Tuesday 20 July 2010

Oh, Tracy!

There’s a Youtube clip that has been going the rounds in Britain recently. It is of the American voice teacher Tracy Goodwin purporting to teach the British LOT vowel, ɒ.

Scroll down here to read some reactions to it from the British general public. The consensus is that it is utterly hilarious. On Facebook I have seen reactions ranging from LOL to OMG, WTF, and ROTFL.

Here is a reply from a young lady in London, demonstrating how we really say coffee and dog.

Several commentators are bemused at Tracy’s American use of the term dialect (where we would say ‘accent’). Americans really do need to be aware of this difference in usage when communicating with the British: it’s only us linguists and phoneticians who are likely to have come across dialect in this sense before, because we read American textbooks and interact with American professionals.

I don’t like to criticize a fellow professional, but we do need to ask why Tracy’s demo is such a disaster. Here are some of the reasons, as I see it.
1. Her “British” LOT vowel is not open enough. It is in the mid ɔ area rather than the open ɒ area. So to us it sounds working-class Scottish rather than English.
2. She doesn’t realize that all of us English (though not all Scots) distinguish the LOT and THOUGHT sets. Her first two examples, hot and coffee, are LOT words, but her third example, fought, is a THOUGHT word and ought therefore to have ɔː, not ɒ. Her attempts at dog and fog sound particularly ludicrous. (They are both LOT words.)
3. Her happY vowel (at the end of coffee) is much too open. It approaches ɛ or perhaps more precisely [ɛ̝̈], which in England is highly marked both socially and regionally. Socially, it belongs in a variety of U-RP which is probably now entirely obsolete, a subvariety of what Cruttenden calls “Refined RP”. Alternatively, geographically it is associated with (the working-class accent of) central Northern places such as Leeds. No actor should use this kind of happY vowel for “British” unless playing an upper-class character in a play set a hundred years ago or more.
4. Putting these points together, we can say that Tracy’s version of BrE represents an impossible mixture of different social classes and different geographical locations. Bits [= conscious Briticism] of it are Scottish, bits of it are northern English, bits are RP/southern. Some of it is caricature-upper-class, some of it is working-class. Nobody, but nobody, talks like that in real life.

I expect Tracy thinks that we call policemen ‘bobbies’, too. But then that’s what most Americans believe.

Tracy’s own website says she has a Masters and ten years experience. She is the author of Be Delicious: The Art of Voice & Movement Integration.

I do hope my own attempts at AmE sound better than this.


  1. Oh, my, gaahd.

    The LOT vowel does have a certain range, though. Where does the strange stereotpye come from that the more closed varieties of LOT and THOUGHT are "higher" RP, by the way?

  2. Andrej Bjelakovic20 July 2010 at 11:45

    Basically, she's hypercorrecting. The segment that Americans have most trouble with trying to do a convincing British accent is, in my experience, the LOT vowel.* It usually comes out not rounded enough, not close enough and a tad longish. Tracy here just went the opposite way, bless her.

    *Well, if we discount the non-rhoticity, probably.

  3. My California-American ears learned a lot about the British O from listening to Jo Frost on "Supernanny" pronouncing her own one-syllable name with what sound to me like several different vowels in a row.

  4. I think this is illuminating about how some American ears perceive the vowels in various British accents, and explains imitation spellings like 'hawt' and 'rawk' for 'hot' and 'rock', for example.

    My theory is that Tracy's starting point was a combination of very old-fashioned versions of RP and Cockney, exaggerated a thousand-fold (or perhaps she was basing her imitation on yet another such poorly done imitation). I vaguely recall that the British LOT vowel was more closed than today at some point in the distant past. Separately, 'coffee' might have passed a THOUGHT-vowel stage in RP at some point before rejoining LOT. These marked features could have been exaggerated by imitators over the years, long after they ceased to correspond to any actual British pronunciation.

