Formulaic sequences in EAP and SLA

Formulaic sequences in English for Academic Purposes and Second Language Acquisition: towards the characterisation of lexico-grammatical norms
GERAS 2017


Shona Whyte & Cédric Sarré

This paper discusses a phenomenon often discussed under the umbrella term “formulaic sequences” (FS) and used to refer to chunks, clusters, collocations, idiomatic expressions, multi-word expressions, lexicogrammatical patterns, or processing units in different areas of psycholinguistics, systemic-functional linguistics, second language research and corpus linguistics, to name but these fields. With respect to the teaching and learning of English for Specific Purposes (ESP), formulaic sequences are of interest from two contrasting perspectives. The first, more traditional approach in ESP, has been to treat FS from a speaker-external perspective, defining FS as “the use of idioms, idiomatic expressions, and collocations used by NSs and L2 learners, that is, what is formulaic in a given language” (Myles & Cordier, 2016). In phraseological terms, FS may be viewed as “the preferred way of saying things in a particular discourse” (Gledhill, 2000). A second approach is favoured in second language acquisition research, and involves a speaker-internal or psycholinguistic definition of FS as “multiword units which present a processing advantage for a given speaker, either because they are stored whole in his/her mental lexicon (Wray 2002) or because they are highly automatised” (Cordier, 2013). Each approach is appropriate to the research questions of interest. Thus in second language research, objectives include the characterisation of FS in L2 speech production and their role in L2 development. Studies thus compare learners’ use of strings retrieved holistically with those generated online, using distinguishing criteria such as fluency, form-function mapping, and frequency in input and output (Myles & Cordier, 2016). In ESP research, on the other hand, one goal is to improve the efficiency of ESP teaching by focusing on particular FS. Give the importance of FS in fluent processing, and high frequency of such “semi-preconstructed phrases” (Sinclair, 1991), it is argued that “the more frequent items have the highest utility and should therefore be taught and tested earlier” (Nation, 2001, cited in Simpson-Vlach & Ellis, 2010). To this end, Simpson-Vlach and Ellis (2010) applied a number of frequency, collocational and pedagogical criteria to FS in spoken and written corpora of academic and general English to generate an academic formulas list of 200 FS deemed most worth teaching. It remains to be shown, however, how L2 acquisition of such externally defined FS proceeds, or how pedagogical intervention can encourage this process. This paper reviews definitions of FS from these two contrasting perspectives, highlighting problems at the intersection of the two approaches identified by Myles and Cordier (2016). It discusses the design of research instruments to replicate an empirical study by Lindstrom et al (2016) in order to address the question of how FS can best be taught and learned in English for Academic Purposes.

