The Polar Bear’s Pin
What every teacher should know about aspiration…..
What if we created a memorable story whose conflict had to do with the sound that needs to be noticed? Nothing could be better than a story in order to make the place and manner of articulation —so difficult to acquire in real life— noticeable. This may be the scaffold needed. Children will make sense of this new sound by solving the problem introduced by the ‘Emo-pron’ story. The Polar Bear, the main character of the story, is looking for a ‘pin’ that is so dear to him! It is not just any pin. It is a ‘Fist Pump’ pin.’ The conflict is that the Bear keeps on asking the animals he comes across while he is looking for the pin without aspiration, so all the animals understand >bin< for >pin<. The pin is finally found by the witty Puma. He realises the bear says >bin< instead of >pin< and takes advantage of his mistake. He denies having a bin, which is true, but he knows that the bear is looking for the pin he has found. The conflict is solved when the Parrot notices the mistake too but, instead of taking advantage of this error, he helps the Polar Bear produce the right aspiration for the word ‘pin.’ In the end, the polar bear starts the search for his pin again. When he meets the witty Puma for a second time, he produces such an intense aspiration that the puma falls to the ground.
This emo-pron story shows children not only how to produce aspiration in a memorable way, but it also presents the miscommunication problem that may be created by not producing aspiration, especially at the beginning of words with >p<, >t<,>k> followed by vowels.
Unlike literature, these stories introduce a conflict that is NOT solved with a moral, but through the acquisition of a new articulatory habit, which will be shown, and experienced by the fantasy characters. That is the emotional bond that makes place and manner of articulation memorable and fun.
The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary defines ‘aspiration’ as “the noise that is made when air escapes after a plosive consonant sound.” In English, aspiration is an important feature in whether we hear a sound as /p/ or /b/, especially at the beginning of a word. Yet, the root of the problem is that we cannot use metalanguage when teaching children pronunciation. You surely know all this, but you may not feel confident or skilled to teach all this. We know it is important and we must try; otherwise, ‘pin’ will sound like ‘bin’ when no aspiration is produced, as is the case in the story above. Maybe it is not so difficult to help young learners produce the needed aspiration. However, by moving into the world of fantasy we can find a way to help them generate the articulatory pattern and make the association between this and an aspirated >p< indeed memorable.