Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Mouth Choreography

Mouth Choreography makes me smile.  It's a term I came up with this past spring while I was tutoring Simone.  Simone was my adult ESL student from Munich, Germany, and though her English writing and grammar skills were fairly advanced, she wanted to work on pronunciation and speaking.

The idea of Mouth Choreography came up because at the time I was also working on a group dance. I found myself describing different sounds to Simone as if I were teaching a dance.  For example, the "world" I described as having the sound start in a small O on your lips and letting it expand inside your mouth like a round globe.  The word "develop" was like a gallop - letting your tongue move like a horse's legs. 

And of course, we were doing facial calisthenics as we worked with the differences between the sounds of /ch/ (cherry), /g/ (gorgeous), /j/ (gorgeous), and /z/ (zest).  Also there was the voiced and voiceless /th/ (then or thin). 

Besides pronunciation we also worked on what to say in different situations - ordering a cheese plate at the store, discouraging unwanted attention on the light rail, or asking for proper change at the coffee shop.

In her reading assignments we did a lot of fine tuning - different ways to accent words (produce, the verb or produce, the noun) or vowel sounds that look alike but don't sound alike (You put your foot in a boot.)  It was fun to see her make her own connections based on what she already knew.  (Since we both knew French I could explain the schwa sound as similar to the male article "le" in French.)

There were also the different connotations of words.  Describing someone who "grazes" (such as at a party) is nicer than someone who "gobbles."  When Simone found out what it meant to gobble, she said a similar word in German would be schlingen

Simone was an ideal student, and I enjoyed working with her.  After each session I would go home and put together a video of what we had covered that day and send it off to her.  On the days we didn't meet, she would practice with the video so she could repeat everything correctly when we came together for the next session.

For me, English became new and fascinating when I viewed it through Simone's learning process.  The experience enhanced my already deep interest in words, writing and language and I also learned a little bit about Simone's culture which is part of my background as well.

Shall we dance?

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