    Incidentally, my original American accent from Northern New Jersey (before it became all confused) had THOUGHT vowels for 'dog' and 'fog' as well as 'coffee'. Tracy, who seems to have a vaguely Southern accent, appears to largely merge the LOT and THOUGHT vowels. If that is the case, then she may have trouble hearing that these are different phonemic categories in British English and use her version of the THOUGHT vowel in all cases by analogy.

  5. Her "standard American" has very plain cot-caught, pin-pen, and marry-merry-Mary mergers — in short, Southern California. I rather wonder if her FACE vowel in America is a hypercorrection too, as most people with the marry-merry-Mary merger seem to have NURSE or something close to it in this word.

    I'm from Northern New Jersey too, yet for me dog, coffee are THOUGHT=CLOTH whereas fog, hog, grog etc. are LOT=PALM.

  6. Oh yes. Bits of does not seem like a Briticism to me, although it is less formal than part(s) of. There is a book called Bits of History, Words of Advice, punning on the computer senses of bit and word.

  7. Jongseong, dog and coffee were in the CLOTH set until somewhere between the wars, rather early even, I think. Not sure about fog.

    But you confirm the idea of the closed LOT being old-fashioned RP. I'm not sure this is true - blawgmaster, can you help?

  8. Lipman - not as far as I'm aware. Apart from some older southwestern unrounding I think there's very little variation in LOT [ɒ] in England and Wales.

  9. John Cowan, now that you point it out, I think I was mistaken about 'fog' having the THOUGHT vowel. I hastily assumed I would have used the same vowel as for 'dog', but upon reflection I don't think I had a fixed pronunciation for it.

    I only spent a short time in Northern New Jersey during childhood, and believe it or not 'fog' was not a regularly spoken part of my young vocabulary back then; I now use the LOT vowel for words like 'fog' and 'hog', but this would be a post-Jersey development.

    During the short New Jersey years, I remember wondering about the pronunciation of 'smog', a word which I had read but not heard spoken, so I must have been aware that there was an ambiguity in vowel choice.

  10. @Lipman, @John Wells: Well, if anything, I've always had the feeling that LOT has been raising (and "chasing" THOUGHT in an apparent chain shift). Granted, it may not be about RP, but there have been reports to precisely that effect.

    Check this article and this one [WARNING: PDF links]. (They discuss more or less the same data.)

    The first one is not searchable for some reason, but if you scroll to page 3, there's a figure that explicitly shows raising. The same can be seen at least for Ashford, Kent in the second article on p. 19.

    So at least in some locations in the south east, LOT has been shown to be raising.

    And from time to time, I get to hear an old RP recording where the realisation of LOT strikes me as very open, with very little rounding... If only I could remember a specific one right now...

  11. One more thing: If you look at Deterding's acoustic charts in Cruttenden's (2008) edition of Gimson's pronunciation..., it's pretty evident that LOT is quite a bit above STRUT and START, at more or less the same level as DRESS and NURSE. So that's not a fully open vowel...

    (All of this with the caveat that these are all acoustic charts, and the relation between them and a traditional "articulatory" chart may be less than perfect. But still.)

  12. So when are you going to post a video of yourself doing an American accent?

  13. Frindt Levente20 July 2010 at 15:40

    It is obvious that some raising of the LOT vowel has taken place. You just have to compare vowel charts in older and newer sources (e.g. old and new *PD).

  14. I remember sharing this video on Facebook and VASTAVox ages ago, with a comment to the effect of "She must be stopped."

    I do hear a more close LOT vowel than in days of yore in some speakers of Contemporary RP, but that does not render this person's attempts to teach RP (of any kind) any less egregious. She just plain doesn't know what she's doing.

  15. a subvariety of what Cruttenden calls “Refined RP”.

    Shouldn't that be "Refained"? ;)

    For an English response to Tracy, see "How NOT to Speak with a British Accent." It consists of cuts of the original interspersed with cuts of a young man watching it and reacting (incredulously). The best part is the very end.

