As We Speak (SPLIS)

SPLIS News, Volume 7:1 (April 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/03/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter From the Chair
    • Letter From the Editor
  • Articles
    • Innovative Techniques for Teaching Stress and Intonation in the Classroom
    • The Place of Place in Second Language Instruction
    • Book Review: Rules by the Sound
  • Community News and Information
    • What Is SPLIS-L?
    • Join Interest Sections for Free
    • Call for Submissions

Leadership Updates Letter From the Chair

Robert Elliott, SPLIS Chair, 2009-2010, Core Instructor AEI/Linguistics, Dept. at the University of Oregon,

Greetings SPLIS Members!

We are off to quite a few “new” things with this newsletter: a new school term, a new year, and a new decade. I hope you all have had a well-deserved break and restful holiday season.

On New Year’s Eve I heard a portion of a radio show that caught my interest. The participants were discussing the changes in technology we have seen since the millennium shift a decade ago. The guest mentioned three technological applications that we take for granted today but that we could barely imagine on New Year’s Eve 1999: the rise of social networking, the use of iPods/MP3 players, and the shift to smart phones. All three of these technologies have an important potential impact on what we do as speech, pronunciation, and listening teachers. What unimaginable changes are coming as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, I wonder?

The needs of our students in a technology-enhanced world certainly revolve around using oral communication with many new platforms and applications. At our university unit, for example, we recently hired a new faculty member who interviewed entirely for the position from overseas using Skype. Further, the way we harness this technology in the class, ranging from assessment to assignments, is shifting the way we teach. Technology certainly impacts all language teachers, but those of us concentrating on oral communication are particularly influenced by the rapid changes. Despite all the flux, the tried and true principles of teaching remain the same. How do we balance the change with solid pedagogy, drawing on the best of both?

The TESOL international convention in Boston was just held last month. Balancing technology with solid pedagogy was a part of many of the presentations and panel discussions, including InterSections with CALL, ITA, and DVM. The relationship of SPLIS with technology is nothing new, but we are seeing these changes become ever more influential. Another shift that impacts us this year is the change to online voting by all TESOL interest sections, a move designed to increase participation by members. This will be the first year that all voting will be entirely done over the Internet.

I would like to further encourage your participation and help to make SPLIS a place you can call “home.” I encourage all members to vote in the upcoming election. Also, there is another important way you could become involved and help SPLIS. We are looking for someone to become an assistant newsletter editor to help our wonderful current editor, Amanda Huensch. Please e-mail me if you are interested in this job.

Looking forward to an exciting new year,

Robert Elliott

Letter From the Editor

Amanda Huensch, Graduate Student, Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

Dear Fellow SPLIS Members,

Greetings! I hope many of you were able to attend the 2010 TESOL Convention in Boston and had a productive trip.

I am excited to announce this year’s first edition of the SPLIS newsletter. It comes soon after the biggest event of the year! Hopefully its contents will spark some ideas or give you the motivation to explore new ideas and techniques discussed at the convention. The more we all become actively involved with SPLIS, the healthier and more vibrant our interest section will be.

If you took part in the 2010 TESOL Convention, I hope you will consider submitting to the next edition of As We Speak. If you have ideas or suggestions for the upcoming newsletter or attended a session that interested you, please e-mail me and/or encourage presenters to submit their work for those who were not able to attend.


Articles Innovative Techniques for Teaching Stress and Intonation in the Classroom

Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker and Lynda Katz Wilner, ESL RULES, LLC

Many individuals speaking “American English” as a second language have achieved a proficiency of English vocabulary and grammar but are still frustrated by the inability to be clearly understood. The problem is not so much a language barrier as an accent barrier. This is usually the result of numerous factors.

First, they may have difficulty adjusting to the sound system of North American English, applying the muscular tension of the articulators (tongue, lips, jaw) as if speaking their first language. They may also be trying to guide their pronunciation through spelling, which is extremely unpredictable in North American English. Even more critical, many second language learners retain the rhythm and melodic patterns of their native language. They may speak in a monotone (flat) voice. Others may speak extremely quickly with excessive and unnatural pitch changes. Still others may utilize equal stress within a word, which results in a robotic (staccato) type of speech pattern. If their first language is syllable-timed as opposed to stress-timed, they will be challenged by the American intonation stress patterns.

