Thursday, March 9, 2017

Software for English Pronunciation, Listening, Speaking, and Vocabulary

At the 2016 CATESOL Teaching of Pronunciation Interest Group workshop in San Diego, Ana Wu and I gave our audience a description and a short peek at six online programs. Here is our "handout" with links.

CATESOL Top-IG workshop: Software for English pronunciation, listening, speaking, and vocabulary

Marsha J. Chan, Mission College (Emerita), TOP-IG Co-founder and Co-coordinator, and Sunburst Media,
Ana Wu, City College of San Francisco,,

Digital Literacy Instructor, or DigLin, is a website founded by LESLLA (Low-Educated Second Language and Literacy Acquisition) to assist a number of non-literate and low-literate immigrant adults in European countries acquire a second language and computer competencies. Ana explains the pedagogical considerations that support the use of this website and demonstrates selected activities.

Learner’s Dictionary

Created by, this site offers 15 sessions where students can practice pronunciation and learn vocabulary independently. Ana explains the advantages and disadvantages of using this website and demonstrates a few activities.


The Mission College ESL Lab has a 10-year site license to use the 17 web-based programs offered in AmEnglish: 2 Writing/Grammar, 4 Pronunciation, 7 Idioms & Phrasal verbs, & 4 Animal Tales. The programs are also available individually by subscription as well as in an e-book format, where a teacher gets lesson plans, uses a program as a course “book,” and gains access to the course management system to manage student learning. AmEnglish is currently being used in the ESL drop-in lab, where students choose from any program. Marsha demonstrates a tidbit from each the following selected titles in the AmEnglish suite:
Pronunciation in English – High Beginning+ 2 Stress
Idioms in English  – YA 2 TOEFL Listening Practice. Volleyball
Animal Tales The poetry helps with pacing, rhythm, and rhyme. TOEIC Skill Builder, TOEFL vocabulary. Scientific facts. The Green Sea Turtle.

Connected Speech

This Window-based installed software is served to the Mission College ESL Lab in a permanent site license. Connected Speech is especially good for suprasegmentals: phrasing/pause groups, syllables and stress in words and phrases, pitch changes/intonation, linking, contrastive stress & intonation. Besides site installation, CS is also available for classes by subscription. Marsha used the online version of Connected Speech when she taught an online accent modification class at Mission. This software does not run on Mac, so Marsha demos via these video clips.
Connected Speech Level 1 Aaron–Pause groups: mark and record (2:12)
Connected Speech Level 1 Rita–Stress on content words (0:35)
Connected Speech Level 1 Becky–Pitch: Focus (0:34)
Connected Speech Level 1 Guillermo–Linking: Mark and record (1:40)
Connected Speech Level 1–Identifying the reason for linking (1:03)

Pronunciation Power

Like CS, Pronunciation Power 1 and 2 are licensed for use on the PCs in the Mission College ESL Lab. In addition, individual users can subscribe to the online version. Pronunciation Power is especially good for segmentals: consonants, vowels, and consonant clusters. Marsha demonstrates selected lessons in the online version or shows a selection of a video clip Pronunciation Power Overview.

English Accent Coach

English Accent Coach is a free web-based program that trains the brain to recognize new sounds and provides the basis for improved pronunciation of selected North American vowels and consonants. EAC Creator Ron Thomson, Brock University, has published research on the effects of distinguishing phonemes through High Variability Phonetic Training (HVPT) on producing them. Marsha demonstrates a few items.

Additional Resources

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

English Pathways to Child Care and Child Development

Schools and colleges are seeing a greater emphasis on, and in some cases, funding for, English for the Workplace, as opposed to English for general purposes. At the poster session, I talked about how Mission College (Santa Clara) has been meeting the English language needs of parents, child care providers, and early childhood educators. English for Child Care-Child Development curriculum was created through needs assessment, materials research/development, and collaboration among English as a Second Language (ESL) and Child Development (CHD) college faculty, community leaders, and workforce development. We started with one course in 2000 and have grown to four courses. The sections that are taught on-campus enroll a wide range of students, while the ones that are taught off-campus at a professional training site target employed (or underemployed) child care providers, in other words, people already in the workforce.

