Learner Views Of Using Authentic Audio To Aid Pronunciation You Can Just Grab Some Feelings
BRIEF REPORTS AND SUMMARIES
TESOL Quarterly invites readers to submit short reports and updates on their work.
These summaries may address any areas of interest to Quarterly readers.
Edited by CATHIE ELDER
University of Auckland
Pennsylvania State University
Learner Views of Using Authentic
Audio to Aid Pronunciation:
“You Can Just Grab Some Feelings”
University of Cincinnati
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
I Although many TESOL professionals advocate using authentic lan-
guage in teaching materials, little research has investigated using authen-
tic aural text to contextualize teaching pronunciation. Based on research
and the instructor’s observation of how authentic text enables learners to
internalize speech and articulation rules, this study investigated how
learners perceived audio literature, including poetry, radio theater, and
short stories, used to supplement a pronunciation course curriculum.
The interview data in this descriptive study serve as a foundation for a
study in progress investigating how students’ analysis of ﬁltered and
intact aural text inﬂuences pronunciation.
METRICAL TEMPLATE THEORY
Celce-Murcia, Brinton, and Goodwin (1996) emphasize that second
language learners need to internalize suprasegmental features, a process
that, according to Crow (1977), occurs when learners can produce
acceptable structures without consciously thinking about them. As part
of this process, second language listeners construct and internalize a
metrical template (a pattern of strongly and weakly stressed syllables) and
seek meaningful phrases compatible with it (Rost, 1990). McGregor and
Johnson (1997) describe the metrical template as a well-practiced
TESOL QUARTERLY Vol. 38, No. 4, Winter 2004 735
constraint on verbal output used during utterance planning, and Gerken
(1991, 1994, 1995) argues that it accounts for native-English-speaking
children’s tendency to delete unstressed syllables that fall outside their
developing template for producing a strong syllable followed by an
optional weak syllable. In line with Gerken’s theory, Rost contends that
the adult language learner’s poor command of suprasegmentals indi-
cates that they have internalized an inaccurate schema (an inappropriate
metrical template) for the prosody of the target language. Thus, they
continue to ﬁler incoming speech through the abstract prosodic catego-
ries of their native language.
Internalizing suprasegmentals enables infants to acquire phrase brack-
eting, grammatical categorization, and syllable segmentation within the
context of prosody (Morgan, 1996; Peters, 1983). Adults, however, unlike
children, process pitch differently in linguistic and nonlinguistic con-
texts (Ioup & Tansomboon, 1987). Ioup and Tansomboon found that
adults had more difﬁculty acquiring the Thai tonal system than did
children, but both groups could replicate a tune with perfect accuracy,
suggesting that both groups develop prosody by processing nonphonemic
pitch in the right side of the brain. These ﬁndings suggest that adults
might develop holistic speech processing strategies by focusing on
speech’s suprasegmental aspects.
The adult learner’s need to recognize the target language’s supra-
segmental patterns means that intonation must be taught at the dis-
course level using authentic speech samples, such as conversations, story
narrations, and news reports (Chun, 2002). Analyzing different types of
speaker roles and relationships in various genres can help learners
understand how stress conveys the discourse functions of information
focus, contrast, emphasis, or contradiction. Chun suggests that learners
ﬁrst listen holistically for overall shape and character, then identify
thought groups and prominent or reduced syllables.
