Last year, I attended the pre-conference institute (PCI) on teaching pronunciation that focused on vowel quality and suprasegmentals. Shirley Thompson and Karen Taylor of English Language Training Solutions, LLC, provided the workshop. I learned about the concepts of stress: syllable timed vs. stress timed. The English language is stress timed, meaning that stressed syllables receive more time than unstressed ones when we pronounce them. Most other languages are syllable timed. Therefore, noticing stress is an important first step in learning about pronunciation.
During the workshop, they suggested several ways to build syllable and word stress awareness with your students. They designated this as the first level of stress and gave the following teaching strategies to address it:
1. Identify syllabication by categorizing a list of words by the number of syllables in each. For example, the word Philadelphia would be placed into a 5-syllable category of a chart and Dallas would go into the 2-syllable category. They demonstrated clapping out the syllables to help hear the syllabication.
2. Recognize and categorize stress patterns at the word level. For example, the word Pennsylvania would fit into the da-da-DA-da-da category, whereas Texas would go into the Da-da category. They utilized rubber bands to differentiate the stress-timed extension from that of the unstressed syllables.
3. Use the line-dot strategy for visualizing stress patterns for the visual learner. They shared a chart from Sue Miller’s book, Targeting Pronunciation (2006). Lines represent stressed syllables and dots represent the unstressed ones. For example, the word perfect would be represented as a line and a dot.
4. Use color coding of the stressed vowel in a word to categorize new vocabulary according to a vowel chart with existing words. Taylor and Thompson created the Color Vowel Chart, which would appeal to the visual learner, too.
The workshop lasted all day, and they covered many more concepts. I noticed that Taylor and Thompson are offering another PCI on pronunciation today that focuses on comprehensibility. If you attend their workshop today, or any of the the PCIs, please share what you have learned. For those of you at home, now is the time to be proactive and apply for a TESOL professional development award, so you can attend a PCI free next year at the convention in Dallas, Texas! That’s how I was able to afford it.