Prosodic elements to improve pronunciation in English language learners: A short report


Pennsylvania State University, The Behrend College, Erie, USA


The usefulness of teaching pronunciation in language instruction remains controversial. Though
past research suggests that teachers can make little or no difference in improving their students’
pronunciation,  current  findings  suggest  that  second  language  pronunciation  can  improve  to  be
near  native-like  with  the  implementation  of  certain  criteria  such  as  the  utilization  of  prosodic
elements. With the emphasis  on  meaningful communication and the  understanding that  speech
production  is  affected  by  speech  perception,  there  is  a  need  to  integrate  prosodics  with
communicative  activities  providing  situations  to  develop  student  pronunciation  through
listening and speaking.  This short overview examines such elements.


Main Subjects

The  effectiveness  of  teaching  pronunciation
is  a  widely  debated  topic.  Nevertheless,
second  language  fluency  is  not  only  based
on  grammar,  syntax,  and  discourse,  but
pronunciation  as  well,  which  plays  a  vital
role  in  fluency.  The  prosodic  aspects  of
speech  are  often  the  most  difficult  to  teach,
yet  are  a  very  important  element  for  the
language  learner  to  master.  Stress,  rhythm
and  intonation  differentiate  the  fluent  from
the  mediocre  second  language  speaker,  and
results  in  a  native-like  accent

  which  is
central  to  the  successful  use  of  a  second
language.  This  report  examines  the
challenges  facing  the  instruction  of

  This  paper  focuses  on  pronunciation  from  a  strict
pedagogical  point  of  view  and  does  not  have  a
sociolinguistic  perspective.  That  is  why  the
dichotomy ‘native/nan-native’ has been used. For  a
sociolinguistic  perspective  in  general  and  the
commodification  of  accents  in  particular,  see
Blommaert (2010).
pronunciation  to  second  language  (L2)
learners  and  based  on  the  examination  of
current  scholarly  work,  sets  out  to  answer
the following question: What are the factors
that promote native-like pronunciation in L2
learners?  Additionally,  this  paper  explores
the role of pronunciation in current and past
language  programs,  recent  research  on  the
elements  of  pronunciation  of  L2  learners,
and  current  pedagogical  beliefs  about
pronunciation teaching and learning.
While  age  is  unmistakably  a  central  aspect
in  determining  the  probability  with  which
L2  learners  will  obtain  a  native-like  accent,
researchers  have  found  that  some  nonnative
speakers who began learning later in life are
sometimes  identified  as  native  speakers.
However,  “this  is  a  fairly  exceptional
phenomenon”  (Bongaerts,  1999,  p.  154).  
For  the  purpose  of  this  essay,  these
exceptions will not be examined. Rather, the
pronunciation of learners who begin to learn
their  second  language  after  the  age  of
twelve,  the  age  where  most  find  an  accent
unavoidable,  and  face  the  pronunciation
challenges  typical  of  second  language
learners  (O’Brien,  2004,  p.  5),  will  be
Introduction to the study   
Prosodic  features  can  be  realized  at  the
linguistic  domain  ranging  from  the  shorter
lexical  (phonemic)  level  to  the  longer
sentential  level  (Wu,  Tu,  &  Wang,  2012).
The terminology used in this examination is
very  field  specific.  An  agreed  interpretation
of these terms is necessary to understand the
positions  presented.    A  Dictionary  of
Linguistics  &  Phonetics  (2003)  discusses
prosody.  In  phonetics,  the  smallest
perceptible  segment  is  a  phone.  Phonology,
a subfield of segmental phonology, involves
the  analysis  of  speech  into  phonemes  that
corresponds  to  phonetic  segments  of
analyzed speech. “A phoneme is an abstract
unit  of  speech  sound  that  can  distinguish
words is such that changing a phoneme in a
word  can  produce  another  word”  (64).
Speakers of a particular language perceive a
phoneme  as  a  distinctive  sound  in  that
language.  The  prosodics  of  oral  languages
involves  variation  in  syllable  length,  pitch,
and  loudness  of  speech  sounds.  Prosodic
features  are  suprasegmental  in  that  they  are
not  confined  to  any  one  segment;  rather,
they  occur  in  a  hierarchy  of  other  levels  of
an  utterance.  These  prosodic  units  are  the
actual  phonetic  spurts  or  chunks  of  speech.
