Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Sounds Of English: Future of this Project?

Dear Readers,

The Sounds of English series (see the list of posts on the right hand menus) has proven to be far more popular than I had ever imagined.  Over 50,000 people have read it since it was posted a little over a year ago.  It currently averages 1000 unique reads (website tracking terminology that means someone has to purposefully click on the page, stay there for a certain minimum period of time, and then interact with the page by scrolling through it or clicking links within it, and who haven’t visited before — basically it means this many new people look at it and actually read it) every week.  However, the project that’s currently posted was never meant to be anything more than a temporary version through which to get the input and advice of people like you.  And, to everyone who has been kind enough to comment and email, thank you very much.  Your observations and advice have been quite helpful.

Now though, I need to take this project to the next level and put it into a truly interactive format that will be more useful to everyone.  Here is what is planned (again from what input I have received from you):

1.  Expand to other Languages

This project began as a way to provide ESL instructors with no linguistics background with the tools needed to teach themselves how to teach their students how to produce all the sounds of the English language.  Most people who use the site however, aren’t reading it for this reason.  Instead we will be expanding the project into an introductory phonetics / phonology course that is still centered upon English but also will include sounds from other languages representing the standard IPA (International Phonetics Alphabet).

2.  Introduce and Discuss the Basics

As mentioned above, the second version of this project will be an introductory course in Phonetics and Phonology.  As such it will include definitions and descriptions of the various concepts and terminology of these subfields of linguistics presented in the same manner as the current project.  By this, I mean that the information will be covered simply and clearly so that anyone with no linguistics background can understand the lessons, but also things will be discussed thoroughly and in enough depth that even seasoned language professionals can use it as a reference or refresher.  All writing however shall be kept, clear, simple, and concise and I will avoid complex terminology, theories, and formulae as much as possible as my goal is that the reader can easily use and understand this resource rather than filling page after page with “big words”.

3. A New Format

The new project will be available in three connected forms:  an e-book in .pdf format that looks and feels very much like a traditional textbook but with hyperlinks throughout the text that allow access to all the interactive features through a web browser; a new stand alone website that is fully interactive and easily searchable that has all of the features of the current project (and more) but puts everything on the same pages so that there is no need to click separate links or go to other sites for demonstration videos or animations or examples; and finally, a smart phone app (iPhone/iPod/iPad, and Android) meant to coordinate with the main site/ebook allowing a quick-access tool for use in the classroom or on the go.  It will include a searchable IPA, a phonetics/phonology dictionary, the ability to look up individual sounds/symbols and see the description of them, the instructions for producing them, the interactive animations and videos, and to hear examples, etc.  There will also be the ability to link back to the appropriate part of the website (via your phone’s browser) or to pull up the appropriate page in the ebook (as a pdf document), to find outside resources such as articles and journals, and a series of tools such as phonetic / phonemic transcription tools, and a mini-phonetic/phonological encyclopedia of world languages.  These features would be available through the main site as well.


Now, here’s the thing, I need your help!

I have given myself a tentative deadline of two months to have the “test version” of this second rendition written and operational.  However in accomplishing this, I will need some assistance.   I can handle the linguistic side of things (although I always welcome advice and criticism from others in this area as well).  But, what you see on WordPress here is pretty much the extent of my Website development skills.  If anyone would like to help me put this project together in a web format, I would really appreciate the help.  Finally, I know NOTHING about programming for iPhone and Android.  If anyone is an app developer and wants to assist in developing this app, please contact me!

So everyone, please add your comments to this thread, and email me directly if you’d like:

Thank you for reading,



April 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TAMPA: Temporal Contrast versus Temporal Nature

Within the TAMPA system, the five areas of analysis can be split between two categories: Temporal Contrast (tense), and Temporal Nature (aspect, aktionsart, perfection, and mood).  It may seem odd to create such a subclassification, but the reasoning is quite simple: tense deals only with contrasting a series of references along a timeline.  That contrast provides no information regarding the nature of those references or their likelihood or any other qualification.  However, the ability to properly determine tense and to chart the proper type of references requires knowledge of the temporal nature of that utterance being dealt with.  So, while tense has no effect on the other four areas of analysis, each of those four and how they work together determine how tense is analyzed.  Also, while tense may be discussed independently of the other attributes, no single attribute within temporal nature may be analyzed alone without dealing with the other three.  The temporal nature of an utterance shall normally stay the same regardless of changes in tense, and the temporal contrast of an utterance may be changed for the most part independent of its temporal nature.  Thus, the split.

The important point is that temporal nature , as defined by aspect, aktionsart, mood, and perfection must be treated as a super-category as determining the temporal nature of an utterance requires analysis of all four areas and attention paid to how they affect each other; and, that the overall temporal nature of an utterance must be known in order to properly document its temporal contrast.

