1,300 Ways To Say The Same Thing

Kindly inform Stella to bring along the following items from the store: six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and perhaps a snack for her sibling Bob. In addition, we require a small plastic snake and a large toy frog for the children. Stella can pack these items into three red bags, and we will meet her at the train station on Wednesday.

The Online Speech Accent Archive, located at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, contains over 1,300 unique recordings of individuals speaking the aforementioned passage in various accents. The purpose of the archive is to showcase a broad spectrum of speech accents and dialects from diverse linguistic backgrounds around the world. The collection comprises of both native and non-native English speakers who were selected as they correctly articulate most of the consonants, vowels, and clusters of Standard American English.

Dr. Steven H Weinberger, a linguistics professor and the archive director, arranges for the collection of samples from individuals worldwide. Though some recordings are of low quality and are discarded, the archive accepts a vast majority that meets its quality standard. Contributors also provide information about their demographics and linguistic background as it helps users identify key variables of each accent.

The archive allows for language and geographical sorting, and a phonetic transcription accompanies each recording. These features permit users to compare accents of speakers from different regions and backgrounds. Listeners can appreciate the differences and similarities among the various accents.

Dr. Weinberger asserts that accents are not a result of faulty learning but are systematic to an individual’s native language. As children, we typically develop an automatic ability to differentiate between a speaker from our community and a foreign one. The speakers of a particular foreign language share a common sound system, such that the addition, deletion, substitution, or alteration of certain sounds by such speakers is predictable and systematic to their native language. French speakers, for instance, have an accent in English because they apply their French sound system when communicating in English.

Despite biases against certain accents, the archive aims to increase appreciation of different speech sounds by society. It is critical to bear in mind that accents should not be dismissed as erroneous or incorrect pronunciation. Nevertheless, the study of accents reflects upon the broader aspects of speech, which are rich and complex.

The archives provide further evidence supporting the idea of a critical period. Only young individuals are capable of speaking English natively. One may take a Korean learner as an example. Suppose they initiate learning English at 11 and has spent 20 years of their life in the USA while speaking English, they will still exhibit the Korean accent. However, an individual who commences learning English at four and shifts to the USA for five years will not hold a Korean accent. Therefore, it is the age of starting to learn, not the exposure duration, that plays a vital role.

The archive serves both educational and research purposes. Numerous groups utilize it, including linguists and phoneticians, English teachers to non-native speakers, speech pathologists, and engineers who train speech recognition mechanisms. Although Weinberger might become tired of hearing endlessly about fresh snow peas and blue cheese, plenty of individuals appreciate it. A quick Google search reveals that people leverage it for many projects, from ringtones to art projects. YouTube is full of recordings, and Irish composer Cathal Roche has created saxophone pieces based on the archive.

Although there have been academic papers and master’s theses based on the archive, Weinberger thinks that most people take pleasure in listening to accented speech sounds. In his words, "I’m sure there are plenty of drinking games based on the archive!"

Actors who struggle to get a given accent right might have been helped for those who had the archive at that time. Examples include Van Dyke and Sean Connery, who topped Empire magazine’s poll for the worst accents in cinema history for their work in Mary Poppins (1964) and The Untouchables (1987), respectively. Actors frequently contact Weinberger to express their gratitude for helping them with obscure speech accents for scripts.

Of what’s next, Weinberger says they are preparing for a significant overhaul, which will bring better maps via Google, more searchable sounds, and more phonetic inventories from the world’s languages. They are compiling a database on the syllable structures available in the world’s languages. Additionally, they have created a computational device that can automatically compare two accents and show the specific phonological speech patterns that distinguish one accent from another. The best part? It’s free to anyone.

Weinberger always carries a voice recorder with him to capture new accents whenever he encounters one. Although he doesn’t know how long the archive will run, he explains that they only represent 300 native languages while over 6,000 languages exist worldwide. They still have a long way to go.

Is The Paperless School In Sight?

