A few weeks ago (12 March) we looked at how to work on word stress. This tends to be easier to practise than sentence stress, probably because the units of sound are smaller and generally less variable. However, spending time on sentence stress is also very valuable, particularly with a language such as English where the pronunciation of words changes often markedly when in context. Working at this level may help to make students more natural and fluent. More importantly, it is likely to help students’ understanding of spoken English and raise their awareness of the phonological features of the language.
Two personal experiences have taught me the relevance of sentence stress. The first was when I was actually learning another language myself; I recall experiencing genuine joy when I finally started to hear word boundaries: where one word ended and another began. Prior to that point, utterances had just sounded like a runaway word train. The second informative experience for me was talking to my own students. I remember having to repeat the simple phrase How are you doing? several times to one of my upper-intermediate students. I have had similar experiences many times over the years, when the words themselves were known to students, but the delivery made comprehension impossible or difficult. Next week we will look at one specific technique which can help students understand English better.