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Teaching English Intonation to EFL/ESL Students
This article proposes a workable, teachable, generalisable as well as communicatively efficient framework for the teaching of the intonation of English to non-native speakers of English. It is proposed that a framework of English intonation should include four major intonational features: intonation units, stress, tones, and pitch range. Consequently, the phenomena of intonation in English should have a piece of utterance, intonation unit, as its basis to study all kinds of voice movements and features. Every intonation unit has a type of tonic stress: (unmarked) utterance-final tonic stress, or emphatic, or contrastive, or new information stress, the last of which is more frequently used in utterances given to wh-questions. Further, intonation units have typically one of these tones; fall, low-rise, high-rise, and fall-rise. Tones are assigned to intonation units in relation to the type of voice movement on the tonic syllable. Finally, all intonation units have to be spoken in one of the three pitch levels (keys): high, mid, and low.Introduction
At a time when the language learning task is geared to instant interpersonal communication with efficiency and precision, the intonation phenomena could not have gone unnoticed in the preparation of English teaching syllabuses in the threshold of a new millennium. What to include and what not to in the teaching of intonation to learners of English as a second/foreign language (ESL/EFL) has caused uncertainty and lack of confidence, and consequently ignoring of the intonation in syllabuses to a great extent, which is, as Underhill (1994:75) rightly notes, because '...we are not in control of a practical, workable and trustworthy system through which we can make intonation comprehensible.'
A major feature of communication, suprasegmental (prosodic) features of speech have usually been avoided in the design of syllabuses for teaching English, partly due to the unduly little importance attached to the teaching of them, and partly due to the unavailability of a concise, salient, practical, and workable framework (Underhill, 1994:47; Kenworthy, 1987). There are some attempts, of course, to come up with a scheme that is practical. However, they usually concentrate on certain areas of intonation rather than embracing the whole phenomenon of intonation (Coulthard, 1977; Underhill, 1994; Levis, 1999). Levis (1999), for instance, falls short of providing a coherent scheme by which foreign language teachers can utilize in their syllabuses for improving oral skills; it studies, in passing, intonational features such as significant pitch, pitch levels, intonation patterns, and placement of nuclear stress.
For Cruttenden (1986:35), intonation has three important features: 1) : division of a (dividing) a stream of speech into intonation units, 2) selection of a syllable (of a word), which is assigned the 'tonic' status, and 3) selection of a tone for the intonation unit To this list, another feature can be added: pitch range, or key (Brazil et al., 1980). In the experience of the present author in teaching oral skills to prospective teachers of English as a second/foreign language, a conception incorporating these four major features of intonation in the teaching syllabus has efficiently worked and proved very useful. This system, it is believed, may prove to be useful for other practitioners in the field of ESL/EFL.
This article explains the four major features in the teaching of English suprasegmentals: intonation units, stress, tone, and pitch range by reviewing relevant and current research. As such, this article provides a framework of English intonation for the teaching of English as a second/foreign language. What the framework proposes is primarily based on what is most salient in the more recent scholarly studies of intonation phenomena, and secondarily, on what can be teachable given the author's own experience in the teaching of the phenomena. Later, the need to teach intonational features in meaningful contexts with realistic language rather than fabricated language as well as the need to consider intonation, not as a luxury but a necessity for an efficient interchange in English is pointed out.Intonation Units
An 'intonation unit' is a piece of utterance, a continuous stream of sounds, bounded by a fairly perceptible pause. Pausing in some sense is a way of packaging the information such that the lexical items put together in an intonation unit form certain psychological and lexic~grammatical realities. Typical examples would be the inclusion of subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases in intonation units.
It is proposed here that any feature of intonation should be analyzed and discussed against a background of this phenomenon: tonic stress placement, choke of tones and keys are applicable to almost all intonation units. Closely related with the notion of pausing is that a change of meaning may be brought about; certain pauses in a stream of speech can have significant meaning variations in the message to be conveyed. Consider the example below, in which slashes correspond to pauses (Roach, 1983:146) (see Halliday, 1967; Leech & Svartvik, 1975 for more): the meaning is given in brackets.
Those who sold quickly / made a profit
(A profit is made by those who sold quickly.)
Those who sold / quickly made a profit
(A profit was quickly made by those who sold.)
More examples can be used in order to illustrate the significance of pausing, and further, it can be pointed out that right pausing may become a necessity to understand and to be understood well.Stress
This section addresses the notion of stress in words as perceived in connected speech. In addition, the existence and discovery of tonic stress is discussed, and the major types of stress are explicated. Four major types of stress are identified:
unmarked tonic stress
new information stress
An important prosodic feature, 'stress' applies to individual syllables, and involves, most commonly, loudness, length, and higher pitch (Roach, 1983:73). Each of these features may contribute in differing degrees at different times. Stress is an essential feature of word identity in English (Kenworthy, 1987:18). It is evident that not all syllables of a polysyllabic English word receive the same level of stress; in connected speech, usually two levels of stress appear to be perceptible, to non-native speakers in particular, regardless of the number of syllables: stressed and unstressed (Ladefoged, 1973; Kenworthy, 1987). What is known as the primary stress is regarded as the stressed syllable while the rest, secondary, tertiary, and weak, are rendered as unstressed syllables.
At the clausal level, normally, words that carry higher information content in the utterance are given higher stress than those carrying lower input (information) and those that are predictable in the context. It is generally the case that one word is stressed more than any other since it possesses the highest information content for the discourse utterance, that is, it informs the hearer most. The group of words described above are largely from what is called 'content' words as opposed to 'function' words. Content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs while function words are articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and modal auxiliaries. Furthermore, it is content words that are polysyllabic, not function words. This classification conforms to grammatical considerations. The classification we present here from a suprasegmental viewpoint, that is on the basis of being stressed or not, is slightly different from that of grammar. Consider the following:
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