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  • 1. Introduction Learning the intonation patterns of a language is essential both forlistening and speaking. Some believe that teaching and learning Englishintonation in L2 and ESL environments is a positive step towards theachievement of intelligible pronunciation. In this demonstration project, basedon the article “Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension” (J.B Gilbert, 1984)and a short review of other authors’ supportive concepts, a lesson plan wasdesigned to implement these concepts in first grade bilingual classrooms. As themain objective, students will be able to identify the emphasis and pauses insentences in order to improve their listening and speaking skills. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 1
  • 2. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension Pronunciation and listening are closely related in a speech loop betweenspeaker and listener. The most powerful signals in spoken English are expressedby intonational devices: pitch patterns and timing or otherwise called themusical patterns of English. In English,the most important functions in intonationare the following: to show contrast between new information and oldinformation, and to show boundaries between thought groups. English learnerscan benefitby practicing in class, the main functions of English intonation andthe basic physical devices: pitch change, lengthening and vowel clarity. In thesame way, practice with the signals for thought grouping boundaries canimprove both comprehension and comprehensibility (Gilbert,1984). Relating Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension The importance of listening and pronunciation skills is emphasizedin thecurriculum Listening and pronunciation are key elements in the improvement oflanguage ability. Nevertheless, in speech, people often use intonation to focusthe listener’s attention on aspects of the message that are most important.Intonation and stress work together to express meaning andthis makes it easierfor a listener to understand what a speaker is trying to convey. Indeed when we talk about intonation, we can remember the phrase: "Itsnot what you said, its how you said it!”. This clearly illustrates in a very simple way Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 2
  • 3. the importance of intonation. Of course, this is in reference to the intonationpattern of words or phrases being uttered rather than their lexical content.Equally significant is the fact that native speakers are often unaware ofintonation and its role in their language. This applies to English as well as to otherspoken languages. Simply put, it means that while native English speakers caneasily recognize the grammatical and pronunciation difficulties faced by non-native speakers, and thus make allowances for their errors, however, they areunable to do so for intonation. More often than not, intonation errors made bynon-native speakers may not be recognized and, hence, may lead tomisunderstanding. This buttresses the argument that intonation is a strong aspect oflanguage which has always had its effect on communication. Pike in (Hewings,1995) clarifies thispoint with the argument that “We often react more violently to. . . intonational meanings than to . . .lexical ones; if a mans tone of voice belieshis words, we immediately assume that the intonation more faithfully reflects histrue linguistic intentions” (p. 251). Despite such doubting comments, many professionals working in L2(Second Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language) environments tendto accept popular research and anecdotal data showing persistent problemsand difficulties arising from intonational misunderstandings between native andnon-native speakers. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 3
  • 4. Misunderstanding is not only the main problem of intonation difficulties butalso conversation with native speakers can become an embarrassing situationfor many students. This embarrassment is caused by the communicationdifficulties and the inability to convey their ideas. This inability can lead todiscouragement to many students since they understand written words but notspoken ones. As it is well known, communication depends on both sides thespeaker and the listener. This is a constant process of reassessment of matchingsystems of speech signals and that is the reason why listening skills andpronunciation are directly interrelated. Intonation: The Musical Signals of English Intonation is the most important part of English pronunciation referred hereas the music of language. This consists of pitch patterns (melody) and timingpatterns (timing). Comprehension is greatly affected by faulty musical patternsbecause these patterns are directly tied to critically important signals formeaning. If student does not use these signals, pronunciation is impaired. In thesame, if the student does not recognize these signals in the speech of a nativespeaker, then listening comprehension is impaired.Brown (1977) explained theimportance of intonation in this way: “the ability to identify stressed syllables andmake intelligent guesses about the content of the message from the informationis absolutely essential”. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 4
  • 5. But, what is intonation? It is generally believed that it is spoken soundsstrung together, one after the other. More precisely, speech is a continuum; acontinuous flux of initiatory, phonatory, and articulatory states and movements,constantly changing, often overlapping and interpenetrating and influencingeach other.According to Catford (1992), when people look at isolated sounds,they are artificially cutting up that flowing chain of events into a series ofsegments or segmental sounds. In reality, these segments are the speech-soundsthat are isolated out of the continuum. For one, native English speakers produce melodies of varying kinds, withthe voice rising and falling. Such melodies are technically calledintonation.Nevertheless, opinions do differ when defining intonation. Ladd(1980), an eminent Canadian scholar ofphonology, defines it as “The use ofsuprasegmental phonetic features (pitch) to convey postlexical or sentence-level pragmatic meanings in a linguistically structured way” (p. 6). On the otherhand, inRanalli (2002), Cruttenden, equates it specifically with pitch movements,while Coulthard identifies it with prosody which would include not only pitchmovements but also loudness, length, speed, andeven voice quality. Pitch,however, seems to be the common thread running through most definitions ordescriptions of intonation. Cruttenden describes pitch as the “perceptualcorrelate of fundamentalfrequency” (p. 1), which, in essence, is the continuousvariation in the sounds we perceive as a result of the vibration of the vocalcords. As such, intonation can be described as the movements or variations in Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 5