  16. I wonder if she knows that she and her work are being discussed in such great depth? It is painful to hear. I think that often coaches working on accents struggle to identify lexical sets—the lot-cloth-thought challenge can cause a lot of confusion for a coach when she or he has a merger in their own native accent. And, unfortunately, so many coaches aren't really taught about lexical sets at all—they may learn some IPA if they're lucky, but knowing when to apply what where is, regrettably, left up to guess work. I feel for her. It doesn't excuse her ignorance, but I'm sure I've done some pretty embarrassing things in my teaching career. Hopefully, they weren't on YouTube.

  17. I do feel a bit sorry for those with the cot-caught or Mary-marry merry mergers who have to speak an accent that has them split. The spelling does give some guidance, but it's riddled with exceptions.

    English people wanting to learn a mainstream American accent have it much easier -- they simply need to know how to spell (in particular, where to put Rs).

  18. I first heard this clip on the radio last year (it's been around for a while). As a disembodied voice it was very funny, but then I saw the YouTube clip. Once you have a face, and a name, and a specific time and place of recording, it's not so funny anymore, just rather awkward. And some of the comments on YouTube are just nasty, and/or phonetically ignorant.

    As Eric Armstrong pointed out above, we all make mistakes and sometimes do inadvisable things, but in the age of the internet a few of us get singled out for particular ridicule in front of a much larger audience than was previously possible, by a selection process that is to a large extent accidental.

  19. @John Cowan: If anything, I would say that she's from the South or Texas. In Houston, for example, where I am going to school, as well as in Dallas, young people generally have all of the marry/merry/Mary, pin/pen, and cot/caught mergers, whereas most Southern Californians that I've met don't have the pin/pen merger (I'm originally from Chicago, so I only have the marry/merry/Mary merger out of them.)

    Also, I don't know how the marry/merry/Mary merger sounds to someone in New Jersey, but to me, any of the merged words sounds very close to Mare-y [ˈmɛɹ.i], not particularly close to the NURSE vowel, and my Texas friends have no phonetic trouble in using the pronunciation [əˈmɝː.kn̩] for "American" to mock jingoism.

  20. Like Leo, I also feel awkward that we are discussing the mistakes of a complete stranger who became the object of internet ridicule through the accidental selection process that also gave us the Star Wars Kid and Numa Numa Guy. I'm just glad that some of my less than fine moments were not recorded and promulgated over the internet.

    I once gave a presentation about the general accents of British, American, and Australian English to a Korean audience. I used audio clips of actual speakers instead of attempting the accents myself. Considering the audience, I probably could have got away with imitating the accents myself, but my sense of academic honesty prevailed in the end (I knew I would butcher the British and Australian accents).

  21. @VP:
    I'm an American with those mergers (and more) and I have noticed that there are indeed many exceptions to the spellings. If I were an actor having to do an RP or other English accent, I'd have to go through all my lines with LPD or something similar in hand (if I really wanted to get it perfect, that is, which probably wouldn't be necessary or possible). I do agree that it is much easier for English actors to put on American accents. It's always easier if you naturally speak an accent that makes more distinctions and your target accent makes fewer distinctions, as I'm sure others have realized. However, I still think I can pull off a decent London area accent for a "Yank" who has the father-bother, pin-pen, cot-caught and Mary-merry-marry (and perhaps more!) mergers. I find the non-rhoticity (thanks John) to be the easiest part of non-rhotic accents when I'm doing them for fun. It's the other stuff that's difficult. Although I feel like I have to really think about when to use an intrusive or linking r. If I didn't think about it, I'm not sure that I would use them. Anyway, enough about me.

    @John Wells:
    I'd really love to hear one of your attempts at some sort of North American accent of English. That would be "R some", as some of us say (well not exactly, but you get the point).

  22. Jongseong, I have to disagree here. She became the object of internet ridicule by setting herself up as an expert on a subject she did not master: a tactic that she could only hope to get away with in front of an audience, that, oblivious to this fact, took her claims at face value. That kind of behaviour deserves to be exposed and, yes, ridiculed.

