial problem - the pronunciations of 'th' - can be approached is given below.
There is a long tradition of teaching 'th' sounds by telling learners to put their tongue between their teeth and blow. This may look straightforward to teachers, and has always looked straightforward enough to me ! However, learners tend to go on struggling with these phonemes. After eliciting from learners what they felt were the difficulties with these phonemes, in order to make their deep (as opposed to surface) problems explicit, I came to devise activities like the one below (Exotic Greetings). It can he used for other sounds as well, and may help you to find activities better adapted to your particular learners
Here are some examples of these ideas in practice:
Activity l. Example of working with what is visible
I can give models of individual phonemes (and later of words and even short phrases) by miming them rather than by saying them. When I mime I make clearly the muscular movements associated with the sound, but without actually voicing the sound. Thus the students have to use their eyes, and their eyes inform their muscles as I invite them to try the sound. They say the sound aloud, and I invite them to listen to the differences between each person, in which I take a real interest myself. Then I indicate those which were nearer to my (albeit silent) model. Later on they students can take the responsibility to mime something clearly enough for a colleague to understand what is being said. Miming is a personal preference of mine, and I encourage others to try it, but it does not necessarily suit the teaching style of many teachers. To them I say that the pronunciation chart and other associated techniques work just as well with more mainstream, audible, approaches to giving models.
Activity 2. Example of working with what is tactile
When working with monophthong vowels, 1 take such front and back vowels as the leamers can already manage, and help them to do a series of simple but powerful awareness raising activities. First 1 ask them to glide between /i/ and /u/ like this /i: i: i: i: ...... u: u: u: u: ...... i: i: i: i: ...... u: u: u: u:/. When this is more or less established I ask them to put the tip of the thumb on one corner of the mouth and the tip of the forefinger on the other corner. And again they make this glide back and forth. This gives them tactile feedback on the movement of the lips between the spread and the rounded position. Then 1 ask them to touch the forefinger to the front of the lips, and again make the glide. This time they get the sensation of the lips moving back (spread) and forward (pouted). Then, still with the same pair of sounds I ask them to touch the tip of the tongue (with finger or pen) while in the /i:/ position and then to slide to the /u:/ position but without losing contact with the tongue. Apart from causing laughter, this gives them the sensation of the tongue moving forward and backwards in the mouth.
Later I establish a pair of high-low sounds such as /i:/ and /a:/ and in the same way help them to slide between the two. This time I ask them to place the forefinger on the bridge of the nose and the thumb on the point of the chin. As they slide between these sounds they get tactile confirmation that the jaw opens and closes, and that this movement is sufficient to produce a range of perceptibly different sounds.
From these four exercises they begin to discover for themselves that movement of tongue, lips and jaw enables them to make a whole range of perceptibly different sounds.
Activity 3. Working with what is audible
So far I have not referred to the more usual approach in pronunciation teaching - working with what is audible. This gains in precision from the supporting work with the visual, the tactile and the muscular. When I give a spoken model (whether of a sound, a word, or a phrase) I try to go against two of the firmly entrenched legacies of behaviourism. First I try to say the model only once, rather than repeating it several times, and second I try to leave a silent space just two or three seconds) for conscious internal processing of the audible signal. Here is an example:
I give the model, let's say it's the vowel phoneme /:/. I say it once, clearly, making sure they see my mouth movement as well as hear the sound. 1 gesture that they be silent a moment, and that they try to keep hearing the sound, in my voice, internally in their "mind's ear". Then I ask them to say the sound aloud. Again I ask them to listen to each other and to notice the differences. Then if they need to hear the sound again I give it, once only. Giving a model once carries a more positive message than repeating it several times, and it also makes them more alert, which seems to make them more engaged. My aim is to see what they can do with one model, then if they need another I will give it and we will see what they can do with that.
