I admit that my language teaching methods are sometimes unique, quite amusing to others and different. My methods make sense to me. When other teachers see me teach, I often am asked where I have learned certain instructional techniques. My answer to this question is easy, I did not really learn the technique from any one source, and to be honest, I kind of make up some techniques. My techniques may be out of the ordinary sometimes to the everyday langauge teacher, but they are extremely effective in producing results with students. Many of my techniques are a combination of my formal training, experience, and using keen observations. Through applying these three components together, I apply needs analysis to figure out what my students instructional needs are and then I use the three components listed to decide an appropriate instructional method to effectively teach.
My techniques are dynamic and full of energy. I am a master of multitasking. I have eyes on the back of my head and on the sides of my ears. My ears shoot across the classroom. My arms and hands are often flying in all directions almost as if I am an octopus swimming around my classroom. My mouth quite regularly makes odd movements and shapes which are amusing to my audience. Although amusing, my audience also partakes in this oddity. My audience often busts out vocalizing funny sounds with smiles of entertainment on their faces; This is after following my cue to produce these sounds. The clattering, repetition and irregularity of noise patterns often echos throughout my classroom, like a car engine trying to start. My audience follows my directions expanding and deflating the stomach as if meditating. Can you picture this? (chuckles, laughter, comedy)
Yes, I am quite funny in my methods. Yes, I am quite amusing to watch. Yes, my students have fun learning. I sometimes laugh at myself. My students often laugh too. Their laughter is not a disrespectful laughter, but laughter of respect and entertainment. We have fun! So, you may be thinking what the heck do I do?
The answer is contextualizing my training as a classical musician, band director, teacher, and instructor of language. For the past 23 years I have been a flautist. I have spent years studying and performing music. I have a bachelor’s degree in music education. For some years I was a band director. I have also performed in bands, orchestras, small ensembles, etc. I have done it for so long, music training is second nature to me. I think like a musician. I act like a musician. I am a musician!
I now also am a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. I fell in love with the field several years ago when I taught band to ELL‘s (English Language Learners) in California. While I worked in California teaching band to ELL’s, not only was I supposed to teach music to my students, but was also supposed to teach English as a second language to them. Upon doing this, I realized that there was much in common between music and language learning. This birthed my interest in the interrelation between the two fields. I love to read articles, analyze, study, and apply my knowledge.
I have a master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language and am a certified teacher in two states, so I have formal ESL instructional training too. I bring to the ESL field something unique…I am a classically trained. Since music is second nature to me, I have been trained for many years to: think as a musician and conductor, watch as a musician and conductor, listen as a musician and conductor, produce actions to get responses as a conductor, and be a master of multitasking. I have been trained for 23 years now with using my eyes and ears to analyze sound and mouth formation. I have been trained to pay close attention to details and slight variations in rhythm, tone, embouchure, vocalization, pitch, breathing, enunciation, articulation, support, phrasing, clarity, communication and interpretation. These are huge aspects of my music training that I apply towards teaching the English language. I teach language like a music teacher or conductor teaches music. This is where most of my methods and techniques originate. It is such second nature to me that I don’t really think much about what I do, I just do! I am extremely effective in my methods as an English language teacher because I use music instructional techniques. I watch, listen, and interact with my ELL’s as if they are a class of band students. Their mouths and vocal chords are their instruments producing sounds that communicate a message and are interpreted by the audience. Using their instruments and bodies correctly in sound production is critical to clarity of the communication. The audience can and will interpret the message incorrectly if the sound that is produced is not executed with precision.
Although I use many music instructional techniques, I also use my music training to come up with my own ideas on how to effectively and precisely correct errors in the language production of my students. Essentially, I use my classical music training to create instructional methods for teaching English as a Second language. How do I do this? What do I do? These are the questions I get asked by other teachers.
Regardless of content area, effective instructional facilitation must join the use of needs analysis by the educator to produce accurate results by the audience.
Here is a quick sketch I did to illustrate what I do (the sketch is amusing):
Next I apply needs analysis with aspects of music training and instruction to find proper measures to help my students.
