Figure 1 Whispy

Language Magazine February 2006 Steven Donahue Words: 891

The cacophony of student voices, which in an English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom approaches the roar of the Tower of Babel, was eerily silenced when students began exercising using a remarkable learning tool called Whispy. In preliminary tests, the device, as simple as it is effective, has made it possible for scores of adult ESL students at Miami Dade College in Florida to make quantum leaps in absorbing Accent Reduction lessons and hearing the true differences between the English sound system and their native one. Whispy is a device which transmits true sound directly from a student’s voice, either whispered or just above a whisper with perfect fidelity and natural amplification to the student’s ear. It is an acoustically designed plastic device that works without batteries, but whose design is ingenious and has been thoroughly tested in wind tunnels, and in fact is patent pending. In the traditional accent reduction or reading aloud classroom, there is something of a multiple shouting match, with accents of half a dozen languages colliding with each other to create a chaotic sound pattern not conducive to learning. However,


with Whispy, each student hears themselves, in their true and authentic voice without the distraction of the background voices of fellow students.


Figure 2 Mixing up P and B

In a sense, the name of the course EAP 1501 and 1502 “Accent Reduction” is a misnomer. It would be better termed Accent Awareness or Accent Alleviation. In fact, post-puberty, it is difficult for adult learners to completely eliminate interference from their first language. And that is where Whispy is a remarkably helpful tool because for some students, for the very first time, they are able to distinguish those unfamiliar sounds of English which they are attempting to produce or approximate. And with this comparison, true accent breakthroughs are possible. In the classroom, I do a number of activities revolving around the use of the Whispy product. For native Spanish speakers, the distinction between the puffy English “P” sound in initial position and the “B” sound is frequently non-existent. When using Whispy, many of these Spanish-speaking students finally “get it,” and the new rendition of the English “P” is much improved.


Figure 3 The Puffy English P

Figure 4 Minimum Pairs for P and B



Figure 5 Confusing W & V

Whispy has proved helpful for some languages which just do not have the same sound set as English. Because Portuguese lacks the “V” sound, words like “Wisconsin,” have a heavy “V” quality to them at the beginning. Using Whispy, and minimum pairs such as below, has proven helpful to Portuguese students taking Accent Reduction. Wheel Whale Worse Wet We Womb
Figure 6 W & V Minimum Pairs

Veal Vail Verse Vet “V” Voom

It is not what you say; it is how you say it. Intonation is another area of Accent Reduction amenable to the use of Whispy because intonation is such a nuanced voice art requiring true fidelity. For example, with Determination, a separate stress and a downward slide is given to every word. Students frequently are unable to really express their seriousness about a matter or alternatively to understand when someone is telling them something which is quite important, even vital. Whispy, with repeated use, helps students differentiate and produce these important types of intonation patterns.


Figure 7 Determined Intonation

Surprise, like shock puts an extra high note on the word that is important. It is instructive how many students, perhaps overwhelmed by the parsing of the words themselves; do not really sound surprised or shocked, but more robotic. I noticed significant improvements after using Whispy in the classroom with many of these surprise intonation patterns.

Figure 8 Shocked Intonation

English as second language students are at a disadvantage when trying to interpret whether someone is simply being ironic with them (What a great car you have!—when in fact it is an old junk) or being condescending, patronizing, or just plain rude. It is difficult for them to tease out elaborate intonation patterns, such as Coaxing, typically spoken to a child, which begins on a high note, descends down to a low note, and then rises to normal at the end of a sentence.


Figure 9 Coaxing Intonation

The use of Whispy, along with individual coaching by the teacher, has seen many students perform this type of intonation, and even enthrall in performing it.

Whispy brings an electric energy into the Accent Reduction classroom and students feel empowered to be able to hear their true voices. There are many applications for the sound system of English, such as vowel discrimination, rhythm, stress patterns, tongue twisters and adjustments. Many of the students have brought the devices home and shared them with their children who warmed to the idea of reading aloud, but without disturbing others. In so many ways, this deceptively simple, low-tech device has revolutionized my Accent Reduction class, and promises to open up many more sound vistas for legions of second language learners who desperately need to distinguish English sounds and patterns.. For Further Information, contact Whispy at: [END]


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