Sunday, May 6, 2012

Who needs word stress patterns anyway? And which?

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
A good question! Any number of studies suggest that learners can guess at some patterns with more or less success. For example, this one or this one, both of which focus on vowel quality in English as a primary "beacon" for learners. How much explicit instruction in word stress patterning is optimal will, of course, depend on the learner population and where they are developmentally. For most instructors, a basic, working understanding of word stress patterns is essential. At the recent British Columbia Teacher of English as an Additional Language (BCTEAL) conference in Vancouver, I attended two very nice presentations that presented the basic word and phrase stress patterns "tool kit" nicely: "Unlocking the Mysteries of Syllable Stress" and "Integrating Prosodic Practice with Grammar Instruction" by Egle. (I'm sure she'll be happy to share those handouts or powerpoint with you, if interested.) Her work is generally with white collar clients in business and industry, often with serious fossilization issues. What I found most interesting was that the set of patterns that she has identified over time that are necessary for her students-- are almost identical to those that I use in basic teacher training, especially for nonnative English speaking instructors. The apparent difference in application, however, is worth noting. Egle needs to do a great deal of deductive work up front, presenting patterns and then proceeding to examples. In my work, especially in the EHIEP system, the instructor must have the patterns "in hand" to refer to them constantly, for the most part after the fact, as more and more examplars of the pattern accrue or emerge in the course of "normal" classroom instruction, especially in speaking and listening work. Other classroom contexts require different mixes of those two approaches, of course, but somebody in the room has to have a good handle on the tools, regardless. (If you are not sure what those are, you are part of the problem!) 


Mandy Egle said...

It was really great to meet you at the conference and see your graduate students present the skills you've taught them. Plus it is very exciting when I find that I'm not the only teacher in the room that really cares about teaching syllable stress!

I do hope we have the opportunity to speak more in the future!

Best regards,
Mandy Egle (sorry, no 'n' in my last name)

Bill Acton said...

Will see if I can arrange for you to Skype in to our graduate seminar in applied phonology this summer. The grad students will have to do a presentation based on your two presentations, too!

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