Here are areas of my music training that interrelate with teaching language which I use to produce precision and accuracy of sound response by my students. When focus of a practice exercise is on a specific technique to correct a specific error, it is important to pay less attention to the other areas of error. For example, if students are practicing phrasing in their speaking, they should pay less attention to tone and pitch. By doing this, it allows students to focus on one technique at a time which helps them master the technique with speed and precision resulting in faster error correction making them less likely to make the error in the future…and with consistent practice eventually eliminating the error all together. When practicing these techniques it is also critical to model the technique first for students incorrectly, so that they can hear and see what the incorrect execution is. Next, it is critical to have students practice the technique incorrectly with you at least one time, so that they can feel what incorrect execution of the technique is. Next model the technique correctly and have students practice the technique correctly with you. By modeling the correct and incorrect execution of the technique, and by having students practice the correct and incorrect execution of the technique, it helps students develop an internal awareness of the error and teaches them how to correct the error.
(Warning: These picture are amusing!)
Like playing an instrument or singing, using the diaphragm to support sound production is critical by a language learner. Not using efficient and proper support with the diaphragm can impede communication resulting in the listeners inability to interpret the message. Improper use of the diaphragm results in sound production errors: breathy tone, faint sound production that is difficult to hear, incorrect pitch, and difficulties with appropriately phrasing. These issues can be resolved by instructing students with diaphragm exercises and activities.
Exercises and Activities (It is essential to model these to students before having students do them):
- Practice breathing in and out slowly. Breath in for 10 seconds while pushing out (pushing away from yourself) the diaphragm muscles. Breath out for 10 seconds while pushing out (pushing away from yourself) the diaphragm muscles. The diaphragm muscles are called “support”. This exercise will help teach “support” of sound to students which will help resolve errors in sound production listed in the paragraph above.
- Find a sentence or short paragraph you would like students to practice speaking. Model the sentence or short paragraph to students without using diaphragms muscles (relaxing diaphragm muscles or pushing them in toward yourself), so they can see and hear what saying the passage without proper “support” will sound like. (This will amuse them because it does sound funny) If you would like students to feel what not using the diaphragm muscles correctly feels like, have them practice this. Next, show speaking the sentence or short paragraph while using proper phrasing with breathing and while pushing the diaphragm muscles out (pushing away from yourself). Have students practice listening to themselves and each other with saying the sentence and passage in this way. I often have students do chants and echoes in groups and/or responses of a conversation so that they can practice speaking correctly and practice listening to each other. By doing this they are able to listen to and help each other.
Breathing and phrasing are important to proper communication of the message. Each language has its own unique phrasing. English phrasing is performed through question and answers, through punctuation, through conversation, etc. Wherever breaths are taken between words, it is phrasing. If breaths are taken at incorrect spaces, communication is impeded and sometimes hindered. Breathing and phrasing is most critical when reading or making a speech. In English, if breaths are not taken at appropriate phrasing marks, then interpretation of the message by the audience can be different from intent of the speaker. A speaker can be interpreted as boring, lazy, uninterested, mad, etc. all through improper phrasing. These issues can be resolved by instructing students with breathing and phrasing exercises and activities.
Exercises and Activities (It is essential to model these to students before having students do them):
- Do the exercise listed above under “Support”- Practice breathing in and out slowly. Breath in for 10 seconds while pushing out (pushing away from yourself) the diaphragm muscles. Breath out for 10 seconds while pushing out (pushing away from yourself) the diaphragm muscles. The diaphragm muscles are called “support”. This exercise will help teach “support” of sound to students which will help resolve errors in sound production listed in the paragraph above.
- Do almost the same exercise right above, but find a passage of text you would like students to practice speaking and breathing in and out may be for a shorter period. As students breathe out, have students speak the passage of text, taking breaths again where it is appropriate in the punctuation and breaks. Have students practice taking quick breaths while still pushing the diaphragm muscles away from themselves as they take the breath.
- Take a passage of text that you are interested in having students learn to speak. Make sure the passage has varied punctuation and breaks so that there are enough points of phrasing that students can practice. Next model incorrect phrasing by reading through the passage without following the punctuation and breaks. Then have students read with you through the passage in this incorrect way so that they can feel what it is like to breath incorrectly. After this, model to students how to effectively take breaths while speaking the passage. Next, have students practice speaking the passage in small groups, as an echo, question and response, etc. with focus on breathing.
