With Athabasca University’s newly launched Advanced Speaking and Listening Skills (ENGL 149), ESL students have the potential to achieve near-perfect English speech by polishing their skills through the course’s integrated speaking and listening components. Course author Peggy Kayne is truly excited about the new course and, based on her vast experience as a linguist, expects “remarkable results” in spoken English for ENGL 149 students.
In this course, says Kayne, “students learn skills that help them continue to progress [in English] even after the course is finished.” She further explains that one of the main differences between correct and incorrect English pronunciation is tongue movement and tension, mouth shape during speech, and the tempo of the speech. Once students learn to adapt tongue and mouth movements and tension and adjust their tempo accordingly, they are well on their way to success not only in the English language, but also in their workplace, since effective communication often hinges on success in this area. “Rhythm and tone,” continues Kayne, “are highly important … in ENGL 149, students will work at developing their long and short [speech] patterns to match that used in the English language. If you don’t have the right rhythm and tone,” explains Kayne, “it’s like playing the song ‘Mary had a little lamb’ at different speeds. We intrinsically ‘know’ which tempo the song should be played at, and when the tempo is incorrect, it stands out.”
Kayne explains that not only does ENGL 149 teach students how to perfect their spoken English, it also gives them understanding about subtle pronunciation differences that “make all the difference in speech.” Kayne illustrates by a neat example: in the course, students learn how their tongue naturally moves, depending on their native language, when pronouncing the English letter “r”. This knowledge is then contrasted with Canadian tongue movement for the same letter. With this knowledge, students can perfect even difficult letters in the English language. In addition, ENGL 149 students will also be able to improve their English speech clarity as well. Continues Kayne, “improved clarity often has to do with a lowered speech tension””?again, once students are made aware of this and practice, dramatic results in their spoken English skills are seen.
The course content of ENGL 149 uses the skeleton of AU’s previously offered ENGL 187. However, there are several significant differences, indicates Kayne; the most important being that ENGL 149 solely covers spoken English, while its predecessor focused on both written and oral components. In ENGL 149, students use CDs to listen to others speaking English, and then tape their spoken English and develop critical self assessment skills to monitor their progress in part. Prior to beginning the nine units of the course, students complete a spoken English pre-test. Once the course is completed, students complete a spoken post-test, and are able to compare the results. Kayne indicates that the course assignments (four spoken and four listening) are audio-based; however, there is a multiple-choice final “paper” exam (worth 30%).
Course author Peggy Kayne is a talented linguist, with over 18 years experience in research and development on teaching perfect English pronunciation, fluency, and accent. Currently, she works at AU’s Centre for Language and Literature and acts as ENGL 149’s primary tutor.
In closing the interview, Kayne laughed and noted that ENGL 149 is “just plain fun!” I would definitely have to agree; although I am a native-born Canadian, listening to Kayne discuss the details of the course was inspiring, and I almost considered enrolling myself!
If you are interested in perfecting your English speaking skills, check out the course syllabus at: http://www.athabascau.ca/html/syllabi/engl/engl149.htm.