DELTA Language Skills Assignment: Phonology

Teaching word and sentence stress to pre-intermediate learners
By Ben Facer Centre number: Word count: 2584

Table of contents 1. Rationale 2. Analysis 3. Learner issues & teaching suggestions 4. Appendices 5. Bibliography p. 16 p. 26 p. 2 p. 3 p. 9

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1. Rationale 269 This essay specifically refers to pre-intermediate learners studying on general English courses in the UK. It analyses an area of suprasegmental phonology known as stress. Roach considers the placement of ‘tonic’ stress to be a function of intonation. He questions the use of the phrase ‘sentence stress’, suggesting that the sentence is a grammar unit, not a unit of phonology 1. This essay however concerns itself with accent and prominence, thus making a distinction between stress and intonation. It later outlines some key problems these learners encounter and offers some possible solutions to them. I have come to recognise that in order to develop fluency at this level, learners need the confidence of knowing that their utterances are intelligible. On numerous occasions students’ inability to make sense has resulted in a communication breakdown. At beginner and elementary levels the ‘phonemic set’ is often taught through systematic, intensive practice. So if pre-intermediate learners already have this firm grounding in vowel and consonant sounds, it would justify Thornbury’s claim that it is ‘non-native’ like stress and rhythm patterns that lead to communication breakdown, rather than the pronunciation of individual vowel and consonants sounds2. I believe it important to establish a target for learners. However ‘native-like’ proficiency in pronunciation is unrealistic. Underhill identifies two speeds of delivery that he calls careful colloquial speech (closer to a BBC World Service announcer’s pronunciation) and rapid colloquial speech (more akin to native speakers talking informally to one another). As this essay is concerned specifically with learners in the UK, I believe ‘careful colloquial speech’ is the best model for pre-intermediate learners to aim for.

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Roach (1983:193) Thornbury (2005: 37)

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etc) number of syllables phonological structure of the syllables In order to fully understand stress patterns in words it is necessary to firstly define what strong and weak syllables are. Analysis 1005 Thornbury defines stress as “the effect of emphasizing certain syllables by increasing their loudness. adjective . length and pitch”3. Strong syllables contain either long vowels or diphthongs. regardless of whether it is the first or second. If the first syllable is weak then the second is stressed: reply /rəplaɪ/ /centə/ center borrow /bɒrəʊ/ cuddly /kʌdli/ With nouns. stress falls on the second syllable: mistake /mɪsteɪk/ 3 4 5 Thornbury (2006: 213) Underhill (1994: 58) Roach (1983: 97) 4 . There are few reliable rules and many exceptions. or a vowel followed by a consonant (stress is underlined): diver /daɪvə/ party /pɑ:ti:/ /kætəl/ cattle Weak syllables contain a short vowel or a schwa: ‘re’ as in reduce ‘pen’ as in open /rɪdjuːs/ /əʊpən/ a) Simple two-syllable words With verbs and adjectives. though much is dependent on the following factors5: morphology part of speech (noun.2. verb. stress falls on the strong syllable. This is better illustrated by first distinguishing between the two key forms of stress as identified by Underhill4: Accent This is commonly referred to as ‘word stress’.

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However. if the second syllable is a short vowel then it falls on the first syllable. as is the case with most nouns: honey /hʌni/ b) Simple three-syllable words With verbs. even when the final syllable is strong. stress is still usually placed on the first syllable: architect /ɑːkɪtekt/ When it is weak or ends in a /əʊ/ then the second syllable is stressed: promoter /prəməʊtər/ tomato /təmɑːtəʊ/ If the second and third are both weak then the initial syllable is stressed: calibre /kælɪbər/ 6 . when the finally syllable is a strong syllable it is stressed: engineer /endʒɪnɪə/ If it is weak then it falls on the penultimate syllable: encounter /ɪnkaʊntər/ When both the second and third syllables are weak it falls on the initial syllable: parody /pærədi/ With nouns.

