Stress or syllable? You choose!

Learning has lots to do with noticing something new. In ELT “noticing the gap” between the output and the ideal is a key for learners to unlock a state of better usage in their own production. I would say that teaching equally requires us to notice things in our learners too.

So the other day I was sitting in a one to one sessions with a learner in his office. We were checking homework and he was reading from a short text. In the text there were a number of contractions, the kind of things we see every day, “I’ve” vs “I have”, that kind of thing. As he was reading I noticed he wasn’t reading the contractions as you might expect. In fact he was actually reading the text as though there were no contractions at all. As this wasn’t relevant to the task at hand I let it go but its been on my mind ever since.

So I wondered, he is an intermediate learner, native language Turkish, has a long history of language acquisition (English is his 4th), definitely seen contractions before so he’s used to the form and yet he read them as though they weren’t there. Turkish, like many, is a syllable timed language, in that every syllable carries a degree of stress when spoken. Sure there are variations, highs and lows, but you cannot not say every syllable, you simply have to. English is stress timed and it occurred to me that he was speaking English as though it was Turkish.

I have been helping him and a number of other students with many aspects of connected speech recently and the next time this happens at an appropriate moment, I will have to point it out.


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