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Thread: Minimal Pairs

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    Default Minimal Pairs

    I got tired of hearing both my students and JTEs pronouncing words such as "mouse" and "mouth" as if there was no difference between them, and misunderstanding me when I clearly pronounce words they supposedly have learned, so I decided to finally start using a teaching device I learned about a while ago at a JET conference called "Minimal Pairs."

    I went through all three New Horizon (Junior High) textbooks looking for words that would work well in Minimal Pairs. I put a lot of work into making the list of pairs and sorting the pairs in the list in three different ways, and my work seems to be paying off. I've noticed that both my students and JTEs are starting to have better pronunciation.

    I figured I might as well share my work with anyone else who might be interested in teaching with minimal pairs, so I've posted my lists of pairs on the wiki. Enjoy:

    http://www.ithinkimlost.com/wiki/ind...=Minimal_Pairs
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    How are you using the pairs? Are you just doing 5-10 mins of drilling in each class, or running entire classes with activities and stuff?

    I know minimal pairs are great for lots of matching games. However, i cant see how their pronunciation would improve without a lot of boring repeating after the ALT.

    Matt
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dynamis
    How are you using the pairs? Are you just doing 5-10 mins of drilling in each class, or running entire classes with activities and stuff?

    I know minimal pairs are great for lots of matching games. However, i cant see how their pronunciation would improve without a lot of boring repeating after the ALT.

    Matt
    It is improving. As I said, I'm noticing a difference. My method for teaching them involves several different things: Having the students repeat after me, having them listen to me and figure out what I'm saying, and getting student volunteers to read a list of words in a way that their classmates can understand what they're saying. I'll add more to the wiki about that.
    The Sexiest Man on Earth www.AaronAckerson.com
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    I want to add one more thing. Boring repeating after the ALT is what I've done for the past two years and it doesn't seem to do that much on it's own. No matter how clearly I pronounce the word "vacation" I'll always hear a chorus of students saying "bah-kay-shohn" back at me.

    But using something like a minimal pairs activity actually gives the students a reason to listen more closely to the nuances of how a word is pronounced and to try to capture those nuances in their own pronunciation.

    I'm not claiming it works a miracle overnight, just that it seems to be at least a somewhat effective way to address pronunciation, an area of English language education which doesn't seem to be given very much importance in the regular English curriculums here.
    The Sexiest Man on Earth www.AaronAckerson.com
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    I agree with you. I'm just curious how you make it work so I can maybe try it myself. Thanks for the info!

    Matt
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    Can you order books from the US? Theres a book called Minimal Pairs in English by Nilson and Nilson (or maybe Nilsen) that just has lists of every possible minimal pair.

    Things I've done in the US that are fun that focus on listening comprehension are:

    1) Split the class up into two teams and have them form a line. On the wall have two pictures of flies, each with one of the minimal pair written on it (e.g. SHIP and SHEEP). The front student in each line has a flyswatter. You say a word that has one or the other sound in it, and the first one to smack the correct fly gets a point for the team. Swatter goes to the next student in line.

    2) This one is hard to describe, but I'll try. Use a handout that has your city on one side. two lines split off to two #1s. Each of these splits off into four #2s, and these split off into eight #3, and these finally split off into sixteen US cities. It all looks kind of like a sports tournament bracket in reverse. Then tell the students that SHIPs /i/ go left (or up) and SHEEP /i/ go right (or down). You can also draw a picture on the board of this to illustrate and help them remember which way to go. Say four words, each with either a /I/ or a /i/. This will lead the students down a winding path to one of the US cities. Then ask students where they are. In addition to working on listening skills, this one also gives you the chance to learn a little about US geography, and you can harrass the students that should be in Chicago for going all the way to Miami, and maybe ask them how the weather is there.

    Let me know if you use either of these and how it went! I've never spoken with anyone who's done these. It's somehting I do. I'm curious if others have success with it!

