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ESL Teaching: Connected Speech

By Larry M. Lynch

To find out more on just how teaching connected speech elements can improve the conversational speech and pronunciation of English as a foreign language learners, continue in this second part of the series on using connected speech elements in discourse analysis.


In the article "Why Use Discourse Analysis to Teach Connected Speech Elements”, we examined some reasons to delve into the elements and aspects of a dialogue or conversation in order to enrich its content and improve the conversational fluency of our English as a foreign language learners. Now let’s have a look at some key aspects of this brief dialogue to see what more can be gleaned from it. At first glance, the conversation does not seem to offer much, but "au contraire,” this seemingly innocent conversation is loaded to the hilt if we just dig into it a bit.

English Language Connected Speech and Pronunciation Elements

"How are you?" in this question, the inflection or accent is important. The speakers tone rises on "are" since they are the first to inquire over the other person. When responding as in "Fine, how are you?" the accent or rising tone shifts to the word "You.”

The word "terrible" can present two specific problems. One is with the pronunciation of the "ble" ending in which the tongue is curled upwards to touch the hard palate lightly. The second problem might be with learners confusing "terrible" with "terrific" which of course are antonyms though they are similar in pronunciation.

The phrase, "… when you’re really sick" presents the grammatical use of adverbs before adjectives. How adverbs like extremely, really, very, pretty, fairly and somewhat are used in context as adjective modifiers makes for an excellent separate grammar lesson. So really then, what’s the difference between being extremely sick, really sick, very sick, fairly sick and somewhat sick as compared to just plain sick?

"Really?" This confirmation discourse marker is very similar in concept to those used in other foreign languages. It is always interesting to review how, when and where these can be used in a variety of conversational situations. This sort of English grammar point often does not appear in textbooks, courses or conversation club practice, yet is an integral element in colloquial conversations in English. "Yeah" is another confirmation discourse marker that can be applied over a broad range of conversational situations.

"You should go home and rest in bed." The modal verb "should" is used to offer a suggestion. The ending sound rhyming with would and good is a pronunciation nightmare for many native Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian L1 speakers. This might even be enough to make a separate pronunciation lesson from this particular problem. In addition, other solutions might be discussed and inserted here, depending on the country, culture and local health practices, including the use of any popular "home remedies".

"No, I haven’t." Here’s a fine example that will allow you to delve into short responses in English. Also, consider an explanation of the "questions with have ("… have you taken anything …"), responses with have" general rule for creating short responses.

"Soup." No only is there a sticky pronunciation problem involved here with native Spanish speakers, but a content question as well. I frequently ask what is soup? The answers can vary widely depending on your location and culture of the individual learners. "Soup" is "sopa" in Spanish. It sounds like "soap" in English ("jabon" in Spanish) and is a troublesome false cognate that will need a bit of work with your English as a foreign language learners. An additional point, do you "eat" soup or "drink" soup? This can vary from one culture, region or language to another.

"Chicken." Oh, this is not much of a problem you say? Think again. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times my Spanish L1 English language learners have substituted the wrong word "kitchen" for the word "chicken"! We always laugh when it happens, and it happens on a regular basis when teaching English to native Spanish speakers. This sound transliteration problem can be corrected easily in another related English language pronunciation lesson.

"… cook it …" When these two word sounds are used concurrently in English, they are an example of "liaison" in connected speech. That is, they are "run together" as if to form one word slurred together. The use of liaisons in English is useful to explain and demonstrate. They also occur in many other foreign languages, so the concept is quite easily assimilated on the part of the English language learners.

"Yuck!" Not only is this discourse marker frequently mispronounced, by you will likely have to explain its meaning and function a bit too. What words, expressions or sounds are used by your learners in their first language (L1)? What other similar words, synonyms and antonyms can you and your English language learners come up with? By the way, do your learners have any problem with pronouncing the /k/ sound as in "yuck"? If so, then another pronunciation sound practice lesson might well be called for.

Worth the Effort

As we have clearly demonstrated here, using discourse analysis to delve into the elements of even a seemingly simple dialogue or conversation can be useful in improving the fluency, speaking and listening comprehension skills of our English as a foreign language learners. Yes, it requires a bit more time and energy on both the part of the English teacher and the language learner, but the ultimate rewards and outcomes are more than well worth it.