- Find a fun song that you would like students to practice speaking and singing. Have students sing the song or portions of the song with you, in small groups, with a partner, etc. As they sing, have them focus on taking breaths at the breaks in the music. This will help them practice and learn correct phrasing.
Correct vocalization and enunciation is essential by the communicator to correctly and accurately communicate a message to an audience. Vocalization is using a combination of the vocal chords, lungs and diaphragm, and mouth in production of sound. Sounds should be vocalized and enunciated clearly to the listener in order for the listener to interpret a message correctly. In the English language some sounds are produced with the vocal chords and some are produced only with movement of the mouth. Sounds that are produced only with the mouth need to be produced with proper mouth formation. Sounds that are produced with the vocal chords need to produced with a combination of the vocal chords, tongue, and mouth. Proper breathing and support also effect production of correct vocalization and enunciation. It is critical to practice breathing and support exercises before practicing vocalization and enunciation techniques. (Speech teachers also use vocalization and enunciation exercises.)
Exercises and Activities (It is essential to model these to students before having students do them):
- Find a tongue twister that has sounds that are both produced with focus on vocalization and enunciating. Have students practice the tongue twister with a partners, as a group, as a chant, as a question and response, etc. Students should focus on production of the sounds with their lips, tongue and vocal chords.
- Have student practice producing the sounds of letters of the alphabet or blends with a partner. Sounds should be separated into two activities: production of sounds that are only formed with the mouth, or production of sounds that are formed with the tongue and vocal chords. Focus on placement of the tongue in the mouth is critical. Focus on support from the diaphragm in the production of the sounds with the vocal chords on certain sounds is also critical. This helps teach clarity in sound production.
Articulation is how short or long the sounds are and whether they are accented or not. Languages have different components of articulation. English articulation is critical in production of every word that is produced to effectively communicate with others. Likewise, incorrect articulation of English much hinders communication of a message to the listener and can often completely impede the listener from understanding the message. Articulation of words is probably the most critical aspect of sound production in English. I practice articulation exercises most often with my students. Every language has its own articulation patterns: points of accenting and points of using short and long sounds. Often learners of English as a second language, will use articulation of their native language when attempting to speak and produce English. Sometimes the audience can understand the message, but most often understanding of the message by the listener is difficult or impossible. Teaching English articulation patterns to ELL’s is critical to their English language proficiency and execution. Is the accent supposed to be produced on the first syllable, middle syllables, or last syllable of a word? Are the sounds that are produced in a word supposed to be long or short? These are questions that must be answered and taught to language learners. Practicing exercises in articulation will help students effectively learn how to correct errors in articulation when they produce them.
When teaching any articulation exercise, I always do several things that are important to demonstrating and teaching students where articulation marks are, especially accenting of sounds in words.
- Say a word with two or more syllables slowly for a student and strongly accent (much stronger than normal and with the diaphragm muscles pushing out) the sound in the word that needs to be accented. Say the part of the word that does not need to be accented much softer and with less emphasis than normal. This will teach students to listen to and feel for the accent. Find a series of words that you would like students to practice as an exercise. Series of words can have a specific agenda. For example, two-syllable words with stress on the second syllable, three syllable words with stress on the first syllable, etc.
- The above exercise can be practiced in almost the same way, but with focus on legato (long) sounds, or staccato (short) sounds.
- Write the word on the board. After you write it, draw an accent mark (>) above the part of the word that is supposed to be accented so that students can visually see where the accent is supposed to be. Teach students what the accent mark means.
- The above exercise can be practiced in almost the same way, but with focus on legato (long) sounds, or staccato (short) sounds. Write the legato (-) mark or staccato (.) mark above the part of the word that is the focus, instead of writing an accent mark.
- When speaking the part of a word that is accented, clap your hands where the accent is. Next have students say the word and clap their hands where the accent is supposed to be. This will teach them to get a feel for where the accent should be.
- Practice vocalizing legato or staccato sounds using the sounds of letters of the alphabet in repetition. For example: l, l, l, l, l, l, or k, k, k, k, k. Etc.
