Education Evolutions

The Value of Mumble Practice in English Language Training

Our Unit 871 Instructors utilize Mumble Practice to help officers in Vietnam gain confidence in speaking English.

This June, we at Base 871 in Hanoi received our new cohort of officers for the next 6-month term. My name is Caleb, and I teach the advanced level class known as ALPHA. At Lana’s English language training (ELT) program, we utilize strategies such as Mumble Practice to help officers become comfortable with English when they join our program.

Meeting Students Where They’re At

This particular cohort of students is largely composed of higher ranking officers such as Captains and Majors in contrast to the normal preponderance of Lieutenants. Additionally, our assessment test scores indicated a overall lower level to our student’s English abilities. We decided to begin all our classes at a lower book level which would make the content more approachable for each class. I myself started my class 4 levels lower than the previous time. So far, this has been the correct call to make. Finally, most students had a speaking ability that was much lower than their reading or writing abilities would indicate. Therefore, I began remedial work through one method in particular which I call “mumble practice”.

Mumble Practice

Mumble Practice is an activity that focuses attention strictly on pronunciation clarity and fluency. Usually, students have enough vocabulary to express basic ideas, but their lack of spoken clarity can inhibit others’ understanding. Here are the steps I take to implement Mumble Practice:

  1. Examination: Every student looks through a paragraph or dialogue silently and marks pronunciation features like: linking sounds, stress, or pauses.
  2. Prediction: Each person quietly mumbles the paragraph and tries to see if the correct pronunciation can be done.
  3. Peer Check: Students sit in groups of 3 and take turns reading a sentence while their peers listen and give corrections.
  4. Class Consolidation: I bring all the class back together and we go around the room, each student reading a sentence. If critical pronunciation mistakes are made, I will either ask the other students for help in correction or give assistance myself.
  5. Problem Solving: I will place 5 phrases on the board that I noticed had caused difficulties with phonetic spelling. I will lead the class in choral drilling, starting with the final syllable and building backward to the full phrase, first slowly and then with increasing speed.

I have found that is helpful to treat pronunciation like a physical drill in sports such as basketball or soccer. Since the mouth is a complex of muscles, focusing the person on merely becoming physically comfortable with repeating the sounds, stress and tempo allows for muscle memory. Despite the fact that we are barely in our second week of class, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in common consonant and syllable pronunciation in even the lowest level students. This is something that takes slow and incremental progress, but it’s like building a house one brick at a time.

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