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The Language Systems

It is important to incorporate Language Systems (Lexis or vocabulary, Grammar,


Function and Phonology) in order to deliver a balanced and comprehensive English
course. When analyzing a particular language item, we could simply look at the
individual words (vocabulary or lexis). We could also consider how these individual
words interact with each other (grammar or syntax). We could further explore how these
words sound (phonology) and how we go about using them in particular situations
(function).

Phonetics and Phonology

Helping students to improve their pronunciation is very important. There really is very
little point in students learning a new word, learning what it means and how to use it in
asentence, if no one understands them when they say it because their pronunciation is
very poor. Students may have difficultly with the following aspects of phonology:

 Sounds
 Word Stress
 Sentence Stress
 Intonation

The Phonemic Chart

Each language has its own set of sounds which exist in a particular relationship to one
another. Refer to the Phonemic chart in your Course Readings which represents the
complete set of English sounds. The symbols representing the different sounds of English
are taken from the International Phonetic Alphabet. The English language contains forty
four sounds. It is these same symbols which are found in most learner dictionaries and
which assists learners in finding the pronunciation of words for themselves. The
phonemic symbols generally refer to British English and the symbols may be modified to
cater for different accents.

Problems with Sounds:

It is useful for a teacher to know which sounds used in English do not occur in
other languages, such as the sounds made by th in the words bath and bathe. In
addition, almost all ESL students will have trouble with the English /r/. Unfamiliar
sounds may be some of the hardest to produce.

Word Stress

Stressed syllables in English are usually louder and are often pronounced at a higher pitch
than other syllables. A syllable can be described as a group of sounds that are pronounced
together. Syllables which are stressed have a clear vowel whereas the vowel in an
unstressed syllable is usually shorter and reduced to /ə/. Explain to your students that in
order to pronounce a word correctly, they must learn where the stress goes.
Take the word ‘modern’ for example. The stress is on the first syllable – modern.

Sentence Stress

We have looked at the term stress referring to the stressed syllable in individual words.
However, when a particular word is used in a sentence, these syllables may or may not be
stressed. This is essentially the difference between word stress vs. sentence stress.
Sentences usually have one main stress, and often a few secondary ones. It is this stress
that highlights those content carrying words (usually: nouns, verbs, adjectives). Look at
the following sentence and take note of the underlined stressed syllables:

Listen to the following sentence for example, ‘She can swim faster than I can.’ The word
can is stressed two times in this sentence. It is important to explain to your students
that meaning is often conveyed by stress for example:

I drive a silver Porsche. In this sentence, the speaker stresses the word silver and it is
clear that the colour is the important information that is being conveyed. The
driver clearly wants people to know that his or her Porsche is silver and not red.
I drive a silver Porsche. In this sentence, the speaker stresses the word Porsche and it is
clear that it is the model which is the important information being conveyed. The driver
clearly wants people to know that he or she drives a Porsche and not a Toyota.

Problems with Intonation

Students often experience problems with intonation for a number of reasons.


Students often speak with a flat intonation as their mother tongue may have a
narrower range. Students may also lack the confidence to mimic the various sound
patterns in the classroom environment as they think that they sound funny. In many
instances students simply don’t hear the various sound patterns and need to train
their ears to pick up the subtle differences in sound. Students are often more
concerned with what needs to be said rather than how to actually say it. These problems
can be overcome with the application of a number of pronunciation exercises, activities
and drilling.