These factors, in addition to other influences, often lead to altered intonation (melody of speech), pronunciation difficulties, and the disruption of communication between speaker and listener. As instructors and trainers, we must address all of these factors. As speech-language pathologists specializing in accent modification, we have found that although it is important to teach the accurate production of vowels and consonants, addressing intonation is even more significant in effecting change.

Experienced ESOL teachers understand how important it is to teach word- and sentence-level stress patterns. Helping students learn how one syllable or part of a word requires emphasis and how to accomplish that (using higher pitch, louder volume, and a longer vowel) must be a primary educational goal.

Beyond this, we believe that second language learners also need to be able to decipher the idiosyncratic patterns of North American English. Once these rules are understood and mastered, they become a framework for clear and effective communication.

Learning how to properly stress a syllable in a word or a word in a sentence can feel overwhelming to a nonnative speaker. Many students can achieve the loudness feature, but this alone may result in sounding angry or impatient. Pitch change must occur with loudness and duration of the intended syllable or word. If one can learn the rules that guide American speech patterns, more effective, confident, and clear speech is possible. It is not easy for students to navigate the complexities of spoken American English. Teachers should introduce these concepts systematically to successfully improve nonnative speakers’ clarity and effectiveness.

The challenge for teachers is how to present these concepts in a meaningful way that will facilitate carryover into real communication contexts. The following is a summary of some of the intonation rules that we find particularly useful to teach, in addition to practical activities to reinforce their understanding and use.


Our daily life is filled with compound nouns. Think about how we carpool to work, sit through faculty meetings in conference rooms, check our e-mails, talk on our cell phones and get take-out on the way home. There are compound nouns for practically every topic.

Review: The rule for pronouncing compound nouns is to stress the first word of a compound noun with higher pitch, louder volume, and a longer vowel.

Sample Activities

1. Distribute supermarket circulars (e.g., Trader Joe’s “Fearless Flyer”) to the students. Ask them to identify all of the items that are compound nouns such as hot dogs, cream cheese, tuna fish, and toilet paper and generate a shopping list. Have students share their list and practice using the proper stress and intonation rule (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner 2006, pp. 30-37).

2. Collect restaurant or take-out menus. Ask students to look for compound nouns in the menus and then order accordingly. Think of ice cream, applejuice, cheeseburger, and so on (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 128-131, 354-355).

3. Obtain college campus directories or maps of local hotels or hospitals. Ask the students to identify all of the compound nouns and then have them give and follow directions using words such as parking garage, courtyard, water cooler, and restroom (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 38-40).

4. Use compound noun versus adjective noun contrasts. Ask the students questions that require them to answer using the correct word stress pattern; for example, “Where does the President live?” (in the White House) versus “Where does Manuel live?”(in a white house) (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 48-51, 52-53).

5. Use compound nouns versus phrasal verb contrasts. Ask students to read words/sentences with the appropriate stress pattern. For example, “How much can I get for this trade-in?” versus “I need to trade in my old phone for a new one” (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006. pp. 41-46).

6. Ask students to think of and/or read word lists with compound nouns and generate their own sentences. Topics can include technology terms (screensaver), transportation terms (baggage claim), hygiene terms (toothpaste), clothing terms (raincoat), family members (grandparents), and many others (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 19-27).

7. Practice reading stories that intentionally contain a large number of compound nouns, using the preferred stress pattern. Then ask the students to identify the words, read the story aloud, paraphrase the story, or ask questions about the story incorporating correct stress patterns for compound nouns. (Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 129-169)


We frequently need to refer to individuals’ names, job titles, addresses, locations, sporting events, mass media, and cultural events. For example, we may introduce ourselves as Mary Smith from Newton, Massachusetts, have lunch at Ruby Tuesday, work on Commonwealth Avenue, or have an appointment with Dr. Paniker.

Review: The rule for pronouncing proper nouns is to stress the last word.

