loop or lope?

gray wolf

gray wolf


a new fixation continued …

In my last post I wrote about the books I’ve been reading with – or rather alongside – my 10 year old son and the insights we’ve shared into how we “grow” language through reading.

This is another of our conversations, this time on the way to school.  After the Christmas break we adopted a pup. She’s six months old and walks the kids to school every morning.  As she’s a new element in our morning routine she’s often the main topic of conversation.  So, one morning, we’re walking to school and I say, “look, she’s loping!”  “loping?” “yes, like Wolf.”  (The books we’ve been reading are set in the forests of Northern Europe 6000 years ago.  Wolves play an important part.)

“Loping?  I thought it was looping!” in disappointed indignation. I explained the difference. The indignation didn’t go away!  “I know the difference, I just thought it was looping, I prefer looping, I’m going to keep reading it as looping!”

What interested me was the meaning making and storage process behind this one “misunderstanding”.  My son knew loop, he didn’t know lope, as he read the word he cast around for a word that was already in his vocabulary that would match the shape of the word on the page,  and in order to do this he sounded out the word in his head. And having “heard” it, he stored it as another layer of meaning for the word loop.

No real problem with that, it didn’t spoil his enjoyment of the book, it didn’t impair his understanding of the story or the creation of Wolf”s imaginary world  in his mind.  But what it did do was short-circuit any opportunities for noticing and reinforcing the word lope in speech. In our previous conversation we’d talked about how he’d noticed the word kin – phonologically so much easier to store – in conversation after learning it in his book.  The same didn’t happen with lope till I pointed it out.

Which brings me to another loopthe phonological  loop (click here for a video that explains the term) and a new, more personal understanding of the importance of pronunciation in reading (thanks to Rachael Roberts  and Robin Walker  for the online paper trail that led me to explore this phenomenon in more depth).

The term was coined by Baddeley in his research into working memory.  In his model of working memory, words (both spoken and written) are committed to our working memory via the phonological loop ie we sound out the words in our heads, we silently articulate them and through articulating them we commit them to  our memory.  If we don’t know, or can’t guess, what a word sounds like,  we can’t remember it, and we can’t recall it.  This is an aspect of learning through reading that I’ve been neglecting with my classes.

So, what are the implications?  Well,  in the case of my son, I guess the more we talk about the books he’s reading and share our favourite passages, the more likely it is that we’ll straighten out some of those loops.  In terms of L2 readers I guess it suggests to me that fostering the same kind of conversations when encouraging extensive reading would probably throw up similar “loops”.

And in terms of using reading texts in class,  and intensive study of those texts, I think I need to give a little more time and thought to sounds.  Maybe stop and look at short passages where there are potential sound/spelling problems, ask students to notice any differences between the way they hear the word in their head and the way it sounds out loud, ask them to recast the new word in a new context, drill it, repeat it, come back to it again later.

(More and more workbooks and even coursebooks offer audio recording of reading texts these days. I guess this might be one good way of exploiting them – and training students to exploit them too.)

If I’ve  understood the function of the phonological loop I guess that this kind of conscious noticing, awareness-raising, focusing on phonological form, might aid learning.  (For an interesting discussion of extensive and intensive reading see Jeremy Harmer’s recent post Does reading (and learning a new language) require two brains?)

And going back to lope and loop, it also seems to point to the importance of teaching s0und/spelling rules (the “magic” final “e”, the possible pronunciations of “oo”) at the point of need ie when the mismatch takes place, in order to help readers process similar words when they come across them.   And a final note, although my son stubbornly claimed that  “I’m just going to keep reading it as loop!” , I’ve noticed that lope has now entered his active vocabulary 😉

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14 Responses to loop or lope?

  1. Dan says:

    A brilliant posting, Ceri, not least because of all the links to other fascinating posts and interviews. About an hour’s worth of excellent distraction from what I should be doing!

  2. Sandy Millin says:

    Excellent post Ceri, and it reinforces some ideas I’ve had about practising sound-spelling relationships. We have a lot of Arabic students here, and they have particular problems with spelling. Every time I speak to my students about how English-speaking kids are taught spellings, they’re amazed at how much effort we have to put in. I also think it’s odd how little attention we pay to spelling in EFL, when it could make real differences to reading, writing, pronunciation and vocabulary learning. There’s a blog post which has been brewing in my head about all this for a while, but which probably won’t see the light until after Delta!

  3. Ceri Jones says:

    Hi Sandy!
    The frustrations for Arab students with the script is a really interesting one. I tease my son about being an Arabic speaker when he writes in English and misses out half the vowels. He approves of Arabic script giving priority to consonants 😉
    Keep that blog post brewing! We’ll be waiting for it (I’ve got a list of titles in my drafts waiting, one day to be converted into posts … who knows when 😉 )
    Thanks for calling by!

