Quick Tip: 6 Strategies for Improving Teacher Leadership
by Emma Tudor
Improving teacher leadership in your school has a direct positive effect on school effectiveness. Learn some ways to give your teachers more governance responsibility and authority in decision-making, and to foster a culture of collaboration toward shared goals. Maximize your English language teaching staff's potential and create a school environment in which they can thrive.
Teacher leadership involves giving teachers more responsibility in the governance of a school, with more authority in decision-making, and fostering a culture of collaboration to achieve shared goals. According to research, improving teacher leadership in these ways proves to have a direct positive effect on school effectiveness (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2006). Teacher leaders have increased confidence, greater self-efficacy, improved morale and motivation, and an increased desire to remain in the profession. Because the TESOL industry typically attracts an eclectic staff , it is pertinent for institutions to understand and utilize varying motivation factors to maximize their staff’s potential. Here are six ways to create a school environment in which your teachers can thrive.
1. Curriculum and Policies Review
An institution’s educational curriculum and policies are fundamental to the success of student learning. If possible, having teacher input in the review and development process can allow for great opportunities to cultivate an environment of teacher empowerment and leadership. Teacher contributions can also improve the quality of the review, as it is the teachers who have hands-on experience using the curriculum and policies in the classroom. Such input can lead to a sense of ownership, resulting in more positive outcomes.
Assign your experienced teachers to buddy up as a mentor with a new teacher. They can work closely to lead the new teacher on issues such as lesson planning, using the curriculum, resources, processes, and administration. This type of mentoring can create a collaborative culture and supportive environment for new teachers and help experienced teachers achieve a sense of responsibility for their team.
Having your more experienced teachers involved in the recruitment process gives them a huge sense of empowerment and ownership of the teaching team, while improving moral and motivation. Invite some of your teachers to join teacher recruitment sessions and have input on the hiring decision.
4. Specialty Advising
Notice your teachers who have a special skill and encourage sharing and teaching with their peers. Setting up a scheduled slot where teachers can drop-in to advise and discuss their specialty with their peers, for example with the ‘grammar guru’ or the ‘vocabulary vulture’ etc.
5. Peer Observations
Your teachers can learn a lot from one another by observing each other in the classroom. Encourage teachers to self-reflect on their teaching skill, identify areas where they would like to develop and give them opportunity to observe a peer from whom they can learn this from. For example, a teacher who struggles with teaching grammar observes the ‘grammar guru’ teaching a grammar class.
6. Professional Development
Invite teachers to develop a professional development schedule. Teachers can also assign themselves as the trainer to lead the workshop. If there is any budget for external training, invite teachers to research options and assign the budget as they see fit.
Leithwood, K., & Jantzi, D. (2006). Transformational school leadership for large-scale reform: Effects on students, teachers, and their classroom practices. School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 17(2), 201–227.
Emma Tudor has 12 years’ experience within the TESOL industry. Her expertise spans regional academic management, material development, educational resources publication, and teacher training. She has enjoyed a varied TESOL career including working in China, Spain, Brazil, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Get Motivated: Inspirational Quotes for Students
Quotations are a great way to generate discussion in your class and motivate your students. Share all or some of these 50 quotes, which range from the power of education to the power of making mistakes, with your ELLs and choose one of the many suggestions for classroom activities.
At the beginning of the last year, I shared motivational quotes about teaching. With the coming of this New Year, I would like to share some quotes that we teachers can share with our students to motivate and encourage them. The ways you can implement these quotes in your classes are numerous: simply sharing them with students, asking them to write reflective responses on or share their opinion about these quotes, giving the quotes as topics for group discussions, asking students to illustrate the quotes with their life experiences, and many others. The quotes below are categorized into five thematic groups with ten quotes in each: power of education, power of learning, power of mistakes, power of reading, and power of perseverance. I hope you and your students will enjoy them.
Power of Education
- “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom” (George Washington Carver).
- “You can never be overdressed or overeducated” (Oscar Wilde).
- “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela).
- “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself” (John Dewey).
- “Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school” (Albert Einstein).
- “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet” (Aristotle).
- “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today” (Malcolm X).
- “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest” (Benjamin Franklin).
- “Education is the movement from darkness to light” (Allan Bloom).
- “Education is the foundation upon we build our future” (Christine Gregoire).
Power of Learning
- “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow” (Anthony J. D’Angelo).
- “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as long as we live” (Mortimer Adler).
- “Learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to drop back” (Chinese Proverb).
