This year’s INTESOL Conference was another great opportunity to share ideas with our fellow English language instructors. There, I attended a colleague’s presentation on the various kinds of stress in English pronunciation. I was drawn to the topic since I regularly teach accent training and pronunciation to my own students. After all, learning a new language is not only about grammar and vocabulary. If you want to become fluent and intelligible to native speakers, you naturally have to spend some time improving your pronunciation.
There are three basic levels of stress — syllable, word, and sentence. In my lessons, I introduce each level in this order. This allows me to build on the student’s knowledge gradually and naturally. Typically, this process takes several weeks from beginning to end with continuous practice and reinforcement thereafter.
During the conference presentation, I enjoyed learning some new techniques to enrich this rule-heavy task of teaching stress patterns. One in particular involved creating a physical representation of sentence stress, the last level my students learn. To replicate this task yourself, you’ll need to cut apart printed sentences into their thought groups (the natural divisions in native speech). Then have students fold each focus word — the main stressed word(s) in a thought group — to illustrate how the voice will rise and fall as the sentences are said naturally. In the end, you will have strips of paper that contain peaks at the folded words and thus create a visualization of the speaker’s voice. I think it’s simple but effective and conveniently appropriate for any learner.
I’m looking forward to implementing this and other ideas from the conference in my upcoming lessons.