Pronunciation Teaching Tip: Emphasis

This is James, the Head of Teacher Training at Rennert International, sharing some key aspects of emphasis in pronunciation.


James: Hi. So, today I wanted to talk about pronunciation and the basics of emphasis in pronunciation. Now, I always think of pronunciation just like our vocabulary system and our grammar system, our pronunciation system is a way of conveying meaning and we use it that way. So, one way of thinking about pronunciation is thinking about this pyramid. The bottom layer of the pyramid is thought groups; so we divide sentences into thought groups. For example, um, you could say “Rick asked, ‘Oh! How do you spell easy?’”. There are two thought groups—’Rick asked’ and ‘How do you spell easy?’ Now within a thought group there is a focus word, um, usually a content word and it is the strongest word—the most stressed in the sentence. So, for example, if I look at ‘How do you spell easy?’ the focus word is easy; we stress it the most and it is the most important word. Now, within the focus word there is also a stressed syllable. Easy—ease is the stressed syllable. Now within the stressed syllable there is a peak vowel. The peak vowel in ease is E. So, thought group, focus word, stressed syllable, and the peak vowel—it’s this peak vowel that carries the most meaning and if students mispronounce that peak vowel, then that more than anything in terms of pronunciation can affect their ability to be understood. So, if your students are having trouble being understood in terms of their pronunciation get them to focus on those peak vowels—E. If they’re saying, ‘How do you spell aesy?’ we haven’t understood anything and it’s just the only thing that’s wrong is that one peak vowel. As listeners of English, we listen for that and we, without thinking of course, pick up on like, ‘Oh, that’s got the most meaning; that’s the most important thing; that’s what we’re really focusing attention on.’ So, it could be a helpful thing for your students to really be thinking about that in a way of kind of really focusing them—particularly if they’re having problems being understood.


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