- “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking” (William Butler Yeats).
- “Learning is not a spectator sport” (D. Blocher).
- “The best way to predict your future is to create it” (Abraham Lincoln).
- “It is wiser to find out than to suppose” (Mark Twain).
- “Learning never exhausts the mind” (Leonardo da Vinci).
- “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing is life is to keep your mind young” (Henry Ford).
- “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it” (Pablo Picasso).
Power of Mistakes
- “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” (John Powell).
- “You will only fail to learn if you do not learn from failing” (Stella Adler).
- “You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over” (Richard Branson).
- “Mistakes, obviously, show us what needs improving. Without mistakes, how would we know what we had to work on?” (Peter McWilliams).
- “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” (Bill Gates).
- “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently” (Henry Ford).
- “A mistake should be your teacher, not your attacker. A mistake is a lesson, not a loss. It is a temporary, necessary detour, not a dead end” (Anonymous).
- “Mistakes are the usual bridge between inexperience and wisdom” (Phyllis Theroux).
- “An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field” (Niels Bohr).
- “Good people are good because they have come to wisdom through failure. We get very little wisdom from success” (William Saroyan).
Power of Reading
- “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope” (Kofi Annan).
- “Once you learn to read, you will be forever free” (Frederick Douglass).
- “Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light” (Vera Nazarian).
- “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body” (Richard Steele).
- “A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever” (Louis L’Amour).
- “A book is a gift you can open again and again” (Garrison Keillor).
- “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library” (Jorge Luis Borges).
- “It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish” (S.I. Hayakawa).
- “Wear the old coat and buy the new book” (Austin Phelps).
- “He that loves reading has everything within his reach” (William Godwin).
Power of Perseverance
- “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer” (Albert Einstein).
- “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it” (Maya Angelou).
- “I will persist until I succeed. Always will I take another step. If that is of no avail I will take another, and yet another. In truth, one step at a time is not too difficult. I know that small attempts, repeated, will complete any undertaking” (Og Mandino).
- “Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere” (Barack Obama).
- “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th” (Julie Andrews).
- “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed” (Michael Jordan).
- “If people only knew how hard I’ve worked to gain my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all” (Michelangelo).
- “Successful and unsuccessful people do not vary greatly in their abilities. They vary in their desires to reach their potential” (John Maxwell).
- “A failure is not always a mistake. It may simply be the best one can do under the circumstances. The real mistake is to stop trying” (B. F. Skinner).
- “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward” (Martin Luther King, Jr.).
*This article first appeared on the TESOL Blog, 19 January 2018.
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
7 Ways to Overcome Coteaching Challenges
by Felice Atesoglu Russell
Coteaching with a mainstream content teacher involves collaboration in all aspects, including planning, instruction, and assessment. Navigate your way to success with these steps.
Imagine you are an ESOL teacher in a middle school. It’s the start of the school year and you find that you will be pushing into multiple mainstream classrooms and coteaching with content teachers as a part of your teaching load for the upcoming school year. As an ESOL teacher, you are most familiar with pulling students out of mainstream classes or supporting English language learners (ELLs) in your self-contained ESOL classroom. You think to yourself, “Okay, how hard can this be? Hopefully, the coteacher that I am assigned to work with will be excited to have some language support as they teach content.”
As you get going, you realize that collaborating with your coteacher on planning, instruction, and assessment will not be as simple as you initially imagined. There is no common time to meet during the school day, neither of you have ever been in the role of a coteacher, and you are beginning to feel like an unwanted guest during the times that you push into the mainstream classroom.
As you reflect on your situation, you realize that you had little guidance around how to coteach before being asked to take on the role. You find you are getting overwhelmed by unrealistic expectations as you try to plan for your ESOL language support classes while at the same time trying to connect with your mainstream content coteachers to find out what the plans are for the day or week, what your role might be in those plans, and how you can best support your students who are learning English in the context of their mainstream content classes. You feel external and internal pressure but also a lack of control over your planning and work with your students, whom you genuinely want to support in the best way possible.
What is an ESOL teacher to do? How can you navigate this new terrain?
You know that with new standards requiring increased rigor for your ELLs, it’s important to provide them access to core content while they are being supported in their English language development (Hakuta, 2011); however, you are beginning to wonder how this coteaching model is really helping. Because you have had little training in this type of collaborative model, you feel woefully unprepared to take on this type of collaborative planning, teaching, and assessment (Peercy & Martin-Beltran, 2011).
