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Pronunciation: An Ear Opener

  • Pronunciation: An Ear Opener

The following blog post was written by Charlotte Beaubier, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement. This blog is part of a three-part blog series that focuses on the teaching of pronunciation in the Youth in Transition program at the CEIIA.

What is intonation?

Intonation is the rising and falling pitch of your voice as you speak. Different intonation patterns can change the meaning of what is being said. For example, it is customary for a speaker’s voice to go down at the end of a statement. However, one can simply change a statement to a question by raising their voice at the end.

Why should we teach it?

A lot of instructors spend more time working on the individual sounds and often don’t get to intonation. Nevertheless, I believe that it should be taught for the following reasons:

  • Not all languages have intonation. For example, Chinese is a tonal language and Japanese has pitch accent. On the other hand, some languages (such as French) have intonation, but the patterns differ from that of English.
  • Lack of intonation can cause misunderstandings. For instance,  an English language learner may sound bored, robotic, or even aggressive when that wasn’t their intention.
  • Intonation is actually an easy thing to change that will make a great deal of difference to how learners are perceived by native speakers.
What is linking?

Linking is the joining together of words that occurs in natural, fluent speech. Native speakers generally do not say words individually but instead join them together to allow speech to have a smoother flow. The three main types are:

  • Consonant to consonant, for example: with - them
  • Consonant  to vowel, for example: have – a
  • Vowel to vowel, for example: may – I
Why should we teach it?
  • It improves listening skills. In this case, awareness is key. Learners are often amazed when they realize that what they thought was one word is actually three smaller words. It is a real “ear” opener.
  • It can help English language learners sound more fluent and natural.
What are thought groups?

When speaking in English you must pause in the right places to be more clearly understood. This pausing usually occurs after phrases, for instance after verb phrases and noun phrases or after punctuation like commas or periods. These chunks of language are called thought groups.

Why should we teach them?

I personally really love teaching thought groups and here are a few of the reasons why.

  • You see improvement immediately. You can see a change in the first class, and there is nothing like seeing quick results.
  • It really helps with reading aloud and sounding more natural when giving presentations.
  • When speakers pause in the wrong places, it can be confusing to the listener.

Learn more about how to include pronunciation in your ELL classroom with our resource: Making it Clear: A Guide for Teaching Pronunciation.