- Find a song that you would like students to practice singing or speaking. Teach students how to say a short passage in the song correctly with correct execution of legato, staccato, and accents in the words.
- The exercise above can also be performed with reading passages, chants, tongue twisters, etc.
- Practice saying words that are extremely legato very slowly and with repetition with focus in tongue production of the legato sound. For example: the, the, the, the, or will, will, will. Etc.
- Practice saying words that are extremely staccato very fast and with repetition with focus in tongue/ mouth production of the staccato sound. For example: it, it, it, it, or if, if, if, if. Etc.
Rhythm of words and phrases needs to be executed clearly and accurately. Incorrect execution of rhythm can make the understanding of the message difficult. Spoken languages have their own unique rhythms. English has its own rhythm. Often learners of English as a second language will naturally use the rhythm of their native languages when speaking English. Sometimes the listener can still understand the message, but oftentimes the listeners cannot or has difficulty with interpretation. Teaching correct rhythm of the English language is essential for teaching ELL’s how to speak the language fluently and accurately. And, by teaching correct rhythm or words and phrases, ELL’s will be able to effectively communicate with their audience.
- Find a tongue twister, song, speaking passage etc. that you would like students to practice. Teach them through modeling appropriate spoken rhythm of the words. Don’t teach the entire passage all at once. Break the passage down into sections of a few words, or a sentence at a time. Teach the rhythm and have students repeat speaking the rhythm. If you hear errors in rhythms that are produced by students, model the incorrect error they produced so that they can hear and see the error executed. Next, model the correct rhythm, correcting the error. Finally, have students say the passage with you again focusing on correcting the error that they made.
- Do question and answer exercises with students. Have half the class ask a question and half the class produce the answer. Or, have partners practice questions and answers together. Have students focus on producing correct rhythm of the passage they are speaking. If you hear any errors, teach error correction in the same way as described in the exercise just above. Have groups take turns switching saying the questions and answers.
- If you know how to write music notation and match the notation with words, then this is a great exercise to do. If you don’t know music notation then learning basic music notation actually could be beneficial to you as a language teacher. Once you do learn music notation you can practice this exercise with students. Determine a passage you would like students to learn. The passage can be a short song, chant, rhyme, tongue twister, or reading passage. The passage should be short so that focus can be on placing music notation on the board above the words. Write the words on the board. Next have students clap out the rhythms of the words with you while saying the words. Repeat this several times. Next write the music notation for those words on the board. Next, have the students say the words as you are pointing to the notation on the board. Do this several times. Don’t yet write the words on the board. Focus should not be on reading the words, but should be on producing the rhythms with the mouth. After this, then have students with a partner practice looking at the rhythm on the board and speaking the rhythm of the words with the words from memory. Next, write the words on the board under the music notation. Have students practice saying the passage again focusing on reading the the words and producing the correct rhythm while reading. Finally, erase the music notation while leaving the words on the board. Have students read the words and focus on speaking precise rhythms.
- Listen to a song and have students read the words and clap out the rhythms with you. Next, have them clap the rhythms only. After this, have them clap and speak the rhythms again. Finally, have them only speak the rhythms.
Embouchure is how the mouth is shaped to produce sounds. Embouchure activities can be practiced with vocalization activities. They are interrelated. There are some questions that need to be asked and then technique practice should focus on these questions. Which sounds of the alphabet are only produced with the lips and mouth, and not with the tongue or vocal chords? How is the mouth supposed to be shaped in the production of various sounds? Is the mouth supposed to be spread out or not? Is the mouth supposed to be opened wide or not? How are the lips supposed to be shaped? Are the lips supposed to be wide, thin, or more open or more closed? Are the lips supposed to be in the shape as if sucking on a straw? Efficient practice of techniques teaches differentiation of embouchure of English sounds and also helps the non-native English speaker learn to produce sounds that are closer to that of a native English speaker.
- Practice vocalizing sounds of the English alphabet slowly and with repetition. First focus on the execution of the vowel sounds: both long and short vowel sounds. Next, practice vocalizing and repeating the other sounds of the letters of the English alphabet. This can be practiced as a class whole, in groups or with partners. When vocalizing, focus should be on formation of the lips and mouth. Model appropriate mouth and lip formation of the sounds first for students. Have them repeat. If you hear them make errors, show the error for them so that they can see and hear the mistake. Next show the correct sound formation for them. Lastly, have them produce the mouth and lip formation with you in execution of the sound.