You end up chatting with Ms. Perez, an ESOL teacher from another grade level, and you find out that while she also experienced similar frustrations at first, she has developed ways to overcome the initial challenges inherent with the coteaching model of serving ELLs. Ms. Perez talks about how she has developed consistent routines with each of her mainstream content teachers in order to establish rapport and ways of doing the work of coteaching.
Overcoming Coteaching Challenges
The situation described is not unique, as more ESOL teachers are paired with mainstream teachers in coteaching models of instruction for ELLs. Observations from research and practice suggest that when collaborating teachers of multilingual students draw on a shared vision, shared tools, and specific routines, these resources support teacher professional learning and collaboration (Martin-Beltran & Peercy, 2014). I advocate for seven ideas for overcoming challenges and making coteaching work for you in your context.
Draw on individual teachers’ strengths and expertise. What are you each good at? What do you each like to do? What resources do you each have access to? Recognize that each coteacher brings different knowledge and experience to the work. Draw on that diversity of expertise as you divvy up the work.
Develop a rhythm and a routine for sharing the work. For example, plan every Monday after school or email an outline of the plans for the week ahead every Friday. Ensure that you are not starting fresh each week with the how of your collaboration. For example, if you are fortunate to have time every Tuesday during common planning, get into the routine of using that time to meet and plan. This way you are not having to take time to figure out how you will plan each week.
Actively seek out ways to avoid falling into traditional boundaries between ESOL and mainstream. If you are working with a mainstream teaching partner who is territorial, find ways to support what he or she is already doing in class with the goal of supporting ELLs and, ultimately, providing more effective instruction for all students. One way to do so might be to suggest to the mainstream teacher that you will develop a graphic organizer for the upcoming unit. Another example is that you will pull-out significant vocabulary for the week ahead and come up with an instructional activity.
Realize that you will likely be paired differently in the future. Coteaching assignments are not set in stone. You will likely be paired differently in the upcoming school year. Be responsive to your coteaching relationship by collaborating in ways that make the most sense with a particular coteacher. Make best of the situation while keeping the needs of your students in the foreground.
Recognize and honor the expertise that you bring in teaching language. As ESOL teachers, your contribution to a cotaught content class holds great value. Recognize what you bring and share your knowledge. This in turn will translate to instruction that is most supportive for students who are simultaneously tasked with learning high-level content and developing their English language proficiency.
Professional development in support of coteaching should involve both ESOL and mainstream teachers. It is not enough to simply include ESOL teachers in this conversation. Coteaching involves both the ESOL and mainstream teachers. Professional development opportunities and supports should be directed to all coteaching teachers. Ask for your coteachers to be invited to any professional learning opportunities.
Advocate for time at the beginning of the school year to find out expectations for coteaching and plan. If possible, find time at the start of the year to make plans for the routines and shared tools that will be used in the upcoming school year. If you are provided with this time by your administration, use it wisely. If you do not receive any time, figure out how you and your coteachers will work around this constraint prior to students’ arrival.
Acknowledge that it’s not always easy and your collaboration will not always go as envisioned. As one coteacher in an elementary school put it, “I think sometimes you have to settle for not the way you think it should be, but the reality of how we’re going to get through the day.”
Hakuta, K. (2011). Educating language minority students and affirming their equal rights: Research and practical perspectives. Educational Researcher, 40(4), 163–174.
Martin-Beltran, M., & Peercy, M. M. (2014). Collaboration to teach English language learners: Opportunities for shared teacher learning. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 20(6), 721–737. doi:10.1080/13540602.2014.885704
Peercy, M. M., & Martin-Beltran, M. (2011). Envisioning collaboration: Including ESOL students and teachers in the mainstream classroom. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 16(7-8), 657–673.
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Felice Atesoglu Russell is an assistant professor of education at Ithaca College. Her teaching and research focus on the professional learning and support of culturally and linguistically responsive teachers across the teacher development continuum. She is particularly interested in collaboration, advocacy, and supports for teachers and leaders to meet the varied needs of multilingual students.
PACE: Teaching Grammar Through Storytelling
by Randa Taftaf
Explore a communicative approach to teaching grammar. In this example activity, the PACE model contextualizes grammar using a well-known story.