ri/ daʊngreɪd/ e) Word-class pairs This refers to two words that have the same spelling but different parts of speech. compounds with an adjective or a number. If it is a noun or adjective. adverbial compounds and compound verbs stress the final element: quick-tempered 3-storey /kwɪktempəd/ /θriːstɔː.c) Affixes These can be divided into three types (stress is marked by underlining): i) Carrying primary stress ii) Carrying no primary stress iii) Influencing ‘stem’ stress to emphatic reflexive d) Compound words Roach claims that stress will normally fall on the first element6: briefcase /briːfkeɪs/ post office /pəʊstɒfɪs/ beachball /biːtʃbɔːl/ ‘-ee’ as in employee ‘-ese’ as in Japanese ‘-ly’ as in quickly ‘-ous’ as in dangerous ‘-ic’ changes emphasis ‘-ive’ changes reflex to However. the first syllable is stressed: import (noun) (verb) /ɪmpɔːt/ import (verb) /ɪmpɔːt/ rebel (noun) /rebəl/ /rɪbel/ rebel face down /feɪs daʊn/ downgrade / 6 Roach (1983: 108) 7 . If the word is a verb the second syllable is stressed.

Whereas the primary stress falls on the word that conveys the most important meaning. prominence is wholly dependent on the meaning the speaker wishes to convey. Furthermore. Whereas stress is usually placed on words that convey lexical meaning. This shift is divided here into the following categories: a) New information (as opposed to information that is already known or implied) Are you going to the party? No. a shift in stress can also place emphasis on grammar words. “word accent is likely to be subordinated to the speakers choice of prominence…”8. I have to do my homework b) Emphatic stress – stress is used to emphasize a particular word 7 8 Underhill (1994.primary stress falls .Prominence Commonly known as ‘sentence stress’. As such. 58) 8 . the secondary stress falls on the word with the second most important meaning. Can you call me a doctor? on ‘doctor’ Doctor Jones will see you now on ‘Jones’ . a syllable that is stressed within a word may not carry the prominence within an utterance (stress shown as underlining: Bad-tempered syllable ‘accent’ falls on the second Bad-tempered teacher ‘teacher’ Photographer syllable He’s a great photographer word ‘great’ ‘prominence’ falls on the word ‘accent’ falls on the second ‘prominence’ falls on the This is turn relates to primary and secondary stress within an utterance. 58) Underhill (1994. while accent is defined as stress that is present “regardless of the speaker”7.primary stress falls Prominence depends entirely on the context of the utterance and can shift its position accordingly.

These flowers are so gorgeous! c) Contrastive stress – stress is used to contrast with a previous utterance I wanted you to buy me some red roses (as opposed to white roses) I wanted you to buy me some red roses (as opposed to steal them) d) Corrective stress – stress is used to correct the other speaker9 A: B: A: My nephews fifteen Thirteen? No. fifteen! 9 Hancock (2003: 114) 9 .

However. “evidence for a truly stress-timed rhythm is not strong”. Roach concedes that. See Appendix A for a full list of weak forms11: Packet of crisps /pækɪt ɒv krɪsps/ What’s your name? /wɒts jɔː neɪm/ changes to /wɒts jə neɪm/ changes to /pækɪt əv krɪsps/ A degree of simplification of sounds is necessary in order for learners to develop a more natural sounding speaking voice12. In stress-timed languages. Each section takes the same time to say regardless of the number of syllables. In syllable-timed languages the fourth section would take longer than the first as it has four syllables.Features affecting stress i) Rhythm English is referred to as a stress-timed language as opposed to a syllable-timed or ‘mora’ timed. Vowel reduction is one way of doing this – reducing the length and making them a less distinct. 59) 10 . stressed words are given importance over unstressed words. ii) Weak forms and vowel reduction Weak forms of a word are always unstressed and are more often than not grammar words. more central sound. Monophthongs such as /æ/ and /ɒ/ change to /ə/: from /frɒm/ becomes from /frəm/ The two monophthongs /iː/ and /uː/ change to /ɪ/ and /ʊ/: he /hiː/ 10 11 12 becomes he /hI/ Roach (1983: 135) Field (2008: 147) Underhill (1994. there are noticeable differences between the three. This is illustrated using the following example10: | Walk | down the | path to the | end of the ca | nal This sentence is split according to the stressed syllable.