This activity becomes quite natural to them since I often ask them to hold, and "replay" sounds and sentences in their heads. This natural but under-exercised human capacity develops very quickly, and becomes a powerful ally, not only in pronunciation learning, but in all aspects of listening, speaking, grammar and vocabulary practice.
So far I have tried to give an idea of how the muscular, the tactile, the visible, and the auditory can reinforce each other to thicken the web (or gestalt) of experience. I have also suggested that internal representation of sounds by learners can be used in the place of teacher repetition. The findings of my colleagues and trainee teachers seem to indicate that this can help to make pronunciation work more vivid and engaging.
Using a phonemic chart
The phonemic chart I use shows all the phonemes of the language being taught, and the layout presents the symbols in a significant visual/spatial relationship to each other. Built into this design are references and indications as to how and where each sound is produced and many other clues that help learners to recognise, correct and recall sounds. Each symbol has its own box which can be seen as containing all the allophones of that sound. Sounds are selected for attention by simply touching them with a pointer.
The aim of using the chart is:
1 .To provide learners with a map of the sound system of the target language. Such a sound map can be used to identify sounds that the student has already explored, or knows well, and it can be used to identify sounds that the student has not yet explored or is uncertain about.
2. To see all the sounds of the target language in one visual sweep. To reinforce the message that for practical purposes the number of different sounds is limited. ("The whole of the spoken language is here on this chart!")
3 .To provide a permanent reference. The chart is always visible at the front of the classroom, and can be referred to at any time in any lesson. Not only can the chart be used for pronunciation work such as changing and correcting sounds, syllable stress, linking in connected speech, comparing sound and spelling, (spelling problems are affected when the pronunciation is not right in the first place), but it also has more general classroom applications such as correcting word endings and syntactical features, introducing new vocabulary, providing prompts silently by pointing instead of by speaking, and so on).
4. To learn sounds not symbols. The aim of this approach is to enable learners to experience sounds and sound sequences in a personal and vivid way, and to use the symbols as a memory hooks that can trigger that auditory and physical experience. Once you have the sound it is very easy to link it to the symbol.
Working at three levels
The first level involves work with individual sounds. At the second level we string the sounds together into words, adding the distinctive energy profile called word-stress. At the third level we string words into connected speech, adding the energy distribution of intonation, as well as the various simplifications of connected speech. All three levels are available, according to nature of the work that needs to be done.
Behind the teacher's set of technical facilities lies the teacher's set of psychological attitudes that can help or hinder the work in hand. Here are some of the questions that I like to keep asking myself while I am working with pronunciation: Can I find it in me to respond to classroom events in a spontaneous rather than a routine way? Can I work with the student from where s/he is, so that her mistake becomes our starting point? Can I be intrigued and curious about what may happen, and then delighted by what does happen - whatever it is? Can I be "a student of learning" even while I am teaching? Can I be on the same side of the learning fence as the learners themselves, so that while they are learning the topic I am learning about their learning?

In my contacts with learners from a number of cultures, it has appeared that the reason why students often single sounds out as most horribly difficult is really because they are too self~conscious when they pronounce them. The problem of pronouncing the two ways of saying "th" , for example, could be traced back to the fact that they were most strictly taught by their mother never to show their tongue and to the fear they might splutter. This exercise shows one way to tackle the problem. Although it can be argued that this is not a major problem in terms of communicative competence, many learners want to achieve a more native-like pronunciation. A similar tactic can help for any sounds that somehow require 'a strange face' in the culture of your learners. Think of sounds for which the lips are protruding, for example. Find out from your learners what they find 'difficult' about certain sounds and start from there to devise exercises. Finally, this can also be used as a general warmer to loosen up learners, especially beginners, before oral work and thus greatly improve their pronunciation in general
Aims Overcoming learners' blocks to pronounce sounds that require a 'strangeface', in particular the two th sounds Warming up.
1 Ask your students to close their eyes and move all the muscles in their face in any way they like.
2 Invite your students to carry on a conversation with a partner without speaking a word from any language they know, but making any facial movements they like, accompanied by other gestures if they like.
