9 Word Stress: Teacher’s Corner

As language instructors, you can let students know that word stress in English is almost always calculated from the end of words, not their beginning. So they should model their pronunciation on words that end similarly, not begin similarly. The key exception is that certain prefixes (e.g., re-, com-, dis-, en-) can push stress from its default position on a word’s first syllable to the syllable after, particularly in the case of two-syllable verbs vs. nouns such as “record.”

Stress Shift in Verb vs. Noun

Noun Verb
RE-cord

re-CORD

PER-mit

per-MIT

PRE-sent

pre-SENT

PRO-ject

pro-JECT

PRO-duce

pro-DUCE

One good way to identify word stress patterns students have not yet mastered is to take notes on any nonstandard pronunciations while students talk through a 10-20 minute presentation or read through several pages from a textbook in their field. Where students’ mispronunciations are nonstandard because of word stress, students can be prompted to figure out the word stress error themselves by Googling “most common words ending with [stressed vowel to the end of their problem word]” and then reading aloud the More Words word list that results, e.g., Most Common Words Ending with -anism.

Although students generally mis-stress only some words following a given word stress pattern, this technique helps identify other common words following the same word stress pattern to which the student is not applying the pattern. This technique allows students’ problem with a specific word stress pattern to be addressed all at once, rather than just in terms of a single word in isolation.

  • Additionally, for any problem words identified following a particular word stress pattern, exposing students to a sample of 10-15 YouGlish examples of the word being pronounced in context (e.g., Youglish Search) can be very helpful for demonstrative purposes.
  • Once students know the relevant word stress pattern, it is important to automate their production of it by building their habit of pronouncing the word in accord with the standard pattern. Three homework assignments are helpful for accomplishing this task (see Additional Activities).

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Oral Communication for Non-Native Speakers of English by Timothy Kochem, Monica Ghosh, Lily Compton, and Elena Cotos is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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