|Vol. 4. No. 2
|| November 1999
Pronunciation Power: A CD-Rom
NYPORT Corporation (Michael S. Paas)
551 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York 10017, USA
Phone: (212) 973-0065; Fax : (212) 973-0070
|Units Purchased ||Price per Unit|
|1-10 || $50 + s/h|
|11-50 || $46 + s/h|
|51-100 || $42 + s/h|
|100+ || $40 + s/h|
- MPC2 compliant.
- 486/66 MHz or greater processor.
- Minimum 12MB RAM (Win 95), Minimum MB RAM (Win 3.11)
- SVGA graphics card with compatible monitor.
- Minimum double speed CD-ROM drive.
- SoundBlaster compatible sound card.
- High-quality microphone.
- 5 MB of available disk space.
- Macintosh 40 MHz 68040 or better, or any Power Macintosh.
- System 7 or higher.
- 6 MB of free RAM; 640x480 resolution display.
- Minimum double speed CD-ROM drive.
- High-quality microphone.
- 5 MB or available disk space.
Pronunciation Power is a multimedia program aiming to teach American pronunciation. It starts with a display of four buttons: (1) User Manual, (2) Quick Tour, (3) Start, and (4) Quit. The User Manual requires the installation of the Acrobat Reader program.
The Quick Tour gives a demonstration of the program. The Start button enables the user to see the transcription of 52 sounds (in five screens). Selecting a sound also means hearing it at the same time, so the user can simply click and hear the sound as many times as he or she wants. Throughout the program, the target sounds in all written exercises can be highlighted with a click on the toggle button. This enables the user to pay attention to the many possibilities of spelling for some of the sounds. Once a sound is selected, four buttons appear: (1) Lessons, (2) Speech Analysis, (3) Exercises, and (4) Quit. Clicking the Lessons button opens a screen with an illustrated, animated side view of the voice box and air flow of the particular sound, and a videotaped front view of the corresponding lip movement. A written (and audible) explanation of the sound production is given as well.
The Speech Analysis button enables the student to hear and record his or her own production of the sound and to compare his or her sound-wave forms to those of the target sound. The student can also hear the target sound and his or her own recording as many times as necessary and compare the two. Thus, the comparison is, in fact, audio-visual. The Exercises button opens a screen with four types of exercises:
- Sample Words, consisting of words with the target sound which can be read, heard and recorded, enabling a comparison between target and production.
- Comparative Words is an exercise in which words with the target sound are compared to similar words (words with the same consonants but different vowels). These comparative words can also be heard and recorded to enable comparison between target and production.
- Listening Discrimination shows sentences which can be both read and heard, with two options for one of the words in each sentence. Both options are semantically and syntactically correct, but only one of the two is the one that is heard. The student has to choose what he or she heard. The program gives feedback with conventional "correct" or "wrong" symbols.
- Sentences can be both read and heard and include several words with the target sound. The learner can repeat these sentences, record and then compare his or her production to the model.
Advantages of the program
- The program is interesting and motivating, aesthetic to the eye, varied, and seems to try to teach what it is supposed to teach. It is user-friendly and does not take too much computer memory.
- It covers both perceptive and productive aspects of pronunciation, i.e. discrimination (one quarter of the exercises), and production (three quarters).
- It enables every type of student, even those shy ones who are afraid to speak in front of their peers, to practice on their own, at home, at their own pace, and learn correct pronunciation without the threat of mockery, teachers' negative reaction, grades, etc.
- It caters for constant comparisons between the model and the student's production.
- It gives spelling variations for each sound, so that the student can learn the sound-symbol possible variations. For example, the sound /i/ is represented by e (England), u (busy), y (typical), ui (build) and o (women).
Disadvantages of the program
- Some of the comparative words seem to be irrelevant or too easy. For example, the comparison between "fill" and "feel" is fine, because a possible confusion between the long (tense) /I/ and the short (lax) /i/ sounds is common among speakers of languages that do not make this distinction. However, some pairs, including hit/height, rid/raid seem out of place. Hit/heat and rid/read would seem to be more appropriate than "height" and "raid," respectively. The same criticism applies to many items in the discrimination exercises. The pairs give/gave, case/kiss, hit/hate and grin/grain do not seem to be appropriate because the distinction between the sounds in each pair is too obvious. A possible reason behind these pairs is perhaps the authors' wish to put two words that would both fit the same context, to prevent the student from figuring out the correct word through reading (as is explained in the manual). However, the result is an exercise that is too easy, so it misses its purpose.
- There is not enough practice altogether to make the learning effective enough. The sample words exercise offers only 15 items per sound. The comparative words exercise has only 10 pairs. The listening discrimination exercise gives 15 sentences and the sentences exercise gives only 10 sentences. It seems that in order to improve pronunciation, one would need to be exposed to many more examples and do many more exercises. The whole program offers 20 hours of work, as the manual tells us. That is not enough to change pronunciation. In addition, the course offers only pronunciation. It does not offer stress or intonation exercises. In order to be a better speaker of a foreign language, one has to improve these two components of oral expression as well.
In spite of the above points of criticism, Pronunciation Power seems to be a good start for a learner of English who is willing to improve his or her pronunciationin the language. Still, one should be aware of the fact that this course is only a beginning, and should be followed by much more practice through a more advanced pronunciation course, or a course that offers many more examples and opportunities for practicing stress and intonation.
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