3 Tell your students that there is a country where people greet each other by showing their tongue. Their culture is both ancient and extremely refined. The learners must imagine they are visitors there and that they are going to meet the local inhabitants, they have to be polite and respond to the greetings. They are extremely dignified.
4 Ask your students to mill around and greet each other very politely, showing the tip of their tongue between their teeth. Join in and insist that those who do not show their tongue are rude! If the degree of rapport and relaxation in your group allows for it, tell them that the more they show their tongue, the more polite they are!
5 Now tell your students to pronounce a word beginning with 'th' as they greet each other;
'thanks' is an ideal word. If this works well, input more words with "th" sounds. Choose words with the sounds in mid- and end-position as well. Stop after about two minutes.
a In later lessons reinforce this by having a two-minute activity in which they greet each other with words containing the sounds.
b To contrast with /t/ f/ /v/ /z/ and /d/ if necessary proceed as above but instruct your learners to say: "Say 'they 'not 'day', it's rude," for example. Or "Don't pronounce 'zis' , pronounce 'this"'. Do not overdo it! A couple of minutes at most. Before you do this again, allow some time to go by to give your learners a chance to gradually cope with their hang-ups and allow their brain to process the ideas and the facts. Invite your learners to invent tongue-twisters for practice.
Note: It may help if you can make video recordings where people your learners can identify with pronounce the 'th' sounds properly, and encourage your learners to imitate them. You can also ask them to observe the faces of actors in films

Description and commentary
To say that one is trying to pioneer a new teaching technique is - even in a fairly narrow area - a dangerous claim. Better perhaps not to claim it, except that when I look at my students in practice doing a SAD exercise I do find it extraordinary how much its potential for teaching has so far been under-exploited and under-discussed.
So what is this technique I call SAD, then, and what does it teach, and - especially for our purposes here - what relevance does it have to the teaching of pronunciation?
The basic technique is not difficult to describe . You take a recording of some authentic speech, and a transcript of it; you excise bits of the transcript so as to make gaps in it; you give the gapped copies to the students; then you play them the recording, with pauses and repeats as necessary, and they have to fill in the gaps with the exact words used by the speaker(s).
"But there's absolutely nothing new about that!" I hear you cry. "You can find it in Headway, even - and what about that Business Territories CD ROM, where it's the main kind of exercise?" And so on.
The newness, however, lies not in using the general process, but in appreciating the way that the specified elements of the SAD package work to reinforce one another in practice.
Because the challenge for students is writing dictation, the whole text requires close attention, or they miss the cues and the data that help them to fill the gaps. And because the language is authentic speech it is worth attending to as a kind of language they aspire to understand or at least follow - "missing bits" is exactly what they often claim to hate most about trying to respond to native-speaker talk. And because the gapping is selective, the surrounding text - the transcribed part which they have to follow closely if they are to fill the gaps - has to be appreciated on many linguistic levels: content, style, grammar, intonation and other features may all provide important clues to what is actually going to be said, or has been said, in the gapped bit. Therefore they all have to be simultaneously read and heard in the text.
What I am suggesting, therefore, is that although SAD-type exercises do turn up quite often in existing materials as reinforcement of other points, or as gimmicks for fixing students' attention, or as novelty extras, the technique has not yet had the systematic use or the quantity of use that its value seems to warrant.
It is virtually impossible to convey SAD's circular reinforcement of motivation, skills and analytical processes effectively in writing, because listening is the point. But to show the main features of the technique, this is a brief extract from a tape transcript I use quite frequently for advanced students:
This text is an informal conversation between friends. The subject is holidays, and the umbrella question is "What's the earliest holiday you can remember?" Vicky begins by saying that the family used to go to Tewkesbury, and answering the question, "What did you do there?" The gaps I made are numbered, and the actual words taken out in the version given out to students are underlined and in italics.