- This above exercise can be practiced in the same way but with individual words. Or, they can be practiced related rhyming words with focus in production of the correct formation of the sound that rhymes. Lastly, focus on the production and differentiation of the mouth and lips with the sounds that do not rhyme.
- Practice vocalization of sounds or words in echo or patterns in groups. Write the words, or patterns on the board. Next, have students echo or speak the pattern and focus on mouth formation. For example, divide the class into four groups. Write the short vowel sounds of a, e, i, o and u on the board. Next, have the first group say the “a” sound. Next, have the second group echo the “a” sound. Then, have the third and fourth group echo right after each other the sound. Next, have the first group say the “e”sound. Have the other groups repeat in the same way before described.
- When teaching any of the above exercises for embouchure it is an excellent idea to have groups in the classroom face each other, so that they can watch each other’s mouths produce the English sounds. This way they can see proper mouth and lip formation. If they are producing errors, by seeing other students’ lips, they will often see and become immediately aware of the error, and quickly fixing the error.
- When teaching and modeling correct English embouchure of sounds to students, tell the students to watch your mouth. Don’t start modeling the correct embouchure until you see all eyes on your mouth. Students need to see your mouth formation to mimic with a response.
- Using a mirror or having several mirrors to pass around the class is also a great idea. After modeling embouchure formation of a sound to students. Have them practice various sounds in the mirror. This exercise can also be done with articulation practice.
Tones and pitches of languages are often very different. Some languages such as Chinese, are actually tonal languages. Tone is critical to communicating a message correctly. English is not a tonal language; however, it does have some words that have the same spelling but are pronounced differently. There are words that are spelled differently but have the same pronunciation. A message is communicated differently depending on the focus of the pitch or tone of a question or answer, or lack thereof. Questions in English are supposed to have the raising of the voice, pitch. Answers to questions in English are more monotone compared to questions. This is just one example of the different in communicating with tone and pitch. Emotion is also communicated with tone and pitch in English. Speaking monotone can communicate: boredom, tiredness, frustration, annoyance, uninterested, anger and many more negative emotions. Speaking with high pitches can communicate: excitement, happiness, and even fear. Production of words with high tones in English can communicate positive and negative feelings depending on how the tones are produced and where they are produced. Speaking with low pitches can communicate: anger, frustration, and almost always a negative emotion. Practice of sound production of the English language is critical for proper communication and execution of a message to a listener. Oftentimes native speakers of other languages will use the tones and pitches of their native languages while attempting to speak English. Sometimes the listener understands, but oftentimes communication is hindered and difficult. Practice of tone and pitch exercises is critical in developing an ELL’s understanding of English tones and when under what circumstances such tones should be produced.
- Model correct tones for students in the various exercises for tone and pitch development below. Use your hands in an upward motion to show when the pitch is supposed to be high. Move the hand in a downward motion when the pitch is supposed to be low. Move the hand in a sustained middle pattern, when the pitch is supposed to be monotone. Have students moves their hands in the various directions with you while practicing these exercises. This help them see, hear and feel the variation in pitch.
- Model for students what the mouth and lips look like when producing high, low and sustained pitches in English. Make sure they are looking directly at your mouth. Next, have them practice mouth formation of the tones and pitches with you, or in small groups.
- Write a passage on the board that you would like students to learn. Draw arrows in an upward direction above syllables or words where the voice tone is supposed to be raised and draw arrows pointing down above syllables or words where the voice is supposed to be lowered. Draw an error pointing toward the right when the tone is supposed to be monotone. Draw high arrow pointing toward the right when the high tone is supposed to be sustained. Draw a low arrow pointing to the right when the low tone is supposed to be sustained. Next, model the passage for the students while pointing to the arrows above the words while you read the words and adjust your voice tone accordingly. After this, have students practice saying the words with you while you are pointing to the arrows. Have students move their hands in high, low or sustained motions with their hands as they speak. Next, erase the words and have students say the words from memory while you point to the arrows on the board and students are moving their hands in direction to the pitch they are speaking. Finally, write the words back on the board but this time erase the arrows. Have students practice saying the passage by reading the words and focusing on trying to naturally raise, lower and sustain tone when necessary.
