Emma Talks Friends

Emma

L1: English/ Catalan

Level: C2

Emma talks about Friends and other TV shows

Watch the video of Emma talking about TV shows she likes to watch. What features of Emma’s speech might be difficult to understand for some listeners?

Watch the video again. Can you match the phrases below in phonemic script to their standard, written English partners?

I just wanted to ask you..             /əʔ ðə məʊmən (ʔ) aɪm/

At the moment I’m                      /ɪskaɪnəf ə bɪmɔː/

..is kind of a bit more..                 /ʌ ʤʌs wɒnətə w ɑːs jə/

….they’re just random.               /əʔ ðəməʊmənaɪm/

..just cracks me up…                     /ðɜːʤəs rændəm/

What’s the problem for the listener?

The way Emma pronounces certain phrases are very different to how they are written. Can you spot the differences?

Now look at the phrases below. I have highlighted some key points where different features of connected speech can be seen.

I just wanted to ask you..   At the moment, I’m

In the first and second sentences, the /t/ and /k/ are elided, i.e. they disappear.  As you can see, elision happens with consonant sounds at the and of words, especially when there is another word following. This can cause listeners to not recognise the language they are hearing. Can you see any other places this happens in the phrases above?

They‘re just random

In this phrase, we can see another instance of elision. This time the /r/ sound a listener might expect if they see the word in written form is not there.

I just wanted to (w) ask you

In this phrase, we see the opposite of elision. At the word boundaries we have two vowel sounds; /ə/ and /ɑː/. When this happens we join the words with a linking sound. This is called liaison. The sounds that can link two words are /w/, /j/ and /r/. Can you think of other examples when this might happen. Try saying, “Go away” or ” we asked” and “spa and pool”.

These are all features of connected speech and can cause problems for listeners.

Strategies to help learners with connected speech

Receptive 

Ask students to listen to four or five phrases (you could extract these from a video or audio clip you are using) and write down what they hear. Tell them not to try and write the exact words but write a representation of what they hear; the sounds they hear. This is sometimes referred to the stream of speech. Ask learners to work with a partner and compare their notes. Then, display the phrases in standard written English, in the wrong order, and ask them to match them with the phrases they noted down. After this, ask them to find differences in the phrases as they are written and how they sounded.

This usually leads to learners saying things like, “This sound disappeared”. This activity helps to raise awareness of when this happens and you can show learners where it commonly happens. This will help prepare them for the next time they hear a similar phrase. This slowly builds  and develops their listening skills.

Productive

Connected speech is more important  and relevant to receptive pronunciation, but focusing on it with some phrases can help learners to become more fluent and get their mouths round words they find difficult to produce. Look at the phrases above again. We could help learners by showing them the phonemic transcriptions of certain aspects such as “just random” and asking them to take out the /t/. This will make it easier to say and will not impede their intelligibility. Equally, if they are trying to say “go away” showing them the linking /w/ might help them say this phrase more fluidly and easily.

When you are working with functional language or chunks of lexis consider how you might ease the pronunciation with elision and liaison. Integrate an activity into the lesson after you have worked on developing a general understanding of the material. You can do this with matching activities such as the one above or by giving pronunciation gap fills for liaison where students have to add in the correct linking sound and then practise saying the phrases with the linker.