VICKY My father (1) used to fish. so we went on fishining holiday and he fished all day, and we drove my mother mad, I expect. (laugh)
Yes holidays were -
CHRIS (2) How many of you were there?
VICKY Three. Mm... (pause) Tewkesbury. In a boarding house.
HEATHER (3) It was always boarding houses (4) in those days. We used to go - I don't - I can't remember particularly my earliest one because (5) it was alway s very similar . We always went for one week - first week of September - to North Wales - (6) it would be Rhyl or Llandudno or Colwyn Bay, or otherwise, if we were feeling posh, it was up to St Annes - Lytham St Annes - not to Blackpool. And - but always in these rather - you know - terra - big terraced hotels, which were rather sort of - you know - plain boards and rather - erm plain - you know - s - Monday, it must be soup, sort of thing. Very precise. (7) You had to be up at eight o'clock for breakfast , and all this bit, and then you go out (laughs) and then you're allowed back for tea.
So, take out those numbered items, and you have apparently just another gap-fill exercise. But in fact SAD is less than half a gap-fill exercise. Very occasionally, prior to playing the tape, I get students doing what a gap-fill normally involves: searching the data surrounding the gap, then their memory banks, to see what could fill the gaps. Yet normally in this activity their motivation is comparatively weak. I believe this is partly because the range of possibilities for most of the gaps is too wide, and even more because one of the main drawbacks to the use Of authentic listening texts in the classroom is that they are often not intrinsically interesting enough. Who cares what goes in the gap of some anonymous person's boring conversation?
The contrast between their half-hearted attempts at pre-listening guesses, and their extreme keenness to shout out the answer when they hear it on the tape and think they've got it, is dramatic. Indeed, one minor problem with SAD is simply that one has to control those who get the answer quickly, so as to give others a chance to think, or to hear the relevant passage again.
And this is another way in which the process is unlike other gap-fills - that the aim of SAD as a classroom exercise is not that students should be tested, or test themselves, to see if they know what can correctly go in the gaps. They are instead being asked what is there, and the teacher's efforts are directed to seeing that they get it, rather than to seeing whether they know it. In practice, this means that the teacher will play each gapped part (together with as much of the surrounding language as is desirable and/or unavoidable) again and again until satisfied that most of the class have made a fair stab at it, before moving on to the next bit. What is more, the teacher's response to blank looks will not therefore be of the, "Come on, you really do know that if you think about it" kind, so much as a lavish dropping of hints, and pointing out of relevant clues, comparable with the way that participants in a real conversation are normally more concerned that you should get their meaning than they are keen on testing that your linguistic capabilities are operational.
Underwriting this is the principle that since the processes involved in getting the answer are complex, involving simultaneously the bottom-up processes of turning sounds into words and the top-down processes of conjecturing possible / probable meanings and hence words, one naturally does not at the same time try to bamboozle students with difficult words or structures. So in choosing how to gap a transcript there may be various criteria for taking out one segment rather than another, but the main constraint is that any language excised should be well within the structural and lexical grasp of the target class. Moreover, explaining this to the class gives them confidence that the answer really is accessible: it then becomes, in their terms, a question partly of extracting it from the inadequate and apparently jumbled data provided by the sounds, and partly of 'guessing' to supplement what they can't hear.
On paper the text above perhaps looks as if its language could be accessible to a range of levels, from mid-intermediate to advanced, and normally this would be true, because one of the huge advantages of SAD is how flexibly most materials for it can be used. That is, using the capability of word processors to store many formats of the same text, most SAD transcripts can be varied in difficulty simply by keeping different versions with different gaps. So with the example text above, there is not much in the vocabulary or grammar of the text as a whole
which - with a very little pre-teaching - could not be grasped by mid-intermediate students. One probable exception is gap number 6 - the use of the past habitual would - but one would simply not gap this item for a class below upper intermediate (though one might well use their concentration on the text to get them to note the form). The sole reason that this particular transcript is exclusively an exercise for advanced students, is simply the speed at which Heather speaks. Intermediate students find it hard even to keep their place in the transcript.