  23. luke, she was hardly aware of that, or do you think she knows it's bad and still sells it?

  24. We should think (carefully) about the comment by Eric Armstrong: "And, unfortunately, so many coaches aren't really taught about lexical sets at all—they may learn some IPA if they're lucky, but knowing when to apply what where is, regrettably, left up to guess work."

    If phoneticians were more alert to context, they would have discovered the poverty of critical terms for describing sound patterns and sound symbolism in English poetry, and in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, long ago.

    The mind is extremely plastic (potentially). If we evolve subtle teaching methods for the levels of English (or any language), the brain will perform integration. But strangely, at every level, sound, word, sentence, and discourse, the ways of thinking about the subject matter are unsubtle. Naturally, there is no SWSW Linguistics blog (or superblog) where sound-word-sentence-whatever would be pulled into focus.

    It is easy to find Tracy victims on the Internet. It is harder to think critically about your own discipline. If you mention that Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" contains fascinating patterns of "e" "gradation," then you would expect that a phonetician would be interested, would be able to help you develop terminology, and would be able to understand how to integrate poetry into teaching of the IPA. But they are not interested, it seems.

    So some of the ridicule is self-directed. Are phoneticians fighting back against TOEFL English and explaining how to learn pronunciation? Perhaps they are demonstrating in the streets. I have not seen it. claytonburns@gmail.com

  25. As someone from Massachusetts, I think my dialect is more conducive than most to doing a good RP. I've got none of the pre-/r/ mergers (Mary-merry-marry, serious-Sirius, hurry-furry, Tory-torrent), and I make native use of intrusive [r]. My dialect is cot-caught merged with [ɒ:], and father-bother unmerged. I found learning the British cot-caught distinction to be pretty easy from spelling, and I had no trouble transforming my [ɒ:] into a short checked [ɒ].

    Although I suppose it helps that I have an anglophile mother and grew up on a steady diet of British comedies.

  26. Luke, there's no question that she set herself up for ridicule. But the amount of ridicule she is now exposed to is quite disproportionate.

    I have much anecdotal evidence that people can be entirely too trusting of their own ears when it comes to imitating unfamiliar accents or languages. I remember a French friend of mine was incredulous when an American pointed out his rather obvious accent in English—to his ear, his accent was spot on, even if he had problems with other aspects of the language! I don't think we succeeded in convincing him otherwise. Not everyone realizes that the ear is fine-tuned only to one's own language and accent.

  27. @Jongseong:

    Provided that Ms Goodwin

    * published the video herself

    * in order to demonstrate her purported expertise in accents

    it is totally in order to point out how ridiculous her attempts at an English accent are.

    The (presumed) originals, consisting of 28 clips collectively entitled "How to Speak With a British Accent", seem to be online at eHow (although I couldn't get them all to play).

    Interestingly, Ms Goodwin is apparently aware of the cot-caught split (she has separate sections on "Short O" and "the AW sound"), which makes her apparent conflation of them all the more unfortunate.

  28. No, of course she doesn't know it's bad, but she clearly doesn't care much: she hasn't once run her impression of a "British dialect" (presumably meaning RP) by a native speaker.

    People can be too trusting of their own ears when it comes to imitating foreign pronunciations, but a professional voice teacher should know better than that.

  29. Can we find out more about Tracy Goodwin so that we can ask her some questions about her activities? Just wondering...

  30. I found a few Americans doing "British" (English) accents on YouTube that most commenters from England (or at least the UK) seemed to like. I just wanted to prove that not all Americans completely butcher English accents when they attempt them. Here's a young lady: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8iBhbIZ4eLs&feature=related and here's a young man doing his version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7_2VeF4iSI (sorry, I don't know how to make the links clickable)

    I just thought it was fun and interesting even if no one here thinks so.

