Thursday, May 23, 2013

Teachingem to Linkn Blend

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
EAL Instructor, British School of Brussels
jonestamara@hotmail.com

Recently, I wrote a post about teaching listening. In it, I commented on the connection between certain pronunciation skills and listening and how we need to both teach these skills and make this connection explicit in the classroom. One of these skills, linking and blending, is a way proficient English speakers connect their speech to sound fluid and, according to Hieke (1984), to make speech less articulatory complex. In other words, it sounds better and is easier to say when words are linked and blended. Long ago, I wrote about teaching sentence stress in class, another pronunciation skill essential for listeners, but I have never broached the subject of teaching strategies to help students master linking and blending. So, here is my “two cents.”

Whating and Whating?

When proficient English speakers talk, we don’t say each work distinctly and clearly. Rather, we tend to link some of our words together. For example, “come and eat” gets pushed into one word that sounds like “comneat.” We usually link words when

  • the final sound of the first word is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is a vowel, as in “come and eat,”
  •  the final sound of the first words is a consonant and the initial sound of the second word is an unstressed pronoun starting with /h/ or /ð/ (we cut the /h/ and /ð/ to link), as in “tell him,”
  • the final and initial sounds of the two words are vowels (we insert a /w/ or /y/ sounds to make this easier), as in “my eye,”
  •  the final and initial sounds of the two words are the same consonant sound, as in “walks silently,” and
  •  the final and initial sounds of the two words are formed in similar consonant sounds, as in “fast driver.”

To muddy up the English waters even more, fluent English speakers also blend sounds, taking two sounds and making a completely new one by mushing them together. For example, instead of saying “not yet”, an English speaker would probably say “nochet.” We usually blend words when

  • the final sound of the first word is /t/ and the initial sound of the second word is /y/ to make /ʧ/, as in “not yet,” and
  • (2) the final sound of the first word is /d/ and the initial sound of the second word is /y/ to make /ʤ/, as in “would you.”

How ja dowit?

I often begin a lesson on linking and blending with a quick and dirty dictation. Having students write down sentences like “Tell him it’s easy” (linked and blended all over the place to sound like “tellimitseasy”) is a great way to “sell” the concept of connected speech to students who may, at first, be highly skeptical. Students often worry that this way of speaking is lazy or “street English.” It does take some convincing that all proficient English speakers link and blend, even the Queen of England, when she is speaking spontaneously. It’s a natural, fluent way to speak. Now, if students don’t want to speak this way, in spite of my hard sell, I don’t force them to. But, they have to be prepared to hear it in spontaneous conversation. It happens all the time!

I follow up the dictation with some choral repetition accompanied by body movements. Idioms and phrasal verbs are great for this kind of practice! As students chorally repeat phrases like “sleep in” and “raining cats and dogs”, and merrily link away, at the point of the connected speech, they link their two index fingers to reinforce the connection. It also helps students to see the link as they learn target language. For instance, as students repeat “sleep in,” I might write the words on the board as “slee pin” to really make the linking clear. Or, I might draw a line under the linked sounds, as in “sleep in.”

Songs also provide great linking practice. A favourite of mine is “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton. I play the song for the students a couple of times and they mark in the linked and blended sounds by drawing lines under them. In the case of blended sounds, they also need to mark in the new sound that is created. Then, we sing the song together, focusing on linking and blending as appropriate.

Finally, a fun way to reinforce connected speech is to make a blank board game, like snakes and ladders, and fill the squares with phrases that prompt linking and blending. As students move around the board, they read the phrases. If they connect the speech correctly, they can stay on the square. If they don’t, they have to move back to the square they came from. The other students in the group act as the “linking police” and I circulate to resolve disputes. It’s a great way to have fun, provide pronunciation practice and improve students’ listening all in one go!

Hieke, A. E. (1984). Linking as a marker of fluent speech. Language and Speech, 27, 343-354.

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