Sample Activities

1. Use the “Introducing Yourself” script from the RULES programs (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 3-12; Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 3-12). Students complete the form with biographical information such as their name, address, and place of employment. It is an excellent way to practice the correct pronunciation of proper nouns that people use a multitude of times daily. Ask the students to read the script, introduce themselves without the script, and then introduce another member of the class to the group using as many of the proper nouns in the script as possible.

2. Give the students “themes” and ask them to write down a list of the proper nouns that are relevant to them; for example, their favorite sports teams, newspapers, streets in their neighborhood, and so on. To expand this activity, have them create their own sentences using their personal word lists. (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 55-60).

3. Give the students a map of the United States. Ask them to name a city in each state, using appropriate stress for each proper noun; for example, Duluth, Minnesota. In addition, you may ask other questions about each state such as What is the state flower?, What is the name of a famous monument, or What is the name of a body of water?

4. Obtain travel brochures. Ask students to role-play being a travel agent. Encourage them to tell their partner about all of the tourist attractions in the area.

5. Practice reading stories that contain a large number of proper nouns, using the preferred stress pattern. Then ask the students to paraphrase the story or ask questions about the story incorporating correct stress patterns for proper nouns (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner 2009, pp. 173-175, Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 161-162).

6. Ask the students to discuss each other’s travel itinerary. Have them include the name, the name of the airline, departure and arrival cities, and so on.


American English uses a multitude of abbreviations or shortcuts for frequently used words. Each industry has an exhaustive list of its own. We may earn our MBA, CPA, PhD or RN degree; invest in an IRA; buy stock in IBM or GM; or discuss business matters with the CFO, CEO, or VP.

Review: The rule for acronyms and initializations is to stress the last letter in the abbreviation or initialization.

Sample Activities

1. Ask the students to read a list of acronyms and identify the possible meanings (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 69-79; Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 39-43).

2. Request that students generate their personal list of the acronyms and initializations that they use in daily life, school, or the workplace (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, p. 79; Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007. pp. 42-43).

3. Distribute work glossaries and have students identify the acronyms and initializations and practice saying them correctly.


Stating numbers can be confusing if the speaker does not abide by the correct stress pattern. When counting, the speaker should stress the first syllable in the “teen” numbers such as thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen and stress the first part of “ten” numbers such as thirty and forty. However, when discussing a quantity, time, currency, and dates, the speaker should stress the second part of the “teen” numbers (e.g., fourteen dollars vs. forty dollars). Even though the primary stress shifts to the noun, the numbers must be stressed appropriately. If one adheres to this rule, an appointment at 8:50 will not be misinterpreted as being at 8:15. Likewise, 30 mg will not be confused with 13 mg. These errors can cost time and money and may even have catastrophic consequences as with medication dosages.

Review: The rule for numbers is to stress the appropriate syllable (as noted above) when counting and/or describing time, currency, dates, and measurements.

Sample Activities

1. Use a restaurant menu and role-play ordering items and answering questions about item prices (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 128-131, 354-355).

2. Distribute a sample and/or blank monthly calendar and ask students to enter their own personal or work obligations. Pair up and have students ask each other what is planned on particular days and at what time (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 132-134, 342-344).

3. Pass out train or bus schedules and use the proper stress patterns when describing train numbers, arrival and departure times, track numbers, and so on (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006. pp. 135-136).

4. Rerecord outgoing voicemail messages, being sure to use the proper stress patterns for numbers (Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 26-27).

5. Practice reading stories that contain a large sampling of numbers, using the preferred stress pattern. Then ask the students to paraphrase the story and ask questions about the story incorporating correct stress patterns for numbers (Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 165-167, Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2009, pp. 187-189).

6. Make up or bring in real appointment notices for haircuts, doctor and dental visits, and so on. Practice reading the appointment times, dates, office or business address, and so on (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 358-362).

7. Distribute brochures from a local gym. Ask students to talk about gym hours, fees, class schedule times, and so on.


English is also filled with word pairs that are spelled the same way but can be nouns, adjectives, or verbs with different meanings and different stress patterns. If one stresses the wrong syllable, it can be very confusing for the listener. For example, Elliot projects that he will complete his project by the due date.