References

Boers, F., Eyckmans, J., Kappel, J., Stengers, H., & Demecheleer, M. (2006). Formulaic sequences and perceived oral proficiency: Putting a lexical approach to the test. Language teaching research, 10(3), 245-261.
Bolinger, D. (1979). Meaning and memory. Experience forms: Their cultural and individual place and function, 95-111.
Corrigan, R., Moravcsik, E. A., Ouali, H., & Wheatley, K. (Eds.). (2009). Formulaic language: Volume 1. Distribution and historical change. New York: Benjamins.
Corrigan, R., Moravcsik, E. A., Ouali, H., & Wheatley, K. (Eds.). (2009). Formulaic language: Volume 2. Acquisition, loss, psychological reality, and functional explanations. New York: Benjamins.
Ellis, N. C. (2002). Frequency effects in language processing. Studies in second language acquisition, 24(02), 143-188.
Ellis, N. C., Simpson‐vlach, R., & Maynard, C. (2008). Formulaic language in native and second language speakers: Psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics, and TESOL. Tesol Quarterly, 42(3), 375-396.
Fitzpatrick, T., & Wray, A. (2006). Breaking up is not so hard to do: Individual differences in L2 memorization. Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(1), 35-57.
Gatbonton, E., & Segalowitz, N. (1988). Creative automatization: Principles for promoting fluency within a communicative framework. TESOL quarterly, 22(3), 473-492.
Gilquin, G., Granger, S., & Paquot, M. (2007). Learner corpora: The missing link in EAP pedagogy. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 6(4), 319-335.
Gleason, J. B., & Weintraub, S. (1976). The acquisition of routines in child language. Language in Society, 5(02), 129-136.
Gledhill, C. J. (2000). Collocations in science writing (Vol. 22). Gunter Narr Verlag.
Gledhill, C., & Kübler, N. (2016). What can linguistic approaches bring to English for Specific Purposes?. ASp. la revue du GERAS, (69), 65-95.
Granger, S., & Meunier, F. (2008). Phraseology in language learning and teaching: Where to from here? Phraseology in foreign language learning and teaching, 247-252.
Hoang, H., & Boers, F. (2016). Re-telling a story in a second language: How well do adult learners mine an input text for multiword expressions?. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 6(3), 513-535.
Lindstromberg, S., Eyckmans, J., & Connabeer, R. (2016). A modified dictogloss for helping learners remember L2 academic English formulaic sequences for use in later writing. English for Specific Purposes, 41, 12-21.
Meunier, F., & Granger, S. (Eds.). (2008). Phraseology in foreign language learning and teaching. New York: Benjamins.
Myles, F., & Cordier, C. (2017). Formulaic sequence (FS) cannot be an umbrella term in SLA: Focusing on psycholinguistic FSs and their identification. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 1-26.
Nation, P. 2001. Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Paquot, M., & Granger, S. (2012). Formulaic language in learner corpora. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, 130-149.
Pawley, A., & Syder, F. H. (1983). Two puzzles for linguistic theory: Nativelike selection and nativelike fluency. Language and communication, 191, 225.
Peters, A. M. (1983). The units of language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Peters, E., & Pauwels, P. (2015). Learning academic formulaic sequences. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 20, 28-39.
Rundell, M., & Fox, G. (Eds.). (2007). Macmillan English dictionary for advanced learners.2nd edition. Oxford: Macmillan. (key features)
Simpson-Vlach, R., & Ellis, N. C. (2010). An academic formulas list: New methods in phraseology research. Applied Linguistics, 31(4), 487-512.
Sinclair, J. 1991. Corpus, concordance, collocation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tomasello, M. (2000). First steps toward a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cognitive linguistics, 11(1/2), 61-82.
Weinert, R. (1995). The role of formulaic language in second language acquisition: A review. Applied linguistics, 16(2), 180-205.
Fillmore, L. W. (1976). The second time around: Cognitive and social strategies in second language acquisition. Doctoral dissertation, Stanford University.
Wray, A. (2012). What do we (think we) know about formulaic language? An evaluation of the current state of play. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 32, 231-254.
Wray, Alison. 2002. Formulaic Language and the Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wray, A. and Fitzpatrick, T. (2008). ‘Why Can’t you Just Leave it Alone? Deviations from Memorized Language as a Gauge of Nativelike Competence’, in F. Meunier and S. Granger (eds), Phraseology in Foreign Language Learning and Teaching (123–48).

Mobility abroad in teacher education: a virtuous spiral

SPIRAL, School-teacher Professionalisation: Intercultural Resources and Languages, is a European teacher education project which aims to develop intercultural and foreign language competence in pre-service primary teachers (Erasmus+ 2015-18).

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The project

Coordinated by the French International Centre for Pedagogical Studies (CIEP), SPIRAL involves institutions for teacher education in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. The project partners have designed a learning platform to support trainee teachers who undertake short school placements in a different country.
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The platform provides
  • practical help in making contact with their host schools, and
  • pedagogical support for making the most of this opportunity to develop teaching and intercultural competences.

In each of the three years of the project’s lifetime, 30 pre-service primary teachers (6 from each partner country) make 2-week school visits to another project country. Where possible, the mobility is organised as part of regular teacher training courses.

The learning platform

The online platform has been purpose-built to accommodate participants from the five SPIRAL countries on Moodle, using the project’s own graphic identity. It includes
  • a survey tool
  • a built-in video/audio recorder, and
  • an ePortfolio.

The platform offers a structured sequence of 17 activities designed to help learners before, during, and after their mobility along three dimensions labelled research, practice, and language. Following a self-assessment activity, where participants complete can-do statements related to a common reference framework developed by the project, the primary student-teachers work on the activities with support from a tutor in their home country.

