The motivation behind this paper is that oral English has become one of the key obstacles of Chinese Students in learning and teaching activities in the context of higher education in English speaking countries. Both the lecturers and students reflect the difficulties in comprehending the speech of the Chinese students (Yen and Kuzuma, 2009). This is also reflected in the performance of the IELTS speaking test that most Chinese candidates tend to get a relatively low band score with an average of 5.4(Lai et. al, 2008). The phenomenon in the higher educational context somehow indicates the reason behind the low band score that the IELTS interviewers may also confront such communication difficulties/breakdowns which affects the rater of the band score. Thus, a new requirement has being brought to the language instruction of the Chinese EFL classrooms that language teaching should not only focus on utilitarian purpose but also learners’ communication ability. This brings urgency to pronunciation teaching, as both empirical and anecdotal evidence demonstrate that if being unable to achieve the threshold level of pronunciation, there will be oral communication problem no matter how excellent and extensive nonnative learners’ command of grammar and vocabulary might be(Brinton, Celce-Murcia& Goodwin, 2010).
In my context of an IETLTS cramming class in China, limited attention has been paid to pronunciation teaching. The main focus of the pronunciation instruction is the segments rather than the suprasegemental features. This is because, comparing to segmental features, suprasegmental features such as stress, rhythm and intonation are of paramount importance for communication but are particularly difficult to teach,(Benrabah, 2010). Also, the pronunciation description in L2 tests like IELTS are often too vague to delineate a coherent construct (Issacs &Trofimovich, 2012) which causes difficulties for teachers to decide the pertinent features in pronunciation instructions. To maximize the effectiveness of pronunciation instruction in my context, I argue, it would be ideal to target at the cross-section in teachability and specific pronunciation features which may influence interviewers’ judgements of L2 comprehensibility in IELTS examination. Dalton and Seidhoffer (1994:73) considered word stress as the ‘most convenient focal point for any course in pronunciation’, as it connects to the segmental side by deciding the quality of individual sounds while connecting to the intonation side by signifying the prominence. Issacs &Trofimovich’s reseach (2012) also reported that word stress is identified as the phonological feature which is discriminated in judgements of L2 comprehensibility at all ability levels of L2 tests. The inverse relationship between teachability and the importance to comprehensibility judgement makes word-stress an ideal target aspect for pronunciation teaching. To clarify, word stress here refers to a particular syllable which is pronounced with greater prominence or loudness in any polysyllabic word of English (Teschner & Whitley, 2004).
The paper aims at designing teaching activities and materials for the instruction of English word stress in Chinese IELTS Cramming classes. The literature review section addresses the rationale of the instructional design and also provide pedagogical implications by examining the following two aspects: the significance of word stress for L1 receivers of English in processing the speech and the word stress problems of L2 learners and the reasons behind. Empirical evidences will be demonstrated to support the points. The third section is the outline of instructional sequence and the conclusion comes at the end.
2. Literature review
2.1 word stress to L1 receiver: why it is important?
The word stress rule system in English in complex…