How do students perceive the value of listening to authentic audio
text, as Chun advocates, for understanding pronunciation, particularly
suprasegmentals? Do authentic poetry, radio theater, and short stories
enable students to understand and develop an interest in course
content? Is one type of authentic audio literature better than another for
Twenty-four graduate students from Asia and Latin America enrolled
in a course on improving pronunciation participated in this study. All
participants had failed a state-mandated oral English proﬁciency test. To
help them develop the intelligibility necessary to serve as international
teaching assistants, individual academic departments had recommended
736 TESOL QUARTERLY
that they take the pronunciation course, which focuses on using English
intonation and word stress patterns to enhance presentation skills and
Authentic audio text in this study refers to audio text created for native
English speakers. The participants received the following literature on
audiotape: (a) poems by Silverstein, selected for their predictable
rhythm and rhyme; (b) CBS Radio Mystery Theatre productions (Battista,
1978, December 22), selected for the slightly exaggerated prosodic
features inherent in the various characters’ voicing by several different
actors and the corresponding variety of intonational cues; and (c)
selected stories from Chicken Soup for the Soul (Canﬁeld & Hansen, 1994),
which was chosen out of interest in how extended narrative inﬂuences
learner perception of suprasegmentals (Rubin, 1994). Although a large
body of literature supports the role of kinesic and visual input in
language learning (Allen, 1999; Hurley, 1992; Kellerman, 1992), audio-
only material was chosen to ensure the participants continuous accessi-
bility to the materials. They could use a boombox or a portable cassette
player with headphones to listen to the material at any time (e.g., in the
car, while walking somewhere, sitting in the lab, doing housework, etc.).
More important, perhaps an absence of visual information motivates
learners to attend more closely to phonological aspects of prosody, thus
avoiding the potential problem of competing aural and visual channels
in which the aural mode may be sacriﬁced to make sense of the visual
(Anderson & Lynch, 1991; MacWilliam, 1986; Tuffs & Tudor, 1990).
Participants were introduced to the material through three weekly 20
minute in-class sessions on suprasegmentals. With instructor guidance,
the participants identiﬁed suprasegmental features of a poem or portion
of a monologue or dialog by underlining the stressed syllables, circling
the focus words, and drawing intonation contours. Following this analy-
sis, participants listened again to the given selection, and, with instructor
feedback, practiced performing it.
Following these introductory sessions, the participants prepared three
audio journals during the quarter (see Appendix A). After listening to
the tapes, they transcribed and analyzed portions of the recordings for
suprasegmental features in their journals. Participants were then asked
to imitate the recorded phrases and compare their own speech with the
recorded material to identify possible areas of improvement. Participants
were also asked to reﬂect on the activity by identifying new words,
phrases, expressions, or usage they had learned (see Appendix B).
Participants then performed the analyzed portions in class, thus
engaging their increased awareness of the suprasegmental features
BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 737
targeted in the audio journal. After audiotaping each participant’s
performance, the instructor provided feedback regarding his or her
pronunciation. At the end of the 10-week quarter, participants answered
open-ended interview questions about using the audiotapes, any per-
ceived improvement in pronunciation and ﬂuency, and which genres
they found to be most and least helpful or enjoyable (see Appendix C).
Interview data were transcribed by the author, analyzed using descrip-
tive statistics, and coded based on patterns and trends. The author used
the coding procedure suggested by Miles and Huberman (1994), which
provides a meaningful analysis by assigning meaning to chunks of data:
words, phrases, sentences, or whole paragraphs.
Perceived Beneﬁt of Audio Literature
Although all students reported that the audio literature was helpful,
they differed widely regarding the particular ways they perceived it as
beneﬁcial (see Table 1). Fourteen students cited as helpful the opportu-
nity to repeat the literature on tape and to self-correct, and 11 reported
that audio literature had increased their awareness of suprasegmental
features such as stress, intonation, and thought groups:
I think word stress is very important. And thought groups. Previously, I never
pay attention to these concepts. I speak English using the same velocity, and
no word stress. So it’s really hard to understand me for other person. But now
. . . I can understand, oh, when I’m speaking I must pay attention to what I
speak . . . In my study, I can talk with other persons slowly, and stress the
words, so they can understand me. And that’s OK, I think. (Chinese Male 2;
In addition to a newfound appreciation of pronunciation features,
ﬁve students reported that the audio literature helped them discover
new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms and cited as important the
material’s authenticity, the fact that it had been created for native
speakers of English rather than for strictly pedagogical use. Fourteen
students found that the audio literature improved their ﬂuency, includ-
ing their ability to link words and syllables effectively.
Preference for Speciﬁc Genres
Descriptive statistics regarding which genres were reported as most
and least helpful to pronunciation and ﬂuency reveal a wide range of
preferences and opinions (see Table 2).