Diphthongs /maɪ/ my may change to /mə/ ma 11 .

obliging the learners to follow each other’s rhythm and forcing them to make unstressed syllables weak. Inevitably they choose the last line with the largest number of syllables. 13 14 15 Thornbury (2005: 37) Underhill (1994: 71) Watcyn-Jones (2002: 77) 12 . Learning issues and suggestions for teaching i) Failure to follow the correct rhythm “Non-native like” use of stress.3. Learners have to identify the stressed words and then read the limericks simultaneously. Learners cannot adhere to English stress patterns as they tend to follow their own L1 stress patterns. This activity could be used with limericks such as in Fun Class Activities15 (See Appendix C). An example of this is in Sound Foundation14 (See Appendix B). An example from a Korean student: a FLIGHT attENdant DOESn’t HAVE to BUY HER own TICKet Instead of A FLIGHT attendant DOESn’t have to BUY her own TICKet Suggestion Students are given a short rhyme and are asked which line they think will take the longest to say. They then practice keeping in time with the rhythm chorally whilst the teacher taps out a beat. rhythm and intonation inhibits intelligibility13.

‘too’ and ‘such’: London is such a big city Suggestion Learners read a short conversation that includes only short sentences with the stressed words underlined.ii) Incorrect or inappropriate prominence The speaker’s main point may be misinterpreted or obscured. English listeners expect to hear the important words stressed and may therefore require clarification. unintentionally emphasizing the wrong words. Students have to identify three ways of emphasizing disagreement. emphatic stress is relevant to pre-intermediate learners. after which they must underline the stressed words in a similar short conversation16 (See Appendix D). From my experience learners fail to use emphatic stress correctly. However. It is argued that contrastive or corrective stress is better taught at higher levels than pre-intermediate. 106) 13 . instead of London is such a big city 16 Hancock (2003. particularly with words such as ‘so’. Korean and Japanese speakers for example may find this particularly difficult as they do not use emphatic stress in their L1. This is a fun exercise that engages the students as they can act out ridiculous arguments with each other.

later practise by inserting given words between two other stressed words17 (See Appendix E). an equal amount of stress is given to each syllable. Their attention is drawn to the fact that the unstressed words are grammar words. 17 Hancock (2003: 74) 14 . Suggestion Learners are presented with short phrases and the stressed words are highlighted. The reaction from many of my students is one of surprise that so many words can fit into such a small length of time. This activity could be extended by having students come up with their own phrases and then creating a short dialogue. This activity is useful as it raises awareness and allows for effective practice.iii) Sounding monotonous COMBINE WITH WEAK FORMS?? In many other languages. This L1 interference may result in their sounding monotonous and boring and can make them difficult for native speakers to understand. such as Japanese and Korean. They listen to a recording of short sentences and note down the number of unstressed word they hear.

Those whose first languages are syllable timed. have difficulty with: i) Perceiving weak forms and / or unstressed syllables ii) Producing weak forms Suggestion A ‘round the class activity’ using the weak forms of ‘to’. ‘A bottle of milk’. putting students into smaller groups would increase the amount of production per student. They identify on their papers where they think the ‘schwa’ falls. ‘fish and chips’. They then go around the class trying to out do one another by listing the food they plan to eat. such as Japanese. prepositions and conjunctions the same as key content words that convey meaning.e sausage and cheese!) and the process is repeated.e. After repeating and checking answers students then practise further sets of phrases while the teacher monitors. Students listen to a series of short set phrases about food i. 18 Hewings (1993: 38) 15 . After this initial practice they are encouraged to create their own combinations of food (i.iv) Failure to identify and use weak forms Learners tend to stress auxiliaries. However. This seems like a fun activity that learners would enjoy and it inadvertently practises food vocabulary. or ‘mora’ timed. ‘and’ and ‘of’18 (See Appendix F). such as Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese. articles.

This may be particularly apparent in Arabic speakers. who may tend to avoid them all together: supply /sɜːplaɪ/ pencil /pensɪl/ Suggestion Students repeat a list of jobs that end in ‘er’. instead of instead of supply /səplaɪ/ pencil /pensəl/ 19 Hewings (1993: 43) 16 . and ‘an’ and contain more than one syllable. Working in pairs allows for peer correction and offers communicative. It also allows learners to personalize the language. then decide which jobs earn the most money and report back to class19 (See Appendix G). Choral and individual repetition such as this is an effective procedure in raising students’ awareness of the schwa in words. learners are often unaware of the features of vowel reduction. task-based practice.v) Failure to use vowel reduction At pre-intermediate level. ‘or’.

