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

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Anytune slows down sound tracks for language practice

Anytune, a slow-downer app designed for musicians and singers, allows you to adjust the tempo of a music track without changing the pitch. Learning to speak a new language fluently is like learning music. When a phrase, dialog, story, or speech is played through Anytune, a learner can slow it down and practice it easily. Anytune loads all songs in your iTunes library; you pick a track to practice. Within the track, you can set A and B points around difficult phrases to create a loop that plays at a percentage of the original tempo. The loop automatically restarts and plays from A to B so that you can practice the phrase again and again. The Step-it-up Trainer function repeats a section, incrementally increasing the speed from 50% to 100% in ten repetitions. The tempo and number of repetitions can be adjusted to your liking. These features allow a teacher to tailor the way you present a recorded model to your students. Students using Anytune can use these controls independently to build pronunciation accuracy, speed, rhythm, expression, and fluency.

At the time of this publication, Anytune is available for Mac OS and iOS devices (iPad, iPod, iPhone), with versions for Windows and Android said to be "on the way."

Click to watch my demo video.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What’s Hot 2015: Insights from Pronunciation Practitioners

Marsha J. Chan
Donna M. Brinton

What do pronunciation specialists consider to be topics worthy of discussion amongst themselves? As a follow-up to previous studies of “hot topics” on an invitational electronic mailing list (e-list) for pronunciation specialists, this study investigates the issues that international pronunciation specialists elected to discuss during a one-year period. The authors, both members of the e-list, analyzed the e-list discussion strands and threads over the one-year period from August 2014 to August 2015 to determine the four topics that elicited greatest degree of interest, interaction, and in-depth discussion. The hot topics of this past year, summarized here, are: 

1) techniques for helping Vietnamese speakers learn English pronunciation; 
2) stress shifting in British and American English;
3) the respective merits of differing vowel charts; and 
4) the value of contrastive analysis for research and teaching.

To read the article, click the first link. To access all of the proceedings, click the second link.

Chan, M. J., & Brinton, D. M. (2016). What’s Hot 2015: Insights from Pronunciation Practitioners. 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. 14-28). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pronunciation Doctor responds to questions from CCSF about the teaching of pronunciation

Ana Wu, an ESL instructor at the Community College of San Francisco, invited other CCSF colleagues to pose questions to me about the teaching of pronunciation.

A Conversation with a Multilingual presents 
Q & A with Marsha Chan

To access the 7,000-word interview in its entirety, click here: 

To view each question (or group of questions) and my response one by one, click on the links to Questions 1-4 below.

A) How do you measure improvement in pronunciation? What techniques do you use to measure improvement?
B) Do you have favorite resources (books or websites) that provide targeted practice for specific native languages (e.g. difference exercises for Cantonese speakers and Spanish speakers instead of all doing the same exercises together).
Robert Griffiths, CCSF Downtown

Most of my students are from southern China, and they cannot pronounce an “l” sound at the beginning of a word or distinguish the sound from an initial “r” sound. How do you go about teaching this? Thanks in advance!
–Roland Trego, CCSF Downtown

What’s the best way to teach students the difference between “walk” and “work”?  I draw diagrams of the mouth and tongue, but it’s still very difficult. Is there better way?
– Ann Overton, CCSF John Adams

Sometimes it is very difficult for students to hear the differences between slight vowel variations. For example, some students cannot distinguish the /ey/ and /ɛ/ sound as in “name” and “pen,” or the /iy/ and /ɪ/ sound as in “leave” and “live.” I feel that students are frustrated as they can’t hear the difference when I say the words and also produce the difference when they say these words.
In your opinion, what is more important: That they can hear and recognize the correct pronunciation or that they can produce the correct pronunciation?
Dianne Wallis, CCSF Civic Center

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Capturing students on video and sharing them online

Presented at the TESOL 2016 Electronic Village, Baltimore, MD


After showing sample videos of students of varying English proficiencies performing different language tasks, I explained how to share them for educational purposes within a secure LMS and on YouTube and other open sites with privacy and other setting choices. 