Review: For two-syllable heteronyms, stress the first syllable for nouns and the second syllable for verbs (e.g., project vs. project). For three-syllable heteronym verbs, stress the first syllable with primary stress and the third with secondary stress (e.g., graduate). For nouns, give primary stress to the first syllable and weak stress to the second and third syllables (e.g., graduate [“gra-du-it”]). The pronunciation of the unstressed syllable is usually altered.

Sample Activities

1. Provide auditory discrimination tasks. Provide the students with a list of heteronym pairs, with the stressed syllable in bold. Read one word from the pair. First, have the student circle the word that was heard. Then ask the student to repeat the heteronym using the correct syllable stress (e.g., “What word did you hear me say?”). Make sure the students understand the difference in meaning and ask them to provide examples of how the words should be used (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 63-67, Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 79-82).

2. Give students a list of heteronyms. Ask one speaker to ask a question using either the noun or verb form. The partner has to generate an appropriate sentence using the correct stress pattern. For example: Present: “Thank you so much for the beautiful present.” Present:“It is my great pleasure to present our guest speaker” (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp 63-67, Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 79-82).

3. Provide the students with two- and three-word heteronyms and two sample sentences. Have them insert the correct word into the sentences using the correct stress pattern. For example, Graduate: “When will you graduate from school?” versus “I will attend graduate school in the fall” (Feinstein-Whittaker & Wilner, 2006, pp. 63-67, Wilner & Feinstein-Whittaker, 2007, pp. 79-82).


These preceding examples are just a few of the many rules that can be taught and practiced to enhance the nonnative speaker’s communication. These rules are practical and tangible and result in immediate changes in communication.

Helping students learn and use these rules in conversational, functional, and real-life situations is the most efficient and effective way to transform their pronunciation and increase their level of confidence while speaking English.


Feinstein-Whittaker, M., Wilner, L. (2006). RULES: Rules for using linguistic elements of speech. Teacher’s edition. Owings Mills , MD: Successfully Speaking.

Feinstein-Whittaker, M., & Wilner, L. (2009). Rules by the sound. Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking.

Wilner, L.K., & Feinstein-Whittaker, M. (2007). Medically speaking RULES: Healthcare edition. Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking.

Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker and Lynda Katz Wilner are corporate communication trainers and certified speech and language pathologists in the Boston and Baltimore areas, respectively. Lynda is also adjunct faculty at the Community College of Baltimore County and teaches communication skills to international preclinical nursing students. Marjorie is a member of the Performance Improvement Team at the Workforce Development Center at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, MA. Their company, ESL RULES, LLC, conducts workshops and develops training materials for nonnative English speakers. They are members of TESOL and have presented these innovative approaches of accent modification at state and international conventions. To learn more about them, visit

The Place of Place in Second Language Instruction

Beth Sheppard, Instructor, University of Oregon American English Institute,

There is a young but rapidly growing movement within the field of education that focuses on teaching in a manner that is inherently multidisciplinary, experiential, and rooted in the immediate natural and cultural surroundings. This movement, referred to as place-based education (PBE), has been applied most frequently in rural K-12 settings, often with great success. I have seen very little discussion of its application to language learning, but I believe it has rich potential for courses in oral skills, particularly for second language students who are living for a time in the culture of their L2. After all, when people talk they need something to talk about, and when people travel to study language it is natural to talk about the place they have arrived in.

First, I should clarify what I mean by place. In this case the term does not refer simply to a location, to geographical coordinates; rather, it refers to that which is experienced by humans in relation to the location they inhabit. Place = location + inhabitation. It is a relationship. Place is an interdisciplinary concept, fundamental yet complex. Gruenewald (2003) described perceptual, sociological, ideological, political, and ecological dimensions of place, all of which impact education. On the simplest level, people can’t exist without existing in a place, that is, in a location and in relation to that location. One’s place always has something to teach a person.