One criterion for the teacher's decision as to where to put gaps in the transcript is therefore the level of difficulty. After that, there can be various possibilities. One may choose to excise on a grammatical basis, or a functional theme, or - as in the transcript above, where the gaps to be filled mostly involve different ways of expressing past habit - a mixture of both. Another possibility is to revise or reinforce one or two recently encountered lexical chunks (the potential of SAD to help students cross the sound-to-meaning gulf is rather lost if only single words are taken out) or simply to excise on the more intuitive basis of items that look or sound interesting, or which may provoke interesting top-down conjectures. It is certainly arguable that the various analytical processes which go on when students are doing a demanding SAD exercise can be so valuable in themselves that creating an additional objective by using the exercise mainly to practise a particular form is over-egging the pudding.
In the context of Speak Out!, it might appear that another kind of option altogether would be, instead of concentrating on content, to take aspects of the speakers' pronunciation as the criterion for gapping - for example to excise bits where elision makes understanding difficult for the learner, or where recognition of weak forms will help to clarify. But this would be to miss the point of SAD by focusing students too much on bottom-up processing. Whereas what SAD most valuably encourages is the development of the students' ability strategically to work the two together - to dovetail bottom-up and top-down processing to arrive at a meaning.
SAD and pronunciation
In one sense, doing SAD is doing pronunciation. If, as Paul Tench suggests in Speak Out! 20 (page 39), pronunciation could in part be tested by having the teacher read out words or phrases for learners to write down, then SAD is exactly that, except that it adds the factor of having them write from connected speech, undertaking the necessary lexical segmentation. True, it may be objected that the top-down processing involved distracts attention from 'pure' pronunciation factors, but it seems to me dubious whether pronunciation should be kept that pure, even if it can be.
But it is more after the event - when going through answers with students, or coaxing answers out of them - that the real pronunciation work can be done. The importance of feeling confident that the whole class should be able to get it is that one can gradually 'expand' the pronunciation till the penny drops. So, for example with the very difficult number 6, in the transcript above, what Heather in fact says for 'it would be' is something like [ipbi], the [p] , of course, being merely the slightest compression. If the teacher first imitates exactly what Heather does, then expands it to [itobi] , then perhaps to [itobbi] , then [itodbi] and then, if necessary, to [itwobbi], and so on, (s)he is leading a class to appreciate - with the motivation to concentrate and analyse because they still want to know what the answer is - what actually goes on in rapid connected speech.
Moreover, the motivation can carry on beyond the satisfaction of getting the right answer, in that students are frequently willing to undertake a degree of repetition of difficult phrases that they are less motivated to do with specially taped examples or examples copied from the teacher. Sometimes one sees some of them muttering this kind of repetition earlier on, as a self-discovered way of trying to work out what the words are.
However, there are contentious issues here, about the extent to which one actually wants to teach students to imitate exactly the elisions and assimilations of a rapid speaker - even of Standard English (as Heather in the example above is). As far as SAD is concerned I prefer to keep that particular can of worms closed. What is absolutely clear, and what I can confidently say to my students is: "You don't have to try too hard to pronounce your own English in this [ipbi] kind of way, but you do have to understand it when native speakers do it. And the best way to learn to understand is to imitate."
That being said, there are also clearly principles of pronunciation common to most varieties of English which are at least made far more real and noticeable through SAD - very general principles such as the tendency to background structural elements, as well as more particular ones such as typical assimilations.
And most of all, perhaps the biggest point in SAD's favour is simply that it makes authentic speech accessible and knowable to students who could not follow it without the transcript and who would not follow the transcript thoughtfully without having a clearly defined task to motivate them. Picking my tape-transcripts carefully I have had students right down to mid- elementary level following and understanding authentic, conversational speech. That surely can't be bad for pronunciation!
