Deliberate Practice 2: Manner

As I discussed in the previous post (where I introduced the idea of Deliberate Practice) there is a lot of monitoring involved. For my project, that means a lot of recording and watching/listening to my own work. For some people, the idea of constantly having to listen to and analyze your own voice makes the whole project impossible. I understand—it’s a weird thing to get used to! But if you can take a more clinical view, learning to listen for certain things, to analyze progress and not focus on the “weirdness”, it can be incredibly helpful.

Step one of the whole process is establishing a baseline. This means that I have to record myself before any practice to find out where I am at the beginning. In this project, the target I am aiming for is a recording of the Arabic alphabet as spoken by a native Arabic speaker. This file is referred to as my “archetype” because it is the perfect or ideal version that I am working toward. Whether or not this archetype is actually “perfect” doesn’t matter—it is important to have a target to aim at and to use as my measuring stick.

In the world of RiL, the “archetype” is the copywork passage, notes about a class, an opinion about a book, or part of a story that needs told: something that needs to be written down and match either printed text or a thought. We have all seen the frustration of a student who has an idea they want to get down but struggle with finding the words, spelling, legibility, or grammar. Their original thought is the archetype—the target they are aiming for. What they write down is their output, subject to how automatic their skills are, how challenging it is, and how much support they have.

In my case, my archetype is the alphabet recording. And my baseline output is my first attempt to read it (with a nod toward memorizing). Here’s that baseline:

I have to insert a small footnote here: this baseline is a lot better than it would have been a year ago because I have had some practice with Arabic in general. The sounds are slightly more familiar than even six months ago. But it is still very difficult for me.

This is important to acknowledge—our students are building up skills all the time, especially if we have been doing good language arts and literacy teaching! Just because we know an area needs additional work doesn’t mean there is no skill in that area.


Week 1 - Manner

As I mentioned in the first blog, each week is supposed to focus on a different aspect of pronunciation. Week 1 pronunciation practice requires work on the manner of articulation.

What does that mean? In the world of phonetics, the way we produce sounds can be described by a few different features. These are place, manner, and voice.

Place is where the sound is made in our mouths. This could be with two lips (like "p" and "b"), with the tongue behind the teeth (like "t") or back near the throat (like "g").

Manner describes the type of sound. Is it a continuous stream of air (like "s") or a pop of air (like "k")? There are technical terms for place and manner descriptions, but I won't get into them quite yet.

Lastly, voice describes if the sound is vibrating or not. "s" is a quiet, or voiceless, sound. "z" is a noisy, or voiced sound. The difference is the vibration of your vocal folds (also called your vocal cords or voice box). You can feel if a sound is vibrating by gently placing your hand at the base of your throat and making a sound. In English, all the vowel sounds are voiced (meaning they vibrate) and many consonants are grouped into pairs of voiced and voiceless sounds.

This may seem like a lot of technical talk, but it is actually relevant to literacy education. We talk about the place, manner, and voice of a sound when we help children with articulation difficulties and when we’re entering the world of reading and writing. A strong literacy foundation comes from multimodal learning and multisensory activities, such as saying sounds while you write and feeling how those sounds are produced when we speak. They might not know the technical terms, but children can learn to recognize and identify the key sound and tactile differences in English!

For my project, I have to identify a manner (a type of sound) that is different than what I’m used to in English. Picking out subtle differences in another language can be incredibly difficult. But a feature of Arabic that appears in many of the letter names is a very distinct stop at the end of the word. Technically, this is called a glottal stop. It happens when we stop air from coming out by closing your throat. We actually do this in English, but only with a few sounds. If you think I’m talking nonsense, saying the word “uh-uh”, like you disagree with me.

Say it again. You might notice that you stop the air after the first “uh” before starting the second “uh”. That little break is hard to hear, but you can feel it. That’s a glottal stop!

Of the 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, 11 of them have names that end with that kind of stop. And it’s hard to say!

So here’s what I did this week:

  • I listened to my archetype over and over, to identify every letter that ended in a glottal stop.
  • I read the alphabet, looking at how to write each of those letters.
  • Every day, I spent a little time (sometimes 2 minutes, sometimes 10 minutes) saying and writing each target letter.
  • I recorded the results by putting my targeted practice back in the context of the whole alphabet.
  • Finally, I watched the video, compared it to the archetype, and tried to see if I was getting better.

Here’s the new recording:




Am I improving? It can be hard to tell . . .

I think so. The glottal stop feels less forced and I think I’m a little less actively aware of it every time I do it—that means it’s becoming more “natural”, or it technical terms, more automatic.

This glottal stop is not unique to handful of Arabic letter names. It actually occurs throughout the language all the time. So the skill I am practicing in a controlled environment is highly transferrable as I start to acquire more language!

~ Claire

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