Our goal is comfortable intelligibility in connected up speaking and listening.

Pronunciation is a core ingredient of comfortable intelligibility. It must serve the goal of intelligibility. Pronunciation is more than ‘correctness’, more than sounds and stress and intonation. It is everything about speaking that requires muscles. It is the physical movements of mouth, throat, voice, and it is also the subtle neurology that makes this possible. Pronunciation is the embodiment of language, it brings life to language and language to life. Our goal is comfortable intelligibility

In this series of posts on Comfortable Intelligibility I will highlight some simple thinking frames and awareness activities that enable learners/teachers to focus on the language bits, while constantly putting the bits back into the context of the language whole. Here is the first.

Three levels of pronunciation

I found this very useful when writing the first draft of Sound Foundations. The book is structured around this principle. It’s obvious and simple and provides an elegant scaffolding for moving between sounds and connected speech during all parts of any lesson. Here’s the idea:

Instead of the usual division of pronunciation into two ,ie segmentals and suprasegmentals a distinction that serves the linguists who created it, I divide pronunciation into three levels:

Level 1: Sounds The sounds/phomemes and their variants of the new language. These are shown on the Sound Foundations and other charts.

Level 2: Words This refers to words spoken in isolation, This is done by putting level 1 sounds together in a connected sequence. It is possible that neighbouring sounds in this sequence modify each other. The new factor at level 2 is the energy profile known as word stress. This is an important feature of English, and of Comfortable Intelligibility.  In fact you could say that in English unstress is even more important than stress. Words and their stresses are shown in a dictionary. Level 2 therefore includes the ‘dictionary’ pronunciation as well as the reduced ways that words may be pronounced in connected speech.

Level 3: Connected Speech This occurs when words connected together to make a stream of speech which conveys the speaker’s meaning. There can be changes to the words where they join, as well as simplifications/reductions. The new factor introduced at level 3 is intonation which overlays the utterance with a second energy profile, this time across groups of words, helping the speaker convey their relationship to their words, their meaning and their listeners.

Working with the parts and the whole

These three levels help me to keep in mind the whole when attending to the parts and the parts while working with the whole. After learner practice at levels 1 and 2 (sounds and words) we must embed them at level 3 before. And if we are working at level 3 (connected speech) and we hit a problem we may slip down to level 2 to work on words or word order and during that we may again slip down to level 1 for roadside repairs on crucial pronunciations within the words. Or we might pass from level 3 (connected speech) direct to level 1 to enhance some individual sounds that make a difference, and then re-contextualise that new awareness at level 3.

This is not something new, but the scaffolding concept that I call Levels 1, 2, 3 enables learners and me to track the pronunciation pathways and to make visible the processes by which small pronunciation changes affect intelligibility in speaking and listening. This enables learners to be more self directing and demanding in the matter of pronunciation, and always to keep in mind that our goal is….. Comfortable Intelligibility.

Next time I’ll propose a second practical awareness activity and combine it with the 3 levels to make an illustration.