Grammar and Phonology

Grammar is an area of English that strikes fear into the hearts of both students and teachers, but when viewed from a logical angle, it should not present too many difficulties. As native speakers of the English language, this is something that we probably were not taught at school. Despite using grammar perfectly in our natural, everyday speech, we are often unaware of what we actually use or why we use it!

Unless you spend your entire career teaching kindergarten and very young children, the odds are that sooner or later you are going to find yourself having to teach English grammar. This task is made much easier and stress free if you actually understand a bit yourself!!

No teacher is expected to be a walking grammar reference book and know absolutely everything, but if you do not know anything, you are likely to lose the confidence of your students. This course does not claim to provide complete coverage of the entire grammatical system, but does include all of the most commonly needed areas that you are likely to find yourself teaching in the years to come.

Pronunciation is probably the most neglected aspect of English language teaching. Confidence is often lacking in foreign teachers to teach it methodically, and English teachers sometimes also lack the training and confidence to tackle this area. Applied phonetics is rarely taught at school or even university, and it seems an alien, abstract subject to the adult trainee teacher. Then there is the fact that many native English speakers find it difficult to hear certain features, such as the fall or rise of speech, particularly at the end of sentences. The reaction to this is often: “Well, I am an educated English person and if I cannot detect things like that, the foreign student will not be able to either. So what does it matter anyway?”

Most pronunciation, as a result, tends to concentrate on individual sounds, which although the most obvious, is not necessarily the most important part.

An effective teacher considers the teaching of pronunciation an integral part of the course. For one thing, students are as concerned about it as they are with any other aspect of learning English. In a recent study of 500 adult students from Cordoba, Barcelona, Paris, Turin, and Rome, one of the questions asked was, “What do you find the most difficult in English: Grammar, Speaking, Understanding, Pronunciation, Idioms or Writing?” Among these alternatives, pronunciation was in a substantial majority. Skilled pronunciation teaching also gives life to a class because it reflects feelings and personal reactions to different situations. In classroom practice, it gives variety to repetition or dialogues which, otherwise, have only a neutral meaning.

As a simple example, the meaning of YES, depends on whether it is YES!, or YES? or YES (with stress). One argument that the unversed teacher has against teaching pronunciation is that it varies so much, depending on the situation and mood of the speaker, that it seems impossible to standardize anything. This argument, however, could also apply to grammar, as structure also depends on what the speaker is trying to say. Nevertheless, it is possible to make some attempt to break up English grammar into general rules and formulae.

Phonology
Definition: Phonology is the study, science, analysis, and classification of the physical properties of sounds. The terms phonetics and phonology are often used interchangeably. The term phonology is increasingly used to indicate the whole sound system of a particular language, e.g., the phonology of English. In the following texts, we will deal with the areas of STRESS, RHYTHM, and INTONATION, as well as concentrating on the International Phonetic Alphabet and its use in helping students to come to an understanding of the pronunciation of English.

Stress and intonation
Individual sounds, sounds in connected speech, stress within words, and stress within whole utterances are all difficult for students to perceive in isolation. The main reason for this is that the main interest of someone engaged in the act of communication is in trying to understand the meaning of what is being said. However, some sort of instinctive perception is essential for a full understanding of what is being said, and some sort of analytical perception is useful for correct production. So, it is helpful to give an indication of those features in order to highlight them, even when students are examining other aspects of form or listening for meaning. In the classroom there should be time given to pronunciation, stress and intonation practice so as to make students aware of the importance of accuracy and clarity of communication.

Intonation is generally considered to be the variation in volume and pitch in a whole sentence, whereas stress is more concerned with individual words. This distinction becomes blurred in examples such as “YES” on the previous page, when a single word can be a sentence in itself!