Phonology 101

On our course Patricia introduced us to two great sites to help with phonology.

First, there’s the excellent online typewriter, the Phonemic Character Keyboard, which is based on the comprehensive IPA character picker, two tools which, taken together, are just what you need to be able to write a post like this!

Then, there’s the University of Iowa Phonetics Flash Animation Project. This lets you go to three languages – American English, Spanish and German – to compare the phonemic characters with animated videos of the organs of speach and the ensuing sounds.

These tools are great extensions to the information contained in the Sound Foundations chart (app available) developed by Adrian Pilbeam, based on Received Pronunciation. While this is obviously a groundbreaking approach, and bible, so to speak, it needs extending when you’re focussing on moving students towards greater intelligibility in the ELF world. So this morning I’ve revisited that practice sentence I gave my students a few weeks ago: As she heard the bird, it occurred to her that the word she had heard was “a third”, not “a turd”. For orientation, I told the students to think “ö”. But the phoneme is not all that simple.

  • heard: BE: hɜːd – AE: hɝd
  • German uses different sounds and symbols: œ (öffnen) – ø (hören)

The sound descriptions from the IPA character picker are

  • ɜ – lower mid-central rounded
  • œ – lower mid front rounded
  • ø – upper mid front rounded

They may sound similar at first, but they’re made at different places in your mouth. The English phoneme sort of sits on your tongue, while the German ones are right up front.

Armin Berger writes: “Although the German vowel sounds differ slightly from their English counterparts, the German vowel inventory is sufficient for ELF communication. The English vowel sound /ɜː/, which is considered important for ELF, does not exist in German and might need some practice. In addition, German vowels are not shortened before voiceless consonants or lengthened before voiced consonants. This will be problematic for ELF.”  (In Robin Walker, Teaching the Pronunciation od English as a Lingua Franca, p.107)

So not only do German learners of English need to practice where the sound is made, they also need to make it long enough to be recognized. The most important thing remains for students to recognize when sounds are pronounced the same way, e.g. despite their divergent spellings, for consistent intelligibility. This allows listeners to tune in to them, and decode the sounds consistently.

Next time students need practice in this phoneme, I’ll still give them sentences containing many instances of it, but I’ll also present the four sounds (long and short ö in German, “heard” with and without the r) in comparision.

Phonemic typewriters:

Text to phonetics:

The answer to the poll is … The Island Weekly!

Riddles upside down

A man went on a trip on Friday, stayed for 2 days and returned on Friday. How is that possible?
Answer: ¡ǝsɹoɥ ɐ sı ʎɐpıɹɟ

What has 4 wheels and flies?
Answer: ¡ʞɔnɹʇ ǝƃɐqɹɐƃ ɐ

What did the fish say when he hit the side of his glass bowl at 50 miles per hour?
Answer: “˙uɯɐp”

Think fast: There’s an electric train traveling south. The wind is from the north-west. In which direction would the smoke from the train be blowing?
Answer: ¡ǝʞoɯs ou sɐɥ uıɐɹʇ ɔıɹʇɔǝlǝ uɐ

Well, did you have fun hanging from the ceiling? A nice tool to fool with, that, ˙ʇuoɟ ʎɯ ɥʇıʍ ʞɹoʍ ʇ’usǝop ʇı ɥƃnoɥʇ

Animoto: Men with beards

Just testing some edutech tools this morning, this is my first attempt with Animoto, which lets you make free 30 second animated slideshows. I’m picking up on a topic I wrote about two years ago. – Do you recognize all of the bearded men in the pictures?

Create your own video slideshow at

BTW: A group of us is going to see a great bearded man reading at Amerika Haus here in Munich on Sunday: Harry Rowohlt, quite possibly the greatest translator from English to German. He’s responsible for Winnie the Pooh, Shel Silverstein, Ernest Hemmingway,… and he’s been touring, reading the letters of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels with Gregor Gysi. On Sunday he’ll be reading from his translations.


Martin Dougiamas, father of Moodle

Great interview with Martin Dougiamas, father of Moodle, at Moodlemoot in Bamberg:

“Moodle is really a system of control. The web 2.0 is very much about complete freedom and openness and lack of privacy. And Moodle is obviously oriented to what institutions care about, which is about walls and protected spaces, and this just allows you to bring content from the wider world into these potected spaces do interesting things with them.”

“It’s for people who like islands. It’s for those people who need that. And it’s definitely not the solution for everybody.”

Interview audio at
tweetet by Spotlightverlag

Moodle for multiple choice

Using ICT for communication in teaching is great, and it’s what hooked me to adopting technology as a professional focus. It’s the “personal” quality of Web 2.0 tools that opens up new kinds of learning.

But systems really shine when they are allowed to be, well, systems. In teaching they need to be well-designed to provide the right kind of feedback to the user. They’re good for formative analysis – guiding the student in his or her learning process – and for final evaluation – passing the benchmark. How you set up the exercise or test visually on the page and how you word the feedback is important. When I run my next Moodle course for teachers, I’ll need to teach them how to make multiple choice tests. I’m not looking forward to it, though: the Moodle interface is so awful to use for input, and you can’t do much with it visually. Oh, well. It’s free 😉 – I’ll have to see what I can do with Hot Potatoes now, and whether that’s simpler.

Oh, boy. How many hours do we have?

Google and Moodle

Dave Nagel reports that Google Apps Education Edition is coming to Moodle. Moodlerooms, a Moodle partner, is launching a new enhancement to the open source LMS in collaboration with search giant Google to provide access to the application suite using a single sign-on. Through the integration, users loaded into Moodle will be automatically loaded into Google Apps Education Edition, providing users with Web-based e-mail, document authoring, spreadsheets, presentations and sites, all integrated with their online learning platform. From a teacher’s perspective, this provides an easy way to assign students to collaborative tasks without having to worry about the students having different operating systems or incompatible software or being unable to access an online system. From an IT staffer or CIO’s perspective, this provides an integration tested with large-scale data loads.

It’s not for free, but (Anne: see comments) It’s something that might come in handy for schools with small budgets, as it should simplify administration. School teachers will love it, as it’s great for kids who don’t always have their own email account yet. I’m not sure it makes sense for adults. Let’s see whether the Big Ones in adult ed (Open University…) adopt it.


I took part in my very first ever “webinar” today  at, and just the experience of working with the conferencing interface brought home to me how very different a remote live online session is. Granted, it was great to hear and read what the other participants were saying. My mind, my eyes and my hands were all over the place, reading the chat, listening to the people speak, surfing over to links that people were posting in the chat, writing some notes to myself on paper, then being so wired that I dropped everything to run around the corner for a cup of coffee (yes, coffee!) To be honest, I noticed at one point that I was thinking more about the ongoing Bayern-München game and was toying with the new blog on the side (talk about multitasking!) rather than “attending” the webinar, so if I look back I’d have to say that I now know that there is a good discussion going on, but I don’t really know what it’s about.

Why didn’t I pay closer attention? I’m really not 100% sure. I found the running chat quite distracting, actually, because it was always about something else than what the speaker was saying. You know, there’s always a delay, even when people type like the dickens. 160 people chatting and posting links – how does that work? It doesn’t, not really. Perhaps I was also a little frustrated to see how experienced those teachers were.  So: A lot of energy and technology, just to fuel my stress levels. How very, very different, say, from sitting in a quiet place with my pen and a notebook and thinking the issue over on my own. Which is what I’ll do tomorrow. Because I need and want results.

PS: The topic was “Moodle” and the resources page at Classroom 2.0 Live has good related links.