Unit 13 concentrated on pronunciation and phonology. It was noted that pronunciation is often neglected because teachers typical lack confidence in their own ability to teach it methodically and may also lack training on the subject. Sometimes, English speakers have difficulty in recognizing parts of speech simply because it has become ingrained in their use of the language and never explored from a teaching aspect. So pronunciation usually concentrates on individual sounds which are important but are not necessarily the most important part of speech. It was found that many students considered pronunciation as being the most difficult part of learning English and proves that it is extremely important to include in lessons. There are some general rules and formulae that can be used when teaching pronunciation, but practice and examples are usually more effective because of the many variations.
Phonology is defined as the study of the physical properties of sounds. The term is used to encompass the whole sound system of a language and covers Stress, Rhythm, and Intonation. English has also been converted into an International Phonetic Alphabet that can be used to help students learn and understand the pronunciation of English. The sounds in words, connected speech, stress within words, and stress within phrases need to be taught in the context of communication and not in isolation. People want to communicate using speech and the whole purpose is to help others understand the meaning of what is being said. While some instinctive understanding is necessary along with analytical perception, these must be combined with phonology to provide a clear understanding.
Intonation is defined as the variation in volume and pitch throughout a phrase or sentence. This should not be confused with “stress” which is about volume and pitch in individual words and is covered separately below. Intonation helps to carry the message of the sentence by providing cues as to whether a question is being asked, someone is agreeing/disagreeing, or perhaps confirming something. Intonation also helps to express emotion. There are generally three patterns of intonation: 1) Rise/Fall, 2) Fall/Rise, and 3) Flat. The Rise/Fall pattern starts low, rises to a peak, then falls back to the same or lower level as the beginning of the sentence. This pattern is typically used to indicate that there is nothing more to be said and that the speaker is finished talking. The Fall/Rise pattern starts high, drops down low, then rises again. Using this pattern typically indicates a question, surprise, or disagreement and signals that the speaker wants a response or confirmation from the listener. With a Flat pattern, the speaker is usually disinterested, doesn’t really have much to say, or is simply reiterating something that is already known and does not require more intonation. Teaching intonation can be done through the use of nonsense words, gestures, humming/singing, or writing on the board with standard markings.
Stress is used to emphasize a word or syllable. Stress can be added to a sentence that already uses intonation to give extra meaning to specific parts of the sentence. Using stress can change the meaning of a sentence so care must be taken to ensure that the correct words or syllables are stressed. As a rule, multi-syllable words in English have one or more parts that should be stressed and most follow one of two rules: 1) a word has one stress, although certain words can have a secondary, but much less emphasized stress and 2) only syllables are stressed, never the individual vowels or consonants (note that one syllable words might violate this rule because the word is a single vowel such as “a” or “I”). Which syllable to stress in particular words follow five rules: 1) stress on the first syllable for most 2-syllable nouns and most 2-syllable adjectives, 2) stress on the last syllable for most 2-syllable verbs, 3) stress on the penultimate syllable for words ending in “ic,” “sion,” and “tion”, 4) stress on the ante-penultimate syllable or third syllable from the end for words ending is “cy,” “ty,” “phy,”gy,” “ive,” and “al”, and 5) for compound nouns, stress on the first part, for compound adjectives, stress is on the second part, and for compound verbs, stress is on the second part.
It should be noted that the lack of stress is also important and that generally, the English language has more unstressed words in a sentence than stressed words. Generally, auxiliary verbs in all forms, articles, pronouns, and prepositions remain unstressed. In order to teach stress, gestures, singing/humming, and using the board are great techniques.
Sound Joining is the practice of producing a slightly different sound than what is actually written or normally formed from the joined words. There are four ways this is done: 1) Linking, 2) Sound Dropping of “d” and “t,” 3) Sound Changing, and 4) Extra Lettering. These techniques are commonly found throughout the English language and some may be more prominent in certain countries or accents. British English often adds an “er” to the end of words that actually end with an “a” and common slang sometimes blends a trailing “y” sound into the beginning vowel sound of the following word.
Linked Speech is way that native speakers naturally speak. Common uses are changing “want to” into “wanna” or “do you” into “do-ya.” These can be confusing for students, but when students use them, it helps make their speech sound closer to natural English.
The phonetic alphabet was also covered. The International Phonetic Alphabet was created for all English speakers so that dialects, accents, and regional differences could be minimized or eliminated. While the phonetic alphabet may seem like a foreign language even to native English speakers, it actually represents every sound used in the language and can be used to help students understand how to form those sounds. It focuses on the sound instead of the spelling.
Articulation is all about the mechanics of creating sounds with the speech organs, the places in the mouth and throat the sound is made, and the manner in which the sound is made. Different sounds come from different areas, use different organs, and different manners. The “P” and “B” sounds are formed or articulated similarly, but are created using different areas of articulation. Through observation, listening, and even touch, a student can learn how to articulate the sounds of English. Over emphasizing how to articulate a sound must always be followed by the correct natural articulation of the sound so that students do not learn incorrectly.
Finally, teaching pronunciation may be directed by the school and should follow whatever procedures and lessons are required. However, teachers should be aware that not teaching pronunciation may hinder a student’s ability to properly communicate and that it should be taught whenever required so students do not pick up bad habits that are difficult to break later.