L1: Catalan and Spanish
Joan explains the principles of yoga
Watch the video of Joan explaining the principles behind yoga. What features of Joan’s speech might be difficult to understand for some listeners?
Watch the video again and listen to his pronunciation of the following words. Which stress pattern does he use?
together oOo or OOO
body Oo or OO
muscles Oo or OO
temper Oo or OO
stress O or OO
What’s the problem for the listener?
Joan’s word stress doesn’t follow the stress-timed pattern of English, where only one syllable is prominent and the others significantly reduced. His L1 is a syllable-timed language, which means he gives almost equal prominence to each syllable. He may also put stress on the wrong syllable, or add an extra syllable.
together – he gives each syllable almost equal prominence with emphasis on the correct syllable.
muscles, body, and temper – he gives each syllable equal prominence.
stress – he adds an extra syllable at the beginning of the word, giving it two syllables and making it sound like ‘estress’.
Giving equal prominence to each syllable in longer words can cause them to sound generally unclear. Furthermore, putting emphasis on the wrong syllable may cause the listener to perceive an entirely different word. For example, if we take the word ‘career’ with the stress pattern oOo and put the stress on the first syllable Ooo, our listener may understand the word to be ‘carrier’.
Strategies to help learners with word stress
Give the students a list of known words. Known words are better because we don’t have to deal with meaning, just pronunciation. Read the first word out loud to demonstrate the activity. Ask the students to count the number of syllables in this word, for example, ‘imagination’. When you have elicited that there are five, read the word again and ask them to mark the part of the word with the stressed syllable. Introduce stress bubbles to show the pattern oooOo. Drill the word chorally and individually to make sure they can produce the pattern and to give them confidence. Put the students into pairs or groups of three. Now read each word out from the list once; it’s better to deal with one word at a time. The first time you read out the word, the students count the number of syllables. Give control of the listening to them and allow them to hear the word again if necessary. Now read out the word again and ask the students to mark the stressed syllable. Be prepared to read it out again. Ask them to produce stress bubbles to demonstrate the stress pattern as you repeat the word.
Alternatively, you can give the students a handout with stress bubble columns, for example, oOoo, oooOo, Ooo, oOo, you give each column a stress pattern. The students could also do this in their notebooks to save paper and to involve them more in the set up. You then read out the words as before, asking them to count the number of syllables first then put the word in the appropriate stress column as you read the word a second time.
This receptive activity allows the students to recognise stress patterns without having the pressure to produce them immediately.
Drilling can help the students understand and produce the rhythm of English. You could try the ‘hum’ drill. With this drill the students just hum the rhythm of the word they are practising. Let’s take ‘imagination’ with the stress pattern oooOo as an example. You model ‘ba-ba-ba–BA–ba’ and lead the students chorally and then individually on the humming of this pattern. Now drill the word, ‘imagination’. Continue the drill with ‘hum the rhythm then say the word’. You can then mix it up with ‘say the word and hum the rhythm’. You can really get going with this, add new words and rhythms, add more words to the same rhythm, and before you know it you’ll have a great piece of drum and bass music going on in your classroom. It’s great fun!
This drill allows the students to understand and produce the stress pattern first and then the word. The fun aspect makes the practice memorable and really boosts their confidence with word stress.