In addition to the four college courses spanning ESL Levels 3–6, my co-authors (Marianne Brems and Julaine Rosner) and I have created course materials (books + audio) where there are no others on the market. We would be happy to share the curriculum, our experiences, and information on the books with interested parties. They are being used not only in college ESL departments, but also in I-BEST programs, community centers, and non-profit organizations across North America and overseas.

The Mission College research office collected data from five semesters (Fall 2013-Fall 2015) on the retention and success of students who took ESL 930ECC and/or ESL 940ECC classes (“ESLCC” for short) using the English for Child Care course material, and who subsequently took a CHD course. These data show:
  • The success rate of students who took ESLCC before taking CHD exceeds the average of all students who took CHD (i.e., native and non-native English speakers).
  • The retention rate of students who took ESLCC before taking CHD exceeds the average of all students who took CHD.

Child Development Course
Course Title
ESLCC Students
Success Rate
Retention Rate
Child Growth and Development
Child, Family, and Community
Practicum A
Principles and Practices in Education
Child Health and Safety
Introduction to Curriculum

Further research is desired, including the success and retention rate of students who have taken ESL 950ECD and ESL 960ECD prior to enrolling in a CHD course, but since the researcher left the college, data collection is difficult. 

Additional resources

  • Handout from a session delivered at NAEYC PDI 2016 (National Association of Educators of Young Children Professional Development Institute) handout
  • Content-Based Instruction (CBI) at the Community College Level: Is It Feasible? blog post
  • English for Child Care: Language Skills for Parents and Providers slides
  • English for Child Development: Language Skills for Parents and Providers video introduction 
  • ECC and ECD publisher: Sunburst Media
Below are photos of a two-sided poster display.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Let's Get Our Motors Running for Pronunciation

Steps to speech production

1. The brain triggers the following steps.
2. The diaphragm muscle helps inflate and deflate lungs.
3. The lungs pump air up to the mouth.
4. The vocal cords vibrate air from the lungs.
5. The nose, mouth, lips, and tongue modify vibrating air to form sounds.
6. The words exit the mouth.

The speech organs

Familiarity with the organs of speech or basic articulatory phonetics is essential. This aids the teacher in explaining how individual sounds are produced. A typical sagittal view includes:

  • Lips
  • Jaw
  • Tongue
  • Oral cavity
  • Palate
  • Nasal cavity
  • Pharynx
  • Epiglottis
  • Larynx
  • Esophagus


In our conference workshop, participants are asked to say one or more tongue twisters to a neighbor.

Tongue twisters

1.  She sells seashells by the seashore.
2.  The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.
3.  Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
4.  How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? He would chuck, he would, as much as he could, and chuck as much wood as a woodchuck would if a woodchuck could chuck wood.

Focus on preparation for oral work

Once the brain has told us to speak, pronunciation is a physical act. Speaking a language other than our familiar, primary language requires different movements of the vocal apparatus (cheeks, jaw, lips, tongue, teeth, glottis, lungs). Gaining control and flexibility of one's physical speaking apparatus facilitates changes in accent and voice quality and enhances overall oral production. Let's get our motors running and sharpen our pronunciation skills by doing exercises that enhance Speech Production Steps 2-6.

We begin by standing up in a group facing a calming picture, such as a serene view of mountains reflected in a placid lake. We turn to loosening our bodies, breathing deeply, sending away stress, welcoming relaxation, and centering ourselves.  Then we focus our attention on noticing, using, and stretching and strengthening our speech organs. 

Marsha's Pronunciation Workout

1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart.
2. Extend arms to side and shake loosely from the shoulders.
3. Bend over from the waist, exhale, hang.  Come up, inhale, stretch arms to ceiling.
4. Loosen chest and abdomen.  Breathe deeply.
5. Roll and loosen shoulders.
6. Rotate head gently in a big circle. Breathe deeply. Loosen and relax body, concentrating on one area at a time. (arms, shoulders, back, chest, neck, back of head, ears, top of head, forehead, temples, eyes, nose, cheeks, jaw, lips, tongue)
7. “Wake up” by yawning a big “aaaah!”  Stretch your mouth: (a) whole mouth,  (b) one side at a time.
8. Stretch mouth from side to side, up, down, forward, back, around and around.  Make funny faces!
9. Loosen cheeks manually.  Massage cheeks, jaw, chin.  Inhale ---> Exhale “Blah, Blah, Blah....” loosely.
10. Loosen lips manually.  Inhale ----> Exhale by vibrating lips against each other.
11. Waggle tongue in and out, hitting teeth. Keep lips relaxed.
12. Vocalize vowel sounds at comfortable pitch, using full breath.  Focus on position of jaw, tongue, lips. (iy > 𝔞, i  > u, 𝔞 > i𝔞 > u, i > 𝔞, 𝔞 > u


