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Unit 9

Sound is the most universal and natural medium for the transmission of language. We possess the ability to
produce speech by using our body's speech mechanism. Perhaps the most striking feature of the production
of speech is the amount of body parts involved in it: the lungs, trachea, larynx, pharynx, mouth and nose.
The communication of a concept via sound involves the speaker doing a number of activities. The first stage
is psychological, since the formulation of the concept takes place in the brain. The nervous system transmits
the message to the organs of speech. But before any sound can be produced, there has to be a source of
energy for our vocal activity. The most usual source is the air-stream expelled from the lungs. The stream of
air comes up through the trachea and larynx and enters a system of hollow cavities known as the vocal tract.
Here, the air stream is affected by the action of several mobile vocal organs which work together to make
speech sound. This is the articulatory stage. The production of different speech sounds is known as
articulation.
The propagation of sound is the result of the movements of sound waves in the air. The reception of speech
by a listener begins when the sound waves arrive at the ear. Then, the sound is transmitted along the auditory
nerve to the brain, where the linguistic interpretation of the message takes place.
The speech chain can therefore be summarized in three stages: production, transmission and perception of
sound. Each of these stages corresponds to three main dimensions of the study of sounds: articulatory
phonetics; acoustic phonetics, and auditory phonetics.
This unit will focus on the production stage and the perception stage. Both are of great importance in foreign
language teaching, since a person cannot become competent in a language if he/she isn't able to pronounce
or recognize the sounds of that language properly. In Primary Education children will be faced with some
consonant and vowel sounds that are not present in the mother tongue, but which occur in English. Teaching
to pronounce and recognize those sounds should form part of the didactic procedure, so that students can
develop communicative competence in everyday situations, which is the objective of the current educational
law for this subject.
1. PHONETICS AND PHONOLOGY
Phonetics and phonology are concerned with the study of how speech happens. In order to distinguish these
two terms it is important to understand the fact that sound is both a physical and mental phenomenon.
Phonetics is the study of how speech sounds are made, transmitted and received. It studies the physical
dimension of speech. Phonology is concerned with sound as a system of meaning. Phonology analyzes the
patterning of sounds and the functional behaviour of these sounds. It also studies the nature of prosodic
features, such as stress, rhythm and intonation.
Phonological analysis is based on the principle that certain sounds cause changes in the meaning of a word,
whereas other sounds do not. For example, we hear cat in English as a word consisting of three separate
sounds: /kt/. If we replace /k/ with /h/, a different word results: hat /ht/. These units are phonemes.
1.1. Phonemes
The British phonetician A.C. Gimson defines the phoneme as the smallest contrastive linguistic unit which
may bring about a change of meaning. The number of phonemes varies from language to language. The
average is around thirty-five. English has forty-four.
It is possible to establish the phonemes of a language by means of minimal pairs. According to Gimson:
minimal pairs are pairs of words which are different in respect of only one sound segment. Phonemes are
transcribed using the normal set of phonetic symbols, which we will look at later, and by slant lines / /. This
means that these units are part of the language, not just physical sounds.
1.2. Allophones
Allophones are the actual pronunciation of a phoneme. The sound // in 'shop' and 'she' are phonetically
different, because they are affected by the following vowel. In 'shop' the lips are rounded, whereas in 'she
the lips are spread. Allophones do not change the meaning of words; they change the quality of sounds.
Allophones are enclosed between brackets [ ].
When a person studies a new language, it is important to pay careful attention to the phonetic variations
which take place. We have to learn which sounds count as phonemes and which count as allophones, so
as not to break the communicative process. As teachers, we have to make our students aware of difficult
phonemes for Spanish speakers, such as: /3:/, //, /d/, //, //

