I got this notice from Meetup.com about my American English Pronunciation Q&A Meetup group celebrating its sixth anniversary. I was surprised that it’s been that long!
When I started the Pronunciation Meetup group in 2016, I was using Workbar in Central Square as my work place and that’s where I’d hold the Meetups in person. Then in 2020 I moved it online. I wasn’t sure how well it would work online but it’s been great. Being all online means people can join from anywhere, not just in Boston/Cambridge, so I added another meeting time that would be more convenient for people in time zones with a 6-hour difference from the US Eastern time zone I’m in. I’ve had the Monday 6pm and Tuesday 12pm Pronunciation Meetups for quite a while now but just recently paused the Monday meeting for the summer.
A definite advantage to the online Meetup is that people can choose to join in and just listen without feeling any pressure to participate. Listening is good practice! Sometimes I think I should do more with introductions and helping people meet each other but that takes time and would put people on the spot to speak and I don’t want to do that. I want it to be possible for people to attend and participate at any level they feel comfortable with, from no camera and no mic to using the camera and mic.
It’s been very low-tech so far but it’s simple and works. I use a Google spreadsheet and share my screen so everyone can see what I’m typing. I type: 1) the real spelling of a word, 2) spelling the word how it sounds without any IPA symbols, 3) the vowel sound in the stressed syllable identified by the IPA symbol and a key word, e.g., /i/ “he.” That’s it.
In 2020, I started a second Meetup group, American English Intonation, to focus more on groups of words, phrases, and sentences. This involves: 1) identifying which words will be emphasized, 2) connections between words, 3) sound changes that happen in connected speech, e.g., “of” sounding just like “uh” without the /v/. For a while, the sentences people were adding for practice were getting very formal and sounded like they were from books. I’ve gotten it back to what I had intended, a chance to practice spoken English which is very different than written English. These don’t have to be long grammatical sentences, they can be greetings, expressions, questions, and replies used in common speaking situations.
It’s the same format as the Pronunciation Meetup, just a Google spreadsheet with a column for “what it looks like” and another for “what it sounds like.”
After both Meetup groups, I save the spreadsheets in a folder so people can go back and look and make a copy if they want. I record myself pronouncing the words and sentences after each Meetup so people can go back and listen and practice without any other distractions. Recording myself and posting the videos on the YouTube channel I made for Adastra Speech was very intimidating for me at first because I’ve never been excited about putting myself “out there” for the world to see. However, I imagined that only the people who came to the Meetup would know about the videos and not even all of those people would watch them so that helped me get over my fear to get started. Now, people are finding the videos and have never been to the Meetups but being able to see the words and sentences as I pronounce them is still helpful. That means the timing of the Meetup isn’t so important so people can watch anytime on their own time and that’s helping more people and that’s the goal.
People in the Meetups ask the most interesting and insightful questions and this has helped me write my book! It helps me know what specific things people want to know about pronunciation and intonation and that makes me better at explaining it. I know I couldn’t be writing this book without having these Meetups with such wonderful people.
Now, all of this has motivated me to make more videos that are informative and not just the review of the Meetups. This is on my to-do list! I’m still not finished writing the complete draft of my book so I’m not going to start something new until I finish that writing I started a year and a half ago. I’m so close to being finished, but the finish line seems to keep moving as I get closer to it.
If I hadn’t started the in-person Meetups in 2016, I probably wouldn’t have just decided to create one and start doing it online in 2020. If I hadn’t jumped in and gotten over my inhibitions to post the after-Meetup videos, I probably wouldn’t have just started to create other kinds of videos. I’m glad I took that first step six years ago and I’m curious where the next step will take me.
You’re welcome to join me anytime you can! The Meetups are free, you just have to join the group and RSVP “yes” to get the Zoom link for that day’s event. Participate at any level you want to and remember, even listening is good practice!
American English Pronunciation Q&A - Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00pm (US Eastern time)
American English Intonation - Wednesdays, 6:00-7:00pm (US Eastern time)
If you can’t join live, then you can watch the videos I post after each meeting. Subscribing is the easiest way to get the newest ones delivered to you:
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