Teaching Pronunciation

Topics: Stress, Phonology, English language Pages: 48 (15979 words) Published: August 21, 2012
Teaching Pronunciation
Using the Prosody Pyramid Judy B. Gilbert

cambridge university press

Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo Cambridge University Press 32 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10013-2473, USA www.cambridge.org © Cambridge University Press 2008 This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 2008 Printed in the United States of America isbn-13

978-0-521-98927-5 paperback

Book layout services: Page Designs International

Table of Contents



1 2 3 4

The Functions of Prosody The Prosody Pyramid 10


The Prosody Pyramid and Individual Sounds 21 Ideas for Implementing the Prosody Pyramid 31

Appendix 1: Pronunciation FAQ


Appendix 2: Focus Rules and Thought Group Rules 45 Appendix 3: How Often Do the Vowel Rules Work? 47 Appendix 4: Table of Figures 48



Teaching pronunciation involves a variety of challenges. To begin with, teachers often find that they do not have enough time in class to give proper attention to this aspect of English instruction. When they do find the time to address pronunciation, the instruction often amounts to the presentation and practice of a series of tedious and seemingly unrelated topics. Drilling sounds over and over again (e.g., minimal pair work) often leads to discouraging results, and discouraged students and teachers end up wanting to avoid pronunciation altogether. There are also psychological factors that affect the learning of pronunciation in ways that are not so true of studying grammar or vocabulary. For one thing, the most basic elements of speaking are deeply personal. Our sense of self and community are bound up in the speech-rhythms of our first language (L1). These rhythms were learned in the first year of life and are deeply rooted in the minds of students. Therefore, it is common for students to feel uneasy when they hear themselves speak with the rhythm of a second language (L2). They find that they “sound foreign” to themselves, and this is troubling for them. Although the uneasiness is usually unconscious, it can be a major barrier to improved intelligibility in the L2. A teacher can help overcome this psychological barrier and other challenges by thinking of the goal of pronunciation instruction not as helping students to sound like native speakers but as helping them to learn the core elements of spoken English so that they can be easily understood by others. In other words, teachers and students can overcome the frustrations, difficulties, and boredom often associated with pronunciation by focusing their attention on the development of pronunciation that is “listener friendly.” After all, English pronunciation does not amount to mastery of a list of sounds or isolated words. Instead, it amounts to learning and practicing the specifically English way of making a speaker’s thoughts easy to follow. This booklet presents an approach to pronunciation that highlights the interrelatedness of various aspects of English speech. The approach addresses the individual elements of pronunciation but always within the framework of a larger system that uses all these individual elements to make speakers’ ideas clear and understandable to their listeners.




The Functions of Prosody

Communication in spoken English is organized by “musical signals.” There are two aspects to these signals – rhythm and melody – and the combination of these two aspects may be called prosody. Often, the term prosody is used to mean rhythm alone, while the term intonation is used to refer specifically to melody (or pitch patterns). However, in this booklet, prosody will refer to the combination of both rhythm and melody. The reason is that for...
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