  31. I wasn't aware that she'd done all those videos or that she was a professional voice teacher. But I can't really be blamed for thinking it was one of those run-of-the-mill amateur videos put up by people claiming no credentials, can I? I mean, those linked to by 'enry 'iggins are much better attempts than hers.

  32. Robert Irelan: I didn't think of the South because traditionally the South has only the Mary-merry merger, with marry still distinct. But I'm not surprised to hear this is changing. And yes, people with merged accents sound like they're always saying Mary to me.

    Lazar Taxon: Out of curiosity, do you have the fork-pork (aka NORTH/FORCE) merger? I have LOT=PALM and THOUGHT=CLOTH, so spelling mostly tells me how to distinguish those; only NORTH and FORCE defeat me. (That's right, I'm one of those annoying people who make it necessary for the rest of you to learn about the otherwise useless CLOTH lexical set.)

    Jongseong: Also out of curiosity: Is your name merely accidentally homophonous with the word for "final consonant", or did you adopt that deliberatelyl as a nom d'Internet?

    All: Frankly, I think that Ms. Goodwin is probably trying to teach Americans how to sound British enough to be recognizable as such to an American audience, which isn't very discriminating. For that purpose, short [O] instead of [Q] is probably good enough. We don't call secondary-school physics teachers incompetent because they teach Newtonian physics even though they know it to be false, or linguists because they teach neophytes about phonemes while aware that the justification for the notion on a theoretical level is doubtful.

  33. John Cowan, my given name is indeed just accidentally homophonous with the word for 'final consonant'. I've had it pointed out to me a number of times: 'Oh, that's your name as in choseong, jungseong, and jongseong?'

    And wow, I didn't realize until now that there were people who didn't rhyme 'fork' and 'pork'.

  34. 'enry 'iggins

    "(sorry, I don't know how to make the links clickable)"

    I recently asked how, and John replied:

    Like this.

    Oh dear! Here it is with spaces inserted:

    Like < a href="http://url_" >this< /a >.

    Substitute the link after the =, and remove the spaces next to the angle brackets.

  35. Her attempts at a NY accent are almost as pitiful. They sound more like a degenerated Bostonian accent than anything. In her world, 'wash' is apparently pronounced almost like /'wæːʃ/.


    I feel sorry for those paying for her guidance, particularly for British English. Where did she assemble this Frankenstein's monster of a dialect?

  36. vp: “English people wanting to learn a mainstream American accent have it much easier -- they simply need to know how to spell (in particular, where to put Rs).”

    Not exactly. Going from a dialect with an English(-like) vowel space to a mainstream American one is more difficult than you might think. The AmE vowels in “hot” and “man”, for example, are particularly tricky (to me, at least). The AmE vowel in “hot” is long and ever so slightly higher and more open than the BrE vowel in, say, “father”, and the AmE vowel in “man” is tenser—with a tiny hint of a schwa at the end—than the BrE version.

    These are very subtle features, but people can hear them (and spot a fake), even if they can't identify what's going on. The recent American TV series “Flashforward” featured a number of actors from the UK (e.g. Joesph Fiennes), and judging from comments online, many Americans found the American accents unconvincing.

  37. It might be a good idea to check into Tracy Goodwin video at the website for The Speakers Company, Castle Hill House, Castle Hill, Windsor, Berkshire, Phone: +44 (0)845 094 1044.

    Someone living nearby could drop in and ask The Speakers Company for contact information for Tracy Goodwin, and an explanation as to why The Speakers Company is carrying her videos.

    It might seem as if this is a good joke on the public, but it is indicative of what must be the most parasitic (and lice-ridden) language in history. How exactly would you trace Tracy's personal data? It seems to be filled with dead ends, doesn't it? The college professor who keeps what particular college quiet.

