Quotes on Pronunciation Training

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From the article "Trends in Speech/Pronunciation Instructional Theory and Practice"
by Joan Morley, TESOL Matters, August/September 1999.

"ESL/EFL teachers looking for revised ways to teach speech/pronunciation need to know about the new and significantly different trends in instruction today."
A Major Focus on Suprasegmental Features
"Work in the sound system now emphasizes the critical importance of the suprasegmental features (i.e. stress, rhythm and intonation) and their use not just to complement meaning but to create meaning."
"As awareness of the importance of intelligible speech/pronunciation increases and new directions in instructional planning develop, the time seems right for teachers to consider devoting more time and attention to an up-to-date speech/pronunciation component within the ESL/EFL curriculum."

From the book "Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages"
by Marianne Celce-Muria, Donna M. Brinton, Janet M. Goodwin. Cambridge University Press, 1996.

"With suprasegmentals and connected speech, however, the misunderstanding is apt to be of a more serious nature [than with segmentals]. Learners who use incorrect rhythm patterns or who do not connect words together are at best frustrating to the native-speaking listener; more seriously, if these learners use improper intonation contours, they can be perceived as abrupt, or even rude; and if the stress and rhythm patterns are too nonnative like, the speakers who produce them may not be understood at all." p. 131.

"[stress, rhythm, and adjustments in connected speech] allow the speaker to turn the basic building blocks of the sound systems (i.e., the vowel and consonant phonemes) into words, meaningful utterances, and extended discourse. Command of these features is therefore as critical as command of the segmental features … in achieving successful communication for second language learners. Stress, rhythm, and adjustments in connected speech can be easily overlooked in the language classroom. Nonetheless, these invisible signals are among the main clues used by listeners to process incoming speech and are thus of primary importance in the speech communication process.", p. 172.

From the book "Teaching Pronunciation"
by Rita Wong , Prentice Hall, 1987

"Because, of their major roles in communication, rhythm and intonation merit greater priority in the teaching program than attention to individual sounds. In addition, since students usually have a limited time frame for formal language study, as a matter of expedience, they should work on the features of pronunciation that have the greatest bearing on communicative effectiveness. This is not to say that the pronunciation of individual sounds is irrelevant, but it is neither automatically the starting point nor the focus of learning to speak a language. For the general language learner, the payoffs are greater when sounds are treated within the framework of rhythm and intonation" p.p. 21-22.

From the paper "Interpreting Visual Feedback on Suprasegmentals in Computer Assisted Pronunciation Instruction"
by Anderson-Hsieh, J., CALICO Journal, 11, 4 1994.

It has been found that suprasegmentals can be most effectively taught through the use of equipment which extracts pitch and intensity from the speech signal and presents the information on a video screen in real time, providing instantaneous visual feedback on stress, rhythm, and intonation. A dual display allows the native speaker target to be presented on the upper half of the screen and the learnerís attempts at replicating the target on the lower half. The effectiveness of such equipment has been demonstrated experimentally. It has been shown that visual feedback combined with the auditory feedback Ö is more effective than auditory feedback alone.

From the book "Teaching English Pronunciation"
by Joanne Kenworthy, (Longman Handbooks for Language Teachers), Longman Publishing, 1987.

On Building Awareness and Concern for Pronunciation (p. 27)

… English pronunciation has various components such as sounds, stress, and variation in pitch, and the learner needs to understand the function of these as well as their form. Once learners are aware that English words have a stress pattern, that words can be pronounced in slightly different ways, that the pitch of the voice can be used to convey meaning, then they will know what to pay attention to and can build upon this basic awareness.
Learner also need to develop a concern for pronunciation. They must recognize that poor, unintelligible speech will make their attempts at conversing frustrating and unpleasant both for themselves and for their listeners.

On Stress (p. 18)

In English there is a special relationship between the different parts of a word. … in an English word of two or more syllables, one of these will have ‘prominence’ or ‘stress’. That syllable is perceived more prominent because of a complex of features such as loudness, length of vowel, etc. If the learner doesn’t stress one syllable more than the another or stresses on the wrong syllable, it may be very difficult for the listener to identify the word. This is because the stress pattern of a word is an important part of its identity for the native speaker. There is a great deal of evidence that native speakers rely very much on the stress pattern of words when they are listening. In fact, experiments have demonstrated that often when a native speaker mishears a word, it is because the foreigner has put the stress in the wrong place, not because he or she mispronounced the sound of the word. Here are some examples:
the word ‘written’ was pronounced with the stress on the second syllable instead of on the first. The listener thought the speaker said ‘retain’.
‘comfortable’ was pronounced with stress on ‘com-’ and ‘-ta-’. The listener heard this as ‘come to a table’.
‘productivity’ which has the pattern pro duc tiv i ty, was pronounced with a stress on ‘-duc-’ and one on ‘-ty’ (pro duc tiv i ty). This was heard as ‘productive tea’ (and caused considerable confusion!)

In all the above cases, the sounds used by the speaker were for the most part accurate. But despite this the listeners were thrown by the incorrect stress pattern.

On Rhythm (p. 19)

English has a characteristic rhythm and listeners expect to hear all speakers use this rhythm. It is therefore absolutely vital that learners will use the rhythm that is characteristic of English. There must be an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, with the stressed syllables occurring on a regular beat, and the unstressed syllables must have a less-than-full vowel.

If the speaker doesn’t use the characteristic English rhythm, then the listener will be placed in the position of someone who walks out onto the dance floor with a partner, expecting to waltz, but finds that the partner starts some strange set of syncopated steps which are thoroughly unpredictable and impossible to follow, or marches up and down in a perfectly steady beat, which doesn’t seem like a dancing at all to the waltz lover!

On Intonation (p. 19)

Intonation is important for intelligibility, because it is used to express intentions. A speaker can show that he or she is asking for information, or asking for confirmation, seeking agreement, or simply making a remark that is indisputable or ‘common knowledge’, through the intonation of the voice. Even though pitch rarely causes problems with the identification of words, an inappropriate intonation pattern can lead to misunderstanding just as a mispronounced sound can. Only those who take an extremely narrow view of intelligibility can disregard the importance of intonation. Furthermore, the effect of intonation can be cumulative; the misunderstandings may be minor, but if they occur constantly then they may result in judgments about the attitudes, character, ways of behaving, etc. of a particular speaker. For example, if a foreign speaker always uses low pitch, without much variation in the melody of the voice, listeners may get the impression that they are ‘bored’ or ‘uninterested’ when this is really not the case.

From the book "The Mechanisms of Speech"
by Alexander Graham Bell, 1916

"Ordinary people who know nothing of phonetics or elocution have difficulties in understanding slow speech composed of perfect sounds, while they have no difficulty in comprehending an imperfect gabble if only the accent and rhythm are natural." p. 15.

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