encouraging interaction. long words and compounds inappropriately photographer /fətɒgrəfə/ record (verb) /rekɔːd/ old-fashioned /əʊldfæʃənd/ Suggestion a) Learners match multi-syllabic words with their corresponding stress patterns20 (See Appendix H). one with the word and the other with the stress pattern (i. This is again an effective activity as it 20 21 instead of instead of instead of photographer /fətɒgrəfə/ record (verb) /rɪkɔːd/ old-fashioned /əʊldfæʃənd/ Bowen & Marks (1992: 62) Cunningham & Bowler (1990: 49) 17 .vi) Incorrect or inappropriate accent Learners have difficulty in indicating their intended meaning due to the inappropriate or incorrect distribution of stress and unstress. Arabic speakers may find syllable words with dual parts of speech particularly difficult as the stress in their first language is regular and always falls on the first syllable (stressed shown as underlining): a) Whispering unstressed vowels at the end of a word coffe /kɒfe/ offe /ɒfe/ instead of /kɒfi/ instead of /ɒfɪs/ coffee office b) Stressing 2-syllable words.e ‘oo0o’ = ‘information’). Students then listen and practise saying the compound nouns then discuss which features are essential and which ones desirable21 (See Appendix I). b) Learners categorise a group of compound nouns associated with houses depending on whether they have one or two stressed syllables. Using new or recycled vocabulary two sets of cards are created. This kind of activity is not only communicative but requires students to work together. I have noticed that this is particularly apparent with both Thai speakers (tend to stress the last syllable in a polysyllabic word) and Brazilian speakers (who tend to whisper unstressed vowels at the end of words). It is takes into consideration more visual learners.

not only puts the language into context but allows or a discussion stage offering free practise personalization. 18 .

This raises awareness of intrusive syllables and hopefully encourages learners to pay more attention to omitting them. in particular Arabic. This results in an additional syllable being voiced which disrupts the natural catenation of English. The sets of phrases differ by only one syllable.vii) Intrusive vowels There is a tendency from some groups of learners. They then have to listen to the teacher and decide which of the two possible phrases are being said22 (See Appendix J). becomes instead of learned /lɜːnd/ Will Esmith (common in Spanish /wɪl esmɪθ/ fishi /fɪʃɪ/ (common in Korean (common in Arabic speakers) 22 Hancock (2003: 57) 19 . to insert a short vowel between or before consonant clusters. It is particularly apparent when pronouncing the endings of regular past simple verbs: learned /lɜːned/ Will Smith becomes speakers) /wɪl smɪθ/ fish /fɪʃ/ speakers) Suggestion Students’ are shown two sets of contrasting phrases. Students then record themselves saying one of the two sets of phrases and re-listen to them two weeks later to decide which of the phrases they originally said. Japanese and Brazilian Portuguese speakers. After highlighting the difference students are shown two more similar sets of phrases. Thai. however their meaning is different.

2008) 20 .Appendix A – List of weak forms Taken from Listening in the Language Classroom (CUP.

1994) 21 .Appendix B Taken from Sound Foundation (Macmillan Heinemann.

Appendix C Taken from Fun Classroom Activities 22 .

Appendix D Taken from English Pronunciation in Use (CUP. 2003) 23 .

2003) 24 .Appendix E Taken from English Pronunciation in Use (CUP.

1993) 25 .Appendix F Taken from Pronunciation Tasks (Cambridge University Press.

1993) 26 .Appendix G Taken from Pronunciation Tasks (Cambridge University Press.

1992) 27 .Appendix H Taken from The Pronunciation Book (Longman.

Appendix I Taken from Headway Intermediate Pronunciation (Oxford University Press. 1990) 28 .

2003) 29 .Appendix J Taken from English Pronunciation in Use (Cambridge University Press.

(2008) Listening in the Language Classroom (CUP) Hedge. M & Smith B. T. S. & Bowler. (2005) How to Teach Speaking (Pearson Longman) Thornbury. S. (1992) The Pronunciation Book (Longman) Cunningham. (1990) Headway Intermediate Pronunciation (Oxford University Press – OUP) Field. M. (1987) Learner English (CUP) Watcyn-Jones. (2006) An A-Z of ELT (Macmillan) Underhill. (2003) English Pronunciation in Use (CUP) Roach. () Fun Classroom Activities http://thormay.Bibliography Bowen. (1983) English Phonetics and Phonology (CUP) Swan. (1994) Sound Foundation (Macmillan Heinemann) Hancock.net/ 30 . & Marks. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom (OUP) Hewings. J. T. M. J. (1993) Pronunciation Tasks (Cambridge University Press CUP) Thornbury. A. J. P. S.

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