Radio theater received the highest number of “most helpful” and
738 TESOL QUARTERLY
Participant Comments on Audio Literature
Number of Number of
Helpful to pronunciation students Helpful to ﬂuency students
Repetition / self-correct 14 Improved linking (important
Listen / hear in new ways: stress, to ﬂuency) 2
intonation, thought groups 11 Increased sentence / utterance
New vocabulary / expressions / idioms 5 length 1
Authentic spoken English 5 Idioms and grammar help
improve ﬂuency 1
Beneﬁts of memorization 3
Linking 3 Improved listening
Vowels 2 (important to ﬂuency) 1
Improved listening comprehension General 2
(important to pronunciation) 3
Greater access to repeatability
over other modes 2
Helped participant to
Not helpful to ﬂuency feel the language
Need more time to improve 4 Reciting important to feeling 5
Need more practice to improve 2 Feel stress, intonation,
Want to speak more, not just listen 1 thought groups 4
Can feel the language
(not speciﬁed how) 5
Feel variations from different
people / situations 2
Can feel the beauty of English 1
Feeling emotional content /
effect helps understanding 1
Note. The study had 24 participants.
“most enjoyable” ratings, but just over half of the students indicated that
either poetry or short stories was, and seven students selected more than
one genre. Students found genres that had interesting content or
prominent suprasegmental features to be the most helpful or enjoyable.
A majority of the students who found the radio theater or short stories to
be the most helpful and most enjoyable reported that an interesting plot
or message was the reason:
I think radio theater is most helpful, because story’s very interesting . . . the
background of the tape is very good. It makes as if I’m in the story . . . the
narrator . . . the roles in the theater, the characters. (Chinese Female 8)
BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 739
Genres Reported as Most and Least Helpful
Description Poetry Radio theater Short stories
Most helpful 11 15 5
Least helpful 5 2 4
Most enjoyable 7 14 8
Least enjoyable 6 3 4
Note. Several of the 24 students stated two or three genres as most helpful or enjoyable; several
did not cite any of the genres as least helpful or enjoyable.
Most of the students who cited poetry, rather than radio theater or
short stories, as the most helpful or enjoyable reported that the saliency
of stress, intonation, and thought groups was the reason:
When people read poetry . . . you can feel better about their intonation,
emphasis . . . thought groups. . . . These things are very important for our
pronunciation, and all of these things can show it completely in the poetry.
(Chinese Female 2)
It is interesting that four of the students who found poetry to be the most
enjoyable cited “play with words” as the reason. For two students,
however, any poetic license was clearly a liability:
In case of poetry, I couldn’t understand very well, because there is many, uh,
substraction, between word, because I think it’s some kind of rhythmical
writing. (Korean Female 1)
I think poetry, it’s difﬁcult to understand, because it’s some scrap of a
sentence. (Chinese Male 5)
An overall consistency emerged regarding the reasons some students
preferred particular genres and considered them helpful: Participants
who reported the radio theater and short stories as most helpful cited
content as the most important reason; those who preferred poetry cited
the perceptual saliency of the suprasegmental features as the reason.
The Audio Journal’s Role in Increasing Motivation and
Understanding of Intonation
The audio journal appears to have enabled students to examine
intonation by both encouraging them to do the task and providing a tool
with which to accomplish the task. Twelve students stated that the
assigned audio journal motivated them to focus, and nine students
speciﬁcally indicated that marking the intonation was helpful:
740 TESOL QUARTERLY
I don’t ﬁnd any others way to mark the intonation. And I think this way is
easy way, maybe is a convenient way for us to have knowledge about the music.
I think maybe it’s enjoyable and interesting. At least I know this way to do.