They  do  not  in  general  correspond  to
grammatical  units  such  as  phrases  or
clauses;  hence  they  are  more  relevant  to
pronunciation  rather  than  meaning.
Typically,  stress,  length,  intonation,
syllabification  and  tone  fall  under  the
general  heading  of  suprasegmentals,
reflecting  a  conceptual  division  of  speech
into ‘segmental’ and ‘suprasegmental’ parts
(Crystal,  2003).  However,  this  division  is
not  absolute,  with  phonetic  correlates  of
stress,  intonation,  etc.  often  manifesting  in
the  consonants  and  vowels  at  the  segmental
level. Therefore, the term ‘prosody’ is often
and  accurately  interchanged  with
‘suprasegmentals’  as  it  will  be  in  this
Prosodic  units  are  characterized  by  several
phonetic cues, such as a coherent  pitch, and
the gradual decline in pitch and lengthening
of vowels over the duration of the unit, until
the  pitch  and  speed  are  reset  to  begin  the
next unit.  Furthermore, an allophone is one
of  several  similar  speech  sounds  (phones)
that  belong  to  the  same  phoneme.  An
allophone  is  not  distinctive,  but  rather  a
variant  of  a  phoneme.  Changing  the
allophone  will  not  change  the  meaning  of  a
word,  but  the  result  may  sound  non-native,
or be unintelligible (Crystal, 2003).
Furthermore,  research  has  shown  and
current  pedagogical  thinking  on
pronunciation  maintains  that  “intelligible
pronunciation  is  seen  as  an  essential
component of communicative competence”
(Morley,  1991,  p.  513).  “The  role  of
pronunciation  in  the  different  schools  of
language  teaching  has  varied  widely  from
having  virtually  no  role  in  the  grammar-translation  method  to  being  the  main  focus
in the audio-lingual method where emphasis
is  on  the  traditional  notions  of
pronunciation,  minimal  pairs,  drills  and
short conversations” (Otlowski, 1998, p. 2).  
Though  some  instructors  aim  for  a  native-like  pronunciation  and  have  expectations  of
near  perfection,  typically,  there  is  one  main
approach  in  pronunciation  teaching:
understandable.  The  understandable
approach develops a pronunciation style that
is  clear  and  understandable  to  both  native
and non-native speakers, but not necessarily
native-like.  This  approach  does  not  aim  for
perfection,  considering  it  too  ambitious  and
perhaps  even  an  unattainable  goal  for  most
learners  (Chung,  2005,  p.  3).  Despite
advancements  in  teaching  pronunciation,
near  native-like  fluency  remains  elusive  to
most adult L2 learners. Though it may seem
that  researchers  have  examined  every  facet
of  language  acquisition,  pronunciation  has
fallen  to  the  wayside  and  has  suffered  from
serious neglect. “Neither the Europeans nor
the  North  Americans  have  devoted  much
time  to  the  study  of  acquisitions  of  sound
systems” (Elliot, 1997, p. 95). Furthermore,
Elliot maintains that “teachers tend to  view
pronunciation as the least useful of the basic
language  skills  and  therefore  sacrifice
teaching  pronunciation  in  order  to  spend
valuable time on other areas of language” (p.
531).  Ironically,  language  learners
themselves  often  feel  the  most  important
aspect  of  learning  a  language  is
pronunciation  and  sounding  native-like,
which  reflects  the  position  that  intelligible
pronunciation  is  a  fundamental  element  of
communicative  proficiency.  Consequently,
to  serve  the  contemporary  L2  learner’s
needs,  the  ultimate  goal  is  not  merely
‘understandable’, rather native-like.
The  role  of  pronunciation  in  current  and
past language programs   
Current  and  past  language  programs  have
varied  widely  as  to  their  methods  of
teaching  pronunciation,  and  debates
continue  as  to  the  most  effective  method  of
teaching  pronunciation.    Modern
pronunciation teaching methods sprung from
the  classic  audio-lingual  method  (ALM)
which  was  a  direct  result  of  the  need  for
foreign language proficiency in listening and
speaking  skills  during  and  after  World  War
II.  Based  on  the  principle  that  language
learning is habit formation, it makes drilling,
repetition,  and  habit-formation  central
elements of instruction.  However, ALM has
a  tendency  to  focus  on  manipulation  of  the
target language and to disregard content and
meaning. Critics of the audio-lingual method
assert  that  this  emphasis  on  repetition  and
accuracy  ultimately  does  not  help  students
achieve  communicative  competence  in  the
target language.  
The antithesis and currently, “one of the
more  prevalent  approaches  to  teaching
pronunciation  is  communicative  language
teaching  (CLT),  which  requires  teaching
methods  and  objectives  that  include  whole-person  learner  involvement  including  three
important  dimensions:  the  learner's
intellectual  involvement,  affective
involvement,  and  physical  involvement”
(Morley,  1991,  pp.  485-6).  Teaching  of
pronunciation  shifts  from  an  aspect  of
phonological  accuracy  to  a  comprehensive
conversational competence and is thought to
be  taught  as  an  integral  part  of  oral
communication  (Pennington  &  Richards,
1986). It is seen as a by-product of teaching
speaking and listening (Murphy, 1991). The
learner's involvement in the learning process
as  a  partner  with  his  instructor  is
acknowledged as an effective techniques for
developing  learner  strategies.  “With  CLT
began  a  movement  away  from  traditional
lesson  formats  where  the  focus  was  on
mastery  of  different  items  of  grammar  and
practice through controlled activities such as
memorization  of  dialogs  and  drills,  and
toward  the  use  of  pair  work  activities,  role
plays,  group  work  activities  and  project
work” (Richards, p. 4, 2006). It can be seen
that the teacher's role is not only to teach but
to  facilitate  learning  by  monitoring  and
modifying  English  at  two  levels,  speech
production and speech performance.  
However, controversy persists regarding the
much embraced CLT. Jenkins (2004) argues
that the claim of CLT’s integral instruction
is  an  act  of  marginalizing  pronunciation  in
the  belief  that  it  is  peripheral  to  oral
communication.  It  superintends  the  critical
role  pronunciation  plays  in  communication.
In response, recent studies have shown some
support  for  the  superiority  of
suprasegmental  instruction  in  ESL  contexts
(e.g.,  Derwing  &  Rossiter,  2003).  Jenkins
strongly  suggests  the  need  of  a  more
systematic  training  of  prosodic  features  and
a return to the forgotten  minimal pair drills.
Wider  availability  of  curriculum  and
software  that  make  prosodic  elements
discourse  more  accessible  to  teachers  and
learners  encourage  work  with
suprasegmentals (Levis, p. 369, 2005).  
Finally,  teachers’  understandings  of  CLT
appear  to  vary  and,  thus,  the  manifestations
of the approach in teaching pronunciation is
not  as  effective  as  intended.  Nazari  (2007)
differentiated  two  concepts  of  CLT  as  he
investigated  teachers’  CLT  beliefs  and
practices:  the  narrower(vocabulary,  forms,
and  functions)  and  the  broader  (social-cultural  aspects  of  language  use).  In  his
study  of  three  Iranian  English  teachers  he
contends that the teachers’ implementation
of  CLT  practice  appears  to  be  based  on  a
narrower  concept  because  of    the
institutional  constraints  such  as  student
contact  time,  class  size  and  prescribed
curriculum and because of the “teachers’
lack of distinction between the two types of
communicative  competence  (p.  210).   In
regards  to  pronunciation  teaching,  though
certainly  laden  with  advantages,  CLT  is  not
necessarily  a  clear  choice  for  language
teachers.  Regardless,  CLT  with  its  heavy
emphasis on input should indirectly improve
pronunciation  through  target  language
exposure.  However, that improvement aims
for merely understandable pronunciation.  
Challenges  facing  instruction  of
Conservative  and  even  antiquated  beliefs  of
teaching  pronunciation  to  second  language
learners  persist.  “The goal of pronunciation
should  be  changed  from  the  attainment  of
'perfect'  pronunciation,  a  very  elusive  term
at  the  best  of  times,  to  the  more  realistic
goals of developing functional intelligibility,
communicability,  increased  self-confidence,
the  development  of  speech  monitoring
abilities  and  speech  modification  strategies
for  use  beyond  the  classroom  (Otlowski,
1998,  p.  2).  However,  these  beliefs  are
antithetical to today’s learners who yearn for
near  native-like  fluency  in  their  second
Research  has  uncovered  numerous  factors
inhibiting  native-like  pronunciation  of  L2
learners.  One  of  the  most  formidable
challenges  facing  the  L2  learner  is  his
language instructor. Many language learners
are  hearing  the  target  language  modeled  by
their  instructor  who  is  not  a  native  speaker
and  is  not  teaching  the  target  language
accent free. “The average speaker of English
in  Taiwan  uses  stereotyped  and  fossilized
pronunciations  based  on  what  they  hear
from  their  teachers  and  peers”  (Chung,
2005,  p.2).  The  skills  of  listening
comprehension  and  pronunciation  are
interdependent: “If they cannot hear English
well,  they  are  cut  off  from  the  language.  If
they  cannot  be  understood  easily,  they  are
cut  off  from  conversation  with  native
speakers” (Otlowski, 1998, p. 2). The non-native  instructors  of  pronunciation  suffer
from  prosodic  challenges  themselves,  thus
they cannot model accurate phonemes. Also,
speech  production  is  affected  by  speech
perception;  the  hearer  has  become  an
important  factor  in  communication
discourse.  This  illustrates  the  need  to
integrate  pronunciation  with  communicative
activities;  to  give  students  situations  to
develop their pronunciation by listening and
speaking.  The  current  research  reveals  a
reversal  in  the  thinking  about  pronunciation
and  shows  a  developing  consensus  that  a

learner's pronunciation in a foreign language
needs  to  be  taught  in  conjunction  with
communicative  practices  for  the  learner  to
be  able  to  communicate  effectively  with
native speakers (Otlowski, 1998, p. 2-3).
Furthermore,  Otlowski  (1998)  notes  the
often cited view that little relationship exists
between  teaching  pronunciation  in  the
classroom  and  attained  proficiency  in
pronunciation,  which  was  supported  by
research  done  by  Purcell  and  Suter  (1980).
They  concluded  that  pronunciation  practice
in  the  classroom  had  little  effect  on  the
learner's  pronunciation  skills  and  moreover,
“that  the  attainment  of  accurate
pronunciation  in  a  second  language  is  a
matter  substantially  beyond  the  control  of
the  educators”  (Robertson,  2003,  p.4).
Findings  were  qualified  by  stating  that
“variables of formal training and the quality
of the training in pronunciation could  affect
the  results,  as  would  the  area  of
pronunciation  that  had  been  emphasized,
that  is  segmentals  (individual  sounds  of  a
language)  or  suprasegmentals”  (Olowski,
1998,  p.  2).  This  leaves  educators  with  the
conundrum  of  the  influences  of  the
instructors’  own  fluency  with  prosodics
when  imparting  pronunciation  strategies  to
their  students  often  abandoning  the  fruitless
effort of pronunciation teaching.
Additionally,  phonological  intelligibility  is
extremely  difficult  to  isolate  and  pin  down.
Thus,  identification  of  essential  elements  in
teaching  pronunciation  can  be  a  complex
process (Jenkins, 2002, p. 2). Augmentation
or  modification  of  pedagogy  is  needed
because  scholarly  work  supports  that
repetition  and  drills  are  no  longer  a
satisfactory  tool  for  either  the  educator  or
the learner.  
Recent  research  on  pronunciation  of  L2
Current  research  on  factors  that  influence
native-like  pronunciation  aims  for  much
more  than  an  indirect  improvement  in
pronunciation. “For several decades of the
20th  century,  the  main  interest  of
pronunciation  teaching  research  was  in
applying  contrastive  analysis  techniques  to
the  sound  segments  of  the  [the  first
language]  L1  and L2” (Jenkins, 2004, p.
109).    Recently,  researchers,  including
Jenkins  (2004)  have  ceased  treating
pronunciation  as  an  isolated,  self-contained
linguistic  and  pedagogic  phenomenon,  and
are  “embracing  more  sophisticated
approaches  to  inter-language  phonology  by
focusing  increasingly  on  suprasegmental
features”  (p.  109).    As  a  stress-timed
language,  English  has  a  rhythm
characterized  by  alternations  in  degree  of
stress,  with  stressed  syllables  significantly
longer  and  most  vowels  in  unstressed
syllables reducing to a schwa, an unstressed
vowel  sound.  Although  the  distinction
between  syllable-  and  stress-timed
languages  has  been  debated,  it  is  still
generally  considered  that  most  languages
fall  somewhere  along  the  syllable-  and
stress-timed  continuum  (Trofimovich  &
Baker, 2007, p. 251). Prosodic elements, the
stress  and  intonation  patterns  of  an
utterance,  and  suprasegmentals,  pertaining
to  or  noting  features  of  speech,  as  stress,
pitch, and length, that accompany individual
consonants and vowels and may extend over
more than one such segmental element, have
been  targeted  for  deeper  examination  in
understanding  factors  that  promote  near
native-like pronunciation of an L2 speaker.
In  a  study  conducted  by  Trofimovich  and
Baker  (2007),  the  relationship  between
suprasegmental  accuracy  and  accentedness
in  an  L2  was  examined.  “The  study
examined  second  language  (L2)  experience
effects on learners’ acquisition of fluency-
(speech  rate,  frequency,  and  duration  of
pausing)  and  prosody-based  (stress  timing,
peak  alignment)  suprasegmentals.    The
analyses  established  that  amount  of  L2
experience influences learners’ acquisition
of  L2  suprasegmentals,  those  that
characterize the prosody (stress timing, peak
alignment) and  fluency (frequency, duration
of  pausing)  of  L2  speech.  What  these
analyses  did  not  establish,  however,  is  the
importance  of  these  suprasegmentals  to  the
native  English  listeners’  ratings  of
accentedness  in  L2  speech.  Results  also
indicated  that  both  fluency-based  and
prosody-based  suprasegmentals  appeared  to
determine  the  degree  to  which  speech  was
perceived as being accented. Native English
listeners appeared to consider a combination
of  suprasegmentals:  those  that  characterize
speech  prosody  (stress  timing)  and  speech
fluency (speech rate, frequency and duration
of pausing)” (2006, p. 252).  
The  processing  and  learning  of  the
suprasegmentals  characterizing  speech
prosody,  including  stress  timing  and  peak
alignment,  likely  reflect  linguistic
knowledge  that  differs  from  language  to
language  and  must  be  processed  and  stored
in  a  language-specific  manner  (Botinis,
Granstrom, & M’obius,  2001).  By  contrast,
“the suprasegmentals characterizing  speech
fluency  reflect  rapid  and  efficient
functioning  of  several  psycholinguistic
mechanisms at multiple levels of processing,
including  those  of  lexical  access  and
conversion of a speech plan into articulatory
output,  meaning  understandable
pronunciation”  (Trofimovich  &  Baker,
2007,  p.  252).  Therefore,  moving  from
understandable  to  native-like  pronunciation
requires  an  emphasis  on  prosodics  and
suprasegmentals in the language classroom.
Additionally,  O’Brien’s  2004  study  of
American  students  learning  German,
concluded that “pronunciation for subjects
who  received  prosodic  training  improved
whereas  that  of  a  similar  group  who
received only segmental training did not” (p.
5).  Furthermore,  O’Brien  determined  that
segmentals  and  prosodic  aspects  are  not
completely  independent  and  that  the
improvement  of  foreign  accent  does  not
necessarily  correlate  with  improvements  in
individual segments. Therefore, if the goal is
to  train  L2  learners  towards  a  native-like
accent,  suprasegmentals  must  be
emphasized in the instruction (p. 6).
Furthermore,  in  her  pronunciation  research
(2002),  Jennifer  Jenkins  analyzed
interactions  between  non-native  speakers  of
English.  The  aim  was  to  describe  which
features  of  English  pronunciation  are
essential  for  intelligible  pronunciation,  and
which  are  not.  After  examination,  Jenkins
  All  the  consonants  are  important
except for  'th' sounds as  in 'thin'  and
  Consonant  clusters  are  important  at
the  beginning  and  in  the  middle  of
words.  For  example,  the  cluster  in
the word 'string' cannot be simplified
to  'sting'  or  'tring'  and  remain
  The  contrast  between  long  and  short
vowels  is  important.  For  example,
the  difference  between  the  vowel
sounds in 'sit' and seat.'
  Nuclear  (or  tonic)  stress  is  also
essential.  This  is  the  stress  on  the
most  important  word  (or  syllable)  in
a group of words. For example, there
is  a  difference  in  meaning  between
'My son uses a COMputer' which is a
neutral  statement  of  fact  and  'My
SON has a computer', where there is

an  added  meaning  (such  as  that
another person known to the speaker
and listener does not use a computer)
(Jenkins, 2002, p. 3).  
Other  items  which  are  regularly  taught  in
English pronunciation courses appear not to
be essential for intelligibility in interactions,
but  could,  if  perfected,  lead  to  native-like
pronunciation. These are:
  The 'th' sounds (see above).
  Vowel quality, that is, the difference
between  vowel  sounds  where  length
is  not  involved,  e.g.  a  German
speaker may pronounce  the 'e' in the
word 'chess' more like an 'a' as in the
word 'cat.'
  Weak  forms  such  as  the  words  'to',
'of'  and  'from'  whose  vowels  are
often  pronounced  as  schwa  instead
of  with  their  full  quality  (Jenkins,
2002, p. 4).
Moreover,  stress,  tone  and  pitch  must  be
considered  when  examining  pronunciation
teaching.  Hyman  (2006)  explains  that  every
prosodic  word  contains  one  and  only  one
primary stress. While tone is related to pitch
features,  stress  relates  to  metrical
prominence (p. 231).  Hyman further argues
that “pitch accent is not a coherent notion,
rather  a  pick-and-choose  among  the
properties in the prototypical tone vs. stress-accent systems” (p.  236).  Other  features  of
connected  speech  such  as  assimilation,
where  the  final  sound  of  a  word  alters  to
make it more like the first sound of the next
word,  so  that,  e.g.  'red  paint'  becomes  'reb
paint'  lead  to  improved  pronunciation
including  the  suprasegmentals  of  word
stress,  pitch  movement,  and  stress  timing.
All these things are said to be important for
a  native  speaker/listener  either  because  they
aid intelligibility or because they are thought
to make an accent more native like (Jenkins,
2002, p. 2-6).
Finally,  research  on  pronunciation  hovers
between  two  goals:  native  fluency  or
relevant  intelligibility.  In  today’s  global
English  world,  some  ELT  researchers
believe  that  native-like pronunciation isn’t
necessarily  and  advantage  when
communicating  with  World  Englishes
speakers.    The  implications  of  Jenkins’
model  for  pronunciation  teaching  promote
the  idea  that  students  should  be  given
choice. “When students are learning English
so  that  they  can  use  it  in  international
contexts  with  other  non-native  speakers
from  different  first  languages,  they  should
be  given  the  choice  of  acquiring  a
pronunciation  that  is  more  relevant  to
intelligibility  than  traditional  pronunciation
syllabuses  offer”  (Coskun,  2011,  p.  53).  
Nevertheless,  the  nearer  the  traditional
pronunciation  of  the  language,  the  more
readily understood a speaker is.  Hence,  the
value  of  focusing  on  suprasegmentals  when
teaching  pronunciation  cannot  be  so  easily
Drawing  from  the  Hymes  (1972)
communicative  competence  and  on
contemporary research in discourse analysis,
the aim of teaching pronunciation is to make
the  utterances  intelligible.  To  become
intelligible,  learners  tacitly  approximate  the
target language norms as closely as possible.
The  ultimate  goal  is  for  the  learner  to
develop  spoken  English  that  is  easy  to
understand,  serves  the  learner's  individual
needs,  and  allows  a  positive  image  of
himself  as  a  speaker  of  a  foreign  language.
“The  communicative  approach  to
pronunciation  teaching  requires  prosodic
teaching methods and objectives that include
whole-person  learner involvement” (Chung,
2005,  p.2).  Through  the  instruction  of
suprasegmentals,  the  learner  develops
awareness  and  monitoring  skills  above  the
segment  level  that  will  allow  learning  and
self-correcting  opportunities  outside  the
classroom  environment.  Undoubtedly,  the
expanding  global  use  of  English  has
heightened the demand for English teaching
and pronunciation. Research has shown that
explicit  instruction  in  pronunciation  is
essential  in  language  teaching  curriculum
(Fraser,  1999;  Jenkins,  2002;  Levis,  2005).
However,  this  idealized  approach  to
teaching  pronunciation  does  not  mean  that
English  language  teachers  need  to  abandon
the  communicative  approach,  which  is  so
effective in teaching speaking and listening.
It  is  through  longer  samples  of  real
discourse,  as  found  in  the  communicative
language  classroom,  that  the  relationship
between  suprasegmentals  and  meaning
becomes evident (Fraser, 1999, p. 169).
Elliott  made  a  similar  proposal  with  respect
to  teaching  pronunciation  in  a
communicatively  oriented  classroom.
“Improvement  in  pronunciation  for  adult
learners  is  possible  by  employing  a
multimodal  methodology  that  accounts  for
individual  learning  style  variation.  The
methodology  aims  to  promote  a
metalinguistic  awareness  based  on  inter-lingual allophonic and phonemic similarities
and  differences  as  well  as  an  awareness  of
the grapheme-phoneme relationship” (Elliot,
1997,  p.  103).  Furthermore,  evidence
revealed  that  by  focusing  on
suprasegmentals  that  are  most  problematic
for  a  particular  native  speaker  within  a
communicative  approach,  yields
enhancement  toward  a  more  native-like
accent  (p.  103).  Moreover,  instructors
unintentionally  use  prosodics  in
conversational  repair  strategies,  utilizing
aspects such as stress and intonation in error
correction  which  further  effects  accent
(Seong, 2004, p. 156).  
Learners  with  decent  pronunciation  are
likely  to  be  understood  even  if  they  make
grammatical  errors,  whereas  learners  with
poor    pronunciation  will  not  be  understood,
even  if  their  grammar  is  perfect  (Gilakjani,
2012,  p.  96).    Furthermore,  research
suggests  that  speech  production  is  affected
by speech perception; the hearer becomes an
important  factor  in  communication
discourse.  Thus,  the  skills  of  listening
comprehension  and  pronunciation  are
interdependent. “If they cannot hear English
well,  they  are  cut  off  from  the  language...If
they  cannot  be  understood  easily,  they  are
cut  off  from  conversation  with  native
speakers” (Gilbert, 1984, p. 1). The teaching
of pronunciation has to reach for intelligible
pronunciation  as  an  essential  component  of
communicative  competence,  which  can  be
achieved  through  pronunciation  lessons
centered  around  aspects  such  as  sounds,
syllables,  stress  and  intonation  (Gilakjani,
2012, p. 103), thus highlighting the prosodic
elements of language.
Recommended  pedagogical  strategies  of
pronunciation teaching  
The  value  of  prosodic  aspects  of  speech,
stress, rhythm and intonation often enhances
pronunciation  and  results  in  a  native-like
accent,  which  is  central  to  the  success  of  a
language learner. As a result of the transition
from  the  teacher-centered  classroom  to  the
student-centered classroom, there has been a
need  for  the  integration  of  pronunciation
with oral communication. This has begun to
be  manifested  with  the  change  in  emphasis
from  segmentals  to  suprasegmentals,  more
emphasis  on  individual  learner  needs,
meaningful  task-based  practices,  the
development  of  new  teacher  strategies  for
the  teaching,  and  the  introduction  of  peer
correction  and  group  interaction.  “These
transitions  result  in  a  shift  from  specific
linguistic  competencies  to  broader
communicative  competencies  as  goals  for

teachers  and  students”  (Bruen,  2001,  p.
161).  Attention  to  larger,  sentence  level
aspects  of  speech  such  as  prosody  and  to
various  combinations  of  sounds  such  as
linking,  assimilation,  and  reduction  will
positively  impact  the  pronunciation
improvements  of  the  second  language
learner (Mora, 2008, p. 433).  
Additionally, with the advent of technology,
the prevalence of online education cannot be
ignored.  Teaching  pronunciation  through  a
virtual  classroom  has  reached  the  second
language learner.  “The  pioneering  use  of
CD-ROMs,  eminently  suitable  for  self-access,  enables  large  amounts  of
contextualized  native-speaker  data  to  be
provided for learners, along with the facility
to listen to short extracts and repeat specific
features over and over” (Jenkins, 2004, p.
112  ).  Espousing  the  endless  benefits  to
computer  education,  Bill  Gates  reflected,
“Technology  can  humanize  the  education
environment”  (Donahue,  2007,  p.  2).
However  necessary  technology  is,  it  is  only
just  surfacing  as  a  sufficient  means  of
promoting  near  native-like  pronunciation  of
L2  learners.  A  new  model  for  teaching
pronunciation  online  that  links  diagnostic
tests,  teacher  treatments,  posttests,  and
individual  treatment  via  acoustic  analysis
has  been  proposed.  Within  this  model,
tedious,  inaccurate  teacher  assessment  is
replaced  by  efficient,  accurate  computer
diagnostics  and  prosodics  again,  are

A.  Diagnosis-  technology  reduces  the
laborious tasks of determining which
accent  modification  features  require
remediation.  Traditionally  teachers
utilize  listening  discrimination  (such
as  minimal  pairs)  to  determine  level
of  proficiency.  Computer  assisted
diagnostic  programs  cover  features
of  intonation,  stress,  and  rhythm.
Though  speech  to  text  software  is
still  being  perfected,  it  can  measure
oral  competence  for  producing
English sounds.
B.  Treatment-  With  computer  assisted
instruction  (CAI)  students  interact
with  software  programs  that
emphasize  interactive  and
collaborative  activities  stressing
prosodic  elements  through
animation, video, sound, etc.