A few of the canonical examples of PBE include students collecting oral history and publishing volumes of their elders’ stories and songs in Appalachia and in New Orleans; students completing GPS mapping of riparian habitat in the Pacific Northwest or of asthma rates in Boston and submitting the data they gather to city or regional planners; and curricula focused on Native knowledge and ways of knowing in Alaskan communities (e.g., Smith 2002; Smith & Gruenewald, 2005). It is clear that such projects are multidisciplinary and can meet curricular objectives in science, math, technology, social studies, and literature. In PBE, learning is experiential, and students are expected to create knowledge as well as consume it. Teachers act as guides, resources, and bridges to the community right outside the classroom door. The community then, is a subject of study, a rich resource, and a beneficiary of the knowledge and products that students create. In (primarily) L1 settings, PBE has been shown to have positive effects on factors from school citizenship to standardized test scores (e.g., Chawa & Escalante, 2007), as students are connected and motivated by the connection of school curriculum with real-life concerns of their community.

Could a locally based curriculum also be of benefit to adult second language learners? I believe so. Each school and each student are embedded in a place, and the places around them are incredibly rich in resources if the subject of study is the place itself. Every person becomes an “expert” interlocutor of interviews and surveys, and every brochure or poster or newspaper column becomes a valued text. Although the motivational factor in PBE would work differently for L2 students than for students studying their own home, it could still be valuable. Instead of connecting their learning to home, to the known, PBE would link curricula to a class’s shared curiosity about the place they have arrived in, the strange culture and structures they are surrounded by. In language classes for visiting students one typically sees a variety of ages, professions, and fields of study. In PBE all of these students can bring their various disciplinary strengths to bear on multidisciplinary projects, rather than the instructor having to search for a theme that nobody knows everything about and everybody is at least a little bit interested in.

A variety of place-based activities, such as campus scavenger hunts, surveys, and projects that require students to find native-speaker informants, already show up in language classrooms. Although these projects can make use of all language skills, it seems that we teachers use them more frequently when we focus on oral skills, perhaps because of the immediacy, the right-here-right-now character of oral communication. The wealth of local, informal resources available in a second language teaching setting (as opposed to a foreign language classroom) is especially beneficial for speaking and listening practice. It may be that our oral skills curricula would be improved by a consideration of how we are using our local environment and how we might benefit from incorporating the spoken world outside the classroom more intentionally and systematically into our instruction. In my high-intermediate ESL oral skills class at a U.S. university, I have students make a group presentation on a campus resource, such as the bookstore or craft center. They are permitted to do some Internet research, but they are also required to speak to employees and users of the resource and incorporate these individuals’ perspectives into their report. In the future, I hope to offer an oral skills course at this level in which students choose a local issue or landmark and complete research and record interviews to produce and narrate a mini-documentary. The changes that result from a conversation about PBE in second language instructions could be large or small, radical or subtle, but the conversation is worth having.

Finally, I want to point out some pitfalls to be cautious of in applying PBE to second language instruction. First of all, PBE is a subset of content-based second language education, and it is subject to the same strengths and weaknesses. Although it is an authentic use of language and can be supported by a range of activities focused on form, students raised to expect a certain kind of language classroom may still object to having to focus on anything besides language form. Second, some ESL instructors in particular may worry about the arrogance of wanting “them” to learn about “us.” This is a valid concern, but the appearance of arrogance or parochialism when studying local topics can likely be avoided by open-minded teachers, especially if students have some choice about how to approach their topics. In spite of a few potential problems, I believe PBE has a great deal to offer the language instructor, both in oral skills and in literate skills. We would do well to consider it and take from it that which serves us.


Chawa, L., & Escalante, M. (2007). Student gains from place-based education. Denver, CO: Children, Youth, and Environments for Research and Design, University of Colorado. Retrieved from

Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619-654.

Smith, G. (2002). Place-based education: Learning to be where we are. Phi Beta Kappan, 83, 584-594.

Smith, G., & Gruenewald, D. (Eds.). (2005). Local diversity: Place-based education in the global age. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Also see

Beth Sheppard teaches intermediate and advanced ESL learners at the University of Oregon at the American English Institute. She would love to hear your thoughts about PBE:

Book Review: Rules by the Sound

Veronica G. Sardegna, The University of Texas at Austin

Feinstein-Whittaker, M., & Katz Wilner, L. (2009). Rules by the Sound. Owings Mills, MD: Successfully Speaking.

