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Coach Your ELLs to Learn Like Infants Learn Pronunciation.

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 1:44 am    Post subject: Coach Your ELLs to Learn Like Infants Learn Pronunciation. Reply with quote

Coach Your ELLs to Learn Like Infants Learn Pronunciation:

Notes on Dr. Olle Kjellin’s Pronunciation Teaching Method

By Joel Brodsky ...... [email protected]



“Stress, rhythm, and intonation (prosody) ...the MOST IMPORTANT characteristic of English pronunciation...The stress-time rhythm of spoken English and its intonation patterns convey important messages"... H. Douglas Brown[2]

[Prosody is the varying patterns of intensity, duration and tones of the speech stream - the “music” of the language.]

Using the method developed by Olle Kjellin, MD, (the K-way), I’ve been teaching English pronunciation with Hispanic and Asians. Both the learners and I are often delighted to hear pronunciation improvements during single one to three hour sessions. The learners’ pleasure from their quickly experienced success motivates them to practice more, have more quick success, more pleasure, more motivation, practice more... and thus the upward spiral soars. [3]

Olle Kjellin, MD, [4],[5] of Sweden, has synthesized his unique combination of knowledge and experience into an elegant choral repetition method of L2 pronunciation teaching. This includes his medical practice in hearing, swallowing and voice disorders, an extensive knowledge of research in neuroscience, language acquisition and pedagogy and thirty five years of L2 pronunciation teaching.

In many L2 learning situations, pronunciation teaching is the shortchanged “stepchild” tagged on to the preponderant teaching of the other language components (in which many of the learners become skilled). Sadly, due to these learners’ resulting frequent listener-unfriendly pronunciation, native conversation partners often don’t stay engaged with them for long.

Inspired by the knowledge of infant L1 acquisition, the K-Way turns this upside down. Beginning with a few weeks of practicing only massive choral repetition and developing a robust neural foundation of L2 auditory perception and prosody, the learners delight in their growing new listener-friendly pronunciation. They thus more quickly develop the confidence to increasingly speak English in spontaneous conversation, with native speakers, where the greatest spoken language acquisition occurs.

Basic grammar, vocabulary, syntax and other language components develop and emerge along with the robust prosody foundation. After about 50 to 100 hours, teaching time for the other language components can be increased, and the choral rep time lessened, as deemed. And with their solid prosody foundation, the motivated ones’ L2 will continue to flourish lifelong.

II: WHY IT WORKS (see supportive research sources in footnotes)

In the womb, and after birth, during several hundred hours, over several months, the infants’ auditory and vocal neural networks are being stimulated by the sounds spoken around them, and developing the sound patterns and prosody bedrock upon which their L1 acquisition develops. The cooing, gurgling and babbling that infants make from about three months to eight months, are essential practice for this. [6]

Adult L2 learners come to their L2 language learning process with L1 auditory-vocal neural networks already well-developed and functioning and containing some of the new L2 sound patterns. During about 200 to 300 hours of massive K-way choral repetition, their auditory neurons are being stimulated to develop new networks that can perceive the listener-friendly sound patterns and prosody of the L2 that the learners don't already have in their L1.

Auditory perception develops before pronunciation and then monitors it. “Ya gotta hear it right before ya can pronounce it right.” Each time that the auditory neurons are stimulated with new sound patterns during L2 learning they reach out a little more, striving to make connections with other neurons. During the earlier stages of this process the outreaches are weak and don't endure long without repeated stimulation. Only with massive repetitious stimulations do the neural outreaches and connections become stronger, longer lasting, more complex, and eventually, habituated long-lasting memory. Only then can the learners hear the new sound patterns and produce them with the necessary listener-friendly pronunciation. Massive enough reps are ESSENTIAL for this to happen. Many pronunciation teaching methods stop far short of this point. Sadly, the learners’ listener-friendly pronunciation development is slower and diminished.

I frequently remind the learners that if they want to keep native listeners engaged they are responsible for producing listener-friendly pronunciation. The auditory system of the native speaker has to work harder to perceive and understand pronunciation that is outside the range of expected native pronunciation. As the listeners’ auditory fatigue increases, they becomes more uncomfortable, lose interest in conversing and the learner loses L2 learning opportunities, and confidence. Many native speakers will expend little extra effort to listen to listener-unfriendly speakers. The few friendlier ones eventually reach their listener-unfriendly fatigue limits and also tune out. [7]


At the first class the learners each tell their name, address, phone number and where they’re from. We then use some of the street addresses as an introduction to the choral repetition method, for example, 3817 International Boulevard, Apartment 25. First, I repeat the short sentence we are working on about 10 times, with colloquial, but correct, pronunciation (thurdyaitsevnteen inernashenal bulavard apartmntwenyfive). I ask the learners to listen attentively and to silently lip synch the words I’m saying, with exaggerated mouth movements. And also, to raise their index fingers and move them across in front of their chest in rhythm with the “music” (like a conductor). Sometimes we also move our feet up and down. Then they silently listen to me again, and then many more choral reps, and so on and so on.

