What is Connected Speech? Pronunciation Training for ESL Teachers
English as a Second Language instructors need to know the different elements of English pronunciation. One element of the American accent is "connected speech." Other languages have this element as well, but many do not. This does not come easily to ESL students, so this blog will discuss what it is, when we use it, and why it is important to teach.
1. What is connected speech?
Connected speech is the when the end of one word runs into the beginning of the next word. The most common example of connected speech is in the phrase "a cup of coffee." Spoken at normal/fast speed this becomes "acuppa coffee." ESL students will often hear "acuppa" and think this is a new kind of coffee they've never heard of. Students are generally unaware that "acuppa" is three words.
2. When do we use connected speech?
According to Celce-Murcia, Brinton, Goodwin, and Griner 2010, connected speech includes: contractions, blends, reductions, linking, assimilation, dissimilation, deletion, and epenthesis. I am adding these terms here so that readers are able to find more linguistics research if desired. We most typically use connected speech when the words are for function, not content.
Let's look at our example: "a cup of coffee." This phrase has four words. Two words are function words and two are content words. The function words "a" and "of" are connected. The "a" becomes the schwa sound and the "of" is an example of assimilation. In this phrase, it is inefficient to say each word clearly. Most people only say the individual words if there has been a miscommunication and they need to clarify that they want a cup of coffee, not a bowl of coffee.
There is some argument in the research about when speakers use connected speech, but most researchers now agree that connected speech is present in most oral communication, but register can affect the degree to which it is used.
3. Why do we need to teach students about connected speech?
I typically teach my students connected speech as a listening strategy first. I want students to be able to understand everyday Americans. Of course we practice speaking with connected speech, but I want to make sure my students can hear it first. Hearing is the first step.
Then I walk into production. Arabic speakers usually have a problem with connected speech if it involves a lot of consonants because this is unusual in their language. Chinese students are confused by it because Chinese typically does not connect sounds. French speakers need to be reminded not to delete the end of the word, and Spanish speakers are typically good if they don't put the stress in the wrong part of the word.
But why do they need this?
In everyday conversation, those that do not connect sounds may be seen as annoying or even rude. Their pronunciation of every sound will slow down the rate of speech and over articulation may be seen as pompous or a know-it-all attitude. We have to remember as language teachers that pronunciation choices are a marker of identity. Either you identify with a group or you purposefully choose not to. This identifying is most pronounced in accents, twangs, rate of speech, levels of connectedness, and articulation.
If you want your students to be popular at parties or ace a job interview, help them connect their sounds.
Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. M., & Goodwin, J. M. (2010). Teaching pronunciation: A reference for teachers of english to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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