Examples of activities designed for the three dimensions at each stage of the mobility are shown below:

RESEARCH
PRACTICE
LANGUAGE
BEFORE
(10 activities)
read articles on intercultural competence (ICC)
find out about education system in host country
record a video CV for host school
DURING
(3 activities)
explore four Competence Cards (intercultural competences) selected for special emphasis
keep classroom observation notes in relation to each competence
monitor own language and teaching experiences where appropriate
AFTER
(4 activities)
relate own experience to previous ICC reading
write a reflective paper
record a short oral reaction to experience
Student teachers enroll in the learning path corresponding to the host country: a French student going to the Netherlands joins the Dutch path. Instructions are offered in each of the project’s five languages in each path. The activities are identical in each path, with the exception of one webquest specific to each host country. The trainee teachers can collect a variety of media in their own space on the SPIRAL platform (web links, audio, video, text, PDF), organise these into collections (folders) and share whole collections or parts with their home tutors. Host teacher feedback is also expected.

SPIRAL in teacher education

A group of language educators external to the project were invited to a presentation of the project at the University of Alcala for feedback on progress to date.

My impression was very favourable: it’s clear a great deal of thought and effort has gone into the design of online activities. The results appears coherent, well integrated in local SPIRAL contexts, and very relevant to the wider language education community. This is the kind of project that institutions should support through long-term integration into local curricula and programmes, in order to establish its role in intercultural and foreign language teacher education. We know from experience that when modules appear in permanent course catalogues with an appropriate attribution of credits, buy-in by both tutors and trainees is much easier to sustain. And once institutional recognition is assured, generalisation to other institutions across academies, countries, and even at the international level, becomes a real possibility.

Supporting (language) teacher education with mobility

It is hard to resist the temptation to raise a few issues I think are worth considering for a possible SPIRAL 2 and beyond, with the goals of sustainability and normalisation (Bax, 2003) for exploiting mobility in teacher education.

Closed versus open platforms

I confess my heart sinks when I log on to most traditional learning management systems like Moodle. My objections include
  • an uninviting interface where I see only enclosing folder upon enclosing folder containing information to be downloaded and assignments to be completed. The internet’s answer to brutalist architecture;
  • the top-down pedagogical framework: the user cannot take an initiatives, only respond to activities already defined and timetabled in advance;
  • the lack of ownership of any resources added: neither students nor instructors are assured of being able to retrieve work accomplished on the platform, either for their records or to use/share for other purposes.

mikulas-prokop-171663.jpeg

While open platforms using free tools obviously have the drawbacks of not providing the privacy and safe space to share that students often need, they do offer more freedom in both the type of resources that can be accessed and the range of activities that can be engaged in. On open platforms, future teachers can learn to use tools they may re-use with their own pupils as their careers progress, and they also have control over what happens to any work they post. Perhaps most importantly, they can interact with one another.
jorge-flores-98849.jpeg

Tutor-trainee exchange versus group interaction

My second gripe about online delivery of this type of course is related to the first. Because they tend to reflect somewhat conservative views of both web-related technology and pedagogical practice, Moodle-type learning platforms encourage a fairly transmissive view of teaching and learning. The instructor defines the content, plans delivery, and sets assignments to check understanding. The instructor uploads materials for the student to download and digest, the students upload materials for the instructor to download and evaluate, and the instructor posts feedback. Students don’t collaborate either on the input provided by the instructor, or on the output produced by each student.
This format misses opportunities for students to learn from one another, either by collaborating on learning tasks or by providing feedback to one another. The whole burden of supporting learning and assessing it is borne by the instructor alone. This makes it more likely for both sides to become discouraged, since the students have no peer support and the instructor is limited to providing individual feedback.
In courses covering foreign language learning and intercultural understanding, it seems important to include multiple perspectives, making group interaction an obvious asset for both teaching and learning.

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In case of SPIRAL, since the project has a fixed duration and functions essentially as a pilot for a future intercultural/foreign language course, there is neither funding nor staff resources for more interactive modules. But this is a point to consider in any future developments, in my view.

Intercultural learning versus foreign language focus

Alcala city hall displays a portrait of El Empecinado (the Undaunted) who saved the city from Napoleon against the odds, and gave the Spanish language the verb empecinarse (to insist).

My third point concerns the relative importance of intercultural versus foreign language competences. I understand that particularly in primary education, where teachers are responsible for a general curriculum comprising all the core subjects, it is unrealistic to expect very high foreign language proficiency from participants (e.g., CER level C). I also concede that my own linguistic training disposes me to place high value on both language proficiency and linguistic knowledge. But I do feel that to improve the language skills of tomorrow’s citizens we need teachers able to teach foreign languages well, which would imply both having good language skills and knowing how to support classroom foreign language learning. (See recent research by de Bot and colleagues on instructional time and teacher proficiency with very young learners in Dutch schools, references below.)

