|Jason R Levine|
English is a stress-timed language. This isn't common - most languages are syllable-timed. We want our students to feel the stress (rhythm) of the language, and can draw their attention to it by using a bold font to show stress, for example. However,
We need to raise awareness sufficiently to motivate students and follow up with loads of practice. We shouldn't fill their heads with loads of rules. It's usually best to follow the three Rs:
The word order of subject, verb, object is common in English. There are times when the word order is different, but these are exceptions - questions, passive structures, for emphasis, negative adverbials, etc. There is a connection between the almost fixed word order in English and the rhythm of the language. Because English gravitates to this word order, the rhythm has become 1,2,3. This doesn't mean that every sentence is 1, 2, 3, but it does mean that this rhythm is always there. It's in the background.
Going back to our 'students feel stressed' example, we add in syllables to every sentence and yet the rhythm stays the same. Just like in music, speed doesn't affect the rhythm. You can play/say something fast or slowly, but if the time signature is 3/4, then the rhythm stays the same.
In English, when the grammar structures get more complex, they're harder to hear because the grammatical words aren't stressed. We need to give students much more practice at listening to these kinds of sentences. We can slow them down, but we must make sure the rhythm is maintained. To be a fluent listener, we often tell our students they don't need to understand every word - they should focus on the content (stressed) words because they carry the meaning. This is true, but, in order to be able to speak and write well, they also need to know the grammar words.
- Dictate five sentences of authentic English - read them yourself or use a recording.
- Repeat each sentence at least three times, giving students time to write. Do not change the speed or stress patterns.
- Ask students to write down the stressed words first.
- Pair students to compare their work and reconstruct the sentences as best they can.
- Elicit the sentences from the students or have them write them on the board.
- Ask students to highlight the word or sentence stress.
- As an extension activity, have students write responses and create dialogues or stories.
- What's the weather supposed to be like today?
- Where do you feel like going for lunch?
- Tell her we'll meet her around two.
- Actually, I think I'll stay at home tonight and watch TV.
- Do you want to meet at the library tomorrow?