4 steps to prepare for Summer Recording Challenge

How to prepare for Summer Recording Challenge 2013Yesterday I announced the Summer Recording Challenge. I hope you will join me on a 40 day quest to improve your pronunciation this summer.

I’m not going to rope you into this without any advice on how to do it, though. Today it the first of a two part guide preparing you for the challenge. The second, and most crucial, part covers the technique to improve your pronunciation.

1. Decide what you want to work on

And I mean exactly what you want to work on because ‘pronunciation’, or even ‘tones’, is a bit too general. Likewise, if you’re learning English and want to improve final constant sounds – that’s also quite general. Focus on a particular sound such as the final -s.

When setting your goals for this challenge, you need to be specific and then choose materials that will enable you to meet each of them. Personally I’ve set 4 goals for the challenge – giving me 10 days to focus on them, one at a time. You can set more or less, depending how big each goal is.

For example, I know I need to work on a particular tone. Let’s call it tone X. I’m choosing materials that have several words with tone X in them. From Day 1-10 of the challenge, I will be using recordings that have a lot of tone X. I will start off mastering the sound, then I’ll work on sentences that have tone X in them and phrases with two or three tone X’s in a row. From Day 11-20 I will be working on something else.

2. Prepare your materials

Find native speaker recordings to use as your model. The last thing you want to be doing during the 40 day challenge is scrambling around to find new recordings every day. Find all of them now to allow your focus later to be purely on improving your pronunciation.

Try your course CDs, short monologues from a TV show or a famous speech, poems, nursery rhymes or extracts from a (audio) book. Songs might even work. If you really can’t find some suitable recordings, find short pieces of writing (from single sentences up to about 200 words) and get them recorded either by a friend or via a website like RhinoSpike which allows you to get any foreign language text read aloud for you by a native speaker.

Most of the texts I will be using for Vietnamese are from here, mainly pronunciation drills and these riddles and poems (unfortunately they, like all my textbook CDs, tend to have northern accents whereas I have a southern one so I’m supplementing the recordings where necessary). If you’re an English learner wanting to work on British pronunciation, see here.

You may also want to print out your transcripts so you can take notes… More on this next Monday!

3. Prepare your equipment

Play with your recording software. So far I’ve been using Ubuntu’s default recorder which is perfectly adequate, but I’m going to look into open-source Audacity which has a lot more features that look ideal for language learners.

Once you have your software set up, practice making recordings in your native language. (This is also a perfect chance to help someone out by recording on RhinoSpike!) Doing this allows you to familiarise yourself with the logistics of recording and figure out if you need to change any settings as well as getting a feel for how easy you find it to read from a text – and how long a passage is too long.

It’s this step that causes me to recommend your text is no longer than 200 words or ideally a lot less. When recording English texts, I found I’m much more likely to make mistakes with longer texts and usually have to make 2-3 recordings…and this is in my native language! Remember your focus is not to read aloud perfectly, but to copy a native speaker’s pronunciation.

4. Prepare your feedback

Find someone to review your recordings. After you’ve practised and recorded yourself, you’ll want to have a native speaker listen to your recording and tell you what else you need to work on. You can ask your friends or language exchange partner but if you’ve known them a long time they may be used to your pronunciation and unable to pick out all of your errors. You can try finding someone new through a language website you regularly use or check our participant list.

Further reading

Over to you: How do you prepare for your language goals? Do you have any great pronunciation links to share?