In our workshop, participants are asked to repeat the tongue twisters to a neighbor. When asked if they feel any difference, the vast majority inevitably acknowledge that the second time is easier than the first. Speakers feel a greater range and an enhanced degree of flexibility. This allows us to recite the sentences more fluidly.

Please note: I am not advocating the use of tongue twisters per se, especially without prior warm-up exercises, but rather as an instrument for the fluent English speakers in the teachers' workshop to test the efficacy of my pronunciation workout. I recommend that teachers choose phrases and sentences that are in line with the cognitive and linguistic abilities of the students.

Questions from teachers in the audience

Q: How do you get your students to do these exercises? Do they feel uncomfortable or strange or silly?

A: Sure, there's a certain self-consciousness when they do it for the first time. If you have a good rapport with your students, you invite (not force) them to participate, you keep humor alive, you give them a proper introduction, you can get good results. Consider the particular interests or experiences of your students and make analogies with doing scales and chords to warm up to play a piano concerto, or hitting a hundred balls from a pitching machine to prepare for hitting a baseball during a real game. The more often speakers do tongue waggles, for example, the more flexible the tongue becomes. The more flexible the tongue is, the easier it is to move into the necessary positions during articulation of sounds for speaking. Here's a way to introduce pronunciation workout Steps 7-12 to students: Pronunciation is a physical act. Let's do warm-up exercises! This video is followed by many others in Pronunciation Doctor's Pronunciation Workouts playlist. Some are short and limited to working out one set of articulators, while others are longer and start from diaphragmatic breathing.  Feel free to use them with your students!

Q: Will this help wake up my high school students at 7:45 am?

A: You bet it will! It will also help re-energize the adults who come to evening classes after a long day of work and re-focus their attention from the issues of their work day to what you are about to teach them or have them practice.

Q: How does this help teach regional accents?

A: Pronunciation workouts are not language or dialect-specific. I recommend them for any kind of speaking activity--pronunciation exercises, role--plays, reader's theater, oral presentation--in any language. (Demonstrating with different accents, I continue.) Some languages and accents require a tighter set of facial muscles, a more forward-focused tension, while articulation in others is more back-focused or looser, like this. Gaining greater control of the speech organs can help speakers modify their oral production in many ways.

Q: Can we do these exercises in other classes besides pronunciation?

A: Absolutely yes! Do you have students who enter the classroom with worries, anxieties, apprehension, or other baggage that may interfere with what you wish to teach them? (Yes! Nod, nod!) Steps 1-6 of my workout, which focus on breathing, are especially effective to relieve tension, allow individuals to center their thoughts and feelings on the present, in essence, to leave the baggage at the door. It is a kind of mindfulness training that can benefit learners in any class or situation.

Q: What if I don't remember what to do?

A: As with many other types of performance, the more you practice, the more your competence and confidence grow. In the meanwhile, Pronunciation Doctor is available 24/7 on Youtube to guide you and your class or to co-teach with you!

Pronunciation Workout Resources

Video playlist (2013-present): Pronunciation Workout Videos
Blog post (2016):
Paper (2015): Pronunciation workout (Teaching Tip).In J. Levis, R. Mohammed, M. Qian & Z. Zhou (Eds). Proceedings of the 6th Pronunciation in Second LanguageLearning and Teaching Conference (ISSN 2380-9566), Santa Barbara, CA (pp. 267-269). Ames, IA: Iowa State University. 
Article (1994): Pronunciation Warm Up, in K. Bailey & L. Savage, (Eds.), New ways in teaching speaking, (pp. 202-204). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL).

Workshop participants 

Participants are engaged in breathing, centering, and relaxing; we pay attention to our diaphragms pumping air through our lungs to our mouth. We exercise our cheeks, jaws, lips, and tongues.