    Readers might consult The Toronto Star online for a story about how immigrants to Canada will be forced to take IELTS, even if it is clearly inapplicable. The rationale of IELTS in terms of grammar is quite totally absent. Anyone with a mind would have students study the COBUILD intermediate or advanced grammar, and design the test around one of them. The grammar component of IELTS is basically a hoax. The entire international racket of pretending to teach English pronunciation is not much better.

    Factitious English probably is larger in revenues each year than Walmart's. As far as I am aware, there has never even been a basic economic study of the magnitude of the phenomenon and the huge opportunity costs.

    If anyone has any information about Tracy and her qualifications (or her client list), please let me know. claytonburns@gmail.com

  38. @Anonymous:

    Sorry, I wasn't very clear in expressing myself.

    Anyone changing accents, in any direction, will have to learn new realizations of vowels, as you describe in your post.

    However, a cot-caught merged American wishing to speak with an English accent would _also_ be obliged to learn which words belong with "cot", which belong with "caught". The spelling provides only inconsistent guidance (consider "cough", "ought", "Austin", "laurel", "Waugh", etc.). There is no alternative to learning whole lists of words by heart.

    An Englishman wishing to speak like an American (at least one with merged cot-caught and horse-hoarse) has no such difficulty. The only new distinctions the Englishman will need to apply are those resulting from R-dropping (e.g. "father" vs. "farther" ,"caught" vs. "court", "panda" vs. "pander"). In all those cases, the spelling of the word indicates whether an /r/ needs to be inserted. So there is no need to learn lists of words by heart.

  39. Clayton Burns

    I'm not sure how relevant it is to a Phonetics Blog, but IELTS is not a test of grammar or pronunciation. Nevertheless, at any given level, poor intelligibility will bring down the grade.

    IELTS is a test of the ability to function in an English medium learning environment and/or an English-speaking country. An intelligible but clearly foreign accent is almost as much as can be expected.

    IELTS has 'face validity'; the tasks bear some obvious similarity to the tasks facing a foreign student or immigrant. The alternative is a test like TOEFL with no face validity whatsoever but a statistical proof of validity that we have to take on trust.

    There are pitfalls to any pronunciation test. Gillian Brown tells the story of a test based on the local standard pronunciation of English in a West African state. The British Ambassador's son failed.

  40. @ David: Thank you, kind sir.

    @ Anon: Almost all North American accents (with the notable exception of Canadian accents) have TRAP raising before nasal consonants. As an American I find it hard to keep that vowel lax before nasal consonants. If I do it sounds foreign (English, Canadian, etc.). William Labov calls this the nasal short a system.

  41. David Crosbie: I recommend that you examine the following news article at The Toronto Star website: "All immigrants face mandatory language test (July 20, 2010) Dodi Robbins, a Harvard-educated corporate lawyer whose first language is English, says she is insulted at having to take Immigration Canada's language test in order to prove she speaks English well enough to settle here. She has been working as a lawyer in Toronto on a work permit since 2006."

    You might also consider the nature of the Canadian Language Benchmarks. We are not forced to accept IELTS or CLB because TOEFL is
    worse. We are free to design new systems.

    Probably the best article in the last few years on oral English in universities is "Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said,"
    Alan Finder, June 24, 2005, New York Times. Would you expect IELTS to be of value here?

  42. Clayton Burns

    If a Harvard educated corporate lawyer whose first language is English was forced to take IELTS, that is no reflection on the test, but on the stupidity of the bureaucrats requiring it. Actually, there's probably no stupidity involved — just a lack of foresight when the rules for qualification were framed.

    A friend of mine was once told by the Sorbonne authorities that she could not teach because she had not passed a particular course — the very one that she was supposed to teach!

    Unclear on American Campus: What the Foreign Teacher Said

    IELTS specifically assesses for clarity of speaking. There's a US test originally developed by the State Department (I forget the name) which is even better.