In a standards-based foreign language classroom, students are actively involved in their own learning and are given a multitude of opportunities to exchange information, negotiate meanings and concepts, offer opinions, and much more. Therefore, communication is the beating heart of a standards-based foreign language class. So, why would grammar as a skill be taught any differently? The days of deductive and inductive grammar teaching approaches that assume students can memorize or “pick up” grammatical concepts are over! Let’s explore an example of a more communicative, dialogical approach that is sociocultural in nature and Vygotskian in essence, dubbed the PACE Model (Donato & Adair-Hauck, 1992).
The PACE model was created by Donato and Adair-Hauck (1992) as a model for contextualizing lessons with learners about language in the form of a cultural story or any other interesting text (Shrum & Glisan, 2000). PACE is an acronym in which each letter stands for a stage in the process: Presentation, Attention, Co-Construction, Extension.
The first step in PACE is Presentation. During this stage, prepare students for the grammatical feature to come through an interesting cultural context. Because storytelling is a great element to include in second language instruction because of its natural occurrence in our daily lives, this context could be a story, a folktale, a dialogue, or a narrative. The only restrictions are that the grammatical feature should be well represented and used meaningfully in the chosen text and “that the story and target structure are appropriate to the learners’ actual and potential levels of development, as instruction in the [zone of proximal development] suggests” (Shrum & Glisan, 2000, p. 224). Then, present the text orally in the form of a story or narrative to arouse interest. The presentation should also be interactive, getting the students involved in the story through oral discussions and exercises designed specifically for this purpose. After the students fully understand the story, it’s time to move on to the next step.
After grasping the full meaning of the story, students can now concentrate on other elements of the story, such as the language used. Draw attention to a certain aspect of the language or highlight a specific grammatical feature. Ask students to find patterns, repetitions, and/or examples of the featured structure by asking questions that direct attention to the grammatical structure or through the use of other various mediation tools. An important issue to remember is that research has shown that learners do not always process input in ways that we expect (Herron & Tomasello, 1992). Therefore, it is important for you to be attentive of the students’ development to ensure that both the story and the grammatical focus are well in the students’ zone of proximal development (ZPD; Vygotsky, 1978; see the definition and description).
After the students have recognized a specific pattern in a grammatical feature, it is time for a grammatical explanation. In PACE, the grammar is co-constructed in the third stage. Do not explain the grammar, but rather discusses it with the students. Through a series of guided questions or in more of a conversation about form and meaning, students hypothesize and guess the use of this certain grammatical structure. This requires the students to use higher order thinking skills, such as evaluation and analysis. This conversation is not a discussion in which you ask all of the questions. It is a dialogue in which, at some points, you may offer an observation to model to students the process of reflecting on language. You should be aware that the assistance you provide is adapted and may range from brief clues about the target form to explicit instruction, if needed (AlJaafreh, 1992; Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994). By reasoning with the learner and closely monitoring the learner’s contribution, you can assess the student’s ZPD and how much help he or she will need to gain full understanding of the concept.
It’s finally time to ground the information through Extension, the final stage of PACE. In this stage, students are given the opportunity to use their new grammar concept communicatively and creatively. The extension activity should be interesting and related to the theme of the lesson, and it should allow for creative self-expression. In this way, students get the chance to actually use the new concept meaningfully and connect it to their existing knowledge. The Extension activities can also address cultural perspectives embodied in the story (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002, West & Donato, 1995).
PACE: An Example Lesson
For the sole purpose of this article and for making the PACE model easier to understand, I have chosen a well-known story.
Theme: The Three Little Pigs (American Literature)
Grammar Objective: The comparative and superlative forms of adjectives
Class Description: Beginner ESL class
Before the start of the lesson, introduce the new vocabulary and tap into students’ background knowledge to pave the way for PACE. New vocabulary could be taught using vocabulary cards.
Presentation: Provide two to three interactive activities in which the students learn the story. This phase usually incorporates a form of technology. For example:
- The story of the “Three Little Pigs” is illustrated and displayed in six to eight slides as a Prezi or PowerPoint presentation. For the first presentation, tell the story with the aid of the slides. Involve the students by distributing vocabulary cards: when a student hears the vocabulary word, he/she raises the corresponding vocabulary card. For example, as the instructor mentions the wolf in the story, the students can raise their “wolf” cards.
- For the second presentation, print the slides of “The Three Little Pigs,” mix them, and distribute them. Ask the students to work together to put the slides in the order of the original story.
- For the third presentation, the students work together to retell the story of one slide in the target language in complete sentences using each other and the vocabulary cards as scaffolds. For example, the students should be able to produce the sentence, “The wolf blew their house down” to describe the slide with the assistance of the vocabulary cards and their peers.