Group work
In class
Out of class

Portable video recorder
Smart phone, tablet
Laptop w/ webcam

To observe voice & body language
To inform, instruct, entertain
To ensure & document student participation
For formative, summative assessment (T)
For self-assessment & peer assessment (Ss)
Not for Hollywood broadcast!


Description, (min:sec), link
Vid operator
Whole class practices clothing role-plays in pairs. ESL*920_clothing_07 (0:29)
Two-person role play exam. Anh and Thuan return clothing (1:37)
Simultaneous mall group speeches. Tracy's state presentation: Arizona. (5:24)
iPhone on desk
Whole class engages in lecture retelling in pairs. COC1 Ch3 (0:27)
Student reads a picture book to preschoolers. Grisel reads "Bathtime for Biscuit". (4:07)
Child Dev Center
Student’s partner
Student demonstrates how to make Russian pancakes, at home. Elena blini. (2:54)
Student’s friend
Student demonstrates how to make guacamole, in class. Sonia guacamole. (5:06)
Teacher or student


Flip camera, smart phone, laptop or desktop camera, webcam, DSLR camera. Be sure to record landscape (horizontal), not portrait (vertical). Headset.

Recording operator options

Teacher records students. Students record each other in pairs and small groups. Students record themselves (or get friends outside of class).

Some considerations

Adults only, with consent, if public. No children. Lighting: students are ideally front-lit, not back-lit. Microphone placement: near students unless wired remotely. Voice projection: students should try to speak louder than ambient noise.

Sharing videos with students

Give/send file to individuals.
Upload to course LMS (Learning Management System).
Upload to Youtube or other video service.
Embed video in a blog.
Play video in class
Privacy settings:
Public, Unlisted, Private

Marsha’s PronunciationDoctor YouTube Channel

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Sharing Video with Students – Marsha’s Video Blogs

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Marsha Chan's Professional Development Blog In this blog, Marsha Chan, the Pronunciation Doctor, shares some of her professional development workshops and other ideas for language learning and teaching.
Examples: Using Video to Enhance or Flip Speaking, Pronunciation, and Listening, Learning and Teaching the Music of Spoken English
ESL 920 Beginning English This blog displays some of the learning activities of students enrolled in ESL 920 Beginning English as a Second Language. This course provides basic functional practice in reading, writing, listening, speaking, and grammar for beginning ESL students. It also provides preparation for placement in Level 930 ESL classes.
Examples: Colors, materials, & clothes March’01, One-on-one Q&A about pictures–final, Dec’10.
ESL 930LS Listening and Speaking This blog displays some of the learning activities of students enrolled in ESL 930LS High Beginning Listening and Speaking. This English as a second language course focuses on comprehension of simple articles, stories and dialogs in English. It also increases high frequency vocabulary.
Example: How to Make S'mores, demo How to Prepare a Recipe,
ESL 950 Pronunciation and Listening. This blog displays some learning activities of students in ESL 950PL Intermediate English Pronunciation and Listening. The goal of this course is to improve learners' pronunciation so that they can speak more clearly and therefore communicate more effectively.
Example: Phong reads "How do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?"

Video Resources for Creating Video and Creating a YouTube Channel

YouTube 101 – Equipment that you will need, Powered by @ElgatoGaming. Uploaded by Drift0r 1/17/14.
How To Create/Set Up a YouTube Channel - YouTube Guide. Uploaded by TheHelptimes 1/7/14. (2:45)
How To Properly Upload Videos To YouTube. Uploaded by Derral Eves 1/2/14. (4:22) Upload, title, description, tags, privacy settings, category, add to playlist.
Change video privacy settings on YouTube. Uploaded by YouTube Help 10/31/14. (1:02)
Recording video with a laptop webcam. Uploaded by PronunciationDoctor on 1/27/11. (0:31)
Recording video with a digital camera.Uploaded by PronunciationDoctor on 1/27/11 (0:42)
YouTube 101: Private Sharing. Uploaded by YouTube Spotlight 1/4/10 (4:01)

Contact information

Marsha Chan

To download a handout in PDF format