Solenne Cortial uses ProComm for pronunciation practice
The ProComm exercises allow students to hear what they’ve said, compare it to the pronunciation they know they should hear, and make adjustments. It’s helped students learn how to identify problems and build their lexical knowledge.
— Solenne Cortial, Sessional Lecturer of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies
French 215 is a course made up of 3 discussion classes and 1 lab per week. During labs, students use the ProComm tool on the computers to practice their pronunciation. This system was already in place when I started teaching the course this year, and it’s comparable to the pronunciation tool used in labs that I taught in secondary school. The difference is that in secondary school, students attend these labs once a month, while here in UBC they have a lab session every week.
How did you use the ProComm tool in your course and what made you decide to use this?
Unlike during discussion classes, students get to practice speaking for a much longer period of time – around 50 minutes – during labs while using ProComm. They work individually at each computer to go through the exercises, and I go around and help them when necessary. Usually I help them identify the sound that they have trouble pronouncing, and guide them to produce the sound more accurately. The great thing about these lab sessions and using ProComm is that I am able to focus on each individual student’s pronunciation and help them out, unlike during discussion classes when everyone talks as a large group. The tool is useful because it allows me to inspect students’ pronunciation more carefully and identify the common problems that are occurring.
What has been the result?
I think the students really appreciate the opportunity to practice speaking for a longer period of time. They can also listen to what they’ve produced immediately, which is really useful for getting an insight of what their pronunciation sounds like and identify what their problems are. The identifying is important, because it’s the first step towards improving. The ProComm exercises allow students to hear what they’ve said, compare it to the pronunciation they know they should hear, and make adjustments. It’s helped students learn how to identify problems and build their lexical knowledge.
Also, for exams, I interview each student and assess their pronunciation, fluency, intonation and different sounds. The objectives and the rubric for these exams change according to what the students have been working on during their labs.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and is there anything about your approach you would improve or change?
Sometimes when students do the ProComm speaking exercises, they speak very slowly and deliberately into the mic, perhaps to sound clearer or make it easier for other students to understand them. Therefore, they end up sounding unnatural and almost robotized. This doesn’t reflect how they should speak in real life situations and conversations, and also they do not get to practice their intonation as much. I think that students should try to speak more naturally into the tool, especially since my class is for intermediate to advanced learners – there isn’t a need for them to slow themselves down so much.
Something that might need improvement is that during the labs, students are only interacting with the computer so it can get a bit boring and repetitive for them – there is no real interaction or communication with their peers. This is why it’s enough to hold labs once a week; if we did them more often, it wouldn’t really be that helpful because students would only get to practice sounds and not communication. Communication is an important aspect but it’s something that computers cannot provide. One way to improve this might be that they can work in pairs during labs, so that they can practice their pronunciation in a more natural and collaborative manner. It would also allow them to assess each other for intonation, which the computer cannot do. Ideally, pronunciation work should be incorporated into a real life style of communication.
Do you have any advice for instructors hoping to implement this in their course?
During labs, it’s good to be active in helping students out and don’t hesitate to stop them while they work on their exercises. Some students experience more difficulty pronouncing certain sounds than others, and this may be due to their mother tongue – if your first language is vastly different from the language you are trying to learn in terms of sounds, the muscles of your tongue are used to working differently to create sounds. It’s challenging to speak a language that utilizes the muscles of your tongue in a different way. So it’s best to give the students the advice and material necessary to help them pronounce the sound correctly, but don’t bother them too much about it, or else they’ll feel like they’ve hit a wall. Overall, I feel that using ProComm to teach during labs has come naturally for me, and I find the tool to be intuitive, simple and well-organized. Once you learn the basics of how to use it, it’s easy to set up and implement in your course. Some faculty may feel that it’s a challenge to learn something new and expect students to pick it up as well, but it’s surprisingly simple and students tend to adapt to using these tools very quickly even if they’re new to it.