2.8 Stress in English: Prosodic and Rhythmic Complexity for Arab Learners
By Shaimaa Helal
Arab Learners of English as a second Language face various difficulties that hinder their acquisition of English. They are unable to perceive l2 differences that are not made in their L1 and consequently are “unable to produce them” (Major, 2008: 75). Among these difficulties is the prosodic and rhythmic complexity of English language, particularly stress assignment in English words. Much attention has been given to segmental contrasts in recent L2 literature (Strange 1995; Eckman et al 2003). While, little is said about L2 English stress.
This paper studies the stress assignment in English words, the phenomenon that accompany it, and the cause/effect relationship between stress, on the one hand, and prominent vowel quality and quantity, and the resulting phonological changes, on the other hand. The study identifies a continuum or a hierarchy of the difficulties that Arab learners face in deciding the place of stress, with the aim of suggesting some corrective steps for avoiding their occurrences in the future and hence help the improvement of students’ performance in this field and enhance the process of learning.
The study relies on four tests. The first two tests, one written test and one audio-recorded, are initial tests at the beginning of the academic term. The second two tests are at the end of the term. The students are divided into three groups to allow the researcher to see the differences between students with different degrees of instruction.
The findings indicate, among other points, that word-length is associated with low performance, while vowel-length stands in contrast with word-length. The application of research findings has real implication for pedagogy since it helps Arab students in acquiring stress of English language. They see their errors, its reasons, and its corrections.
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Strange, W. (ed.) (1995). Speech Perception and Linguistic Experience. Baltimore: York Press.