Saturday, February 4, 2012

A speaking warm up (for imaginative, creative native speaking instructors with a little extra time on their hands only!)

One of the "advantages" of being a native speaker--or highly advanced level L2 speaker--is that you can benefit from warming up reading out loud decontextualized, near-nonsense sentences, focusing, for example, on vowels and consonants. It is a well-established, highly effective practice in public speaking. In Lessac's exercises he includes that type of work as well. You can quickly enhance the felt sense and resonance of the voice, along with sharpening articulation and clarity of speech, by producing dozens and dozens of words containing all the vowels and consonants of the language.

The nonnative speaker, of course, has a least a couple of problems with that approach. The sentences are often designed to be vaguely humorous but generally opaque, although the creative native speaker can probably visualize the scene or quickly come up with an imagined context for the isolated sentence. The pronunciation of some of the words may not even be obvious to the native speaker--without the presence words with similar vowels or consonants nearby--let along for the nonnative.
Clip art: Clker

That approach is doubly problematic for HICP work in that the focus is almost exclusively on language that the learner has at least some possibility of using in conversation or at least hearing it in some context. Hence the need for a very different approach in developing good warm ups and attempting to change a quite restricted set of vocabulary initially. In effect, the emphasis is on word change, not generalized vowels or consonants.  Haptic anchoring is highly effective in setting up new pronunciation of individual words, phrases and sentences. The research on haptic memory confirms that those should then become the reference points for figuring out and remembering both the meaning and pronunciation of new words as well. Without anchoring meaning, however, it is another matter.

So, for refinement of your current classroom speaking model, I might still recommend (1) get your body ready (Follow instructions in the recent post of "Perfect Form" in HICP work) and then (2) a traditional "nonsense-sentence" warm up like the one linked above for some, especially those without formal training in public speaking. Try it daily for a couple of weeks, recording it occasionally and reviewing it for clarity and dialect consistency--and to get used to monitoring your speech model a bit more dispassionately. Your voice will thank you. So will your students. 

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