Vol. 4. No. 1 M-2 July 1999
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Phono-TechTM "Better Skills for a Better Life"

Diane F. Pirie, Stephanie Taylor, Carole Best (1997)
Lighthouse Publications
15213 Yonge Street
Suite 15, Aurora, Ontario,
Canada L4G 1L8
Tel: (905) 727-8233
FAX (905) 727-4713
Cost: $299 + $30 S&H

This ESL system, Phono-Tech, consists of 32 lessons, in three booklets with six audio cassette tapes. Also included are a workbook, dictionary, and a set of flash cards. The program is divided into three levels of learning (Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced) with instructions, testing and information in Spanish. There is also a final exam for Level 1. A "bonus pack" with two cassette tapes adds additional material to support the lessons. Instructions are written in both English and Spanish.

The authors state that "The Phono-Tech learning system is essentially the study of 2,600 English vocabulary words. The student learns to speak, spell, understand, and pronounce the English language through "the manipulation of these words at three levels." (p. iv). To this end, the first booklet starts by emphasizing the 120 phonograms, representing 196 sounds, identified by the authors. Lessons 1 and 2 introduce the English alphabet and number system. Lessons 3 and 4, "the most important lessons of this program," introduce the phonograms. The student is expected to memorize "by sight and sound" the 120 phonograms. Flash cards associating the sounds with a picture are included.

The authors have decided to use a transliteration system to identify the different sounds each phonogram makes. The student is required to learn the various sounds by associating them with a number of asterisks after the roman letter. For example a* represents the a in the word cat, a*** represents the a sound in the word ball. The student is then expected to be able to write out words using this transliteration system, presumably to emphasize understanding of the sounds. For instance the word cat would be written ca*t and the word ball would be written ba***ll. Additional symbols include an underscored vowel for a schwa and an outlined e for the silent e. Using this system the student would write the word introduce as I*n/tro/du**c** e. Lesson 4 associates the words with pictures allowing practice by sound and sight.

Although I have some reservations about this methodology - as I feel it may be confusing to the students to learn another form of writing - non-native English speakers I spoke with seem to be divided on the subject. All of them agree on the somewhat confusing nature of the English writing system used in this series, but have differing opinions on the use of some standard phonetic representation, as found in most dictionaries, or the system proposed in the Phono-Tech system. Those who had learned English recently expressed a preference for a more communicative approach, and I must agree that I would prefer to get the students speaking before I worry about distinct corrections in pronunciation. But, it appears that the Audio-Lingual method still has its advocates.

Lessons 5 through 10 deal with the parts of speech: Nouns, Pronouns, Verbs, Irregular Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, Articles, and Interjections. . Lessons 11 and 12 focus on Sentence Structure and Punctuation. Lessons 13 and 14 are directed at Cursive Writing and Telling Time. In conjunction with the parts of speech, words are now associated with pictures. The student is expected to start to use the provided dictionary to understand which picture represents which word, and some of the pictures tend to be a bit confusing. The students are expected to commit the words and pictures to memory, as they did the phonetic units, in isolation. Also, at this point the student starts to read English as it is actually written, and no longer uses the phonetic-representation system. Very few exercises are presented, and those given are more in the form of a test then a practice.

In Lesson 13, Cursive Writing, once again the letters are memorized and then practiced using letters first in isolation and then in words. The first booklet wraps up with a short chapter on telling time. Plenty of test exercises are provided but very few practice exercises are included. A level one "Final Exam" is included as a separate sheet. All of the material in the first book is tested to include the use of the phoneme system.

After mastering the English sound system, the parts of speech, cursive writing, and telling time, the student is ready to progress to Level Two. The Level Two booklet is much smaller than the first one, but may be as formidable. The first half of the book is concerned with teaching the student to read. In the first passage, the student is expected to use inference to answer questions about the reading. The second half of the book contains some very useful games, but all of the clues are given in the form of the pictures memorized in Level One. At this point the student is expected to read English for comprehension and to infer information, but they are not expected to know the simple words used in the puzzles.

Level Three starts with an "advanced grammar." At this point in the course the student is introduced to sentences. In 59 pages the authors present an outline for the construction of English sentences. Once again, examples are adequate but exercises are sparse. The Level Three booklet then progresses to 28 scripted conversations which are designed to allow the learner to "read and learn the language for interacting with other members of the community." Much of the conversations are contractions and other speech features such as reductions and ellipsis. As little or no discussion is provided on how these words are developed, it must be assumed that the learner is expected to simply memorize these conversations. Tests are included to allow learners to gauge their effectiveness. The last three lessons concentrate on idiomatic expression, colloquialisms, and slang. These phrases are presented grouped by their social usage. For instance, phrases dealing with denial are put together under one heading, and terms of description are included in another. All of the phrases are presented in sentences, one sentence per phrase. This seems a workable approach to idiomatic expressions.

Overall this system does exactly what the authors say it will: demands that the student memorize the English language. It would appear that this system would help with accent modification and it would improve pronunciation. Upon review one has to wonder what student would be dedicated enough to finish this program on his or her own. This system may be of use in conjunction with classroom instruction and does provide a usable reference. I would not recommend this system for self-study, unless the student would care to repeat Saussure's famous study.

Douglas N. Jackson
United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and Schools

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