Home Forums iTDi TESOL Certificate Sentence stress and rhythm Sentence stress and rhythm

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    • #8337


      We’ve been looking at the stress and rhythm of English, but now think about your own language or a language you know.

      – Do you think it is stress-timed?
      – Are any vowels reduced if they are unstressed?
      – What problems do your students have with stress and rhythm in English?

    • #8412

      Steven Herder

      Japanese is not stress-timed – everything should be evenly spoken.

      Vowels are not reduced in standard Japanese and that makes speaking and listening relatively easy to learn.

      Stress and rhythm are foreign in Japanese, so we need to start from the beginning and create awareness and teach step by step to make Japanese students succeed in spoken English.

    • #8501

      Barbara Bujtás

      My language (Hungarian) is syllable-timed, the stress is always on the first syllable.
      Sometimes vowels are unstressed.
      People have problems with longer words because of this (comfortable), they pronounce all the syllables nice and long. It also makes listening more difficult, they don’t always know where ach word begins.

      • #8588

        Good observation about students not always knowing where words begin since they are used to a syllable- rather than stress-timed language. What do you think helps Hungarian learners of English to overcome this?

    • #8512

      Malay is a syllable-timed language (i.e. the stress falls in the same place in the sentence each time), which makes it predictable with stressed syllables having equal length and loudness; and according to Juliah (1993), although stress does exist in Malay, it doesn’t have a significant function.

      So, like Japanese students of English, they need to get used to the skipping rhythm and stresses in English, e.g. LA diDA diDA diDA. Otherwise, they can sound a-bit-like-a-me-cha-ni-cal-ro-bot-spea-king.

      • #8516

        Rhett Burton

        I have had students who spoke the same way. I never knew the difference between syallable and stress-timed utterances.

    • #8515

      Rhett Burton

      English, from what I just learned is stress-timed language.
      Korean, the language for my students, is a more of a syllable stress language.
      English speakers are always reducing vowel sounds. Koreans do not. They have a very monotone sound that stresses the language at the end of the sentences to denote whether it is a question or a statement. Many English speakers find it challenging to not stress words that they would natural do in their L1.
      This applies to many Korean language students too. They commonly are told they speak English like a korean, which means without any time- stressed language. They often seek to become more efficient at stressing their language to sounds more ‘native-like’.

      • #8587

        Yes, like Japanese, Korean is a syllable- or mora-timed language.

        What, in your experience, helps Koreans to appreciate the stress-timed nature of English?

    • #10544

      Masatoshi Shoji

      – Do you think it is stress-timed? A Japanese word is usually evenly spoken in a sentence. But, precisely, not same time duration for each syllable, I think.
      – Are any vowels reduced if they are unstressed? Yes, at the end of sentence, su sounds like s.
      – What problems do your students have with stress and rhythm in English? Sometimes, not giving stress in a sentence sounds like a flat accent.

      • #10550

        Yes, Japanese has long and short vowel sounds, too, although the beat is regular. This sometimes causes trouble for JSL learners, as you have probably noticed. For example, the pronunciation of kutsu (“shoes”) needs to be different from kutsuu (“pain”)!

        Good point about the reduced sentence ending su-sound which also catches many JSL/JFL learners. But how can this be used to help Japanese learners of English?

        Lastly, what helps your learners to notice rhythm and stress in English then use it better?

    • #11612

      Jessica Sohn

      Korean is not stress-timed. I feel there isn’t that much stress in each word, equally stressed I guess? (not so sure).
      So I see how English and Korean have total different dynamics.
      I think songs help young learners. And for older kids, reading activities such as Raz, where you there is audio reading just to get familiar with the language. So, the younger the kids(learners) are exposed to English, they tend to get the nature of the language faster.

    • #11620

      Good ideas to use songs and audio reading. Chants, rhymes, and poetry can also work very well, too.

      • #11643

        Rhett Burton

        I like songs because the melody/rhythm is memorable. Reading patterns are valuable but kind of bland. I always want to spice them up a little but… never do.


      • #11644

        scott gray

        Think songs are great but try the ‘Kaeuta’ which is Japanese for redoing the lyrics like the old one I still can hear in my head from the playground to the jingle bells tune, batman smells, robin laid an egg, oh what fun … Have the kids try to redo the lyrics with what they know in the same rhythm. Or carefully limmericks. I think you could have fun with the old Schoolhouse rock videos, they should be on youtube. Unpack my adjectives, quite music and cartoon. But yeah having the kids make their own similar I think could be really great.

      • #12907

        Rhett Burton

        I would like to add that some songs are work poorly for stress because they are follow a tune more than how people talk.


    • #11631

      scott gray

      Japanese is syllable based and there are no reduced vowels, just the five which creates a problem sometimes as the older students have trouble understanding sometimes that vowels are like kanji they have a few readings. I usually draw a kanji on the board and show them by acting stupid that don’t make yourself into a problem that does not exist. That is, a has three sounds not just one, as my students more than most seem to want a 1 to 1 correspondence in English. I use that example to show you need to open up and other examples that bait and bat are A but sounds are like takashi and takeshi in their L1, you would never think of them in the same way. Rhythm is also very different and I have been finding that chants can help a lot especially if they have had musical training as they seem to loosen up and not limit themselves as much when doing any sound work.

      • #11635

        Good point about students sometimes if not often looking for 1-to-1 letter-sound relationships (as in Japanese HIRAGANA and KATAKANA which are phonetic), and great idea to get them to see changes by the way that KANJI (Chinese characters used in Japanese) have multiple readings (ON-YOMI and KUN-YOMI) depending on how they are used.

        I’ve also used the sound changes for ん as an example with AMPANMAN アンパンマンパン vs SEMPAI せんぱい and SEMBEI.

    • #11639

      scott gray

      I will be stealing that, thanks Phil. Yeah, getting them to see what they are doing I find is a large part of the problem so try to sneak in if not downright shove it down their throats at times. I need to learn to be a smoother teacher, LOL.

    • #14673

      Naoko Amano

      Japanese needs vowels to sounds each words, so my students tend to sounds the letter the end of the words. like cut- cuto
      I think this is because Japanese sounds flat and unnatural. I use music or beat (which is apps ) for Stress and rhythm lesson. They really enjoy it and naturally they know the stress and when they reduce the sounds.

      • #14801

        If you haven’t already, do check out the posts above from other teachers in Japan discussing the nature of Japanese, although it might more accurately be described as mora-timed rather than stress-timed (as summarised here with a nice graphical illustration).

    • #16396

      Rhett Burton

      I stress words that I want students to become aware of. I usually use short but grammatically enriched patterns/forms that help students to hear or become aware of the language being produced. Many of my students imitate me, so they copy my stress points. I do this intuitively. I try to take a first language approach while scaffolding it for my EFL learners.

      • #16565

        Yes, I noticed that in your Teaching Demonstration Videos. How might you help students to better distinguish stresses you make for pedagogical purposes as opposed to natural stresses on words and syllables?

      • #16569

        Rhett Burton

        This is something that I still haven’t given much credence to (yet). I value it but not before usage and natural production. That being said, I believe I have seen body movement to illustrate how I stress things which might be a great place to start as I am already doing it. However, making materials to showcase Stress isn’t on my wishlist yet.

      • #16574

        Yes, physical actions and/or TPR is quick, simple, visible and memorable. (I wouldn’t make additional materials for this either.)

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