Pronunciation teaching: getting stress without getting stressed

Couper, Graeme
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Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée (AILA)

It has been established that stress plays an important role in intelligibility, but few studies have investigated teaching stress. This paper reports on the findings of two small-scale exploratory studies which investigated how stress can be taught effectively. The first study focussed on stress at the level of the word while the second study extended this to focus on tonic (or sentence) stress. The aim of these studies was to explore learners’ perceptions of stress as a basis for classroom responses which might lead to more accurate perception and production of English stress. The approach is based on a cognitive linguistic theory of language in conjunction with socio-cultural theories of learning. In practice this means beginning with learners’ current perception of stress in both their own languages and English and working towards improved understanding and production of English stress. This approach relies on both learners and teachers understanding the language specific nature of stress and helps to develop common understandings and achieve more effective communication both during explanations and in providing feedback. This involves socially constructing metalanguage and using critical listening techniques. Both perception and production (listening and speaking) were measured pre- and post-instruction. The participants (seven in study one and six in study two), on a university preparation course, attended a series of lessons (10 and 15 hours respectively). The teaching is described along with learners’ reactions to it. A qualitative analysis across the two studies allows for the emergence of a number of key insights into learning which lead to practical suggestions for the classroom. Results of tests show how learners’ perception and production of stress changed during the course of instruction. Finally, these studies form the basis for a proposed larger scale investigation which will attempt to provide greater empirical evidence in support of these findings.

International Association of Applied Linguistics held at Brisbane conference centre, Brisbane, 2014-08-10 to 2014-08-15
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