Connected Speech is an expression used to refer to spoken language when analyzed as a continuous sequence, as in utterances and conversations spoken at natural speed in everyday situations of life.
Rhythm is both a feature of and product of the phonological structure of English. The phonology of any language is a system, so that a change in one part of the system will affect some or all of the other parts, Sentence stress, Connected speech, Teaching rhythm, Recognition, Production
English is a very rhythmical language, so that a learner who can maintain the rhythm of the language is more likely to sound both natural and fluent. The two components of the system which have the greatest influence on rhythm are sentence stress and the various features of connected speech, i.e. what happens to words when we put them in an utterance.
In any sentence, some words carry a stress. These are the ‘strong’ or ‘lexical’ words (usually nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs). The remaining words are ‘grammatical’ words and are unstressed or ‘weak’ (conjunctions, pronouns, prepositions, auxiliaries, articles).
‘It’s the worst thing that you could do’
The rhythm produced by this combination of stressed and unstressed syllables is a major characteristic of spoken English and makes English a stress-timed language. In stress-timed languages, there is a roughly equal amount of time between each stress in a sentence, compared with a syllable-timed language (such as French, Turkish and West Indian English) in which syllables are produced at a steady rate which is unaffected by stress differences. Sentence stress is an important factor in fluency, as English spoken with only strong forms has the wrong rhythm, sounds unnatural and does not help the listener to distinguish emphasis or meaning.
Speed is also a factor in fluency. When we speak quickly, we speak in groups of words which are continuous and may not have pauses between them. This causes changes to the ‘shape’ of words. Unstressed words always sound different when used in a sentence as opposed to being said in isolation.
The most common features of connected speech are the weak forms of grammatical and some lexical words (and, to, of, have, was, were) and contractions, some of which are acceptable in written English (can't, won't, didn't, I'll, he'd, they've, should’ve). However, we often ignore other features which preserve rhythm and make the language sound natural. The most common of these are:
• Elision (losing sounds)
• Linking (adding or joining sounds between words)
• Assimilation (changing sounds)
Rhythm, then, is a product of sentence stress and what happens to the words and sounds between the stresses. Unfortunately, learners are often introduced first to written forms and the complexities of spelling. Learners whose mother tongue is phonemic or syllable-timed have particular problems. Teachers should remember to:
• Provide natural models of new target language before introducing the written form.
• Use natural language themselves in the classroom.
• Encourage learners to listen carefully to authentic speech.
• Teach recognition before production.
• Integrate rhythm and other aspects of phonology into grammar, vocabulary and functional language lessons as well as listening and speaking activities.
• Speed dictations (the boys are good / the boy is good / the boy was good).
• Dictogloss and other variations on dictation.
• Ask students how many words they hear in a sentence ( to practise recognising word boundaries).
• Ask; "What’s the third / fifth / seventh word?" in the sentence.
• Teaching weak forms and contractions at the presentation stage, and highlighting these on the board.
• Matching phrases to stress patterns.
• Using tapescripts. Marking stresses and weak forms.
• Using recordings of deliberately ‘unnatural’ English.
• Authentic listening.
• Drills (especially backchaining).
• Physical movement (finger-clicking, clapping, tapping, jumping) in time to the rhythm of the sentence.
• Focus on stress in short dialogues (kn you? Yes I can).
• Making short dialogues, paying attention to stress and rhythm (How often do you speak English? Once in a while).
• Headlines, notes and memos (build the rhythm with content words, then add the rest).
• Reading out short sentences with only the stressed words (How…come…school?), then add the other words without slowing down.
• Reading aloud (with plenty of rehearsal time).
• Focus on short utterances with distinctive stress and intonation patterns and a specific rhythm (long numbers, ‘phone numbers, football results).
• Jazz chants.
• Poems, rhymes and tongue-twisters (limericks are good at higher levels).
• Songs (the rhythm of English lends itself to rock and pop music, while rap involves fitting words into distinct beat).
`ASSIMILATION: This means
a) that a sound changes to be more like the following sound.
b)that two sounds join together to become another sound.
This makes articulation easier. But notice that the change from one consonant sound to another should not interfere seriously with comprehension
Because the resulting sounds are quite similar to the original ones.
Assimilation of Place
The most common form involves the movement of place of articulation of the alveolar stops /t/, /d/ and /n/ to a position closer to that of the following sound.
For instance, in the phrase ten cars, the /n/ will usually be articulated in a velar position, /teN ka:z/ so that the tongue will be ready to produce the following velar sound /k/.
Similarly, in ten boys the /n/ will be produced in a bilabial position, /tem boIz/ to prepare for the articulation of the bilabial /b/.
This phenomenon is easy to find also in Italian: think of the different pronunciations of the ‘n’ in Gian Paolo, Gian Franco and Gian Carlo.
Assimilation of Voicing
The vibration of the vocal folds is not something that can be switched on and off very swiftly, as a result groups of consonants tend to be either all voiced or all voiceless. Consider the different endings of ‘dogs’ /dogz/ and ‘cats’ /kats/, of the past forms of the regular verbs such as ‘kissed’ /kist/ and ‘sneezed’ /sni:zd/.