When Islay High School in Scotland invested in purchasing a mobile PC and tablet for every pupil and teacher, it was imperative that they find savings to support the cost of implementing this technology. To raise the £141,000 required to buy 245 Samsung Ultra mobiles and satisfy the requirement of purchasing another 41 Samsungs for next year’s Year 7 intake, they had to review where their budget was going. The answer was unexpected, with the school realizing that a significant expenditure was taken up by photocopying fees. In 2005/2006 alone, the school had spent over £20,000 on paper, ink, and jotters. Upon further scrutiny, it was revealed that at least 50% of this budget was used for paper-based memos.

To combat this, the school introduced a central intranet system that could house all the necessary information. All data was divided up for staff and pupils, and this eliminated the need for paper memos. The school estimated that if every pupil had an Ultra Mobile and every teacher had a PC, that a significant reduction in photocopying and printing costs could be achieved.

After discussions with suppliers, the school discovered that it could transform its sophisticated photocopier into an industrial-grade scanner by adding a PC and specific software. As a result, all incoming paper documents were scanned and saved on the school’s intranet rather than being printed in hard copy. The conversion was a turnkey solution that could be carried out under the school’s existing contract with Canon.

The deployment of this system resulted in an 80% reduction in printing and photocopying costs every term, and the school succeeded in cutting costs by much more than expected. The school staff communicated all memos through the intranet, and most students used OneNote on their Ultra Mobiles to do all their assignments, leading to a reduction of paper usage. Hence, the school could eliminate the need for big, bulky handouts, such as course notes, reminders, and memos.

Another advantage of reducing paper expenditure is a recycling program. Besides, investing in open-source alternatives helped teachers to save money and reduce overall expenditure. For instance, Adobe Photoshop is costly, and purchasing a license for the entire school can be expensive. However, a few software such as Photoshop Elements, The Gimp, Artrage, Blender, Open Office, and Audacity could do the job.

As teachers search for ways to minimize expenditure, it is possible to toggle between digital and paper-based methods, which would help reduce costs and promote environmental friendliness. Through innovative solutions, costs can be drastically reduced without compromising the quality of education.

Blogging for Professional Development

Encourage all educators in your institution to compose and publish a blog post once a month, on a regularly rotating basis, on a common blog. This way, everyone can share a valuable educational method they have found successful. By doing so, you will have access to helpful everyday professional development contributions from colleagues without having to pay for substitutes to attend costly and possibly ineffective training programs.

Ewan McIntosh, the National Advisor for Learning and Technology Futures from Learning and Teaching Scotland, recommends this practice.

Savings with 80%

As per Robert Hart, CEO of Intuitive Media and former ICT advisor with Sheffield, expensive software with elaborate features often makes up for only 20% of the user’s requirements. Consequently, purchasing a software with 80% of the necessary abilities can save teachers a lot of money. Apple’s iWork costs less than Microsoft Office and provides most of the latter’s features.

Further savings can be achieved by utilizing Pixelmator instead of Photoshop while offering 80% of the latter’s functions. For instance, Pixelmator (Mac only) has a price of £30.61, whereas Photoshop CS3 has a rate of £569.

Savings with Open Source

Introducing Linux "thin clients" to your institution can lead to substantial ICT budget reductions, allowing you to improve school infrastructure. Moreover, providing courses like digital applications at GCSE and Applied GCE ICT at A level can be achieved easily with open-source software without any costs. Implementing open-source solutions like Karoshi for servers can save around £30,000, allowing you to distribute more hardware and computers among both students and staff.

Garry Saddington, ICT Coordinator from Skegness Grammar School, and Jo Harris, Network Manager from Dover Grammar School for Boys, are advocates for saving costs by using open-source technology.

Final Thoughts

By adopting cost-effective techniques like blogging for professional development and utilizing open-source software, teachers and educational organizations can save a substantial amount of money. These savings may be utilized for the betterment of the institution by providing more infrastructure and hardware for both staff and students.