DETECTING AND CORRECTING SPEECH RHYTHM ERRORS
Every language has its own rhythm. Unlike many other languages in the world, English depends on the correct pronunciation of stressed and unstressed or weakened syllables recuring in the same phrase or sentence. Mastering the rhythm of English makes speaking more effective. Experiments have shown that we tend to hear speech as more rhythmical than it actually is. English is a stress-timed language, and one general rule of rhythm is that an equal amount of time is taken from one stressed syllable to the next. Bolinger suggests that the most important factor for English rhythm is neither the number of syllables nor the number of stresses but the pattern made in any section of continuous speech by the mixture of syllables containing full vowels with syllables containing reduced vowels. Despite the obvious relevance of rhythm and tempo to verbal interaction, the linguistic textbooks have had nothing to say about them. In any sentence, some words carry a stress. These are the ‘strong’ or ‘lexical’ words (usually nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs). The remaining words are ‘grammatical’ words and are unstressed or ‘weak’. Rhythm is the beat of one’s speech, like a drumbeat, composed of such suprasegmental elements as pitch, stress and tempo. Thinking in musical terms, we can hear the musical beat of such musical forms as march, waltz and syncopated jazz. Intonation and rhythm patterns go a long way in carrying the meaning across in English. One can be speaking with perfect pronunciation, but put the stress on the wrong syllable and the whole statement may go without being understood. It is likewise with how and where the pitch and inflections rise and fall, and the tempo-rhythms of one’s speech. Spoken English words with two or more syllables have different stress and length patterns. Some syllables are stressed more than others and some syllables are pronounced longer than others. It is important for non-native speakers to understand and master the rhythm of English. If the wrong words are stressed in a sentence or if all words are pronounced with the same length or loudness, the speech will be difficult to understand. Proficient pronunciation is essential to language learning because below a certain level of rhythm consciousness, even if grammar and vocabulary have been mastered, communication simply cannot take place. Language learners make pronunciation errors of two types: those involving the articulation of phones (phonemes) and those involving the use of prosody. Prosody is represented by three distinct components in the acoustic signal: (a) fundamental frequency (pitch), (b) duration (speaking rate and timing), (c) intensity (amplitude or loudness). Early prosody instruction, starting the first year of language study, could be a boon to learning both syntax and phone articulation. When listening to a foreign speaker, it is not uncommon to hear a sentence with correct phones and syntax that is hard to understand because of prosody errors. Learners of English as a foreign language must be introduced as early as possible to the rhythm of the new language they encounter, They must be taught recognition before production. Their teachers must integrate rhythm and other aspects of phonology into grammar, vocabulary and functional language lessons as well as listening and speaking activities. Teachers must do relevant drills (especially backchaining), physical movement (finger-clicking, clapping, tapping, jumping) in time to the rhythm of the sentence. They must focus on stress in short dialogues (kn you? Yes I can); invent short dialogues, paying attention to stress and rhythm by focusing on short utterances with distinctive stress and intonation patterns and a specific rhythm (long numbers, phone numbers, football results etc.). They must recite jazz chants, poems, rhymes and tongue-twisters (limericks are good at higher levels); sing along with them popular songs and jazz chants. Because phonology is a system, learners cannot achieve a natural rhythm in speech without understanding the stress-timed nature of the language and the interrelated components of stress, connected speech and intonation. Rhythm should be included into a syllabus for teaching English pronunciation is (at least) two-fold. Activities related to the correction of these errors are designed to meet students' different learning styles, namely auditory, visual, tactile, and kinesthetic learning. In this way, the goal of the “learner-centered” classroom is hoped to be pragmatically achieved.
Key Words: rhythm, pitch, unstressed, weak
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