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2. DESCRIPTION OF THE ENGLISH PHONOLOGICAL SYSTEM


The main aim of phonetics is the description and classification of speech sounds. We have seen that a
speech sound has at least three stages: production, transmission and reception. A complete description of
a sound should include the three stages. However, from a language teaching point of view, the most
important one is the production stage or articulation. But reception also plays an important part in the
identification of some sounds, such as vowels.
The articulatory phonetic description of any sound makes reference to six basic factors:
1. Air stream. The source and direction of the air stream from the lungs identifies the basic type of sound.
2. Vocal folds. The action of the vocal folds has to be considered. When they vibrate, the sounds are voiced;
when there is no vibration, the sounds are voiceless.
3. Soft palate. The position of the soft palate will decide whether or not the sound has nasal resonances.
When it is lowered, the air passes through the nose, and the sound is called nasal or nasalized. When it
is raised, air passes through the mouth, and the sound is oral.
4. Place of articulation. This is the point in the vocal tract in which the main closure or narrowing is made,
such as hard palate, lips or teeth.
5. Manner of articulation. This is the type of constriction that occurs at any place of articulation, such as a
closure with sudden release or a closure with slow release.
6. Lips. This refers to the position of the lips: rounded, spread, closed or open.
2.1. Segmental features
The segments of spoken language are vowels and consonants, which combine to produce syllables, words
and sentences.
2.1.1.

Vowels

These are the first sounds which babies produce, because of the ease with which they can be made. The
main difficulty when determining the precise articulation features of vowels is that, unlike consonants, they
do not involve any interruption of the air flow. The air flow is voiced as it comes through the glottis and then
is influenced by the configuration of the vocal organs. Vowels are also more mobile than consonants and,
as a consequence, frequent indicators of variations in accent.
Vowels are normally described with reference to four criteria:
The part of the tongue that is raised: front, centre, back. This yields the following distinctions:
- Front vowels: Front of the tongue in conjunction with the palate /i, , e, /.
- Middle vowels: Middle of the tongue in conjunction with the palate /, 3, /.
- Back vowels: From the back of the tongue in conjunction with the palate /a, , , , u/.
The height of the tongue that rises in the direction of the palate: high, mid and low.
The lip position, such as lip rounding or spreading. / , , u, / are rounded; /i, , e, , , 3, , a/ are
spread.
The soft palate position, which is raised for oral vowels and lowered for nasalized vowels.
The most satisfactory system for classifying vowels was devised by the British phonetician Daniel Jones
(1881-1976). It is known as the cardinal vowel system. This system provides a set of reference points for
the mapping of vowels. In English there are twelve vocalic phonemes.

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The twelve phonemes refer to Received Pronunciation (RP) English. This means that they correspond to
the pronunciation of educated native speakers in the South- East of England. As we have seen in the chart
above, there are twelve vowels: 7 short: , , , e, , , , and 5 long: u, , 3, a, i
Vowels are divided into pure vowels and glides. Pure vowels are single sounds. A glide (or diphthong)
is formed when there is a movement from one vowel position to another. In RP English there are eight
diphthongs: 3 long glides to / /: /e , a , /, 2 long glides to //: /a, / and 3 long glides to //: /, e,
/. There are twenty vocalic phonemes in total, made up of pure vowels and glides.
2.1.2.

Semi-vowels

As we said earlier, we can differentiate vowels from consonants because of how we articulate them.
However, there are two consonants which are vowel-like. These are: /j/ and /w/. They are pronounced like
a vowel, but we use them in a consonantal way, since they only occur before vowel phonemes.
2.1.3. Consonants
Consonant sounds are produced by obstructing the air stream from the lungs. This feature distinguishes
them from vowels -with vowels, as we have seen, the air flow is manipulated rather than obstructed.
Consonants are normally described with reference to four basic criteria:
The state of vibration of the vocal folds. When they vibrate, the sounds are voiced; when there is no
vibration, the sounds are voiceless.
The position of the soft palate. When it is lowered, the sound is nasal; when it is raised, the sound is oral.
The place of articulation. This is the point in the vocal tract at which the main closure or narrowing is
made. Eight main places are used in English speech:
- Bilabial. The two lips are the primary articulators
- Labio-dental. The lower lip articulates with the upper teeth.
- Dental. The tongue tip and rims articulate with the upper teeth.
- Alveolar. The blade (and sometimes the tip) of the tongue articulates with the alveolar ridge.
- Post-alveolar. The tip and the rims of the tongue articulate with the rear part of the alveolar ridge.
- Palato-alveolar. The blade, or the tip and the blade of the tongue articulate with the alveolar ridge.
- Velar. The back of the tongue articulates with the soft palate.
- Glottal. The vocal folds come together to cause a closure or friction, but no vibration.
- Palatal. The front of the tongue articulates with the hard palate.
Manner of articulation. This is the type of constriction that occurs at any place of articulation. There are
four main types of constriction:
- Total closure:
Plosive: a complete closure is made at some point in the vocal tract. Air pressure builds up behind
the closure and is then released explosively
Affricate: a complete closure is made at some point in the mouth. Air pressure builds up behind
the closure and then released relatively slowly. The first element has a plosive character; the
second element is friction
Nasal: a complete closure is made in the mouth at some point. The air escapes through the
nose
- Partial closure:
Lateral: a partial closure is made in the mouth at some point. The air escapes around the sides of
the closure.
- Narrowing:
Fricative: two vocal organs come so close together that the movement of air between them causes
audible friction.
Approximant: The tip of the tongue is held in a position near, but not touching, the rear part of the
upper teeth ridge. The air stream escapes freely, without friction
There are 24 English consonants.
2.2. Suprasegmental features
The segments of spoken language are vowels and consonants, which we have already studied. As we
articulate these segments, our pronunciation may vary in other ways. For example, the tone of voice can
change the meaning of what we say. This type of effect provides the data for suprasegmental analysis. The

