Tackling Pronunciation with Technology

computer with flowers

At the end of last semester I was wrestling with how to work on pronunciation.  Alas, I was tired of hearing “Il essssssssssssst anglaissssss” and so I started to brainstorm ways students might be able to work on this problem without me.  This particular pronunciation issue is, in my opinion, an input and reading issue.  Students haven’t had enough input and then they are reading the words wrong.  Nobody ever makes this mistake before they see the word est. So how could I have them get more input, while working on their reading at the same time?  Or how could I get them to focus on the fact that when they hear “il est anglais” and they say “Il esssssst anglaisssss” that that’s essentially a reading error and how could they do this without me?

Here’s what I did.

  1.  I wrote/got/copied three short paragraphs in a Google Doc.  I wanted them to have typical reading/pronunciation errors that Novices make.  I chose one that I wrote, one that I barely “edited” of Cyprien’s Twitter page and one Tweet that had words we had not necessarily practiced with.
  2. I had students install the Read &Write Extension from Text Help.  This is an amazing extension that will read whatever is on the page in multiple languages.  (Well, it’ll read whatever’s on the webpage and you tell it the language.  So if you want to listen to bad pronunciation put up a French webpage and then don’t change the language to French.  Icky, blech!)  Read&Write Extension does a ton of other things that Eric Curts has explained on his blog Control Alt Achieve.
  3. Students used the extension to listen to the paragraphs.  I asked them to listen times.  Once just listening.  Once by silently mouthing the words as they were read to them and once speaking aloud as they were read to them and then to practice the paragraph themselves and listen again.
  4. Students used the Voice Typing Tool in Google Docs to record themselves reading.  This is where it got interesting.  I practiced using bad pronunciation and it typed out my bad pronunciation.  It was my hope that the students would realize that when they saw “Il a 25 ans” but they said “il est 25 anse” that they would realize that there was an issue that they could work on or re-do.
  5. Students filled out a feedback form so I could see if they thought it would be useful.  Overwhelmingly students said that they thought that this type of practice would be useful.  Some students reported that the Voice Typing “didn’t work right,” but when I checked what Voice Typing had written, it clearly wrote out their pronunciation issues.  The students just didn’t realize that they were saying it wrong.  I think that is an issue I can deal with and is just a matter of familiarity with what they are doing and why.

What’s not clear is whether the Voice Typing tool will adjust to their bad pronunciation and write out the correct words even if the student says it wrong.  What also isn’t clear is whether this type of work will be effective.  I know pointing out pronunciation errors of this type rarely has a positive long term effect, but I also know that if a student feels like s/he is making progress and has something “tangible” to hold onto they will make progress.

What I’m thinking I will do is for each lesson build a document with three or four short, comprehensible paragraphs that students can use for optional practice as part of their goal setting and homework choices work.  Even if the pronunciation work is less than optimally successful, they will certainly benefit from listening and reading more.

I’d be interested to hear how you have used Voice Typing tools to work on pronunciation.

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