After many choral reps with thurdyaitsevnteen inernashenal bulavard apartmantwenyfive, I intro “ha ha” for focusing more directly on the underlying prosody - ha-ha-HA-ha-ha-HA (thurdyaitseventeen) ha-ha HA ha-ha (inernashenal) HA ha-ha (bulavard) ha-HA-ha-ha-ha-ha (apartmentwenyfive). [8] We alternately do many sets of “ha ha” and word reps. This is interspersed with individual coaching, as needed.

Next, I ask each learner to say the English alphabet solo, and I coach each one along, as needed. This tells me how well each knows the alphabet, plus more about problem sounds. Then I introduce the alphabet song - ABCDEFG HIJKLMNOP...XYZ. This helps them to review or learn the letter names. Some already know this musically simple song. After many choral reps of an alphabet chunk, the HIJKLMNOP letter names, for example, I intro ha ha ha ha HA-ha-ha-ha-ha, the underlying prosody. Or I may ask the learners to try to figure out the “ha ha”. This is difficult in the beginning and I coach them along. With practice some get better at doing this alone as the course goes on. We alternately do many sets of “ha ha” and letter name reps. Doing the whole alphabet song from “ABC... to ...with me please.” may take 2-3 hrs.

Next, we practice with “Happy Birthday.” This is a good exercise for the learners to practice getting the “ha ha” by themselves, as most ethnicities have a version of this and know the music. The learners quickly get the English words. I might ask them to do the “ha ha” for homework for the next class.

I ask the learners to write down, in their L1, or in English, simple dialogues that they frequently speak outside of class, in their L1 or in English, – 4 to 5 short sentences, about 6 to 9 words each - and bring them to class. We work together to translate these dialogues into colloquial pronunciation, and then use them for our choral reps, for example, “I went nowhere. I stayed at home.” and “When are your day-off?” – becomes “Didn't go anywhere. Just stayd home.” and “Whenz yer day off?”

For the next level, we use the names of numbers in rhythm with the syllables. The HIJKLMNOP of the Alphabet Song becomes “one two one two ONE-two-one-two-three.” After we get this going smoothly with number names we “dance” to the numbers, speaking the numbers, and stepping out in rhythm. This takes practice, and the learners work in pairs, one stepping out and the other monitoring and coaching. Also, I move amongst the pairs, coaching. This is a good Total Physical Response (TPR) activity.

The next level is doing the “dance”, together with speaking the original words with correct prosody – aich aye jay kay EL-em-en-oh-pee..., and etc. Engaging listening, speech production and full body motor activities together this way stimulates the neural system at a greater language acquisition energy level.

Learners of some ethnic groups come with music, dance and rhythm experience. Others I've worked with know few or no music or dances from Western countries, and sometimes little from their own culture, as well. They often have to work more to get the “music” of English.

Note: Learning activities are given as much time as the learners need. This is a process rather than a curriculum and I don't necessarily try to fit any one exercise into a class period. While the K-way works well with any number of learners, eight or more is optimal.

1. Quote from “Who am I, the Speech Doctor... and why?” (my CV) at

2. 2001. Teaching by Principles. White Planes, NY: Longman. Page 271.

3. Dr. Kjellin says, “...(my) students keep practicing during breaks... I attribute motivation induced by the addictive feeling of success.” Practice ==> Success ==> Pleasure ==> Addiction ==> Motivation ==> Practice. (PSPAM)

4. Dr.Olle Kjellin has 35 years of L2 teaching experience with a special interest in pronunciation. He is an M.D. with specializations in swallowing and speech disorder radiology, a PhD in Physiology and Speech Science, and has academic degrees in Linguistics, Phonetics, English, Japanese, and Russian. He presently assesses, diagnoses and treats speech, cognition and learning disorders in dementia patients. He also lectures in phonetics at Vaxjo University in Sweden. Dr. Kjellin is the only person in Sweden with this combination of expertise and the first one to use the results of linguistic prosody research to develop classroom-teaching methods. He is the author of “Swedish Prosody in Practice”, a practical cookbook manual, in Swedish (being translated into English).

5. You can read more about Dr. Kjellins’s method (K-way) at: ..... ..... (some of these cite research sources)

6. COOING: oohh and aahh sounds. GURGLING: running-water-like throat sounds. BABBLING: consonant-vowel syllable strings, dadada, bababa, etc

7. Motivating learners to speak English out of class is my BIG teaching challenge. I heartily welcome any help on how to be more skilled and successful with this.

8. For written notation, ha = unstressed, HA = strongest stress, Ha = secondary stress, hyphenated ha-ha = faster rhythm.

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