Unit 9

suprasegmental function operates above the level of individual segments and influences the meaning of
chunks of speech.
2.2.1. Stress
Stress is the degree of prominence associated to a word or syllable. From the articulatory point of view, it
is the degree of breath effort with which a syllable is uttered. From an auditory point of view, it is the degree
of loudness.
Word stress
- Primary stress. The syllable which carries the strong stress is longer, louder and contains more breath
effort. The primary stress is marked with a high upright stroke, before the syllable: intrepid /intrepid/
- Secondary stress. The syllable which carries the second stress is said with less effort than the primary
stress. The secondary stress is marked with a low upright stroke, before the syllable: transport
/'tra:ns,pot/
- Unstressed. A syllable which is unstressed is said very quickly, lightly and with very little breath effort.
Unstressed syllables are not marked at all: minute /'mlnlt/.
Sentence stress
In any given sentence in English, certain words will be stressed and others will be unstressed. Content words
are usually stressed. Content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and most adverbs and demonstratives.
Form words are unstressed. These words are grammatical forms that arent essential for the communication
of a message.
Classification of languages. We can divide languages into two groups, depending on stress:
- Non-dynamic stress languages. Languages which have a fixed place for the stress in words. For
example, in French the stress falls on the last syllable.
- Dynamic stress languages. Languages in which there isn't a fixed placed for stress. For example,
English and Spanish.
2.2.2.

Rhythm

Rhythm involves some noticeable event happening at regular intervals of time: the ticking of a clock, music,
the heartbeat, Rhythm is also present in speech. Rhythm may be defined as the regular succession of strong
and weak stressed in utterances.
Languages vary greatly in the way in which rhythmical contrasts are made. English has a stressed-timed
rhythm. lt means that stressed syllables are produced at roughly regular intervals of time. The time between
stressed syllables tends to be the same, irrespective of the number of intervening unstressed syllables. The
consequence is that unstressed syllables tend to be quickened.
Other languages, such as Spanish or French, have a different rhythmical structure, which is the syllabletimed rhythm. All syllables, whether stressed or unstressed, tend to occur at regular time intervals. The time
between stressed syllables would be shorter or longer in proportion to the number of intervening syllables.
The speaker can also vary the rhythm to convey other meanings. We can speed up or slow down the rate at
which syllables, words and sentences are produced to convey urgency, deliberation or emphasis.
2.2.3. lntonation
Speech has a melody called intonation. Gimson defines intonation as the significant changes in the musical
pitch of the voice. Pitch (tones) is the most important part of intonation.
There are four possible tone movements: fall,

, rise,

, fall-rise,

, rise-fall

The tone movements are made on one syllable usually, and that is the last stressed syllable of an utterance,
which is called the nucleus, or tonic syllable. Intonation has two basic functions:
Grammatical function: intonation indicates grammatical meaning in much the same way as punctuation
in written language. For example:
- Stating. A full stop in written language indicates a statement; a falling intonation pattern indicates the
same in speech.
- Questioning. A question mark in written language indicates that it is a question:
A rising intonation pattern indicates a yes/no question in spoken language.
A falling intonation pattern indicates a wh-question.

