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Removing tonality

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orange dave

Joined: 04 Jun 2007
Posts: 2

PostPosted: Fri Aug 10, 2007 2:33 am    Post subject: Removing tonality Reply with quote

Hi, I've been teaching English in China for about a month now, and I haven't even gotten into doing pronunciation excercises, because I know that's the best way to totally screw someone up if you do it wrong. I was thinking about the worst sins committed by Chinese speakers, and of course there's the whole 'r' and 'l' thing, but I at least can always pick a native Chinese speaker out of a crowd because their speaking is always strangely musical, like no other language.

What got me thinking about this was that one of my assistants would always say "I don't know" exactly the same way, with the emphasis on the "I." That's not wrong of course, but it's good for a very specific situation. You could also use an emphasis on the "know" (more common,) or maybe on "don't know" (stronger tone,) maybe pause on "I" to show you're thinking about it - or the most common, completely neutral, with the emphasis on something later in the sentence.

I've never heard of any excercises or anything to work on this problem - is there anything simple I can do that won't go over the students' heads? Or maybe it's just hopelessly broad, because I can't think of any rules really or any way to do it besides rote memorization.
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Joined: 18 May 2007
Posts: 151
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Tue Nov 06, 2007 5:30 am    Post subject: Understandable frustration Reply with quote

Your frustration is quite understandable. Pronunciation problems seem very difficult to deal with - especially in a mixed level course.
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Joined: 23 Oct 2007
Posts: 5

PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2007 7:29 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

And let's not forget that English is spoken in 69+ countries, so which tonality do you teach...
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Joined: 15 Sep 2006
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 26, 2008 9:12 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think you just need to encourage variety in your students voices and intonation. You can give them a short acting class!

First you can give them examples, by saying 'I don't know' or whatever else, in a variety of ways, and see if they can understand the emotion your expressing. Then you can put them in lots of different situations i.e. say 'I don't know' to someone who has been asking you for a long time where the keys are... etc This might help them to begin acting and using their own intonation and feeling.

See for example.

Also, if you stress the 'I' in 'I don't know', it sounds like you're saying someone else knows, you don't. I don't think you meant this kind of intonation but a good basis for a lesson plan on this is at

But I think getting your students to act, giving them situations and emotions can show them that its ok for them to vary their tone more. Hope that helps!?
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Joined: 05 May 2012
Posts: 18

PostPosted: Tue Jun 26, 2012 5:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello. I teach ESL to Chinese and Korean students, ages 8-20, in a private school in the USA. I recently read something I believe is applicable here. The author is H. D. Brown and this quote is from page 340 of his Teaching by Principles: An Interactive Approach to Language Pedagogy. He states:
"With the rapid spread of English as an international language, native accents have become almost irrelevant to cross-cultural communication. Moreover, as the world community comes to appreciate and value people's heritage, one's accent is just another symbol of that heritage.
Our goal as teachers of English pronunciation should therefore be more realistically focused on clear, comprehensible pronunciation."
He then lists 6 factors to which TESOL's need to attend including: native language, age, exposure, innate phonetic ability, identity and language ego, and motivation and concern for good pronunciation (page 340-341).
I would agree wholeheartedly. In fact, I recently wanted to show my ELL's the variability of accents and dialects of native speakers during a unit on 20th century American history, and I found an amazing YouTube video of a woman named Amy Walker. This language aficionado beautifully demonstrates many English accents and dialects, worldwide and within the USA. It really captured my students' interest, and it shows the beauty of different cultures and speech sounds. In all, I believe we as English teachers should strive toward clarity in our students' utterances as opposed to homogeneity; for, while there are times to attain to perfect (but which perfect?) English, perhaps for business or diplomatic purposes, I believe the variety of accents is beautiful and worth preserving.
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