betty pow

Betty Pow (part 2)

Here’s the second part of Betty Pow’s article on pronunciation. Click here for part 1.

Making Sense of Intonation

One of my favorite approaches for raising learners´ awareness of meaning conveyed by intonation is Rita Wong’s (1987) selection of one-word conversations, which teachers can adapt or recreate, such as the ones below:

A: Tea?                                      A: Ready?                        A: Oh no! Police.

B: Coffee, please.                   B: Problems.                   B: Where?

A: Black?                                  A: Problems?                  A: Here.

B: White.                                   B: Yeah.                            B: Here?!

A: Sugar?                                  A: What?                          A: Let´s push off.

B: Sweetner.                            B: Clothes.

Dieting…                              A: Oh…

A: I see.


Students can listen, mark short utterances for rising or falling intonation. One- word conversations can be witty, humorous or serious and give rise to students´ speculations about the speakers´ interaction between in certain situations and their own creative versions.

Making Sense of Rhythm

Working on rhythm lends itself to multisensorial approaches whereby teachers can resort to visual, auditory and kynaesthetic activities as in perceiving and producing words and utterances with the aid of color cards,  ‘human syllables´ or humming.




The same approach can be applied to developing perception and production of word stress patterns.

Making sense of the Unwanted Vowel / i /

A large number of Brazilian (as well as French and Italian) users of English, irrespective of their level of command, seem unaware of meaning changes caused by the unwanted, intrusive vowel which seems to haunt their speech:

After final consonant

A: I met him for a chat.                                  A: I´d like those bag (i)s.

B: He´s a chatty kind of guy.                        B: The baggy pants, you mean?

A: No, the bag (i)s… to carry things.

A: I want a cook (i).

B: Oh, you must be hungry, of course.

A: I mean I need (i) someone to cook (i) for me.

In between words in utterances

Besides likely misunderstandings, the intrusive (or epenthetic) vowel causes rhythm to change, by slowing it or breaking it down, which can result in each word being unduly stressed, as in the following examples:

– These(i) students –this(i) school

– Those (i) states

– He woke(i) up(i) at(i) nin(i), had(i) a quick(i) cup(i) of(i) coffee and(i) drove off(i)

Such changes in meaning and in rhythm can be visually pointed out by using symbols such as  L or Q,  by having students tape themselves and compare with original excerpts of audio texts in their coursebooks.

The Learner´s Needs and Challenges

Working with teachers in undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as in the state and private sectors has enabled me to discuss teaching professionals´ needs and feelings as language learners. In general, they are concerned about developing not only as language teachers but also as language users. Some common concerns are:

` I´ve been teaching kids and basic levels for years. My English is getting rusty`

` I have a busy schedule teaching in two schools. No time for brushing up´.

So, what challenges lie ahead for teachers seeking speech improvement? Well, though desirable, there is no need for a year-long immersion in pronunciation or an `accent extinction´ program. I can say that teachers now have a wealth of resources available; here are a few suggestions:

1. Learn and improve pronunciation through teaching.

2. Be selective and focused on areas for self-improvement. For example, you may feel that you should focus on –ED endings or on sentence stress.

3.  Be open to peer and self- monitoring. Maybe a colleague can help you or you can tape/film yourself teaching and then discuss issues you find important.

4.  Create your own learning environment by making good use of available resources: teaching materials, sites, songs, film excerpts, serials, news, sitcoms, talk shows, nursery rhymes and ads. They can also provide exposure to varieties of English.

5.  If you have an iPhone or iPad, you can download pronunciation apps.

6.  Time permitting, attend continuing education programs and ELT events.

7.  Join ELT associations and keep an eye on free courses and workshops for teachers. For example, Braz-TESOL Pronunciation SIG has offered workshops and a 12-hour pronunciation course to members.

These, I believe, are some manageable challenges which can yield good results to a more confident language teacher and user.

Useful Pronunciation Sites


Abdalla Nunes, Z.A. & Pow, E.M.  2008. Non-Native Teachers, Here We Go! In: Contexturas – Ensino Crítico de Língua Inglesa, n.13, pp.79-91. São José do Rio Preto, SP: APLIESP.


Canagarajah, S. 2002. Reconstructing Local Knowledge. In Ricento,T & Wiley,T.G. (Eds.) Journal of Language, Identity and Education (pp.243-259) Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D., Goodwin, J with Griner, B. 2010. Teaching Pronunciation:a course book and reference guide. 2nd Edition. New York. USA. CUP.

Chela-Flores, B.2001. Pronunciation and Language Teaching – An Integrative Approach, IRAL l 39- 85-101.

Graddol.2006 English Next. British Council. London, UK.

Hancock, M. 2004. English Pronunciation in Use. Cambridge, UK. Cambridge University Press.

Lieff.C.A.D, Pow, E.M. & Nunes, Zaina A. Abdalla. A.2010. Descobrindo a pronúncia do inglês.São Paulo. Brasil. Editora WMF Martins Fontes.

Wong, R. 1987.Teaching Pronunciation: Focus on Intonation and Rhythm.New Jersey.USA. Prentice Hall.

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