I feel that we have in many ways abandoned the goal of promoting foreign language acquisition in schools.

Much language teaching is diverted towards culture, to the detriment of actual language learning.
Primary school language teaching, seldom delivered by language specialists, often emphasises human geography and cultural traditions. Secondary school and university programmes generally focus on learning about the target language grammar, as a gateway to the target culture. More recently, intercultural competence, or communicating with individuals from different cultural backgrounds, has taken centre stage. As a linguist, I argue against both approaches.
Intercultural competence is a natural consequence of learning a foreign language, and need not be a specific focus of study.
In learning to comprehend target language speakers, and in turn express themselves even approximately, learners being to equip themselves both to understand communication breakdown and negotiate misunderstandings. And as proficiency develops, the culture of the second language can constitute content (like history, mathematics, or science in CLIL teaching).
The culture of target language speakers can be studied separately, once the language has been acquired to an appropriate level.
No doubt the current focus in language classrooms on cultural and intercultural competence is partly due to the difficulty of actual language learning. Acquisition is a notoriously long and uncertain process which does not lend itself easily to short teacher training programmes (which often also have other, more pressing learning objectives to attain). All the more reason, I would say, to grasp the nettle.
I believe a number of steps can be taken to address the problems of second/foreign language learning and teaching during teacher training.

Experiential modelling

At the very least, our teacher education modules should offer a good model of using the foreign language to communicate. We should provide opportunities for spontaneous exchange, in written or spoken mode, using any of the many synchronous and asynchronous tools now available. We should allow student teachers to try out their perhaps limited linguistic skills in a safe environment, where mistakes can be made and risks taken, risks and errors both being integral to language acquisition. Then they can hit the ground running when they arrive in the host environment.

Collecting teaching resources

We should also encourage student teachers to seize the opportunity of a stay in the target culture to collect resources to be used in future language teaching classes, such as photographs, recordings of native speakers, or cultural artifacts. They should also try and cultivate contacts for future class exchanges. This would remind student teachers that this school placement is not simply a chance to put themselves in their learners’ shoes as low proficiency speakers. It is also a chance to view the host class through their learners’ eyes: what would an eight-year old French child notice about the German classroom? What topics could be explored in future class exchanges? Note that this argument applies to placements where students use English as a lingua franca (e.g., French students working in English in the Netherlands) as well as where they aim to teach the host language (e.g., German future teachers of English in the UK).

Continuing professional development

Finally, any teaching module based on foreign language teaching and learning should provide motivation and resources for ongoing language learning on the part of the future teacher. A placement of two weeks, a month, or a full term in the target culture will in most case suffice only to assure the student teacher of the extent of language practice still to be undertaken if a level of proficiency is to be attained that is truly comfortable for teaching. Upon their return, we need to offer ways to prolong and extend contact with the target language.

Only in this way can we ensure that new generations of teachers have the wherewithal to create genuine opportunities for language acquisition in their classes.

References

Bax, S. (2003). CALL—past, present and future. System, 31(1), 13-28.
De Bot, K. (2014). The effectiveness of early foreign language learning in the Netherlands. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, 4(3), 409-418.
SPIRAL common reference framework PDF
SPIRAL competence cards PDF

Unsworth, S., Persson, L., Prins, T., & De Bot, K. (2014). An investigation of factors affecting early foreign language learning in the Netherlands. Applied Linguistics.

Photos from unsplash, the SPIRAL project site and Twitter feed, or my own.

Is task-based language teaching just a variation on presentation-practice-production?

Many language teachers are interested in the question of what makes a task a task. Pre-service teachers are often under pressure to conform to some see as the hegemony of task-based language teaching (TBLT) which they feel is imposed on teachers by the Common European Reference framework (CER). They want to know whether their textbook which claim to follow CER principles offer genuinely task-based teaching activities. Or they wonder how the demands of “authentic” language use associated with TBLT can be squared with the seemingly artificial language used in the foreign language classroom where everyone shares a native language.

Teacher educators, too, struggle with strong versions of a task-based approach, as opposed to weaker, task-supported incarnations, which often seem to overlap with the production phase of the PPP approach, where structures are Presented and Practiced with the teacher before learners are encourage to Produce their own contributions. Does this seem a reasonable compromise, or does it mean abandoning the principles of TBLT?

In the slides above I summarise two articles, one by Jason Anderson in defence of PPP, and another by Rod Ellis, one of the main proponents of TBLT. Anderson argues that PPP has admirably stood the test of time and is suited to a wider range of teaching contexts than TBLT. Ellis, on the other hand, defends TBLT against a number of misconceptions about this approach, and to my mind invalidates many of Anderson’s points. My own view is that TBLT is quite different from PPP, and that there are good reasons, related to how languages are learned, to favour TBLT (see Jordan for instance).

Update 15/03/17: more from Jordan on Two versions of task-based language teaching, drawing in Long’s book on TBLT and SLA, and Breen’s process syllabus.

Anderson, J. (2016). Why practice makes perfect sense: the past, present and potential future of the PPP paradigm in language teacher education. Practice, 19.

Ellis, R. (2013). Task-based language teaching: Responding to the critics. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 8(1), 1-27.

Jordan, G. Principles and practice. Critical EFL.

Resources, tools, and training: Open educational practices for language teaching

Open educational practice: taking care in the design and creation of digital materials with a view to future sharing and repurposing, working towards a goal of sustainable development for (language) teachers.

I ran a workshop for language teachers at the University of Limerick covering a range of resources, tools, and networks to try and answer some of these questions.
  • How can teachers best select teaching and learning materials and adapt them to their own particular needs?
  • Which digital tools are most versatile, and how can they be integrated into learning activities?
  • And what can teachers do as their careers progress to try and keep up with technological innovation?

From open resources to open practices

We talked about the Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources, and how open resources lead to open practices. My own epiphany about openness came when teaching a course on technology in language education to a group of teachers of several European languages. The course encouraged participants to share teaching resources publicly, and some of my students’ selections – for languages I don’t speak – were picked up by colleagues at other universities.

work that would otherwise be invisible or lost to the wider community once a course assignment is completed here can be recovered and exploited by others

Read the full paper

I used Google forms for a background questionnaire to gauge participants’ interests and knowledge, then we used Padlet to share open resources collected by myself and others using the curation platform Scoop.it. (See the resources.)

One of the difficulties in supporting language teachers in integrating technology is the vast array of digital tools at our disposal. Conventional wisdom suggests focusing on pedagogical objectives rather than the affordances of tools, so we looked at a task I used with one of my undergraduate EFL students: a story slam based on the Moth format.

A storytelling task

In my university EFL class, I used the open resources from the Moth website to set the task and provide examples for my students. I think this makes a decent task because it meets most of the criteria for task-based language teaching: it’s a real-world activity (target language speakers do it), there’s a clear outcome (a story that meets certain pre-determined standards), and learners have freedom in the language they choose to use.

There are also opportunities for reflection and collaboration, because the Moth also has a transcription system where volunteers can check and correct automatic transcriptions of existing stories. Students used the audio platform SoundCloud and Google forms to allow students to record their own stories as they performed in class, upload and safeguard their recordings, and share with the teacher. I used the canned response gadget in the Labs section of Gmail to provide individual feedback to students, together with a link to a blogpost with ideas for work on pronunciation. I tried to encourage reflection with a post-task activity where students were asked to react to this feedback.

Incidentally, as I prepared my introductory lesson for my students using a specific Moth story, I cleaned up the machine transcription of the story so that my students could analyse the storyteller’s technique and language. In so doing, I made my own small contribution to the Moth project by leaving a full, correct transcription for others to use (either native-speaking storytellers or L2 learners). This provides an argument for openness in itself, and one which also suggests another type of task where learners perform this transcription checking task themselves, to work on listening and writing skills.

Most of the links to the activities and tools for this storytelling task are here.

Playing safe and playing fair

Of course, open education also imposes some particular requirements on teachers and learners. It’s important to respect learners’ privacy and make sure we have permission to share their work. With adults this can often be done simply using the following suggestions:

  • ask learners to create their own accounts on free platforms
  • allow learners to choose pseudonyms if work is shared publicly
  • offer the chance to share only with specific individuals (e.g., the teacher) or a restricted group of learners
  • remind learners to hide or remove files, or delete their accounts once the course is completed.

Similarly, both teachers and learners need to respect the intellectual property of others. Gosia Kurek and Anna Skowron produced a very useful guide to help language teachers understand what can be shared and how, as part of the LangOER project. This guide also has up-to-date references to places to find images that can be used freely without attribution, for example.

