Part Three: A top-down approach
There are many ingredients to good pronunciation in English. In my last post on the subject I focused on individual, discrete sounds and their importance for our learners, but the thing that strikes me most when I hear a non-native speaker of English with good pronunciation is the rhythm and overall delivery of the chunks of language they use, not individual words per se. As a native speaker, if I hear a familiar pattern my ear can naturally pick out information which is being packaged in a way that makes sense to me. If some of the individual sounds are difficult to discern this is unlikely to affect my understanding to any great degree.
The importance of stress-timing
And I’m being quite literal when I talk about packaging language into meaningful chunks. Let’s see why this is and why one of the most important things we can do to help our students with pronunciation is to draw their attention to the phenomenon of stress-timing. Here’s a nice activity someone showed me years ago to introduce this at the beginning of a course. I don’t remember who exactly (my apologies) but I’ve never forgotten it.