Speech Fluency Drills

In section TWO TYPES OF ARTICULATION DRILLS it is pointed out that there needs to be two main segments in articulation lessons for tonal language students. The first segment, that of getting the student to get his tongue around the new basic movement patterns, has been well covered to date.

The second segment, that of the development of fluency in many of the phrases that make up normal English conversation, is the subject for the moment.

Speech Fluency

At the outset of this section I pointed out that tonal languages require the speaker to be very precise about the ‘height’, ‘depth’ or ‘length’ of the vowel sound. There is no leeway for error. With the wrong tone on a word like ‘Cah’ for example, the Vietnamese listener will think that you are talking about rats rather than pumpkins. As observed in section “A CASUAL “EAVESDROPPING
English by contrast, is quite slap dash or slovenly with vowel sounds: it treats them with reckless abandon but still manages to keep the message intact provided that there is not too great a distortion or corruption to the consonant sounds. But English goes many steps worse than this: it frequently has almost no respect whatever for word boundaries… a phenomenon that all too often escapes the ears of both native English speakers and tonal language students alike. Further explanation in section “DISRESPECT FOR WORD BOUNDARIES”

Consider the sentence: PUT IT IN A TIN. Now say it aloud: Now say it aloud but at a normal conversational pace.
If you said it in a normal way, then what you actually SAID was something that might be more appropriately written as follows:
PUhTIhTIhNAhTIN

Please experiment with the above illustration until you fully realize that it is indeed a correct observation about how native English speakers show little if any respect for the boundaries of the words that they use in normal conversation.

It is fairly difficult for most native English speakers to realize. The normal syllable boundaries of the words in their spoken language, very often do not match up with the word boundaries of the same words when they are written!

Let’s return to the so called ‘simple’ sentence: PUT IT IN A TIN.
Most tonal language students, bringing the mandatory speech discipline from their native languages to English, will tend to pronounce each word separately, with almost semi-stops after each word… an absolutely essential separation for correct communication in their own native tongues.
But this semi-stopping after each word just does not work with normal speech communication in English. As a matter of fact, it produces in English, what is commonly described as a clipped or eastern accent.

Let’s look closer:
When we speak normal sentences some of the words do ‘glide and slide’ together whereas others do not. Two basic rules determine whether or not English words maintain or lose their ‘boundaries’ when they are put into normal spoken sentences.

These rules operate between words as intrusions between root words and some suffixes.

RULE ONE: Between words

The ending consonant of any word is often blended into the vowel sound that happens to begin the word that follows:

WE WRITE WE SAY
Put it but we say Puh tit
Put it in but we say Puh tih tin
Put it in a but we say Puh tih tih na
Put it in a tin. but we say Puh tih tih nah tin.
Eggs and apples but we often say Eg zan dapples

RULE TWO: Intrusions between words and suffixes

Intrusive ‘R’: We often do not pronounce the ‘R’ in words like CARE, OCCUR and PREFER yet we always pronounce it in words like CARING, OCCURRING and PREFERRING.

Intrusive ‘Y’ and ‘W’: Consider the phrases:

  • “Happy (y)at work“
  • “Into (w)a frog“

The schwa or indefinite vowel sound in English is also a persistently niggling source of indecision for tonal language students. It affects a number of the most common ‘connector’ words:
WAS is pronounced as wz
FOR is pronounced as fuh,
TO is pronounced as t or tuh
MY is pronounced as muh… and many more.

Most root words of two and more syllables contain the schwa or indefinite sound:
GOLDEN = gold’n
CUPBOARD = cub’d… and many more.

A bit of practice every day is critical. And an enormous help to the student is the voice recordings of the lessons that you give him.
Here are some hints for effective ESL teaching to speech fluency:

  • Know thoroughly the problems associated with the articulation movement patterns that we have described at some length in this
    section.
  • Know also the ‘rules’ on glides, slides, murmurs and mumbles that we have just described.
  • A short phrase or sentence, naturally and accurately spoken, but to perfection each day, is usually enough over time to enable the tonal language student to greatly improve the clarity of his speech.
  • When teaching, repeat each phrase at least three times before expecting your student to accurately repeat what you say.
  • If the student’s efforts are not close to perfect then repeat it three times again.
  • If it is still not close to perfect then repeat three more times.
  • If it is still not perfect, either:

SHORTEN your phrase or sentence or
CHANGE to an easier phrase or sentence.

Step 1: Teach Articulation Step 3: View Student Testing Return to Teacher Resources