Pronunciation - Practicing Stress and Intonation
I am often surprised at how focusing on the "stress - timed" quality of English helps students improve their pronunciation skills. Students often focus on pronouncing each word correctly and therefore tend to pronounce in an unnatural manner. By focusing on the stress - timed factor in English - the fact that only principle words such as proper nouns, principle verbs, adjectives and adverbs receive the "stress" - students soon begin sounding much more "authentic" as the cadence of the language begins to ring true. The following lesson extends previous lessons by developing student ears' sensitivity to the rhythmic quality of English.
Aim: Improving pronunciation by focusing on the stress - timed nature of spoken English
Activities: Comparison of unnaturally and naturally spoken English by looking at the tendency of some students to pronounce every word correctly. Listening and Oral repetition exercise developing student ears' sensitivity to the rhythmic quality of English.
Level: Upper intermediate - recommended for upper level students who have a high level of understanding, but are having problems with fluency in communication caused by pronunciation problems.
- Begin awareness raising activities by reading an example sentence aloud to the students (for example: The boys didn't have time to finish their homework before the lesson began). Read the sentence the first time pronouncing each word carefully. Read the sentence a second time in natural speech.
- Ask students which reading seemed more natural and why it seemed more natural.
- Using the ideas students come up with, explain the idea of English being a "stress - timed" language. If the students speak a syllabic language (such as Italian or Spanish), point out the difference between their own native language and English (theirs being syllabic, English stress - timed). Just this awareness raising can make a dramatic difference in such students abilities.
- Talk about the differences between stressed words and non-stressed words (i.e. principle verbs are stressed, auxiliary verbs are not).
- Write the following two sentences on the board:
The beautiful Mountain appeared transfixed in the distance.
- He can come on Sundays as long as he doesn't have to do any homework in the evening.
- The beautiful Mountain appeared transfixed in the distance.
- Underline the stressed words in both sentences. Ask students to try reading aloud. Point out how each sentence seems to be approximately the same length in "stress - time".
- Have students practice the first exercise in groups of two. By having students first read in a unnatural way and then in a natural way, students become more aware of their own tendencies to 'over-pronounce' each word.
- Now that the students are comfortable with listening to the stress-timed nature of English, raise their awareness about the rhythmic nature of English. Point out how important it is that they use their ears to aid them with the following exercise.
- Take this task to the next level by reading the following sentences aloud and have the students repeat each sentence. Each sentence is read aloud three or more times with a pause between each reading to allow students to repeat the sentence. Students should focus on imitating what they hear.
- Variety is the spice of life.
- I'll have bought a new house by the time Jack finishes school!
- PETA has been well known for its support by famous Hollywood actors and actresses.
- Why don't we catch a film tonight?
- You'd be surprised at how many people find English almost impossible to understand when spoken quickly.
- A great way to improve listening skills is to listen to songs that you are very familiar with and learn the words by heart.
- My favorite magazine is called Wired. It focuses on cultural, business and philosophical issues surrounding the information age and its instruments.
- So, as I was telling John, we had been waiting for about an hour when Frank finally showed up.
- Sentences that use a number of words to express simple ideas are about as boring as overcooked cabbage.
- Janet silently turned the page.
- Have students create their own sentences (about five or so). Ask them to pair up and practice the previous exercise with each other. One student reads and repeats his/her sentences while the other student repeats what he/she hears.
English is a very rhythmic language because only certain, important words are accented. For this reason, you should practice using your ear as much as possible.
Speak through the following sentences trying to carefully pronounce EVERY word. Notice how unnatural this sounds. Next, focus on speaking the sentences stressing only content words. Tape yourself doing this and you will be surprised at how quickly your pronunciation improves!
- By the time he receives this letter, I will have caught the train to Paris.
- Following closely behind the herd was a group of filthy, disgusting vultures.
- I'll make sure to give him a ring the next time I'm in town.
- Not only are the exams required, but they are also absolutely imperative for your further education.
- Hey, have you seen the new film with Bruce Willis? You know, the one where he's supposed to be a sensitive doctor.
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