Going further for language teachers

The last section of my presentation (see slides above) includes telecollaborative platforms and some reflection on my experience in teacher education in this area. We didn’t get that far in Limerick, but in the interests of openness it’s still there.

It was great to hear about work in languages at the University of Limerick with Catherine Jeanneau, including a French-language debating team (another real-world task) and a very active Facebook page.

And as a quick coda to the session, we looked at Plickers, a paper-based clicker app that allows learners to respond to multiple choice questions by holding up QR codes which the teacher records using the app on their phone. Results can be displayed in a browser at plickers.com and projected for the class to see. I like this tool for myself because I don’t always have internet access in class. For the secondary school teachers I train, it can be used in schools where pupils are not allowed to use phones in class. In Limerick, however, the teachers were working with adult learners who all had smartphones with wifi access: they showed me Kahoot, which offers similar opportunities for their teaching context.

References

Kurek, M. & Skowron, A. (2015). Going open with LangOER. PDF

Paris Declaration on Open Educational Resources PDF

Whyte, S. (2014). Bridging gaps : Using social media to develop techno-pedagogical competences in pre-service language teacher education. Recherche et pratiques pédagogiques en langues de spécialité – Cahiers de l’APLIUT, 33(2):143-169.

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Text to speech in language education

This post is my response to the first assignment of the open teacher education course identified below.

Pronunciation: text to speech

Open Educational Resources (OER) and Automatic Language Processing for Language Learning

PRONUNCIATION assignment

In up to 500 words, write down your experience with the OERs proposed. Have they been useful? Do you think they will help your students learn more successfully? Why?

The OERs are these:

http://www.naturalreaders.com/index.html
http://text-to-speech.imtranslator.net (available in multiple languages) http://www.fromtexttospeech.com (available in multiple languages)
https://text-to-speech-demo.mybluemix.net (with expressive SSML)

1. Natural readers https://www.naturalreaders.com/index.html

I put in this text from Google news and tried various accents.

A surprise victory for the government at this late stage seems unlikely and would be met with head-scratching in No 10, which has already conceded that parliament should be consulted at the end of the Brexit process.

Mike (US) and Graham (UK) miss No 10 (“no ten” instead of “number ten”) and intonation on head-scratching is off (head SCRATCHing instead of HEAD scratching).

I’m not sure I understand why we would want to hear it read by French or Italian speakers. How is this engineered? Is it sampled from French speakers reading English text, or does it just apply algorithms for machine reading of French to English text? I suspect the second. I teach English to French speakers so am certainly used to French-accented English, but nothing like “Alain” reading about Brexit (to hear him, paste my inset text above here and choose “Alain”). I defy anyone to understand “Juliette’s” version without a transcript.

I teach mainly French learners of English in higher education contexts in France. Some of them are future secondary school teachers of English facing national teacher entrance examinations which place high value on phonological and morphosyntactic accuracy in planned monologues. I have discussed some of the pronunciation problems I see in this post Improving spoken English: intermediate/advanced. I’m not at all sure how I would exploit text-to-speech tools with these students. They can get better information on phonemes and word stress from online dictionaries, and the suprasegmental information in the samples I’ve heard here don’t seem reliable enough to be useful.

2. IMtranslator http://text-to-speech.imtranslator.net/

I thought this was quite impressive. I typed in conversational French and the translation was pretty accurate, intonational contours less so perhaps.

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3. Text to speech http://www.fromtexttospeech.com/

Next, another resource from text to speech, using the first paragraph of a CALL article (Gonzalez-Lloret, 2011):

The potential of CMC for L2 development resides mainly in the possibility that learners have to engage with other speakers of the language, including L1 speakers, which is especially important for the acquisition of not only linguistic resources but also social and pragmatic competence. As Thorne (2006) states “the use of Internet technologies to encourage dialogue between distributed individuals and partner classes proposes a compelling shift in second (L2) and foreign language (FL) education, one that ideally moves learners from simulated classroom-based contexts towards actual interaction with expert speakers of the language they are studying” (p. 3).

This tool creates an mp3 which you can link to (how long is it stored?) or download. My WordPress won’t accept this file type so I put it on SoundCloud for convenience:

Of course you can just visit from text to speech and do your own cut-and-paste with choice of speaker (that was British “Emma”). Or try French “Gabriel” (set to fast; there are 4 speeds) for another surreal experience.