(Chinese Male 9)
Challenges of Using Audio Text and Audio Journals
Although students perceived using the audio journal as valuable,
using audio text and audio journals highlights the difﬁculty of ensuring
that students understand the text and the task. Four students reported
the short stories as least helpful and ﬁve as least enjoyable because they
had difﬁculty understanding them, despite being supplied with lists of
key words and phrases prior to listening. One student reported that this
struggle to understand impeded one of the assigned goals—his percep-
tion of word stress:
Short story. I think, it’s difﬁcult to me. It takes me the most time to
understand, not pay attention to the pronunciation, the word stress. I can’t
understand the story, so, it’s beyond my ability. (Chinese Male 1)
He considered the radio theater more enjoyable than the short stories
because its intonation was highly salient:
Short stories. Difﬁcult. Tedious. It almost has the same sound. Not like the
radio theater. High, low. (Chinese Male 1)
Two students reported that identifying stress, focus, and intonation in
the audio journal assignment was confusing or not helpful:
I think the way for everybody to speak is different. So I don’t know if it’s
helpful. (Chinese Female 9)
The teacher also faced a challenge beyond her control. Six of the
students stated that they had little or no time to listen to the material.
Internalization Through Feeling Spoken English
Perhaps the most promising ﬁnding concerns 18 of the 24 students’
unprompted reports that they were better able to feel the language in
the audio literature, including the ability to feel the speech of different
people in different situations:
I can feel different kind of pronunciation from different kind of people in
different situations. The materials are original, so I think it’s very helpful.
(Chinese Female 8; italics added)
You can understand the meaning from both side each person, and . . . you can
feel the emotion from the context. (Chinese Female 4)
BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 741
You can just grab some feelings . . . how about other people, say a whole
sentence, what about a ﬂuctuation. (Chinese Female 2)
The beauty, the beauty in the English, the oral English. And sometimes
especially in the Radio Theater, I can feel the fun, the fun stories, and
different, different intonations, different stress, can make different effects,
especially in the radio theaters. Different people under different circum-
stance and different environment. And different feeling. I think the radio
theaters is typical good materials for us to understand the stress, the
intonation, the linking, so on and so forth. (Chinese Male 9)
Two students reported that listening more often improves feeling
I think it helped my English ﬂuency, because if I listen them very often I can
feel . . . if I listen more I can, I can speak them like . . . ﬂuently. (Chinese
Female 4; italics added)
These participant comments suggest that engaging with an authentic,
emotional context allows learners to feel suprasegmental features in a
way that beneﬁts not only pronunciation, but also ﬂuency. Consistent
focus on context, different environments and circumstances, and differ-
ent feelings demonstrates that students are linking pronunciation and
speaker’s intended meaning in a contextualized manner.
Participant accounts of being able to feel the language imply that
focused exposure to and analysis of authentic audio literature may help
learners to understand and internalize prosodic features. This internal-
ization process hinges on the learner’s emerging capacity to decode
native speaker speech, evident in participant comments, including the
ability to automatically distinguish thought groups, recognize stressed
syllables, interpret unstressed syllables, identify the full forms underlying
reduced speech, and segment the speech stream into words that corre-
spond to stressed syllables. These skills are critical to seeking meaningful
phrases compatible with the developing metrical template, and to
fulﬁlling the symbiotic relationship between pronunciation and the
capacity to decode native speaker speech (Celce-Murcia, Brinton, &
Goodwin, 1996; Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000; Garnes & Bond, 1980).
The data concur with Murphey’s (1990) suggestion that consciously and
intentionally stimulating the language acquisition device, or the “din in
the head” (p. 53), may helps students to acquire a sense of rhythm and
the ability to gather words into thought groups.
Participants also reported improved ability to link words resulting in
742 TESOL QUARTERLY
increased ﬂuency, which suggests that preserving the speech rhythm
marked by the metrical template requires language learners to adjust
connected speech using internalized suprasegmentals (Celce-Murcia
et al., 1996). Participants’ awareness of new vocabulary, expressions, and
idioms is also noteworthy because it suggests that they have developed an
audio-receptive vocabulary and a grasp of semantic chunks, routines,
and collocations adequate to preserve speech rhythm. Without these
abilities, they would have difﬁculty segmenting intonation units into
words or chunks (Celce-Murcia & Olshtain, 2000).
