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Learner perspective: how the Summer Course in English Phonetics benefited two different types of teacher

07 July 2017

The Life Learning team spoke to two people taking the 2015 Summer Course in English Phonetics (SCEP) to find out what they thought of the course and how it benefited them as teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL). Jeremy Wilson, a private tutor, and Joe Flanagan, a lecturer in English phonology, talk about their experiences below.

Jeremy Wilson, private tutor

A photo of Jeremy Wilson

Jeremy is a private tutor teaching maths and English as a foreign language to young children, teenagers and adults in Poland. When in the UK he teaches English to refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.

What motivated you to do this course, and what did you hope to gain from it?

Teaching English is a relatively new endeavour for me and in November 2014 I took the standard Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in Norwich. I was fascinated by phonetics and the problems of teaching pronunciation and wanted to learn more.

I realised that although a native speaker can easily tell that something's wrong with a learner's pronunciation it's not always easy to diagnose the problem or to help the speaker correct it. I was looking to improve my academic understanding of English phonetics and phonology, and to get a basic grounding in theory and practice so I could understand students' problems and help them.

I wasn't really looking for a course but stumbled across UCL's Summer Course in English Phonetics while researching linguistics online. I knew UCL were experts in this area and was keen to spend some dedicated time looking at phonetics and pronunciation in much more detail.

I used to live in London so being able to live and study here for two weeks had great appeal.

What was your favourite aspect of the course?

I'm fairly academically inclined so to have lecturers and tutors who were the best in their field was great. I enjoyed having time dedicated time on the subject of phonetics and pronunciation with people who are specialists in the subject.

During the course I learned that our perception of what pronunciation is and what it is in reality can vary greatly. This was partly as a result of the tutorials but also the ear training we had.

I found my fellow students wonderful, both native and non-native speakers, and I learned a lot from them as well as the course tutors.

What did you find challenging?

I've always been aware of intonation but I found reproducing intonation patterns consciously to order really hard.

What surprised you?

I was surprised that there were so few native speakers. I don’t see how someone can be an effective teacher of English as a foreign language (TEFL) without some knowledge of phonetics, at least more than is provided in the general qualifications. My own teaching experience suggests that a lot of learners of English as a foreign language have great problems in understanding even slow native speech. This is because the pronunciation they've learned doesn't reflect current native speech patterns.

What impact has this training had on your teaching?

Attending this course gave me a far greater awareness of English pronunciation.
It's given me much more confidence in teaching pronunciation: I now know that what I'm saying is correct whereas before it was instinct and sometimes wrong. I'm certainly using things I've learned from the course on a daily basis in my teaching.

Joe Flanagan, Lecturer in English Phonology

A photo of Joe Flannigan

Joe is a Lecturer in English Phonology at the University of Helsinki, Finland.

What motivated you to do this course, and what did you hope to gain from it?

I teach English, including pronunciation and phonetics, and wanted to develop my skills and knowledge. I was keen to learn about the latest developments in contemporary spoken English and how to handle certain issues in teaching English. As an academic interested in phonetics, I was aware of the course and knew that UCL had a reputation as experts in this area.

In the field of teaching English there are two main issues that I hoped to explore and learn more about: how much explicit English phonetic knowledge people learning English as a second language need; and what model of English should be used.

English is so widely spoken that there's now more than American or British English, but also English as a lingua franca (ELF). For those learning English as a non-native speaker, the vast majority are going to be speaking to other non-native speakers so should we be making them sound like native speakers? Are native speaker norms appropriate for this group of people? I was curious to see how UCL approaches that issue.

From a personal perspective, I also wanted to learn more about British English pronunciation as I'm an American.

What was your favourite aspect of the course?

I really enjoyed the way the course was taught. There were large lectures in the morning, followed by smaller tutorial groups of six or seven people. These smaller groups were great for delving into topics in detail, tailored for our particular groups’ interests.

The informal discussions that happened in the smaller groups as well as throughout the course were incredibly valuable. We all stayed in accommodation together, along with some of the tutors, so there were plenty of opportunities to continue conversations and debates, as well as building a real sense of community.

I was with a number of native speakers, many from an academic background in my groups but there were also groups of people who were learning English as non-native speakers at varying levels. It was a mix of people and interesting to get different perspectives from the teaching and student sides.

What did you find challenging?

Certain aspects of transcribing English were challenging for me, especially when they weren't the standard way I've always known, so that challenged my thinking and approach.

Also, attempting to switch from an American accent to a British one. I imagine it’s easier to learn an accent from scratch rather than trying to change when you're already a native speaker!

What surprised you?

One of my main objectives for coming on the course was to explore the different models of teaching English pronunciation and phonetics. It was interesting to see that there were different opinions and perspectives from the teaching staff on the course. There was no unified opinion on this issue, which underlines how attitudes and thinking about this challenge are still evolving.

What impact has this training had on your teaching?

I went straight into teaching when I came back from the course so I haven’t had time yet to rethink everything in that way. I’ve been considering how I can incorporate what I've learned into my own teaching but that takes time.

I definitely benefited from attending the course. Being able to discuss and debate some of the issues that come up in my own teaching environment, as well as hearing about the latest developments has been very valuable.

I'd recommend that others interested in English and phonetics attend this course. Being a residential course in London is also a great excuse to visit the city.

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Page last modified on 09 February 2016 15:33