To my ear “Emma’s” is a pretty good rendering – no obvious errors in intonation that would mislead the listener. But I’m struggling to imagine uses in the language classroom. I might use it if I wanted to have an article read to me during a commute, for example, though the time and planning required to convert and save the file to a device might not be worthwhile. If learners wanted more aural input, better to use authentic sources, surely, of which there is no lack.

In our course assignment, we were encouraged to experiment with different versions of sentences “to see how grammar affects voice outputs.” Here we see that the US voice distinguishes between the lexical verb have and the modal have to /hæftə/

  • learners have the possibility to engage with other speakers of the language mp3
  • learners have to engage with other speakers of the language mp3

You don’t seem to be able to retrieve this information from the Collins dictionary (have) so this gives the tool an advantage over a traditional learner dictionary in this case.

(On another note, you need to refresh the page (click the banner icon) for each new query; you can’t just cut and paste new text in the window.)

4. My blue mix

The tool was developed by IBM presumably for commercial purposes (see description). Here I listened to British and American voices reading English, and a French voice for French. I thought the French sounded better; is French intonation easier to imitate, or is my ear for French less discriminating?

There’s a feature called “expressive SSML” that tweaks the output in prosodic terms, in the example for customer service ends:

The Apology mode seems to place more emphasis (volume, length, pausing). Uncertainty has more pausing, Good News more pitch variation.

Another Voice Transformation features shows variation along different parameters: glottal tension, breathiness, strength, pitch range. Eleven of the 13 voices are female, and only two (female) are transformable in this way. It feels a bit Ex Machina.

Developers can use the tools to customise their own voices and specific texts.

Again, it’s not obvious to me how either the demo or the tool could be used for language teaching and learning beyond awareness-raising. I suppose lower proficiency learners could compare intonation in native and target languages, and more advanced ones could record themselves and compare with the synthetic voices. The tools seems to be ranked in order of sophistication, with perhaps the IBM demo the most convincing. It’s certainly interesting to see how these tools have developed in the past decade or so.

References

González-Lloret, M. (2011). Conversation analysis of computer-mediated communication. Calico Journal, 28(2), 308-325. PDF Calico

OER and automatic language processing for language teachers

I signed up for an open course run by TELL-OP, an Erasmus+ strategic partnership, which seeks to exploit corpus expertise and digital affordances to encourage e-learning of languages. The website puts it thus:

TELL-OP is a Strategic Partnership that seeks to promote the take-up of innovative practices in European language learning (Data Driven Learning, DDL) by supporting personalised learning approaches that rely on the use of ICT & OER by bringing together the knowledge & expertise of European stakeholders in the fields of language education, corpus & applied linguistics, e-learning & knowledge engineering in order to promote cooperation & contribute to unleash the potential behind already available web 2.0 services to promote the personalized e-learning of languages in the contexts of higher & adult education, in particular, through mobile devices.

TELL-OP partners include these people and institutions, and – fittingly, I think – I found the course via Pascual Pérez-Paredes on Twitter.

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The course is taught by Dana Ruggiero (@Dana_Ruggiero) on Moodle and covers

  1. introduction and pronunciation
  2. vocabulary acquisition
  3. interaction
  4. writing skills
  5. reading skills

In a spirit of openness, and because the first assignment seems to cry out for what we used to call Web 2.0 tools, I’ll try to blog my course participation.

I am already behind.

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Why history of ELT? An autobiographical view

From an online discussion of the history of ELT with Friederike Klippel

Richard Smith ELT

Over the last week, Friederike Klippelscreen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-14-03 and I have been leading an online screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-15-49discussion for IATEFL’s Research SIG on ‘Views of ELT history’. It’s not too late to join in! This discussion is a kind of preview or taster (an advertisement, basically!) for the Pre-Conference Event we’re facilitating for ReSIG in Glasgow on 3 April: ‘Researching ELT history: A hands-on workshop’:

screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-21-13-46 Advertisement 😉

Our online discussion began with us swapping stories of how we got interested in ELT history. Here’s the story I shared, slightly edited, followed by some reflections on it:

So, how and why did I personally first get interested in looking into the history of ELT? It’s not a kind of research that many people are engaging in, still. My interest was first stimulated around 1993, after I’d been teaching English in Japan for around seven years, and at a particular university in Tokyo for the…

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