The learners’ appreciation for the material’s authenticity concurs with
the call to allow learners the opportunity to listen for shades of meaning
in natural conversational exchanges (Celce-Murcia et al., 1996). In this
way, advanced learners are exposed to the full spectrum of cues available
in everyday language use, which are often obscured in carefully articu-
lated, pedagogically prepared listening material (Brown, 1990). This
study shows how students can learn to recognize suprasegmentals and
reﬂect on how native English speakers use them to convey meaning,
practices that will enable them to continue to develop as users of English
outside the classroom.
This study was the ﬁrst stage of an investigation into how teaching
methods using various genres of authentic audio literature inﬂuence
student perception of improvement in pronunciation. Overall, these
students reported that engaging with the audio literature helped them
attend to prosodic features in a new way, increased their awareness of
new vocabulary, expressions, and idioms, and helped them to feel the
spoken English of different people in different situations, all within a
reportedly interesting context. Some students, however, perceived their
involvement with the materials and assignments as overly time-consuming,
perhaps highlighting the need to ensure a clear understanding of
purpose and procedure prior to undertaking the task, and other
students found some materials too advanced. Students’ varied preferences
for speciﬁc genres, evident in comments about perceived enjoyment and
increased understanding and internalization of suprasegmentals, afﬁrms
the importance of providing a variety of materials. These ﬁndings also
suggest the importance of continuing to study instructional techniques
that help learners to internalize pronunciation features to adjust their
metrical templates, resulting in improved listening and pronunciation
that may enhance communicative success.
BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 743
Carolyn Aufderhaar is a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati, where she
teaches English composition, skills for international teaching assistants, and peda-
gogical grammar, assessment, phonology, and theories of language acquisition for
teachers in training. She taught adults and children in Korea, and served as an
English teaching fellow in Ukraine. Her research interests include improving
pronunciation using authentic materials, and language planning and policy.
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Poetry Audio Journal
Choose two favorite poems.
Write down or type these poems, triple spacing.
Mark the thought groups with a slash. /
Underline each stressed syllable, and circle each focus word.
Mark the intonation as we did in class.
Above stressed syllables which are problematic for you, write the vowel or vowel blend.
Listen to the poems again. Record yourself saying the poems. Compare your recording to the
original poems. What do you need to work on the most?
What new words, phrases, expressions or word usage did you learn from this activity?
How often or how many times did you listen to the poems?
Radio Theater Audio Journal
You have been given an audio cassette of Radio Mystery Theater which was recorded for
entertaining native speakers of English. First, listen for overall enjoyment and meaning. The
second time, you may ﬁnd it helpful to pause the tape and repeat certain words and phrases.
Choose a 3–5 minute segment of conversation anywhere in the story.
Try to pick out the stressed words. Pay attention to the longer length and higher pitch of the
Write or type at least 10 to 12 consecutive sentences from this segment, triple spacing.
Mark the thought groups with a slash. /
BRIEF REPORTS & SUMMARIES 745
Underline each stressed syllable, and circle each focus word.
Mark the intonation as we did in class.
Above stressed syllables which are problematic for you, write the vowel or vowel blend.
Listen to the 3–5 minute segment yet again, stopping the tape after each sentence or phrase.
Repeat the sentence with the same sentence stress pattern as the speaker. You may have to
replay the tape several times. You also may choose to record yourself, and compare it with the
What new vocabulary words, phrases, expressions or word usage did you learn from this activity?
Do you feel that the use of audio literature (poetry, radio theater and short stories on tape) has
helped your English pronunciation? If so, in what ways?
Do you feel that the use of audio literature (poetry, radio theater and short stories) has helped
your English ﬂuency? If so, in what ways?
Which genre (poetry, radio theater and short stories), if any, have you found most helpful?
Which, if any, have you found least helpful? Why?
Which genre (poetry, radio theater and short stories), if any, have you found most enjoyable?
Which, if any, have you found least enjoyable?
How often and in what ways have you used the audiotapes (poetry, radio theater and short
stories) outside of class? Have you found this helpful?
Did you ﬁnd the activities we did in class associated with the audio literature helpful?
Are there any other ways, or any better ways, the audio literature could be used?
746 TESOL QUARTERLY