January 6, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

About 3 million people visit the Taj Mahal every year. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2010. If it were the Taj Mahal, it would take about 3 days for that many people to see it.


In 2010, there were 19 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 28 posts. There were 24 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 1mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was July 20th with 363 views. The most popular post that day was Tense, Part II: Present.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for chinese alphabet symbols, pronunciation symbols, english sounds, ipa symbols, and phonetic alphabet.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Tense, Part II: Present February 2010


Sounds of English: Introduction January 2010
1 comment


Tense February 2010


Sounds of English January 2010


Sounds of English: Affricates January 2010

January 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A bit of an aside

The focus of most posts over the past month has been squarely on grammar and syntax of English and that will continue.  For everyone waiting for the promised Syntactic Hierarchy post, it’s still coming.  I’ll try to get that posted within the next week.  In the meantime though, following on yesterday’s post on the University of Iowa’s interactive English phonetics application, I am going to take a break from syntax and spend a bit of time on the phonetics, phonology, and orthography of English.

I’ll post a very plain language explanation of phonetics and phonology as a field of study and provide a very basic grounding in the organization of sounds within languages and the way in which these sounds are made.  I want to make sure that everyone can feel comfortable with phonetics so I’ll explain everything in as simple as way as I can manage.  The terminology of phonetics can be quite daunting and I must say it took me years to stop ignoring it for this reason.  by the end of this week though, I hope that the terminology will make sense and be an easy thing to remember.

Once phonetics is broken down into easy to chew pieces we’ll move on to the sound system of English and compare sounds with spelling.  It is my hope that this exploration of the phonological system of English (contrasting phonetics with orthography) will provide the basis for discussing many of the more peculiar spellings in English so that things that don’t make much sense now (such as the /h/ in what, the /w/ in who, or the spelling of words like laughter).

Look for about 5 posts this week…

January 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lax Standards in MA TESOL Curricula

I have been hearing more and more in the last few years about Master’s degrees in TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  These degrees have been around for quite some time, but only in the past 5-10 years have they become popular and started popping up at universities around the UK, US, and Canada.  The sudden demand for these courses is likely driven by an overall trend in industries world wide for requiring higher degrees from applicants.  This is understandable as many undergraduate programs fail to offer much of a base, especially in fields related to teaching English.

In the UK, the BA degree is honestly little more than a basic primer.  Most programs are only 3 years in length and offer little specialization.  Courses in linguistic principles and a solid grounding in English grammar and vocabulary are almost unheard of in British undergraduate curricula.  Even Oxford points out in it’s application materials for graduate and doctoral programs in Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition, that expects applicants to have not been exposed to linguistics courses in their undergraduate careers.  The US and Canadian system fares a bit better in that the undergraduate curricula is quite a bit more extensive than those of the UK.  Bachelor’s degrees in these systems are 4-5 year degrees with usually 1/3 to 1/2 of courses in bachelor’s curriculum being specialized toward the topic of the degree.  Again though, linguistics is not a heavily studied field and course offerings at most universities are slim.  Those school with strong linguistics or philology programs in the English-speaking academic world however, rarely provide more than a tacit bit of attention toward the linguistics of the English language.  So these North American degrees, while generally superior to those of their transatlantic, still leave their graduates lacking in training and knowledge needed for teaching English.  And then of course, most prospective English teachers do not undertake an undergraduate study in linguistics.  Instead, many come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds with many in Education (pedagogy/teaching degrees), English (literature), or foreign language degrees (German, French, etc).

With this background of an overall lack of the basic knowledge teachers would need in undergraduate studies, and with so many people entering the ESL trade as a second career (or more recently as an option in a bad economy), the need for some higher, more precise level of training in obvious.  But, are these programs the answer?

Perhaps it’s best to first look at what various degree levels are meant to convey.  Possessors of a bachelor’s degree are supposed to be knowledgeable of their subject and are intended to have the knowledge needed to begin a career in that field.  A Master’s degree holder is meant to be an expert in his field, and Doctor (PhD, dphil) is supposed to be not only an expert, but so knowledgeable as to be able to teach his field.  So what does this mean for ESL?  Well, simply put, those who have completed an MA TESOL should have gained the necessary knowledge, proven a necessary level of understanding, and possess an ability to analyze and research problems with in their field to a level that they may be considered experts at teaching English.

