in touch with real speech
In touch with real speech

Evidence No.6: Ying’s Dilemma III – the fate of ‘students’

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You’ll remember that Ying was a learner who kept a diary about learning to listen. She wrote:

‘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)

Ying’s dilemma is this: does she ‘know’ a word, or not? There is evidence both ways: she recognises words when she sees them, therefore they are ‘familiar’; but she fails to recognise these same words when she hears them, therefore they are ‘unknown’. For her, a word which is a ‘vocabulary success’ in reading, is a ‘vocabulary failure’ in listening. Those of use who are native-speaker/expert-speaker teachers find it difficult to appreciate this problem: it is by no means apparent to us that the soundshapes of words vary. Our vast experience of encounters with words in everyday speech and in writing has deafened us to the destructive forces of everyday speech.

The following speech units, taken from Streaming Speech: Listening and Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English – American-Canadian version (2005, chapter 2) illustrate this fact. In each of them, the word ‘student(s)’ occurs, and it sounds different each time, but note particularly what happens where it is non-prominent, in 019, 017, and 023 below. Click the speaker icons on the right to hear the whole speech unit, click the words to hear ‘student(s)’ on its own.


Brazil, D. (1994). Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cauldwell, R. (2005). Streaming Speech: Listening and Pronunciation for Advanced Learners of English - American/Canadian version. Birmingham, UK: speechinaction.

Goh, C. (1997). Metacognitive awareness and second language listeners. ELT Journal 51(4), 361-369