    In the subject of pronunciation, but slightly off this topic, I'm a big proponent of Judy Gilbert's Clear Speech, which discusses all kinds of things Japanese people have problems with, such as linking vowel-consonant groups (e.g. have a piece of cake = havapiecacake) and stretching out certain words while deemphasizing others ( e.g. have a piece of cake)

    Sorry to blab on and on!

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    I was way off with the book title. It's Pronunciation Contrasts in English by Nilsen and Nilsen. Here it is:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/157...lance&n=283155

    The first review gives it three out of five stars and criticizes it with: "it...is difficult to get one's point across just by looking at the pictures of how the mouth should be formed for each sound." That misses the whole point of the book. It's a source book for minimal pairs only, and should be used as a source for your own activities. I love it, but it is not (and is not intended to be) a textbook. You don't have to spend tons of time thinking of words for the activites I listed above, you just open it up to the right page and there are a ton of minimal pairs!

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    Holy crap Raumkatze! You've got almost an identical lesson plan listed as my #2 above on the wiki page!

    I didn't steal it and try to take credit for it! I swear! I've been doing this for years!

    You can add my #1 to the wiki if you want to.

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    In that case, here are even more specifics.

    So far what I've done is I use two worksheets with 4 pairs each in one class. The first one is with non-asterisked words from my list. These are words that are a challenge to hear the difference between, but not to say. For example, "ear" and "year" which have two different katakana pronuncations, but the difference between those two pronuncations is not the "y" sound.

    After they repeat the words after me (maybe two times, if there are particularly difficult words), I say one word from each of four pairs, and the students try to figure out what I'm saying. I do this about four times.

    If half the class is getting the right answer each time, then I give stamps only to students who got the right answer every time. If they had more trouble, I give stamps only to students who got all four right. So far, it seems like 7th graders have an easier time with this than 8th graders, maybe because the JTEs haven't had enough of a chance to completely close their minds to non-katakana pronuncation yet.

    After that, I use another sheet, this time with words from my list marked with asterisks. First, I have the students repeat, just like before. Next, I ask for a volunteer to read the four words from one of four print-outs which I made ahead of time. I don't leave it to them to choose which of a pair's words they read, because often one will be easier to pronounce than the other.

    I reward each volunteer with a stamp (more than one stamp if they pronounced the words particularly well). If no one volunteers, I call on a student to read the words (they don't get stamps if they don't volunteer).

    When a student is the one reading the words, they will often make mistakes which make it sound like they're saying the other word in a pair, but still I give stamps to the students who arrive at the right answer, even though if I was listening I'd probably arrive at a different answer. This is because I still want the class to have an incentive to listen carefully and for the speaker to speak as clearly as they can.

    Just like when I read the words, I do this four times.

    Though this has been a good excercise for my classes, I found myself wanting time to focus more on certain sounds. For example, in my 7th grade classes, one of the pairs I used was "c" vs. "she". The students were starting to get it, but it was the only pair I was using that drilled those sounds, so I couldn't really focus on it. So I went through my lists again and I grouped the pairs into categories based on sounds.

    Also, I printed out mouth illustrations for making certain sounds from the internet to put on the worksheets which focus on certain sounds. A worksheet I made with this in mind which I plan to use in my 7th grade classes this week has the pairs "c" vs. "she" and "seat" vs. "sheet", each pair used twice. Also on the worksheet are the "s" and "sh" mouth illustrations.

    What I plan to do is read from it several times myself, and then have student volunteers read from it.

    For whatever reason, the 7th and 8th grade teachers I work with love bingo, probably because it's an easy thing to fill time with. Lately, along with words from the textbook, I've also been including words from the previous week's minimal pairs among the words on the bingo sheet in order to reinforce what I had previously drilled.

    I hope that helps you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jtegnell
    Holy crap Raumkatze! You've got almost an identical lesson plan listed as my #2 above on the wiki page!

    I didn't steal it and try to take credit for it! I swear! I've been doing this for years!
    No problem. I got the idea from a presenter at a JET workshop, so I make no claims of originality.