  43. Just to return to the video for a second; when I watched it a couple of days ago with my friends (all English), the LOT vowel struck us as amusingly wrong, but not particularly unexpected for an AmE speaker scrabbling to sound BrE. What REALLY stuck out as egregiously bizarre and had us in fits of laughter was that [ɛ̝̈] at the end of "coffee". Where the hell did she get that from? As John points out, the only people you'd hear it from these days are retired colonels or unselfconsciously working-class northerners.

    The other thing that came over (as a non-academic) was a strong hint of condescension from her opposition of "Standard American" to "British dialect". Do Americans really use "dialect" to mean "accent" in a completely neutral way? If so, they should definitely be aware of the overtones it might have to a British audience.

  44. @ Tom:
    Yeah but if she was doing a Sheffield (or Leeds) accent that quality for the happY vowel would be alright, correct? Those are types of British accents (specifically English), are they not? It might also be acceptable for certain Northern Irish and Scottish accents as well. So you can't say it's completely non-British can you? I guess you guys wanted her to specify and say, "I'm going to do a working class Sheffield accent" or, "I'm going to do a U-RP accent from a century ago" at the beginning of the video. Would that have been better?

  45. David Crosbie: Thanks for your comments. I would be interested in any information you might recall about the State Department test.

    The crux of the matter is obsolescence: the IPA website is possibly not hopelessly obsolete. Yet it faintly smells of dusty marked-down furniture in the far far back rooms of the Academy. Let's look at it this way: there is nothing to prevent the IPA from having an official poetry website (and booklet).

    Let's start with William Blake's "The Sick Rose" (in grade one). One method that I have found useful is to get students to learn short
    lyrics, then master transcribing them into the phonetic alphabet. The goal is to be able to read the transcription of the entire text
    without consulting a crib, so that you would find it just about as easy to decipher your IPA transcription as normal text.

    The idea is to bond the IPA (alphabet) to meaning, which will uncover the latent power in the script, help students become far more
    perceptive about sound patterns (later on, in Nietzsche, for example--see the wonderful philosophical biography by Julian Young),
    and help to develop the memory(see "somatosensory homunculus" in
    Colman's Oxford Dictionary of Psychology).

    I have found COBUILD IPA to be generally rational, although American English is the target for most of my students. (The www.m-w.com site is what I like for spoken pronunciations). If COBUILD IPA were rationalized (absolutely no superscripting, for example), it could be a good standard for English.

    In Canada, instead of hitting immigrants at the last minute with distinctly shaky English or French tests, if we invested energy in helping set international standards (in conjunction with the IPA, for one), within two years we could have far better systems.

    A barrier is the exquisite incompetence of language commentary in the American media. I won't mention the performance of the language
    columnists at The New York Times over the years.

  46. Clayton Burns

    The test is called Oral Proficiency Interview or OPI.

  47. Anonymous: So you can't say it's completely non-British can you?

    You'd only call it British in the sense that a how-to-speak-American video that presented an equally ludicrous random mix of Boston, Bronx, AEVE and Fargo-style North Dakota accents would be American.

  48. @ Ray Girvan:
    Well "AEVE" would be quite ludicrous as no such dialect exists.

  49. David Crosbie: Do you mean the OPI version at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center (DLIELC)? It is interesting. I have noted that in interviews of this type there can be accidents:

    "In the following example (van Lier, 1989, p.499) we can see how content initiation in interviews may go terribly wrong: I: Where is your mother? What does your mother do? S: She’s dead. I: Ah - she’s dead. Very good."

    Which seems somewhat like human-computer interactions:
    "The dialog that was used as a SHRDLU demo:
    Computer: OK. (does it)

    The major limitation that I see in this OPI is that there is no study document, no curriculum (I would choose "Hamlet" and "The Beast in the Jungle" at least):

    "2. Can I study for the OPI? Since the OPI is a proficiency test (that is, a test which measures your overall ability to understand and speak the language, not how well you mastered a set of course objectives), you cannot specifically study for the OPI. However, everything you do to raise your language level - learning new vocabulary, correcting errors in structure, increasing your fluency, and improving your pronunciation - will contribute to your performance on the OPI." (DLIELC)

    It seems to me that you are imposing an opportunity cost on yourself when not setting a curriculum. Even if you were just to say: "Be ready to discuss the entries in the "Oxford Dictionary of Psychology," you would be able to assess depth of assimilation and coherence in explanation.