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- Exclamating. A falling pitch expresses the exclamation mark


Emotional function
- A falling tone indicates: surprise, anger or warning; confirmation; information; commands and routines
- A rising tone is used in: friendly greetings, polite enquiring and questions from statements
- A falling-rising tone may indicate: uncertainty
- A rising-falling tone indicates: impatient attitude
3. PRONUNCIATION MODELS ANO LEARNING TECHNIQUES. PERCEPTION, OISCRIMINATION AND
EMISSION OF SOUNDS, INTONATION, RHYTHM AND STRESS
3.1. Models
This is a matter of great importance, because English is spoken world-wide and therefore has a profusion of
different spoken forms and accents. Which English pronunciation shall we teach, then?
The most realistic answer is the choice of one of the main natural forms of English as a basic model. This
choice must be made on the grounds of this model having wide currency and being widely and readily
understood. There are two main candidates as basic models: British RP and American. Allegiances to one
or the other tend to be traditional or geographical. Thus, European countries continue on the whole to teach
RP, whereas in Asia and South America they follow the American model.
British English has always had regional pronunciations for historical or geographical reasons. Yet, for the
last five centuries, the notion has existed in Great Britain that one kind of pronunciation was preferable to
others. One regional accent began to acquire social prestige. This prestige was mainly due to politics and
commerce. This implicitly accepted social standard of pronunciation was called Received Pronunciation
(RP). The term suggests the result of social judgment rather than an official decision. RP became, in fact,
a marker of position in society, since it was the accent of educated Southern English people.
In the early stages it is therefore advisable to teach students a good model of English such as RP As they
gain confidence in their productive competence, they can gradually be exposed to other important regional
types, such as American English.
We can also deduce from this that the teacher's own pronunciation should reach the highest level possible.
As Gimson says: The foreign teacher (...) has the obligation to present his students with as faithful a model
of English pronunciation as possible. In the first place, and particular/y if he is dealing with young pupils, his
students will imitate a bad pronunciation as exactly as they will a good one.
3.2. LEARNING TECHNIQUES
Learning pronunciation is not an optional luxury that can be left for advanced levels. As Hubbard et al. Say:
Pronunciation should be an integral part of an English teaching programme from the ear/y stages, just like
the teaching of structures and vocabulary. Ideally, the teacher should present and practice pronunciation
as he/ she introduces new aspects of language.
Learning pronunciation has two phases:
1. Learning to discriminate English sounds, stress and intonation (ear-training).
2. Learning to produce those sounds, stress and intonation with general intelligibility.
Therefore, listening is the first step in the teaching-learning process of pronunciation. The recorded material
should be graded so that the students can attain an increasing level of precision.
A basic approach to teaching pronunciation follows an order that progresses from the smallest unit of speech
(the phonemes) to the word (stress) and finally to connected speech, incorporating features such as rhythm
and intonation.
3.2.1.

Sounds (vowels and consonants)

Listening stage: the teacher must devise ear-training activities, since the students must be taught to listen.
- Discrimination drills. The learners have to recognize the difference between two sounds.
- Discrimination games: odd man out, the students spot the sound that is different in a series. For
example: fun - cup - mad hut; phonetic Bingo, the students have cards of words (or pictures of
the words). The teacher reads out the words and the students cover the appropriate cards.
- Dictations: the teacher dictates similar words for the students to discriminate.

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Production stage: Following on from recognition or discrimination, the teacher will have to devise
exercises for the production of sounds:
- Repetition drills: the teacher first needs to demonstrate the way in which these sounds are made.
He/she must show what should be happening to the lips, tongue and teeth. The students will then
listen and repeat the model in chorus and individually. The teacher may use pictures of the words
he/she is presenting to help motivate students.
- Meaningful drills. The words must now be put into context, so that the pronunciation practice is more
meaningful.
- Songs, chants and tongue twisters: these are very useful for practicing pronunciation in context and
in a highly motivating way.
- Free production: once the sounds have been presented in context, the next step is the practice of
those sounds in dialogues. This can be done in pairs.
3.2.2. Stress
Listening stage. The students have to point out the stressed syllable in a word or phrase.
- Recognition activities. The teacher can ask the students to snap their fingers or clap their hands when
hearing the stressed syllable in words or phrases.
- Marking the stress on words. The students can mark the words they listen to by using symbols. This
can be done in dictation form. The teacher pronounces the words and the students draw symbols on
the words.
- Classifying words. The students can classify a given list of words into the appropriate stress patterns:
Production stage. As with sounds, the first stage is pure imitation of the teacher's model, in chorus and
individually. If there's difficulty, the teacher can isolate the stressed syllable and get that repeated a few
times. The students would then repeat the phrase together again. The whole process can be summarized
as follows:
1. The teacher reads out the whole sentence.
2. He/she isolates and reads out only the stressed syllable. The students repeat the syllable.
3. The students repeat the whole sentence.
4. The students practice the words in context. Symbols help to practice sentence stress. The teacher
can draw or stick little squares on stress syllables:
5. The students practice sentence linking. Practicing how sounds blend together in informal speech is
important to gain fluency.
3.2.3.