  • 6. pitch to which we attach familiar labels describing levels (e.g. high / low) andtones (e.g. falling / rising), etc. (Ranalli, 2002). Marking New Information- Old Information English uses intonation to mark the distinction between old and newinformation. Old information concerns ideas already discussed or mutuallyunderstood and new information concerns the new thought to which thespeaker wishes to call attention. The shift of emphasis is systematic inconversation because it helps the listener and speaker follow each other’sthoughts and it is called sentence stress. Sentence stress has four differentsignals: pitch change, length of vowel, clarity of vowel, and loudness. The clarity of the vowel is a particularly difficult concept for students sincein their native languages all vowels are spoken in a full, clear way. The Englishsystem of stress requires reductions of some vowels to show which syllables arestressed. Contrast shows which words are emphasized or important andwhichwords are not emphasized or less important. English listeners depend oncontrast of emphasis to know which words are genuinely important and iflanguage learners emphasize many words just to be understood, they mayconfuse the English listener searching for emphasis. The emphasized words arethe content words such as nouns, main verbs, adverbs and adjectives; and thenot emphasized words are the structure words such as pronouns, prepositions,articles, “to be” verbs, conjunctions, and auxiliary verbs. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 6
  • 7. Thought Groups and Pause What are thought groups? Thought groups refer to natural divisions wemake when reading a text, speaking to other people, or giving a speech in frontof a class. It is important to stress that these divisions or “speech chunks”arenatural because, whether you are a foreign speaker of English and a nativespeaker of a different language, we divide or chunk our speech or a passagewe are reading keeping the essence of logical linked ideas. What are thought groups used for? A thought group is a speechunit speakers use to divide the message they want to convey. That is, whenreading a text, we pay attention to punctuation marks, which are naturalthought group divisions writers use to separate ideas, to better comprehendwhat is being said in sentences. When speaking, we do not use punctuationmarks, yet we signal the beginning or end of a new idea, -thought group-, witha short pause. How many thought groups can we find in a sentence in a text? Thatdepends on what kind of sentence you are analyzing. A sentence such as“She’s a nice person /,” just contains a thought group, since it is rather short.However, a statement like “Since I moved to this neighborhood, / I have gonejogging in the park / because I want to be fit / and need to get more vitality /”has four different chunks because this complex compound sentence includesseveral ideas that a speaker or writer intends to communicate. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 7
  • 8. To sum up, thought groups serve two different purposes. On the speaker’shand, s/he is giving the chance to breathe. No breathing implies the absence ofair in one’s lungs; then speech becomes simply impossible. On the listener’shand, it is essential time that is necessary to process the information provided bythe speaker. That is why we can state that thought groups contribute with“good” communication. Musical signals are used to mark the end of thought groups; the speakermarks the end of a group with a pause. In rapid speech, there may not be timefor a pause, so a second signal is relied on: a pitch fall on the final syllable.Listeners can also hear punctuation which marks thought groups. Indeed,intonation can assist the development of receptive skills and can help thestudent to process “what goes with what” and how information structure isdeveloped. Teaching and Learning Processes English intonation may be best taught if it is instructed and practiced withthe appropriate useof phrase boundaries. Since the use of phraseboundaries/grouping is closely related to speakers’ pausingmanner, teachersare encouraged to help students learn when and how they should pause theirspeech,using correct intonation patterns. Additionally, learners who tend to have difficulty in stressing content wordsadequately are likely tomake problematic intonational errors in their speech.Such students should learn how to distinguishcontent words from function words Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 8
  • 9. before learning how to sentence-stress properly. And since acquiring intonationskills is closely linked to a learner’s semantic understanding, L2and ESL teachersare urged to teach English intonation with much emphasis oncommunicativepurposes and functions and in a socially-interactive setting. Indeed, teachers are encouraged to teach English intonation not only inpronunciation/conversationclasses, but also in other classes such as reading,listening, etc. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 9
  • 10. Mediation activity In light of the importance that emphasis, grouping and pause patternshave in the learning process of English, it is advisable to teach these concepts ata young age. For this reason, the activity designed for this project is aimed at firstgraders. The lesson plan is based on the popular book Green Eggs and Ham byDr. Seuss, an author that revolutionized the field of beginning readers in the1930’s and that is still a favorite today. Geisel’s wit and imagination captivatethe young reader attention, and the lively visual and verbal playin his storiesallow for them to be usedproductively in language learning activities. The mediation activity starts with a motivation focused on relating thebook with the movie “Horton Hears a Who!”. Then, it is followed by a Pre-Taskexercise with some of the vocabulary in the story. The main exercise consists ofthree parts: watching a video with the narration, listening to and repeatingsome sentences in the story with emphasis patterns and again, listening to andrepeating other sentences with pauses. As a Post-Task exercise, the students aregiven materials to create their own book in groups and present it to the class.Through these actions, the general and specific objectives in the lesson plancan be fully achieved. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 10
  • 11. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 11
  • 12. Conclusion An effective learning/teaching process of English must be comprehensive.The young learner is easy to mold in the ways of a language; however,appropriate, meaningful and engaging lessons are needed at early agesbecause, otherwise, the child will lose interest and the objectives will not bereached. Activities with stories are always welcome in elementary classrooms,because for children, book reading is a treat. Therefore, when working with astory, it is possible to reach deep into the child’s mind and explore endlesspossibilities of information transfer. When working with intonation patterns, manybooks lend themselves for teaching the topic successfully and in an entertainingway. In the case of Dr. Seuss’ books, they can be easily adapted for thepurpose because of the basic vocabulary, the repetition of patterns and thealways surprising use of language. Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 12
  • 13. ReferencesAl-Sibai, D. (2004) Intonation:ASuprasegmental Aspect of the English Language.Catford, J. C. (1992). Prosodic Features. In A Practical Introduction to Phonetics (pp. 172-186).Oxford: Clarendon Press.Gilbert, J.B (1984) Clear Speech. New York: Cambridge University Press.Hewings, M. (1995, August) Tone Choice in the English Intonation of Non-Native Speakers.International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching , 33, 251-265. RetrievedRanalli, J. M. Discourse Intonation: To Teach or not to Teach? Birmingham: University ofBirmingham.Retrieved May 14, 2004, from http://www.cels.bham.ac.uk/resources/essays/Rannali4.pdf Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 13
  • 14. AppendixA Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension 14