Attention: Display the text visually and highlight certain parts to draw student attention. For example, you could add a slide to the Prezi that displays a few sentences from the story. In these sentences, highlight comparative and superlative forms to draw the students’ attention to them. For example, “the house made of wood is stronger than the house made of straw. The house made of straw is the weakest.”
Co-Construction: Discuss the grammar form, meaning, and function. In this example, the discussion might be about the comparative and superlative. Ask the students questions about how the comparative and superlative were used in the story (e.g., “The brick house was the strongest”). Why were these forms used and what is the purpose of this function? After thoroughly discussing the use of the superlative and comparative in “The Three Little Pigs,” the students can then discuss the use of the comparative and superlative in real life. They continue this conversation about grammar and work through any discrepancies, questions, or comments until they have an understanding of the grammar.
Extension: Allow the students to put what they learned to practice. This part usually allows room for student creativity. For example, the students could retell the story from the perspective of the wolf, or they could retell the story and change the ending. The purpose of the extension is to recycle the new vocabulary and the use of comparative and superlative in their new stories.
Using the PACE strategy for teaching grammar allows teachers to explore their students’ ZPDs and provide direct and accurate scaffolding to meet their specific needs. Through these grammar conversations, dialogues, and interactions, students are more involved in the learning process and more responsible for their own language learning. Rather than presenting the grammar to the students (didactic approach) or requiring them to figure out the concept on their own (inductive approach), PACE allows students to engage in an analysis of the language which requires higher order thinking skills and to understand the logic behind the construction of the language (Shrum & Glisan, 2000). In this way, students are no longer memorizing rules that they do not understand, but rather constructing and deconstructing the building blocks of the language itself to be able to construct their own output of the language correctly.
Adair-Hauck, B., & Donato, R. (2002). The PACE model: A story-based approach to meaning and form for standards-based language learning. The French Review, 76, 265–276.
Aljaafreh, A. (1992). Negative feedback in second language learning and the zone of proximal development. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
Aljaafreh, A., & Lantolf, J. P. (1994). Negative feedback as regulation and second language learning in the zone of proximal development. Modern Language Journal, 78(4), 465–483.
Donato, R., & Adair-Hauck, B. (1992). Discourse perspectives on formal instruction. Language Awareness, 1(2), 73–89.
Herron, C., & Tomasello, M. (1992). Acquiring grammatical structures by guided induction. The French Review, 65, 708–718.
Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2000). Teacher's handbook: Contextualized language instruction. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
West, M., & Donato, R. (1995). Stories and stances: Cross‐cultured encounters with African folktales. Foreign Language Annals, 28(3), 392–406.
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Randa Taftaf is a senior instructor at INTO University of South Florida. Equipped with a fiery passion for languages and an MEd in foreign language education from the University of Pittsburgh, she is a seasoned foreign language instructor of 17 years and counting. She has domestic and international experience working with organizations such as UNHCR, AMIDEAST, and multiple international universities. Over the course of her career, she has managed and led exemplary ESL programs, actively trained ESL instructors, developed a curriculum for the teaching of Arabic as a second language, and much more. As an American of Syrian heritage, she strives to bridge the cultures of the East and West both inside and outside her foreign language classrooms.
Teaching Pronunciation: Simplicity Is the Key
by Judy B. Gilbert
Complicated pronunciation lessons discourage students. Learn how to simplify your teaching and give your ELLs a strong pronunciation foundation.
When teaching pronunciation, simplicity is best because if a lesson is too complicated, students get discouraged—and a discouraged student is harder to teach. For instance, when explaining the difference between the final sounds of had and have, it is going the hard way to use the terms plosive and fricative. It’s much easier to explain with everyday terms like stop sound and continuing sound, because the basic words are more apt to be familiar and in fact have been used by distinguished linguists at least as far back as 1967 (Abercrombie). It’s especially easy if you can reinforce the ideas with hand gestures, for instance a hand moving in front of you (for continuing sound) and a hand held up flat (meaning “stop”). Little signs, too, can serve as icons representing the difference (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Icons representing final end sounds.
The Music Signals That Govern English Pronunciation
The most efficient way to lighten the general work load is to present a simple overall picture of the prosodic system of spoken English. More than most languages, English depends on prosodic (musical) signals to call the listener’s attention to the most important words, and also to the separation of thought groups. All languages must have a way to highlight the most important word in a sentence, but different languages do this differently, and if the speaker’s native-language system is transferred to English, it seriously affects intelligibility. Here are a few examples of ways to express contrastive emphasis; capital letters represent the important/most stressed syllable in the English version.