Having met several of these MA TESOL grads, and having provided teacher training courses to them, I can tell you that they are far from experts.  Even worse, a quick browse through the various universities offering these degrees’ faculty listings shows that they are more often than not, not even taught by experts.  Part of the problem lies in the ability to define who is and is not an expert.  When it comes to TESOL, is an expert a linguist, a professor, or an experienced teacher?  That’s a question I will leave for another pose, but I would argue that a combination of all three would be necessary and that’s something rarely found on a single CV.  Certainly though, the dedication of qualified research-oriented faculty within these programs is one issue.  More than anything else though, the lax curricula of these programs is to blame.

Master’s programs vary greatly from field to field and from school to school.  Certainly some are perhaps too extensive, but most are not, and unfortunately some universities offer graduate degrees that are of little content and thus of little value.  Within the fields of education and applied linguistics (within which most MA TESOL programs lie), the average Master’s program is intended to take 1 year of full-time study or 2 years of part-time study.  This is actually a reasonable period of study assuming an intensive curriculum.  Looking at various programs though, such an assumption is likely incorrect:

University of Lancaster (UK):

The University of Lancaster has recently began promoting its MA TESOL program.  Lancaster lists the aims of their program as

  • To provide a thorough introduction to academic research and thinking of relevance to TESOL.
  • To identify issues of contemporary interest in the field of TESOL, and develop enlightened attitudes towards them.
  • To develop expertise in handling applied linguistic procedures for conducting evidence-based enquiry within the field of TESOL

These aims would sound nice if they were on the syllabus for an Intro to TESOL undergraduate course.  The very fact that the first aim of this programs is to provide an introduction to academic research is an immediate signal that it shall in no way adequately prepare anyone for anything other than getting ready to learn something (at another university, on there own? who knows).  These aims should not be considered adequate for even the most watered down bachelors program, yet here they are outlining an MA.  Even more interesting is a look at the programs actual curriculum:

There are six taught modules, taken in this order:

  • Second Language Learning (October-December, Year 1)
  • Communicative and Pedagogical Grammar (January – March, Year 1)
  • Trends and Issues in Language Teaching Methodology (April – June, Year 1)
  • Managing Innovation in Language Education (October – December, Year 2)
  • Culture and the Language Learner (January – March, Year 2)
  • Second Language Classroom Research (April – June, Year 2)

Each module is completed within a 10-week period and assessed by a 5,000 word assignment.

That’s it, 6 partial-semester, distance ed courses in very general subjects, a thesis paper, and you’ve got a degree.   But can a graduate of such a program be considered an expert?  Hardly.

The module description for the first course listed “Second Language Learning” reads like a summary of the Wikipedia article on the same topic and from the looks of it, likely presents about an equal depth of knowledge.  Likewise, the second course, which is the only one dealing with Grammar would not satisfy a 3rd grade teacher providing a basic primer course to her young pupils.  There’s really no reason to discuss the other modules as they are equally lacking in depth.

Needless to say, a graduate of this program is no more equipped to teach ESL than a backpacker with no university degree who’s spent a month doing a bit of reading and worked for a few months in a language school.


My point in writing this is not to single out Lancaster, nor is it to question their motives in offering this program as it is certainly in response to demand for such training.  It does however miss the point in a very big way, and that is more my point.  Lancaster is far from alone.  Their curriculum is a bit lighter than many programs.  But when you compare other programs offering these MA TESOL degree, one thing is common to them all and seems a glaring fallacy in their curricula:  None of them focus on grammar and the linguistics of English!  Like Lancaster, the University of Central Florida offers an MA TESOL, and like Lancaster, their program has only one grammar course which their graduates have admitted to me gives little more than a general overview.  This is the norm with MA TESOL programs worldwide, and I have to ask, how do universities propose to train English teachers without teaching English grammar???????

Teachers of a language must not only be able to teach grammar.  They must actually understand that grammar, and the root of the forms and structures therein.  They must possess a level of knowledge that allows them to not only teach forms, but to convey understanding to their students so that those language learners can be equipped to grasp the rules and usage of the language they are learning.

Short of steering prospective teachers fully away from these MA TESOL programs, I would instead offer a bit of advice:  when deciding whether to enroll in an MA TESOL program, weigh your options.  Compare the cost of the program to the added income you can expect to make with that added training.  Scrutinize the curriculum of the program being considered.  If it looks to be little more than that of a simple TEFL certificate, it probably is, so walk away.  Do a bit of reading on linguistics, grammar, and 2nd language acquisition before beginning your search, and when you think you’ve found a program, call the professors, ask them questions, and if you are unsatisfied with the quality of their answers, look elsewhere.

Finally, to the academic directors of the many departments offering MA TESOL programs, or to those universities planning to  offer one, please consider what your students will need to be experts within their field.  Discard the need for an easy education for the greater need of the language training industry for qualified, knowledgeable, and intuitive professionals.  And, more than anything TEACH GRAMMAR!!!!


Drew Ward

Executive Director, CALLE

December 17, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments