Monday, October 3, 2016

The Stress Stress for Prosodic Improvement in English Words and Phrases

The stress stretch allows students to associate a physical movement to the concept of stressed and unstressed syllables to improve their pronunciation. Students stretch in accordance with the lexical stress or prominence of target words.

I’ve been jumping up and down in classrooms for well over 30 years to create an atmosphere in which learners of English as an additional language can find vigor, excitement, and rigor, just as my favorite high school Spanish and French teachers did in their passionate ways many decades ago. But in addition to infusing role-plays, dialogs, songs, and drama into classroom activities, I’ve developed several systematic techniques using movement. The Stress Stretch, which I wrote about as a recipe in New Ways in Teaching Speaking (Bailey & Savage, 1994), continues to be useful particularly for learners who have difficulty perceiving stress and intonation in spoken English. In my teaching career, most of my students come from linguistic backgrounds that are tonal and/or do not have the comparatively salient differences between stressed and unstressed syllables or long and short vowels as English. Even among relatively advanced learners, I have encountered quite a few who speak English with ease, and perhaps with general accuracy in word choice and sentence structure, but whose prosody causes confusion, delayed comprehension, misinterpretation, or misperception to varying degrees. Perhaps you, too, are familiar with learners like these.
Words are the building blocks of sentences, and words should not only be seen in written form, but heard in auditory form, and heard clearly. Heard and felt! Learning the auditory shape of a word, along with the visual shape of the word, and the meanings of the word, helps students make the word become part of their vocabulary. They can more easily recognize the words in the stream of speech and convey the proper message when they speak. In a thought group comprising multiple words, wherein the most important word receives greater vocal prominence than the others, this focus word is stressed, and its stressed syllable takes on the responsibility for conveying to the listener the most important part of the utterance. Gilbert (2008) describes this as the peak vowel in the prosody pyramid. Learners unfamiliar with the prosodic patterns of phrase level utterances in English miss-stress the utterance in various ways: they produce unnoticeable stress, or too many stressed syllables, or stresses on the wrong words and syllables. All types of improper stress can lead to miscommunication and listener discomfort.
By integrating the kinesthetic, tactile, visual, and auditory modalities of the Stress Stretch, teachers can heighten learners' perception of stressed vs. unstressed syllables and improve their production of these prosodic elements of English.


The Stress Stretch is a physical activity that complements and amplifies other techniques for indicating stressed syllables (Chan, 2001). The Stress Stretch combines a physical movement with stress in words and phrases. Specifically, it requires the stretching and lowering of the body – the expansion and reduction of body height – to coincide with lexical stress or discourse prominence.  The Stress Stretch is useful for beginners who are acquiring the stress and intonation of English words and phrases as well as for seemingly fossilized fluent speakers of English. It can be integrated into a lesson at any level and in any language strand (pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, listening, multi-skill).


  • To gain awareness of stressed syllables in spoken English
  • To associate stress with vowel length, clarity and pitch
  •  To internalize these suprasegmental features into body memory
  • To activate and link kinesthetic, tactile, visual and auditory learning modalities
  • To pronounce polysyllabic words with proper stress and intonation

Download the entire teaching tip The Stress Stress for Prosodic Improvement in English Words and Phrases, where you will find details on 
Stress Stretch Twins
Integrating the Stress Stretch into Lessons
Viewing the Stress Stretch in ActionThis ten-minute video is a recording of a live classroom lesson from page 174 "The Stress Stretch" in Phrase by Phrase Pronunciation and Listening in American English (Chan 2009).

The full publication:

Chan, M. J. (2016). The stress stretch for prosodic improvement in English words and phrases. In J. Levis, H. Le., I. Lucic, E. Simpson, & S. Vo (Eds). Proceedings of the 7th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference (pp. 187-191). Ames, IA: Iowa State University

No comments:

Post a Comment