- Practice chanting or singing songs that have varied pitches. Have students listen to the song or chant and then try to decide which way the vocal pitch goes: high, low, or sustained. While the student determines pitch, have them move their hands in the direction they think they are hearing. Next, have them practice saying the passage with a partner while moving their hands in the proper direction of pitch. Finally, practice the speaking the passage together as a class whole first with using the hand movements and then without them.
Clarity in communication is essential to understanding a message. The communicator may be trying to communicate one thing, but because the communication is not executed accurately and with clarity, the listener perceives the message a different way. This can cause confusion and frustration with both the communicator and the listener. Clarity is a mix of all the above techniques and skills. Previously above I have mentioned to have students focus on one skill at a time while practicing a specific technique, instead of worrying about all the skills. When teaching clarity of language, this time focus of execution of the language should be on all the skills above at the same time, instead of on one specific skill. Practicing and teaching clarity of communication should be done after the above skills are taught and effectively produced by the student. Teaching clarity is essentially practicing all the other skills learned, and trying to perfect these skills, resulting in producing language which is closer to the production of a native speaker. Focus and practice of clarity helps a learner of English as a second language become more fluent and proficient.
- Practice any of the above exercises along but with focus on all the above skills. Or, combine any of the above exercises with focus on all the above skills.
- Have students write small speeches in English. Have them practice saying their speech to a partner or in a group, focusing on producing all the above skills. Have the partner or group audience help listen for mistakes in error of the speaker and help peer correct the speaker. Once, students have practiced their speech with a partner or a small group and seem confident with the execution of their speech, have them present their speech to the class while focusing on all the above skills.
- Have students write interview questions and practice speaking the interview questions with focus on production of all the skills above. Next, have students actually interview other classmates or people outside the classroom so that they can practice their speaking skills and clarity of communication. Lastly, have students report the answers to the interview back to the class while still trying to focus attention to clarity in communication. If students interview a classmate, have the classmate also practice answering with clarity.
Correct interpretation of a listener is critical. However, a listener cannot correctly interpret a message if the message is not communicated accurately. Production of language and focus on interpretation should include all the skills above. While focusing on interpretation, the speaker should think to themselves and ask the questions, “Is what I am saying being communicating correctly to the listener? And, is does what I am saying seem to be interpreted correctly by the listener?” Awareness of body cues, facial expressions, the verbal response of the listener, etc. can all communicate to the speaker whether the message is being interpreted correctly or now.
- Teach students common facial expressions, body cues, verbal responses, etc. to students in various conversational instances so that students can learn how to interpret if what they are communicating is being understood correctly or not. Have students practice conversation, or questions and answers with partners practicing facial expressions, body cues and verbal responses. Next have them practice this while focusing on the execution of all the techniques listed above.
- Have students write a survey or questionnaire. Have them ask the questions or survey other students or people outside the classroom. They should practice interpreting facial expressions, body cues, and verbal responses while doing the exercise. They should also try to focus on the execution of the skills above to incorporate proper communication of the language.
Communication and clarity are interrelated. Communication of language effects how the listener interprets. Communication practice should focus on all the above skills while focusing on facial expressions, body cues, and verbal responses. By practicing these techniques together, students will acquire more native-like English language communication abilities.
- Use any of the same exercises listed under “interpretation” but instead focus should be on communicating accurately. While practicing communication all the above skills should be attempted.
- Practice any of the above activities listed under any of the above techniques, but with focus placed on communication of language.
- Have students answer a survey with questions about the above skills to see how they rate themselves on the above skills. This will tell you as the teacher, if they perceive themselves as communicating effectively. If you see a differentiation in their communication versus how they answer their survey questions, clarify the skill to show the student that they have not yet mastered the skill and then reteach the skill to them, so they can correctly learn its execution.
Implementation and practice of all these music techniques will help a second language learner develop cohesion, accuracy and clarity in communication of the English language, resulting in precision and execution that is more akin to what a native speaker produces.