    As for you American cities idea, I do the same thing, but with names of countries because I've noticed that many Japanese people, including adults who can speak pretty good English, tend to assume that English names for countries are the same as the Japanese katakana names. For example, that Germany is "Doitsu," India is "Indo," Thailand is "Tai," and England is "Igirisu."

    You can add my #1 to the wiki if you want to.
    Cool. I will.
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    How do you do bingo? Do you make the bingo cards individually? Seems like a pain.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jtegnell
    How do you do bingo? Do you make the bingo cards individually? Seems like a pain.
    No, I don't. I made a template with space on the top to write a list of words and a blank bingo grid below it. I write words (mostly ones that were introduced recently in the textbook) in the top space, make copies of that, and have the students write the words in the bingo squares in whatever order they want. After that, I read off the words at random.
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    Clever clever!

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    I was really hoping that you were trolling but apparently you aren't.

    Do not use minimal pairs.

    If you want to teach pronunciation, listening and speaking you need to teach students how to produce a sound using their oratory organs. Telling someone to be able to tell the difference between two sounds may not be possible because sounds that are distinguishable to an English speaking ear may sound exactly the same to a Japanese speaking ear. This is a totally normal and common thing. Minimal pairs do not teach shit, they waste both your time and are really bad for the students' education because it does not teach them any difference between sounds except that the teacher says there is a difference and it does not teach students to be able to produce the sounds. Thus it is a waste of time.

    Apart from this minimal pair work is boring and frustrating for students. They hate it, it bores them, and it teaches them shit all.

    I really really really want to come and attack you with a big stick for even suggesting this. I cannot stress enough how bad and antiquated minimal pairs are.

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    I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there dombay. I've used minimal pairs to teach adults and had good results. They requested a class about the L/R problem, and i used minimal pair to highlight the difference. I also used mouth diagrams to help with tongue positioning.

    To say that "the sound is indistinguishable" is only true because they have never had to distinguish between them. R and L sound similar, but are NOT the same. With minimal pairs, students can really see the both the subtle difference in sound, and the importance of being able to distinguish them.

    Once they can hear the difference, they can learn to make the sounds.

    Its also not antiquitated. I learned some minimal pairs techniques on my Trinity TESOL course 3 years ago, and it was given as useful for teaching students who struggle with the sounds in English.

    Matt
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    I think we can have a meaningful discussion about this without accusing people of being trolls, don't you?

    I disagree as well. Just because some pedagogical techniques are trendy or not at any one particular moment in TESOL doesn't mean you shouldn't use your own judgement to decide what is effective and what isn't. Experience speaks volumes.

    It wasn't that long ago, for example, that Noonan and other big dogs in the field were advocating the outright rejection of teaching explicit grammar across the board. Thankfully this is in retreat, we are establishing a healthy balance between traditional and newer methods, and we can look back at the eighties as important, necessary, but over the top.

    Granted, I do not use minimal pairs. But on the other hand I do teach phoneme distinction. It's something I teach once explicitly and then as necessary incidentally.

    Phonetic distinction is a necessary component of verbal communication, period. Reality is that English is a phonetically rich language. American English has at a minimum ten or eleven distinct vowels and a whole pile of phonetically distinct consonants and semiconsonants. This is way more than Japanese.

    The bottom line is that English, like all languages, is a tool for communication regardless of what the Japanese government may think. Anything that disrupts communication between the language learner and a native speaker must be addressed, and you have to assume that this native language speaker is not someone like all of us who has extensive experience with non-native speakers, especially Japanese, and can anticipate errors.

    I've been teaching Vietnamese speakers in the US for years. These guys have perhaps the most communicatively disruptive pronuncation problems of anyone. They speak like they have a bunch of marbles in their mouths. I have met plenty of Vietnamese who have been in the US for years and years and still have such intense pronunciation problems that, despite being able to write very well, cannot make themselves understood. Although I haven't been universally successful, I have been successful enough with concentrating on communicatively important phonetic distinction to conclude that this has value.

    You simply have to explicitly address selective pronunciation problems with students past a certain age (and I would definitely put SHS students in this age group) because these pronunciation problems are just not going to fix themselves on their own.

