RHYTHMIC STRESS AND WEAKENING
If not teaching in the Arabic world, please consider the questions based on the mother tongue of your students.
The distinction between syllable timed languages (e.g. Italian, Japanese & Portuguese) and stress timed languages (e.g. English, Chinese, Arabic & Brazilian) is a fairly crude one, as all languages are in fact a bit of both. Those in the latter group stress content words with a set pattern & rhythm. However, Arabic stress is not as clearly defined as English. An unstressed syllable in Arabic can have a full vowel and be pronounced fairly clearly, whereas in English the unstressed function words are softer & shorter & the vowel changes. Out of context we can work out the rhythmic stress but not the nucleus nor the tonic stress. Look at the table below and see if you can find the words which have both weak and strong forms in each category.
WEAK FORMS IN ENGLISH
Conjunctions: At least 4.
Articles: All 3.
Determiners: At least 3.
Personal Pronouns: At least 8.
Prepositions: At least 5.
Auxiliary Verbs: At least 3.
Modals: At least 9.
As already stated, Arabic and English have similar pronunciation patterns.
However, the different force in the pronunciation of unstressed function words
does cause problems. These problems can be seen when considering the list of
1. When do you think an Arabic speaker's English pronunciation may cause an L1 listener difficulties?
Restrict your answer to rhythmic stress and weakening factors.
2. Do the pronunciation problems encountered by Arabic speakers affect their speaking or listening skills more?
3. How does the answer to the previous question affect your choice of activity?
Now look at the list of different activities I use to help students with rhythm
and weakening. Bearing in mind your answers to the last three questions, choose
the five activities you think would most benefit the classes you are teaching
at the moment.
1. Speed dictations ('The boys are good. The boy is good. The boy was good.').
2. How many words?
3. Teaching the weak forms at the presentation stage.
4. Highlighting weak forms on board.
5. Spot the schwa.
6. Tapescript work (Mark stresses - decide on weak sounds - weak form gap fills).
7. Jazz chants.
8. Poems and rhymes.
9. Songs and sayings.
10. Telegrams and headlines (Build rhythm with content words. Then add the rest.).
11. Contrastive analysis (weak vs strong pronunciation).
13. Same sound - silly conversations.
14. Phonemic chart - tapping it out.
15. Physical movement - clapping, jumping etc.
16. The drums.
17. Authentic listening.
18. What's the third word?
19. Ball games (e.g. /kn/ you? Yes, I can.).
20. Drills (especially back chaining).
21. Stress focus in dialogues.
22. Unnatural sounding recordings.
23. Discuss the subject with students.