Rules by the Sound is a newly released book designed to help intermediate to advanced nonnative English speakers improve their pronunciation. Written by two corporate communication trainers and speech-language pathologists, the book offers some easy-to-follow explanations and learner rules for pronouncing sounds, endings, and accurate stress in compounds, numbers, acronyms, and abbreviations. That is, the focus of the book is mainly on word-level phonology. However, the training materials include both sentence-level and paragraph-level practice.

The book has 11 chapters. Each chapter starts with a definition of a pronunciation target category (e.g., stop-plosives), followed by a short story for each sound (or contrastive sounds) or stress rule(s) that falls under that category. The stories (63 in total) follow a standard format: (a) the title of the story is the main character’s name; (b) one or more pronunciation rules (IPA sounds included) introduce the story; (c) one or more pronunciation targets for each story occur in the main character’s name and randomly at the beginning, middle, or ends of words in the story; and (d) the story is written first as isolated sentences and then as a paragraph. This format makes the book ideal for self-study and focused practice. The teacher or the students can decide what stories to read and how often, when, and in what order on the basis of students’ pronunciation needs. During independent practice, students can read the stories aloud as many times as they want and, through self-monitoring, improve their performance.

In addition to the stories, Rules by the Sound offers some practical information to assist students and teachers before and during practice. First, it provides a reference guide that identifies typical pronunciation and language challenges by speakers of other languages. This guide helps raise awareness of potential problems students might have because of their linguistic backgrounds. This awareness might help focus a teacher’s attention on areas that could be problematic for a student. Similarly, students using the book for self-study might also appreciate having these lists to guide their choices of what stories to practice. Surprisingly, the guide includes problems (e.g., linking, syllable reductions, sentence-level stress, intonation) that fall outside the scope of the book. Students who wish to improve any of these other problems or who want an individualized assessment of their problems should consult a pronunciation expert, who might need to supplement the book with other resources.

Second, the introduction to each of the stories describes precise articulatory information. It details for each targeted sound the manner and location of airflow; lip, teeth, and tongue placement and movement; velum movement; and whether the sound is voiced or voiceless. Although visual illustrations (a side or front view of a mouth) do not accompany these articulatory descriptions, the descriptions offer enough guidance to produce target sounds accurately. Furthermore, the optional CD add-on that accompanies the book includes sound charts that can be printed, duplicated, or e-mailed to students. The CD is available for duplication and electronic distribution to individuals and/or classes at an additional cost. These guidelines should prove valuable for both teachers and students.

Finally, Rules by the Sound provides readers with a chart that lists sound options and examples for common spelling patterns. This chart helps to raise students’ awareness of sound-spelling correspondences that they can use to predict correct pronunciations. In fact, good spelling patterns allow students both to identify correct sound and stress targets and to monitor their performance as they practice those targets (Dickerson, 1984), which can ultimately lead to an increased approximation to native-like pronunciation (Sardegna, 2009). Knowledge of spelling patterns that help predict sounds and stress unambiguously is empowering (Dickerson, 1994) because students can use these patterns to figure out for themselves how to pronounce difficult words. Spelling patterns that yield many different sound outputs, like those in this book, may help to inform and raise awareness but are not as empowering. If a spelling pattern can predict many different sound outputs, then the learner is left to figure out which sound option to pronounce when the pattern occurs in a word. It assumes that the learner has the knowledge to make the correct choice. According to Dickerson (1983), an effective rule is one that assumes no prior knowledge, that is, one that does not expect that the learner would know the target language to apply the rule. He calls this principle the No-Prior-Knowledge Assumption (NPKA). Despite being accurate, most of the spelling patterns provided in this book do not conform to the NPKA principle and are thus not as empowering as they could be. Nonetheless, students may still find some of these patterns helpful.