Last, but not at all least, the enormous potential of SAD for testing seems enormous yet is almost untapped. There are difficult questions to be discussed about what exactly would/ could be tested by it, but aspects of pronunciation would certainly have to feature somewhere. And to neglect the possibilities of a form which can test so much of the complexity of real-life communication, and combine that with clear right/wrong answers, seems to me extraordinary.
In the hope of persuading readers of Speak Out! to try creating and using SAD exercises themselves, I offer below 24 SAD DIY Tips gained from experience.
A. Finding material
1. Take an existing 'authentic' tape from a listening skills or general textbook.
2. Use a documentary extract from radio, or TV soundtrack (but check copyright).
3. Get a friend to do some short interviews on a theme - better than doing them yourself.
4. Get an actor/good reader/ to record a dramatic story as for a native-speaker audience
B. Choosing the extract & writing the transcript
5. Don't make it so long that it looks forbidding - ideally not much more than one side of a page.
6. Most structures in the text should be within the group's level; vocabulary can include a few new words,
7. Try to reproduce the text as faithfully as possible without sacrificing readability. include the 'er's and so on, plus any long pauses, or laughter, but not short pauses. Don't reproduce accentual features too much - use dictionary forms. A few well-accepted written usages - mainly 'gonna 'wanna! and "cos' - can be considered where pronunciation seems to demand it, but these will probably need explaining, so therefore avoid 'couldna 'ennit? etc.
8. A transcript or section with a functional theme and therefore sonic repetition of structures is excellent
C. Gapping the transcript
9, Normally take out 3 words or more - how much partly depends on the degree of lchunking' the students (not you!) are likely to do. If you want to take out a longish stretch which might impose too great a strain on memory, treat it as two by including a helpful word or two in the middle.
10. The words taken out need not be a chunk; you can quite usefully cut across syntactic groupings sometimes.
11. The words taken out should include no new lexical items and be well within the students structural grasp. Identifying them by context + sound is what should stretch them.
12. Any 'chunks' taken out should be typical, not unusual
13. If there is repetition of structures (see 8, above) don't take out too many of the same one. Take out other bits too - also demanding but which may pose different demands.
14. Doing & keeping the transcript on a word processor allows you to have differently gapped versions of the same transcript, varying in difficulty.
D. Doing a SAD exercise in class
15. Before starting, break the 'record-enable' tabs off your cassette chances of hitting the record button along with the playback button are high.
16. If you pre-play the whole recording, don't give out the SAD transcript till you've finished,
17. Unless it is a test, don't treat it like a test but as a learning exercise - a relaxed, co-operative endeavour.
18. Therefore, don't allow them to shout out the answers as soon as their particular penny has dropped
19. Once controlled, let it unfold. Play beyond each gapped bit first go, to give, the context (comprehension often works regressively) then rewind to play it again. A quick trigger finger is useful.
20. Repeat most of the gapped bits more than once, but its entirely a matter of judgement how many times. The central aim is that as many students as possible should get the answer without those who got it first time getting frustrated. So sometimes a lot of prompting may be necessary - putting a key word on the board, repeating the words yourself (try to imitate the tape as much as possible), suggesting that they look at their neighbour's answer, or discuss it in pairs ...
21. Occasional pauses for prediction before first playing of a particular gap can he valuable - then hear (sonie of) the offerings but obviously don't say whether they are right or wrong! Let the tape say.
22. Applaud intelligent shots (plausibly interpreting sound and context) at least as much as correct answers.
23. Because the teacher controls via the cassette player, SAD is ideal for large (though not noisy) classes,
24. Work in pairs or threes can be arranged or encouraged, especially for younger classes, by competitive answering. Each team/pair has one go at supplying any one of the words in a gap; if they get one right they get a point. Because of the variation in difficulty it works out beautifully unfair, but also involves a little strategy on the part of students.