Reduction is a common feature of speaking in all languages, but I feel it is especially prevalent in spoken Australian English and an essential feature of listening practice for ESL students there. Image: Drunken Monkey
This went down particularly well with my migrant and refugee learners today in class.
Based on some classroom interaction that went on (new students in new classes, getting to know each other), I pulled out a series of common questions and asked them using "full forms" (as represented by the black text below). The learners had no real problems understanding and answering them.
I then asked the questions again, in random order to random students, using fully-fledged on-the-street or at-the-barbie Australian English. The learners were completely baffled, but I also saw lights switching on behind eyes. This stuff sounded very familiar to them -- language they were accustomed to hearing, and accustomed to being completely baffled by.
So I wrote the questions out on the whiteboard and then indicated the reduction involved for a range of common information questions asked in the past tense:
The learners were amazed. And as we practiced these reduced forms and asked new questions around the classroom, I was amazed at just how quickly they went from sounding like foreigners to very fluent "Aussie" speakers.
This is a common enough skill I emphasize for listening skills in general, but the learners had never been shown this before. When I featured a regular practice section featuring contractions, elision and reduction in Boost! Listening, a lot of teachers let me know they loved its inclusion.
It interests me that these skills are not often featured in regular coursework, but carefully "proper" forms -- as per writing -- often are, and often are in coursebook sections that specifically state they are targeting listening skills.
I'm not entirely sure, but listening to my 5-year-old come out with his "dincha?"s and "woncha?"s, I can't help but think that the foreign/second language teaching approach does things too much in the reverse order. As in, I think teaching and practicing the full forms first (before showing reduced forms) doesn't resonate with either (a) the frequency with which reduced forms are produced and heard in natural language use, or (b) the order in which native speakers are exposed to and then learn to break down these chunks into their more "proper" formal grammatical form (usually through reading and writing -- which comes some time after initial speaking skills?).
As I've seen with today's learners (and many others in the past), the Grammar McNuggets approach typified in coursebooks could actually be hurting the learners' capacity to understand natural spoken English rather than the other way around.
What do you think?
Or: Whaddaya reckon?