Topic: Spoken language

These resources will help you to teach the topic of spoken English.

Phonetics and phonology - Consonants

Consonants

Consonants are produced by pushing air up from the lungs and out through the mouth and/or nose. Airflow is disrupted by obstructions made by various combinations of vocal articulator movements, so that audible friction is produced. 

They are described in terms of (1) voicing, (2) place of articulation and (3) manner of articulation.

Phonetics and phonology - Introduction

A series of activities and content for exploring the sounds of English

Goals

  • Understand the difference between phonetics and phonology
  • Explore the ways that we can write sounds down, using the phonetic alphabet
  • Apply this knowledge to a text and consider some of the stylistic effects of sound choices

Lesson Plan

This lesson plan is split into sections, and includes enough material for around 3 hours of teaching: (1) a starter activity (group discussion); (2) an explanation of phonetics and phonology; (3) vowels; (4) consonants; (5) a transcripti

Phonetics and phonology - Starter

Group discussion questions

You could start the lesson by asking students questions such as:

 

Phonetics and phonology - Terminology

What do phoneticians and phonologists do?

Phonetics and phonology are the branches of linguistics that deals with speech sounds. This broad ranging definition is indicative of the broad type of work that phoneticians/phonologists do:

Phonetics and phonology - Vowels

In the starter activity, we asked the question 'How can we write down speech sounds? For example, how can we capture the difference between a northern British accent saying bath and a southern British accent saying bath?

Pitching a product

In this resource, students will be studying two extracts of very different sales pitches from the BBC show The Apprentice. Contestants on The Apprentice had to design an app for a smartphone and then pitch it to an audience at a technology fair. The pitches are printed in the handout that can be downloaded and printed at the bottom of this page.

To help students analyse the extracts, ask them the following questions, which are also included in the handout:

Can you see any features of spontaneous talk being used in either extract?

Politeness and directness

This task is about using verbs and modal verbs in different ways. We all know that people can be direct or indirect in the ways they phrase things. We often use commands to give instructions, but sometimes these might be seen as too direct and blunt. We sometimes soften them with modal verbs, among other tools.

Politeness and directness: Activity

Try to make the following expressions less direct. Compose alternative sentences for each one.

  1. Shut the window.
  2. Tell me your name.
  3. Stop talking.

What changes did you make to render the expressions less direct? 

Now, make the following expressions more direct. Compose an alternative sentence for each example.

Pragmatics and turn-taking

Goals

  • Identify the place of turn-taking in spoken conversation.
  • Analyse some examples of turn-taking in real spoken conversation.

Lesson Plan

The Activity pages appear in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. Each Activity page includes a video interview. If you like, you can try this lesson with any other interview or dialogue you would like to use.

Pragmatics and turn-taking: Activity 1

Stacey Solomon TV interview

Pragmatics and turn-taking: Activity 2

Russell Brand TV interview

Pragmatics in a political interview

Goals

  • Identify some elements of spoken dialogue in an interview setting.
  • Analyse some features of colloquial language, specifically the kinds of words and phrases that are used.

Lesson Plan

The Activity page appears in the menu entitled 'This Unit' in the upper right corner of this page. It includes a video of an interview between Russell Brand and Ed Miliband, recorded just before the UK General Election in May 2015.

Questions in spoken language

Spoken language is usually seen as being more interactive than written language. As speakers, we address each other directly (Hey guys), indicate our attention to each other (Mmm), and respond to each others’ comments (Really?, You didn’t!). These are all examples of interactive features.

Another interactive feature associated with spoken language is question–answer sequences. In this investigation we will explore this feature, using data from ICE-GB (our corpus, or database of real language).

Register

We all use different forms of language in different situations. At the most extreme, you’ll probably know that in casual conversation with friends you will use very different language from that which you’d use at a job interview.

The kinds of differences will relate to vocabulary (the word choices you make) but also to grammar (the structures, the complexity, the patterns of words).

Speech and writing

Students get a sense of how spoken and written language vary by looking at short extracts of each, on various topics. 

Goals

  • Identify features of speech and writing.
  • Compare and contrast speech and writing.
  • Recognise the importance of genre in anlaysing language.

Lesson Plan

This lesson includes 3 handouts, which can be downloaded below and printed for distribution to students.

Speech transcripts

This lesson invites students to explore a real transcript of natural conversational speech, like those used by linguists who analyse all aspects of language.

Goals

  • Explore a transcript of natural speech. 
  • Identify attributes of natural speech. 
  • Compare natural speech to written language. 

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will explore features of real spoken language.

Spoken language

Spoken language and written language are often referred to as two different modes. Spoken language has a structure that is often different from that of written language. Because we use spoken language in different situations from written language, we can often rely on context, gesture and shared understanding, so many of the grammatical structures and devices that we tend to use in written language aren’t necessary.

One mode is not ‘better’ than another mode, and we should be careful not to describe spoken language as ‘incorrect’ or ‘wrong’.

Spoken language and literature

In this exercise, students look at two examples of English language and describe their characteristics. What each one actually represents may surprise you.

Goals

  • Describe the features of some examples of English language. 
  • Try to determine from the features where the example might have come from.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will look at two examples of English language and try to describe them as well as we can.

Spoken language: Dialect and slang

[Amended from Dan Clayton's Teaching English Grammar in Schools blog]

The history of grammar teaching has often been associated with prescriptive models in which the "correction" of perceived faults in language has been paramount. While linguists are careful these days to talk about what is 'grammatical' or 'ungrammatical' and 'standard' or 'non-standard', rather than what is 'right' or 'wrong', there is still a tension at the heart of the teaching of English.

Standards and variation in Singapore English

English is used in remarkably different ways around the world. Exploring that variation is an extremely effective tool towards understanding our own use of English. This lesson looks at some features of colloquial Singapore English.

Tag questions

Do the following examples contain tag questions or not?

Tag questions

Questions like ...isn’t it?, ...haven’t they? and ...wouldn’t you? that sit on the end of a statement are called tag questions in linguistics. There’s a range of different tag questions most people call on, varying by verb, tense, person and whether the tag is positive or negative.

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