I have attended several Tesol Conferences along the years and, since one of my great interests is Phonetics and Phonology, I tend to participate in several presentations on the topic. To tell you the truth, I have not been happy with what I have previously seen. Presenters have repeatedly used the same activities and strategies to help students overcome their difficulties – minimal pairs, rubber bands, tongue twisters, traditional songs, nursery rhymes, among others.
When I came across the title: Obama as pronunciation Teacher: Using Political Speeches for Suprasegmentals, I was really curious about how the presenter would use Obama’s speeches to teach pronunciation.
The presenter’s objective was to make clear how essential pauses, stress and intonation in sentences are to accurate pronunciation. Her point was to provide students with effective models to help them successfully use suprasegmentals when they use the English language. The presenter, Mary Rommey from the University of Connecticut, used Obama’s political speeches as examples.
She offered a six-month course at the University of Connecticut for candidates as Teaching Assistants for whom English was not their native language. She conducted a pre test and a post test with these candidates. She videotaped them when they were talking about familiar topics related to their daily life before and after the course. The results were fascinating ! Students improved a lot regarding pause, rhythm, stress and intonation.
She started by asking students to mark the pauses on transcripts of Obama’s speeches. Then, they watched videos and checked their markings. She explained that he was a convincing speaker because of the pauses he makes. Then she worked with stress and later with intonation. When students received the transcript, they read the speech first, solved vocabulary doubts, and asked about content. She made sure the text was grammatically transparent and that the meaning was clear to all students.
The presenter’s objective was to show that suprasegmental aspects influence communication and that the speaker has to be intelligible to communicate effectively.