Most of us know about or are aware of the difference in word stress between different languages but another area that has traditionally been overlooked in teaching is sentence stress patterns. English belongs to a group of languages (eg. Dutch, German and Russian) which are stress-timed, (ie. the stress patterns are governed by the stress within a sentence). This compares with other languages such as French and Italian whose stress patterns are syllable-timed (In short, every syllable is stressed).
Look at the sentence below as an example;
I want to go to London to see the really interesting museums.
If a French person were to say this, he/she would probably pronounce every syllable – sounding a bit like Arsène Wenger, in his charming Gallic way, when he used to give his post-match assessments in the recorded interviews with the BBC.
I often hear EAL students say that the English ‘eat their words’ when they speak. Of course, they don’t but some EAL students may not understand the different stress patterns in English compared with their own language.
So how can we teach EAL students what may perhaps be considered some of the more intricate aspects of learning English pronunciation, (and which is quite often overlooked!)? Would an EAL student necessarily know what is stressed and what isn’t? (ie. Content Words v Structure Words & hard vowel v soft vowel?). An English person would pronounce the same sentence as follows;
I want to go to London to see the really interesting museums
The beat of the Metronome should fall on the areas which are in bold as they carry the dominant vowel sounds in the sentence.
If you wanted to choral drill this with your class, (or any other piece of text for that matter), I suggest getting a metronome, (if you haven’t got one, there is an online one on Google which is free), and practice some choral drilling of short sentences with your students. They should find it engaging and fun. Like all things, this activity could be practised on a regular basis….
On a different note, below are a few suggestions to help EAL students develop a better understanding of sentence stress patterns in English;
- Speed dictation.
- Teaching weak forms, (the Schwa) – perhaps teach your students individual word stress, (ie. Content & Structure Words), before moving on to looking at Sentence Stress.
- Why not use a good pronunciation book such as the old chestnut, ‘Ship or Sheep’?
- Choral pronunciation drills of clauses or sentences including Chain Drills.
- Finger clicking or clapping of music, prose or poetry.
- Read out sentences with only stressed words.
- Jazz chants.