ESL Pronunciation Practice with Google Voice

I have used several Google products in my classroom for the past few years. I started out slowly with Google Drive, and I’ve been slowly testing out other services to see what works in my ESL classroom setting. I started using Google Voice at the beginning of this Spring Semester, and now that we’re at the halfway point, I want to reflect on how I’m using it and how it’s working for me and my students.

Initially, I was looking for a way to visually show my students their pronunciation errors. I looked into various services and apps that would allow my students to speak and transcribe what they said. I needed a way for the students to submit their work to me, and I wanted to be able to authenticate their work. It was suggested that I give Google Voice and whirl.

What is Google Voice?

In a nutshell, it’s a free voicemail service from Google that will transcribe all your messages. The messages can be played back, emailed, and even embedded into web pages.

 

Why do I need that for my students?

Well,  you may not want to give your personal number to your students. For me, having a devoted number that rings Heyward’s Homework Hotline, seemed like a great idea. Whenever a student calls, it goes directly to voicemail. They leave their pronunciation homework message, and the message is transcribed by Google’s voice recognition software. I receive an email letting me know that a student just submitted their homework, and I can listen to their voicemail message and mark the transcription for errors.

 

How do I setup Google Voice?

For this, I highly recommend checking out Brent Warner’s blog post at Edtech.tv. He gives a very clear rundown with an instructional video.

 

How do I use this with my students?

There are many ways to do this. I have assigned short passages or dialogs from our class’s pronunciation textbook, Clear Speech. I tell students to practice the passage at home with their smartphones before calling the Google Voice number. Most smartphones have voice to text capabilities, so they can practice saying the passage into an email or text message. When they feel confident, they are ready to call Heyward’s Homework Hotline.

 

Can I see this in action?

Absolutely! I recently assigned the following dialog for homework. I told the class I will check their vowel clarity and word stress for the bold text.

Clear Speech Dialog

 

After a student calls and leaves their homework message, I see the transcription and can listen to their message. It will look something like this.

What business are you in? Photography Oh, yeah interesting is there are a lot of money in it. Well, you’ll have to look out for a expenses dick encourage grill cover. Really and how much money do you need to set up a business like that? Ohh, a lot to sit up his expenses come to fort hall closet. Equipment lots of stuff I see well maybe I will just speak to my present location.

 

Next, I will reformat the message, so it better resembles the look and style of the original dialog. It usually just takes hitting the Return key to add a few line breaks here and there.

What business are you in?
Photography
Oh, yeah interesting is there are a lot of money in it.
Well, you’ll have to look out for a expenses dick encourage grill cover.
Really and how much money do you need to set up a business like that?
Ohh, a lot to sit up his expenses come to fort hall closet. Equipment lots of stuff
I see well maybe I will just speak to my present location.

 

My next move is to highlight where students did well and where they may need more practice. I do this by formatting the color of the text. Green means their pronunciation was generally correct, and red means the computer didn’t understand them very well, so they may consider more practice for that vowel or consonant sound. It ends up looking something like this:

What business are you in?
Photography
Oh, yeah interesting is there are a lot of money in it.
Well, you’ll have to look out for a expenses dick encourage grill cover.
Really and how much money do you need to set up a business like that?
Ohh, a lot to sit up his expenses come to fort hall closet. Equipment lots of stuff
I see well maybe I will just speak to my present location.

 

Finally, I will email the color coded transcript to the student, so they can see where their pronunciation was strong and where they may want to practice some more. They can go back and listen to their message and double-check it with the transcript.

 

How do students like this method?

Great question! The feedback I’ve received so far from students has not been great. They complain that they practice with their phone, and it goes well, but when they call and leave their message, the computer always screws up the transcription. Truth be told, Google’s voice recognition is getting better all the time, but it still makes mistakes, especially with ESL students’ pronunciation. I always tell my students that their voicemail message is the most important part. The transcript is just there to help give them a general idea of their weak spots.

 

How do you like this method?

Well, I’m glad you asked! Overall, I’ve been happy with the results thus far. This method is far from perfect, but it gives me a way to show my students their errors and makes it a little easier to quantify the results. Even hearing students complain that they’re practicing at home, but Google messes up makes me smile because it means my students are practicing pronunciation at home!

I plan to continue using this method in the near future, and I’d love to hear feedback from you. Do you use Google Voice with your students? How? What questions or concerns do you have with this method? Please let me hear from you in the comments!

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