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    I'm not accusing Raumkatze of being a troll I said I hoped he was trolling.
    It's like saying 'I found a great new methodology for teaching - it's called the 'grammar-translation method'. I read this book (Smith, 1932) which simply raves about it.

    The recent rejection (let's say, 20 years ago) of minimal pairs is far more than a trend. They don't work. The theory behind this is simple. Teaching people to produce sound, even if you can teach them to distinguish between similar phonemes, is a totally different ballgame to teaching students to produce phonemes.

    The reason they wisorked for you, Matt that you used diagrams to show tongue positioning. If you use diagrams and students are able to learn from them then you are effectively giving the students a chance to produce the sound themselves, which does allow them to distinguish the sound because they are making it themselves. Perhaps it's wrong to reject minimal pairs altogether but they need to be accompanied by other things. They might work as part of an introduction designed to engage students with a topic. Otherwise there's lots and lots of books published about this topic which offer more effective techniques to teach pronunciation.

    Pronunciation is a long neglected area of English teaching. It deserves a lot more work than anything minimal pairs can do for students.

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    I agree with you. And I think that what works well is introduction to something (a grammar topic or in this case a phoneme) with a concrete example and then later incidental reinforcement using the example.

    Just to illustrate, when I discuss /a/ vs /schwa/ or /upside-down v/ (I can't seem to figure out how to type these characters) I introduce it with the words "father" and "mother" (if I'm not mistaken I think you're Australian, right, Dombay? So obviously these are different for you). These two words are a) familiar to everyone (unlike lots of minimal pairs) and b) different enough so that I can refer to them and even those students who presently have trouble distinguishing the sounds know what to be listening for and know which one I'm talking about, and as their ability to produce and distinguish improves they have a reference point.

    Later on I can tell students "the vowel sounds like /a/ in father" and everyone remembers some of the previous times I've said this.

    With my American students it's not at all infrequent thet they have pronunciation questions: "do caught and cut have the same pronunciation?" I can easily say "caught sounds like father", and after a number of references to this example over time the student nods knowingly. Instead of taking an entire class focusing on it, I just refer back to it when, in some other context, it comes up. You have to juggle an insane amount of balls with language acquisition, and incidental reinforcement is the way to go. But you need a reference point, some previous common knowlege ("scaffolding" as they say).

    I've never taught SHS Japanese students, now, and it may very well be that they are almost entirely sullen and disinterested, and any amount of incidental reinforcement will be met with blank stares due to peer pressure even if they know what you're talking about. I'll have to get back to you on that! :?

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    Quote Originally Posted by dombay
    The reason they wisorked for you, Matt that you used diagrams to show tongue positioning.
    Which if you actually read the whole thread that I am supposedly trolling in, you would see I am using too.
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    I bought a class set of small mirrors from a 100-yen store and got the kids to mimic the shape my mouth made when making the 'th' sound. Hard for them, especially the girls, since showing your tongue in Japan is considered rude. I told them the story of when I was an exchange student in Kanazawa and after dinner my host mother said "Your bus is ready." I went to the genkan, grabbed my jacket, put my shoes on and went outside, wondering where we were off to. Turns out she meant "Your bath is ready". Embarrassing for both of us, but in a funny way. The kids got it and enthusiastically poked their tongues between their teeth in the mirrors (also shielded them from classmates). Much laughter ensued.
    Another fun way to do it is have 2 teams. In each team, half are scribes and half are speakers. The scribes line up at the blackboard, the first with chalk. You show the first speaker a card with a picture (e.g. a bath, bus, mouth, mouse etc.) on it. They pronounce the word and the scribe writes what they hear on the board. The chalk passes to the second scribe. Then do the other team. Then scribes and speakers swap roles and you play a second round. At the end, you hold up the cards so the whole class can see them (you need two sets - one for each team) and mark what they have written on the board. Stickers/points to the team with the most correct. Heaps more fun than 'listen and repeat'.

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