English/Japanese (post particle –ga)
THIS is my bag. / Kore-ga watashino kaban-desu.
English/German (use of doch)
You DID forget it! / Jetzt hast du es doch vergessen!
Because the signaling system overpowers everything else in spoken English (and can change individual sounds beyond the way they are presented in a dictionary), you can simplify your goals by beginning with the prosody system. Many people assume that rhythm and melody (suprasegmentals/prosody) are ornaments on top of the sounds, and therefore of lesser importance. This is backward. If the learner tries to make an English sound correctly, but speaks with the rhythm of the first instead of the second language, he or she will have a hard time getting the timing right. In English, the timing of a sound is at the heart of its clarity. That is why the prosody system must come first: Time and energy spent working on individual English sounds without attention to correct rhythm is simply inefficient.
The Prosodic System
The rhythm of English is controlled by the prosodic system. Figure 2 shows a simple pyramid graphic visually explaining the hierarchy of suprasegmental (prosodic) signals.
Figure 2. Prosody pyramid based on the work of Bolinger (1989), Cutler (2015), Derwing and Munro (2015), and Gilbert (2012).
The foundation of the pyramid system is a thought group (a short sentence or clause): How do you spell “easy”?
A thought group has one focus word: easy
A focus word has one most stressed syllable: ea
The vowel in this syllable /iy/ is the peak of information for the whole thought group (short sentence, clause, or phrase)
The system requires the peak vowel to be strongly highlighted, by being extra clear, extra long (rhythm), and with a noticeable pitch change (melody). Contrast must be provided by making the neighboring vowel extra short and hard to notice. The technical term for this sound is schwa:
Schwa is a sort of “ghost vowel.” This is a key stumbling block for learners because it doesn’t appear in the written language, and also because it is hard to notice. But schwa is the most common vowel sound in spoken English. This is why English rhythm is irregular; the peak vowel is extra long and most of the other vowels are extra short.
If you help your students absorb a threshold command of the prosody pyramid system (including the contrastive function of schwa), they will have a strong base to learn other aspects of English pronunciation (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. The English system of contrastive clarity.
English calls attention to the focus words by three basic signals: extra clarity, extra length, and a marked pitch change. Focus words convey new information (what hasn’t already been talked about). See Figure 4 for an example of the focus changing as a conversation continues. It is crucial that learners are able to hear/process those signals.
Figure 4. Example of conversation with focus changing.
Many years ago at a TESOL convention, I was impressed with Earl Stevick’s remark that “People are often better at pronouncing a foreign language when they are making a joke about those other people.” And I’ve often noticed how people casually express dislike for a regional accent other than their own, such as one from Chicago, or Brooklyn, or Texas, or make such accents a source of comedy. I concluded that Stevick meant that people who are making jokes are allowing themselves to take on a foreign persona.
There are various reasons why students may be uneasy about sounding “foreign” to themselves, and this makes it hard for them to try on the new way of speaking. Our job is to help them allow themselves to role-play a new self.
To help overcome reluctance, Grant (2010) suggested:
Changing your pronunciation, especially stress and rhythm, involves changes in breathing, facial expression, and movement. As a result, when you speak English, you might feel less…like yourself….View English pronunciation like a jacket that you can put on and take off, depending on who your listener is. (p. 93)
I like to think of this approach as accent addition, which is a lot more psychologically positive than accent reduction.
NOTE: All of the images in this article are used with permission and come from Gilbert, J. (2012). Clear speech: Pronunciation and listening comprehension in North American English (4th ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Abercrombie, D. (1967). Elements of general phonetics. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Edinburgh University Press.
Bolinger, D. (1989). Intonation and its uses: Melody in grammar and discourse. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Cutler, A, (2015) Native listening: Language experience and the recognition of spoken words. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2015). Pronunciation fundamentals: Evidence-based perpectives for L2 teaching and research. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Gilbert, J. (2012). Clear speech: Pronunciation and listening comprehension in North American English (4th ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Grant, L. (2010). Well said (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
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Judy B. Gilbert has an MA in linguistics from the University of California at Davis, with special study in acoustic phonetics at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Clear Speech From the Start (2nd edition) and Clear Speech (4th edition), both from Cambridge University Press, 2012.