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Pronunciation: The "Cinderella" of
Language Teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas

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A few words on suprasegmental (prosodic) features

Teaching experience shows that it is worthwhile to introduce sounds in prosodic patterns even at the initial stage of learning, as it brings the idea of "contextualised" sounds into connected speech. It could be argued that in speech, suprasegmental features of stress, rhythm, pitch, and intonation are equally important in achieving cohesion and coherence-two terms usually associated with written discourse only.
There are two main reasons to focus on prosodic features:

• Prosody serves several communicative functions;

• Prosody facilitates or constrains other dimensions of communication (Hargrove & McGarr, 1994: 4).
As a communicative means, prosody performs the following functions:

• pragmatic (to focus attention on important information, differentiate old information from new information, signal turns in discourse, link sentences to create texts);

• syntactic (to mark syntactic structures);

• lexical (to differentiate words);

• attitudinal (to identify patterns common to various groups (Couper-Kuhlen, 1986));

• intelligibility function (modifications in prosody influence speech comprehension, if prosodic information becomes more important; even segmentally correct speech with minor prosodic errors may not be intelligible (Allen & Hawkins, 1980; Lieberman, 1967); prosodic errors reduce attention to the meaning of utterances).


To sum up, teaching pronunciation is of paramount importance in foreign language learning. To ensure effective pronunciation teaching, there are certain factors that should be considered: biological, personal, sociocultural, pedagogic, mother tongue influence, and setting realistic goals. Nevertheless, pronunciation teaching should not only focus on segmental features, i.e., teaching specific sounds or nuances of sounds, but also on suprasegmental or prosodic features, i.e., stress, rhythm, pitch, and intonation, which greatly contribute to communication. Of course, all this cannot be achieved unless teachers follow certain principles of effective pronunciation teaching: learning to describe pronunciation, creating a non-threatening atmosphere, and teaching pronunciation step by step.


Allen, G. D., & Hawkins, S. (1980). Phonological rhythm: Definition and Development. In G. H. Yeni-Komshian, J. F. Kavanagh, & C. A. Ferguson (Eds.), Child phonology. Volume I: Production (pp. 227-255). New York: Academic Press.
Avery, P., & Ehrlich, S. (1992). Teaching American English pronunciation. New York: OUP.
Brown, H. D. (1994). Principles of language learning and teaching. (3rd edition).
Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Celce-Murcia, N., Brinton, M. D., & Goodwin, J. M. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation. A reference for teachers of English to speakers of other languages. New York: CUP.
Couper-Kuhlen, E. (1986). An Introduction to English prosody. Baltimore: Edward Arnold.
Dalton, D. F. (1997). Some techniques for teaching pronunciation. The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1. Retrieved November 1, 2001 from the World Wide Web:
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Flege, J. E. (1981). The phonological basis of foreign accent: A hypothesis. TESOL Quarterly, 15(4), 443-455.
Gelvanovsky, G. V. (2002). Effective pronunciation teaching: principles, factors, and teachability. In P. V. Sysoyev (Ed.), Identity, Culture, and Language Teaching. USA: CREEES.
Hargrove, P. M., & McGarr, N. S. (1994). Prosody management of Communication disorders. San Diego, California: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.
Hudson, R. A. (1980). Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: CUP.
Kelly, L. G. (1969). 25 centuries of language teaching. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.
Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English pronunciation. New York: Longman.
Krashen, S. D. (1973). Lateralisation, language learning and the critical period: Some new evidence. Language Learning, 23, 63-74.
Laroy, C. (1995). Pronunciation. New York: OUP.
Lenneberg, E. (1967). Biological foundations of language. New York: Wiley.
Lieberman, P. (1967). Intonation, perception and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Pennington, M. (1989). Teaching pronunciation from the top down. RELC Journal, 20(1), 21-38.
Purcell, E., & Suter, R. (1980). Predictors of pronunciation accuracy: A Reexamination. Language Learning, 30(2), 271-287.


Dimitrios Thanasoulas studied English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex University. After that, he earned an MBA from Mooreland University and is currently finishing the second year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University. His academic interests include fostering cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as well as such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.


Dimitrios can be contacted at:

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