Rhythm

Listening stage. A useful way of demonstrating English rhythm is asking the children to clap to the strong
beats, while adding more and more syllables between claps.
Production stage
- Songs, rhymes and jazz chants are excellent illustrations of the way in which stress and rhythm are
carried out. Again, the learners can be asked to clap to the rhythm.
3.2.4. lntonation
Listening stage
- Recognition of the rising or falling pattern. The students can move their arms from high to low t indicate
the falling tone or vice-versa for the rise. The students can draw arrows to indicate the direction of the
intonation pattern in a sentence or question.
Production stage
- lmitation of the intonation pattern using gestures. The children imitate the pattern while moving their
arms or their body upwards or downwards.
- Lmitation of the intonation pattern using arrows. They can imitate the pattern while looking at the
arrows drawn on the blackboard (without words). They hear sentences and imitate them. Lt is also
possible to indicate both stress and intonation at the same time. They can also change mood attitude
by changing the pattern. The teacher can help students intonation with drawings. He/she can draw
faces on cards, showing uninterested or enthusiastic moods (this idea is taken from Hubbard et al.):
- Role-play. The children can adopt a role and act out a short sketch. For instance, they can practice
mood by exchanging greetings.
- Integrated exercises. Integration of pronunciation of sounds and intonation are desirable. Dialogues,
can be devised to utter sounds, already practiced with a specific intonation.

Unit 9

4. PHONETIC CORRECTION
4.1. Problems for Spanish speakers
When teaching pronunciation, the teacher must be aware of difficult segmental and suprasegmental
features of the target language. From all the possible difficulties that Spanish speakers may encounter, the
teacher must concentrate on those which may cause low intelligibility. These are called high priority
problems. They are:
Vowels
- Difficulty in distinguishing long and short vowels
- Confusion between //, //, //
- The weak form of // is replace by its spelling
Consonants
- Confusion between the voiced and voiceless realization of sounds
- /p, t, k/ are not aspirated in the initial position
- /t/ is dental in Spanish, in English it is alveolar
Stress
- Difficulties in pronouncing three and four syllable words with the stress on their first syllables.
- English derivates dont follow the patterns of their roots.
Rhythm
- Spanish rhythm is syllable-timed, whereas English is stressed-timed. Spanish speakers find it difficult
to use weak forms.
Intonation
- Spanish has a narrower pitch range than English.
4.2. Correction techniques
The teacher's positive attitude towards error is of crucial importance for the learner. The teacher must be
prepared for errors and do something about them. The strategy for dealing with pronunciation can be:
lnstant remedial. First of all, the teacher will draw attention to the problematic sound or pattern and
pronounce it in isolation. Then, if possible, he/she will associate the sound with a familiar one. Finally,
the teacher will explain how the sound/pattern is formed.
Planned remedial. If pronunciation problems are still proving difficult, there is the need for planned
remedial work. The teacher should make a note of the problem and make a short plan including
discrimination drills and practice activities.
CONCLUSION
Pronunciation is probably the most neglected aspect of English teaching. Foreign language teachers often
lack confidence to include it systematically in their methodology. But neglecting pronunciation strategies will
affect the learner's oral communicative competence, since he/she will either have difficulties in understanding
speech or will be unable to produce it, causing low intelligibility.
Teaching to pronounce and recognize sounds should form part of the didactic procedures. We should always
bear in mind that the objective of the current educational law for this subject is the development of
communicative competence in everyday situations.