One important omission, however, is that students are not afforded a model to copy. Without this model, independent learners are left to their own devices and some overgeneralized spelling patterns to figure out which words in the stories have the targeted sounds. Fortunately, this shortcoming can be overcome if students are working with a teacher or a speech trainer who can provide them with these models. Alternatively, they could ask a native speaker to record the stories for them. In fact, it would have been ideal if the optional CD add-on, which includes pdf files of the stories, had also included sound files so that students could use them as models to compare their productions and check their predictions.

Rules by the Sound targets a wide audience: nonnative English speakers working independently, speech-language pathologists or corporate speech trainers, ESL/EFL teachers, college and university instructors, and others with pronunciation and communication problems. Undoubtedly, the stories offer students a chance to focus on, practice, and master English sounds and pronunciation rules during practice time in private. Although the training materials do not address some of the needs of students working independently, such as the need for models to copy, unambiguous prediction rules, and assessment tools, teachers and students working with teachers should find this book very valuable. The stories are amusing and provide plenty of practice with different targets. Above all, the articulatory descriptions are precise, detailed, and very easy to follow. For all these reasons, I highly recommend Rules by the Sound for one-on-one tutoring, classroom instruction, or speech training with a coach.


Dickerson, W. (1983). Predicting vowel tenseness in English: A reply to Nessly. Language Learning 33, 389-394.

Dickerson, W. (1984). The role of formal rules in pronunciation instruction. In J. Handscombe, R. Orem, & B. Taylor (Eds.), On TESOL ´83 (pp. 135-148). Washington, DC: TESOL.

Dickerson, W. (1994). Empowering students with predictive skills. In J. Morley (Ed.), Pronunciation pedagogy and theory: New directions, new views (pp. 17-35). Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Sardegna, V. G. (2009). Improving English stress through pronunciation learning strategies. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana. (UMI No. 3363085).

Community News and Information What Is SPLIS-L?

Nancy Hilty,

SPLIS-L is the electronic discussion list for the Speech, Pronunciation, and Listening Interest Section of TESOL. Its function is the exchange of information, questions, and answers about instructional techniques, learning challenges, and successes as well as research findings related to speech listening and pronunciation. SPLIS-L, along with the SPLIS newsletter, also provides information about SPLIS-related issues and projects and interest section business.

There are 483 members in the discussion group, many of them published authors. The focus is very practical, most often related to teaching issues and questions. No job advertisements or promotion of commercial products is allowed on the list. To join the list, go to the official site of SPLIS,, which will direct you to the TESOL site and lead you through subscription to the list. You must be a TESOL member to join the list. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy participating in SPLIS-L!

Join Interest Sections for Free

Available as a benefit since June 2007, unlimited selection of interest sections (ISs) requires no additional fees. As a member of an IS, you automatically receive all e-newsletters and e-lists. Most important, you determine the level of involvement you want in each IS, and you may vote in your primary IS.

It’s easy to join an IS!

1. Log on to the TESOL Web site ( by entering your username (the e-mail address you used when you registered) and password (your last name, unless you’ve changed it).

2. Click on “My Communities” to make your selections.

3. Last, remember to click “Save” once you have identified the ISs you want to join.

Take advantage of this opportunity now to connect with colleagues who share your professional interests!

Call for Submissions

The SPLIS e-newsletter, As We Speak, is soliciting articles on any of the various aspects of teaching and tutoring pronunciation, oral skills, and listening that apply to or focus on ESL/EFL pedagogy, second language acquisition, accent addition/reduction, assessment of those skills, and other related research. We also solicit book reviews for both classroom and methodology texts. Teaching tips, tutoring tips, and classroom strategies are also acceptable submissions.

Submission Guidelines

Articles should have the following characteristics:

  • Be no longer than 2,500 words
  • Include a 50-word (500 characters or less) abstract
  • Contain no more than five citations
  • Follow the style guidelines in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition (APA)
  • Be in MS Word or ASCII format
  • Follow accepted conventions for online publishing (handout available upon request)

Publication schedule: As We Speak will be published two times per year: March 1 and September 1.

  • Submission deadline for September issue is July 20.
  • Submission deadline for March issue is January 1.
  • You may contact the editor at any time to discuss possible submissions.