  4. baxterluke says:

    That’s lovely. My six-year old did something similar. He was showing me something on his iPod and said he had found it on the ‘Cover Flow’ (pronouncing ‘Cover’ like ‘Clover’ and ‘Flow’ like ‘How/Now’) I had to stifle a laugh but it did make absolute phonological sense.
    Maybe your son has a passive knowledge of Latin and thinks a lupus should loop!

  5. eflnotes says:

    hello Ceri,

    this article (http://www.yazikopen.org.uk/yazikopen/node/4109) lists the following to develop the inner ear and voice (phonological loop):

    • Introducing the spoken form of words before the written form at lower levels.
    •Using rhymes, chants and games which emphasise the prosody of the language.
    •Learning poems and parts in plays.
    •Reading texts aloud by the teacher while learners follow the written text.
    •Training learners in phoneme-grapheme correspondences.
    •Avoiding texts whose level of difficulty is beyond the learners.
    •Exposing learners to colloquial unplanned speech.

    however the above starts from the point of view that working memory is correlated with language proficiency, this study (http://www.yazikopen.org.uk/yazikopen/node/3461) finds otherwise, and further that for beginners there is no correlation between working memory and proficiency. the authors admit that this conflicts with other research and call for more work on this relationship.


    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Mura,
      Thanks for stopping by and thanks for the links.
      From the first I particularly liked this quote:
      “Reading for pleasure in a foreign language almost inevitably involves the participation of the inner ear, and most probably the inner voice as well. If learners are in an environment where they can find texts they are motivated to read at a level which is suitable for them, then this will greatly help the development of inner voice and ear as long as the voice/ear resembles the target language sufficiently closely.”
      which would seem to suggest that an efficient functioning of the phonological loop can aid L2 acquisition/learning – and also suggests a need to work on pronunciation if we are to help our students learn through reading. I think, for me, the interesting factor is not the correlation between working memory and proficiency (the focus of the second study), but rather the role that phonology plays in committing language to long-term memory in a form which will allow it to be both recognised and retrieved accurately in speech.

  6. Can only agree with the above, Ceri, especially sound-spelling. And thanks to the other commentators for the links too.

    It’s an area I’ve been loping around a lot in the past few years. My students here in Galicia think (i.e. are led to believe) that there is NO logic to English spelling, that every word’s spelling and pronunciation have to be memorised as a one-off. (Would such a language even be possible?)

    In state schools – at least here – there’s obviously no attention paid to pronunciation. Whatsoever. There are even teachers who drill verbs pronouncing them as if they were Spanish words!!!! You know… /be-ko-me, be-ka-me, be-ko-me/.

    Ages ago I wrote a short series of posts on the roles of magic E and R starting with [http://hellocruelworldalanmtait.blogspot.com.es/2011/07/i-dont-claim-to-be-a-student.html]. I also blogged about a mixed-discipline exercise called the Magnificent Seven, which involves dictation a minimal set. I hope to have another crack at phonics soon, but in the meantime:

    * there are materials out there: With my YLs I use Primary Pronunciation Box, which contains a decent selection of phonics work.

    * many of the techniques mentioned by eflnotes above do seem to work.

    * good old-fashioned dictations – if short and contextualised – are surprisingly popular, as well as being effective.

    * Miniboards are great. Students seem liberated by them. My local Eroski (Spanish supermarket chain) has them for EU6 each.

    Thanks again. Ta ta.

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Alan,
      Thanks for calling by … especially after it took me an absolute age to answer your last comment! Some great, simple, massively usable ideas for combatting the myth of English spelling – I guess the teachers teach this way (be-co-me) because they in turn were taught that way. There’s so much regularity that can be point out. Starting with even the most basic sound/spelling differences between the two languages (you sound the “h”, the “j” denotes a completely different sound in English, the b and v are stable and have their own sound ;)) From day one we can show the difference between Juan and John, that the “h” sound isn’t alien and is alive and kicking in Andaluz Spanish. That “c” and “k” often coexist. That 9 times out of 10 you can work out the sound of a word. My kids love the fact that there are no “tildes” (accents) and I try and pass this love on to ss too! L1 English readers when they’re starting out work on key word recognition (the, he, she, they, I, it, there etc) – word recognition rather than syllable counting is important in English and actually makes for more speed when reading. Drilling with flashcards of these words helps so much. Spanish kids in L1 have been brought up with syllabic, bottom up reading strategies, in English a top-down, recognise the shape/guess the word approach is more efficient – and literally “flashing” words and chunks helps ss acquire this skill. And it’s fun 😉
      But then, you know all that ….
      Thanks for taking the post along a new and interesting path 🙂

      Are you going to TESOL Spain in March? Would be good to meet up if you are.

  7. Pingback: Weekly Round up 15/02/2013 | ELTSquared.co.uk

  8. Pingback: loop or lope? | Merit Teacher's Digest | Scoop.it

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