    Given the skills tested, I would want to study the COBUILD English Grammar and the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, minutely. I would take to www.m-w.com as my standard for spoken pronunciations.

  50. At this site there is a magnificent video response to Tracy:

    Here's an amusing lesson from Tracy Goodwin in how (not) to speak English with a British accent which has become a bit of a mini-hit amongst language ... clivemcgoun.net/blog/2010/07/22/tracy-goodwin-speaks-british/

  51. Clayton Burns

    A proficiency test is incompatible with a curriculum of set objectives. That would make it an achievement test.

    If you as a teacher want to prepare students for such a test, you should try to get hold of a set of the descriptors used in assessment.

  52. David Crosbie: You wrote in response to me: "I'm not sure how relevant it is to a Phonetics Blog, but IELTS is not a test of grammar or pronunciation." (22 July 2010 00:13)

    Putting aside my triskaidekaphobia for once, I would suggest that we take as a sample Cambridge IELTS 6, Past Papers. Among marker comments you will find (p. 166): "Similarly, there is poor control of grammatical structures, with mistakes in even simple sentences."

    In "Model and sample answers for writing tasks" at the back, you will find references to lapses in cohesion and linking words, without any indication of a study program. The COBUILD English Grammar, chapter 9, contains the best introduction to cohesion in English. There is a volume in the COBUILD guides on linking words.

    It would be artificial to say that IELTS is not a test of grammar. The reason for having study materials for an OPI is to promote plasticity. "Hamlet," "The Beast in the Jungle," and the "Oxford Dictionary of Psychology" would be ideal.

    A measure of the success of IELTS would be if we had data going back and forward for four years, eight years in total. For example, many students from Saudi Arabia are learning English in Canada. Can the Canadian government get the data from Cambridge ESOL that would pinpoint the weaknesses of IELTS based on its effectiveness in helping Saudi Arabian education administrators and teachers in modifying programs in that country?

    Similarly, how does IELTS English relate forward to the fortunes of Saudi Arabian students in Canada, for at least four years after the IELTS writing(s)?

    I recommend that you read out loud and repeatedly pages 161-172 in the Cambridge IELTS 6 with students from Saudi Arabia and with native speakers. It seems as if Cambridge has missed the factor of oral composition altogether. By comparison, read ten pages from the COBUILD Intermediate English Grammar--conditional and result clauses, for example--and weigh the oral qualities of the text.

    The OPI site that I quoted in my last post on this matter says: "However, everything you do to raise your language level - learning new vocabulary, correcting errors in structure, increasing your fluency, and improving your pronunciation - will contribute to your performance on the OPI."

  53. very insightful, many people can really pull off a good british accent, i myself am practicing with good avail,

  54. Perhaps this is hardly even a loose thread, but if any alert reader could fill me in on what Tracy is up to re British (/braitush/) passports, I would much appreciate it. Well. Not much. But a little. Also: Is there any "Speaking Australian with Tracy Goodwin" video? That is the one I am really after. If I go down under--which god help us I will not--I want to be ready.

    British Passports Videos.
    Popular videos on British Passports.
    British Accent: Placement
    by Tracy Goodwin

    British Accent: Unique Words
    by Tracy Goodwin

    British Accent: Stress Patterns
    by Tracy Goodwin

    Read more: British Passports | Answerbag http://www.answerbag.com/british-passports#ixzz0uj7mADam

  55. Clayton, I must confess I've tried to avoid engaging with you as David has been doing, but it is my bounden duty to tell you that you make me LOL.

  56. "mallamb:" I must confess I have no idea what you are talking about. Thanks for making your profile available. Or are you just another version of someone else?


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