in touch with real speech
In touch with real speech

Ying’s Dilemma

Ying is a learner who kept a diary about her experiences while she was learning to listen. She wrote:

‘I believe I need to learn what the word sounds like when it is used in the sentence. Because sometimes when a familiar word is used in a sentence, I couldn’t catch it. Maybe it changes somewhere when it is used in a sentence’ (Goh 1997, p. 366).

Her dilemma is that she fails to recognise familiar words when she hears them. She believes that she needs to learn something: how words change their soundshape when they occur in a sentence. Ying is describing a problem that teachers are largely unaware of: the soundshapes of words change according to their relationships to other words. Ying uses familiar terms ‘words’ and ‘sentences’: my view is that we need to move away from these terms, and the concepts they represent, if we are to help learners like Ying.

The evidence of everyday speech shows that the patterns of the stream of speech pull words out of shape. That is, the stream of speech changes the soundshapes that are given in the dictionary, often making them unrecognisable to learners.

Click on the titles below, to go to see a page of evidence and commentary. These pages contain interactive soundfiles (‘you see, you click, you hear’). The pages listed below contain Flash movies. If you are viewing these pages in Safari, and cannot see the movies, you need to change your preferences. For instructions on changing your preferences, go here.

Murray Walker
It’s safer, but …
Murray Walker pulls the word ‘safer’ out of shape.


Neil Kinnock
I read in a …
Thirteen words spoken at 400 words per minute.


We cover like …
Travis describes his studies. The word ‘like’ appears six times.


The word ‘where’ has four different soundshapes, depending on it position in a speech unit.


The word ‘produced’ has different soundshapes, depending on its position in a speech unit.


The word ‘students’ has different soundshapes, depending on its position in a speech unit.


‘Like almost’…
L1 speaker of English is bamboozled (‘at a loss’, does not understand) by a mush of sound.