C.  Posttest-  A  mastery  test  determines
student progress.
D.  Acoustic  Analysis-  sophisticated
acoustic  analysis  of  speech  signal
online  can  be  performed  with
currently available software. Though
time-intensive  for  a  teacher,
technology  leads  to  an  accurate  and
quick analysis (Donahue, 2007, p. 1-7).
While  on-line  education  in  itself  is
insufficient  in  teaching  pronunciation,  with
augmentation  of  a  solid  pedagogy,
technology  could  be  the  future  for  the
English  language  learner  in  gaining  near
native-like fluency.  
Future research
As  the  profession  of  Teaching  English  as  a
Second  or  Other  Language  (TESOL)
recognizes  the  importance  of  near  native-like  pronunciation  for  the  L2  learner’s
success  in  fluency,  flexible  pedagogy,
critical inquiry, and more scholarly research
is  necessary.  “The  development  of  L2
suprasegmentals  needs  to  be  examined  in
other, more naturalistic situations and tasks:
those  that  allow  researchers  to  estimate  the
effects of lexical access, syntactic encoding,
and pragmatic decisions (among many other
factors)  on  the  production  of  L2
suprasegmentals”  (Trofimovich  &  Baker,
2007,  p.  255).  Future  research  needs  to
clarify  the  precise  contribution  of  prosody
and  fluency  based  suprasegmentals  to
foreign  accent  in  L2  speech.    Trofimovich
and  Baker  (2007)  have  suggested  that  both
fluency-based  (speech  rate,  frequency,  and
duration  of  pausing)  and  prosody-based
(stress  timing)  suprasegmentals  determine
the  perception  of  foreign  accent  in  a
learners’ speech (p. 272). “Based on low-pass  filtered  speech,  that  is,  speech  that
likely  sounds  unnatural  to  a  casual  listener,
these  ratings  may  not  reflect  perceptions  of
foreign  accent  in  face-to-face  interaction  or
in situations when clear speech is rated” (p.
252)  .This  calls  attention  to  the  need  for
additional  research  in  both  second  language
phonological  acquisition  and  classroom
pedagogy. “What is needed is a shift of two
types:  a  paradigm  shift  in  research  and
teaching  of  pronunciation  and  an
understanding of the sociolinguistic uses and
users of English” (Jenkins, 2002, p. 196).
Additionally,  researchers  must  investigate
more  fully  the  effects  of  orthography  in
combination  with  suprasegmentals  on
students'  developing  L2  phonological
competence  and  identify  those  areas  that
may negatively influence L2 speech. This in
turn  will  allow  instructors  to  develop  more
effective  classroom  materials  and  provide
students  an  opportunity  to  overcome  the
difficulties in foreign accent reduction.  
Clearly,  one  of  the  most  influential  factors
that  lead  to  more  native-like  pronunciation
or  L2  learners  is  a  focus  on  prosody  in
pronunciation  teaching.  Whether  in  a
traditional classroom or online, research and
the  current  trend  reversal  in  viewing
pronunciation  shows  there  is  a  consensus
that  a  learner's  pronunciation  in  a  second
language  needs  to  be  taught  in  conjunction
with  prosody  and  communicative  practices
for  the  learner  to  be  able  to  communicate
effectively  with  native  speakers  (Otlowski,
1998,  p.  2).    With  the  emphasis  on
meaningful  communication  and  the
understanding  that  speech  production  is
affected  by  speech  perception,  there  is  a
need  to  integrate  prosodics  with
communicative  activities  giving  students
situations  to  develop  their  pronunciation
through listening and speaking.  Although it
is  too  early  to  make  definitive  claims,  it  is
possible  that  more  direct  and  learner-oriented  technological  approaches  may
“accelerate the process of tone acquisition
both  by  providing  a  greater  amount  of
exposure  to  tone  in  context  with  the
opportunity to mimic repeatedly, and by the
appeal  to  the  subconscious  as  well  as  the
cognitive level” (Jenkins, 2004, p. 112). The
necessary  importance  of  incorporating
prosodic  aspects  for  effective,  native-like
communication cannot be overlooked in the
pedagogy of the second language instruction
of pronunciation.


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Volume 2, Issue 2
July 2013
Pages 117-128
  • Receive Date: 20 January 2013
  • Revise Date: 20 May 2017
  • Accept Date: 01 June 2013
  • First Publish Date: 01 July 2013