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Using Discourse Analysis to Teach Connected Speech Elements

written by: Larry M. Lynch • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 4/5/2012

Ever study a language for months or even years, then take a trip to another country only to find you couldn't understand anyone? Worse yet, no one understood you either? The likely culprit? Connected speech - or the common way people speak a language. Improve your speech with discourse analysis.

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    Colloquial Conversation in English

    Written conversations and dialogues are useful in generating initial speech in English as a foreign language learners. The problem is though, that written conversations in themselves cannot fully convey many cultural aspects and elements of connected speech. This is where you, the English teacher, come in. It’s incumbent on you to infuse meaning and dynamics into the dialogues that will enliven the conversations to a level more consistent with colloquial speech between native speakers of the language. Without doing so English language learners will sound stilted, still and lack essential connected speech elements that lend conversational fluency to their dialogues. Not to mention that listening to these "artificially – produced" types of speech will result in learners failing to understand common colloquial speech when they travel to a location where English is used as the first language. Let’s look at a brief conversation with examples of discourse analysis and some elements behind it to determine how we might better understand and even "jazz up" the dialogue a bit.

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    A Dialogue in English

    Doris: "Hi Larry. How are you?"

    Larry: "Not so good. I have a terrible cold."

    Doris: "Really? That’s a shame. You should go home and rest in bed. It’s really important to get a lot of rest when you’re really sick."

    Larry: "Yeah, I know you’re right."

    Doris: "So, have you taken anything for your cold?"

    Larry: "No, I haven’t."

    Doris: "Well, it’s good to eat chicken soup. You can just chop up some garlic, onions and vegetables and cook them in chicken stock. You should try it! It usually works for me."

    Larry: "Yuck! That sounds awful. I hate vegetables and soup too."

    Doris: "Okay, suit yourself. I thought you wanted to get better."

    Larry: "Alright, I’ll try it. I’ll do anything to feel better soon. Thanks Doris."

    Doris: "No problem. You’re welcome, Larry. See you later."

    Larry: "Okay Doris, see you later."

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    Connected Speech Elements

    In this conversation, we can consider a number of connected speech elements that might be useful to pre-teach or post-teach our English as a foreign language learners. Aspects such as:

    -use of inflection,

    -syllable stress and accent when speaking and pronouncing,


    -diphthong and triphthong pronunciation,

    -grammatical structures like use of discourse markers,

    -modal verbs in context,

    -short responses and

    -both true and false cognates in English (and Spanish too if this relates to your learners L1),

    -connected speech elements such as elision, liaisons and contraction could also be useful.

    Plus there is always the typical pre-teaching of key lexis and grammar prior to the actual conversation or dialogue practice

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    Why Teach Connected Speech Elements?

    So besides a headache, what can we get from all this? Consider in addition that you’ll probably need to teach key lexis during a pre-conversation practice stage of the lesson and you have the makings of not one or two but quite possibly several related English language lessons for this particular conversational dialogue. By examining, then extracting those fluency elements we consider to be most needed on the part of our English language learners, we can inherently improve their speech fluency as well as their listening comprehension skills. So that when they are openly exposed to native English speakers using the language at a normal conversational speed in context, our learners will be much better able to cope and communicate. That is, after all, what language learning is all about, isn’t it? In the next article in this series, "A Dialogue Discourse Analysis", we go into more in-depth detail on these and other elements of a conversation or dialogue.

    … And by the way, I was just kidding about the headache.