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My favourite filler

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What you prepare: A set of 4-5 minimal pairs that focus on a possible problem sound for your learners. So, for Hungarian learners, distinguishing between /w/ and /v/ is problematic (there is no /w/ in Hungarian), and a possible set of pairs could be: vine-wine, vein/vane-wane, vow-wow, a vial/awhile.

What you do:
v1 My favourite filler

  1. Write the ’stem’ of the first pair in phonemics on the whiteboard, with the problematic sound missing, e.g. /__aɪn/. Write the phoneme that Ss know better (in this case /v/) at the top of the first column, and elicit the word; do the same for the paired word.  Then ask students to show—not say—the meaning.  I guarantee that even in the most inhibited group, several students will mime drinking from a bottle, and from there willingly move their hands in the shape of a vine.  DON’T offer your own mime—it all has to come from them.
  2. Still with the first pair, get Ss into the swing of things—Say one of the words, and wait for them to mime it. Then say the other. Then hold a paper in front of your mouth (so they don’t use your lips as a clue) and do the same. Then get a student to do it.
  3. Move on to the second pair, etc etc, through the last pair, mixing in practice and covering all the items accumulated up to that point.
  4. Put Ss in pairs and get them to do the same thing, taking turns, i.e. one says a word, the other mimes it.

A couple of comments:

  • This practices production as well as listening discrimination, and the two work hand in hand—when a learner recognises how to form a sound, and is able to do it, they become better at recognising it, i.e. their hearing is better able to tune into that sound.
  • The fact that some of the words among the pairs are likely to be new to students, and some may not be high-frequency, but this isn’t necessarily bad—In fact I’ve found Ss enjoy picking up a few new words, i.e. it adds to their engagement.

I hope you have fun with this one, and your students too.  Any comments or suggestions (e.g. on variations, and on other sets of minimal pairs that work for this activity) welcome!

Steve Oakes

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