Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Why rhythm comes first in pronunciation teaching (Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Tip 63 or so!)

Rhythm, stress and intonation. There are, of course, phonaesthetic explanations as to why we list those concepts in that order, including having to do with relative "weight" landing to the right end and the intrinsic qualities of the vowels and consonants themselves. Try saying those three out loud in different orders. Give native speakers three nonsense words of similar syllable structure and they'll typically prefer hearing the 3-syllable word last. Same applies for compound nouns and many other collocations.

I did a quick survey of a few popular pronunciation student books, checking for order of presentation and practice of those three processes, independent of treatment of vowels and consonants. Some did introduce the processes earlier or later but in terms of actual oral practice, there was/is a general agreement, at least the relationship between stress and rhythm. Work on stress comes first.

Lado and Fries (1954)         S - I - R
Prator and Robinett (1972)  S - R - I
Bowen, D. (1975)                I - S - R
Dauer, R. (1993)                  S - R - I
Miller. S. (2000)                 *S - R - I
Gilbert, J. (2012)                  S - R - I
Grant, L. (2017)                   S - R - I

Haptic pronunciation teaching (v5.0)  R - S - I

Miller (2000) probably comes closest to the Rhythm-then-Stress-then-Intonation model, even though the subtitle of the book is: Intonation, sounds (including word stress) and rhythm, echoing Bowen (1975). I taught with Bowen 1975 for several years and loved it. (Still do, in fact!) Like in Lado and Fries (1972), the earlier introduction of intonation patterns always made sense, in part because we were often working from a structural perspective, with smaller clauses or sentences as we "built up" from the bottom.

When it comes to guidance from methodologists on setting up repetition and practice of words and expressions, however, in most cases the attention initially is almost exclusively on the stress syllable, not the rhythmic structure or tonal expression.  One effect of that is possibly to "train" learners in a global rhythm that is very much analytic, yet random . . . the way anyone's processing and speech would be when the focus is just on stress but not the overall flow and fluency of the discourse.

The new haptic pronunciation teaching system (v5.0 - available in Fall 2019) is close to Miller (2000) in approach, beginning with rhythm and then going to stress and intonation.

So, why not begin with rhythm, add the stressed syllable(s) and then the tone pattern for that thought or rhythm group? Many do, if only implicitly or inductively, using songs, poetry or verbal games initially.  More importantly, however, even at the level of requesting a simple repetition of a sentence, approaching it from an ordered perspective of R - S - I is a powerful heuristic, one basic to haptic pronunciation teaching. For example:

"He worked all day on the report."

.Before learners actually say the expression or word out loud, here is how it works. We use the terms: Parse, Focus, Move --- DO! (PFMD!)
  • First, identify the rhythm grouping: (for example) He worked all day on the report. 
  • Second, identify stress assignment: (for example) He worked all day / on the report (underline = sentence stress)
  • Third, identify the intonation (pitch movement or non movement): Rising slightly on 'day'; falling on 'port' (with louder volume indicating sentence stress.)
  • Then (if you are doing haptic) as you say the sentence, add some type of pedagogical movement pattern/gesture (PMP) on the two stressed syllables, There are several way that can be done, synchronizing the gesture with stressed vowels, phrasal rhythm patterns or pitch movement on the stressed vowels (intonation).  
Our experience (in HaPT-Eng) has been that, both in terms of immediate verbal performance and memory recall for text, the order in which learners' attention is directed to attend to the three prosodic components of the sentence along with the accompanying pedagogical gesture may be critical: R - S - I. And why is that? In part it is probably because it uses gesture and touch to integrate or knit together the three features consistently.

Try that tomorrow. It'll change the way you and your students look at (and are moved by) both oral expressiveness and pronunciation.

And it you like that technique, you'll LOVE the next basic haptic pronunciation teaching webinar (hapticanar) on October 12th!