IATEFL 2015 | Pamela Rogerson-Revell: Research into practice: revisiting some ‘old-fashioned’ notions in pronunciation teaching | Talk summary

Posted: April 13, 2015 in Conferences
Tags: , ,

Abstract. In this talk, I will argue that there is still a need for closer links between phonological research and pronunciation teaching and that an understanding of key issues and relevant research can help teachers prioritise pronunciation content and select relevant teaching approaches. To illustrate, I will revisit some well-established notions in pronunciation
teaching, such as drilling, dictation and stress-timing.


Key areas

  • Drilling
  • Minimal pairs
  • Stress timing
  • Intonation and yes/no questions


Types: discrimintation / oral production (listen and repeat),
Sources: printed materials, online apps (‘Sounds’ App created by Adrian Underhill; Pronunciation Power App, Sounds of Speech – university of Iowa – allows to hear minimal sounds – decontextualized – and see lip movement

Benefits and dangers:

🙂 – immediate feedback, develop ‘muscle memory’ (Underhill), develop confidence because they’re so controlled; focus on form  – removes the necessity to think about meaning, freez
😦 – boring or meaningless if decontextialized, exasperating / too difficult

Implications? Don’t decontextualize too much and make sure they’re not too difficult.

Good example: Jazz chants (not boring, memorable, not too decontextualized, the context is not distracting)

Minimal pairs

words that are distinguished by one phoneme (thin/tin)

How to use: to diagnose what problems students have with sounds; listening practice; speaking production practice

In this case /θ/ causes miscommunication. Or does it?

Which minimal pairs to focus on? In other words, when can they lead to misunderstanding?

  • In most cases they are different parts of speech: thy/thigh; sink/think/ sit/seat; fill/feel; through/true
  • Also, different frequencies (Levis and Cortes 2008:1997)
    think 133 / sink 0 – different frequency => less likely
    three 68 / tree 14 / free 13; leave 12 / live 14; peel 0 /pill 1
  • And they’re not equally likely in context ‘Look out for that sheep/ship??’
    ‘What lovely cheeks??/chicks.
    He’s going to live??/leave
    Throw out that bean??/bin.

Implication? Minimal pairs need to be same word class, frequency and imaginable in the same context. 

Stress vs syllable timed rhythm.
In theory: there are different types of language. English is rhythmical, French is less.
Problem: research hasn’t been able to prove it. No variation between Eng and Fr in terms of syllable length.
So we do feel there’s something specific about English in terms of stress, but there’s no binary contrast between languages.
Contexts: political speech, sermons, poetry – more rhythm; everyday speech – less so.
In English the important feature is the distance between stressed syllables and unstressed syllables. 


Common misconception: yes/no – falling intonation, wh-questions – rising intonation.
Research: we can both falling and rising intonation on all types of questions – despite what textbooks tell us.


Importance of communicative intention. Tones in themselves don’t carry meaning but they help signal meaning. Falling tones in question that the speaker is ‘finding out’. rising tone indicates that the speaking is ‘making sure (Brazil; Cauldwell).

Rogerson, Gilbert (1990) Speaking Clearly, Cambridge.

To teach or not to teach?

  • teachable
  • focus on typically English features (e.g. rising intonation in ‘yes’)
  • meaning is in context, not tone
  • no clear-cut relation between grammar and intonation.


Click here for an overview of all my write-ups from IATEFL 2015.

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