Archive for the ‘Stress and Rythm’ Category

Some languages have a rhythm that is quite similar to English, while other languages place stress on syllables that English would not.  A Japanese friend of mine named Tomoko was amused by the way her Canadian friends pronounced her name. In Japanese, none of the three syllables is stressed, but Tomoko’s Canadian friends (who were unfamiliar with Japanese) naturally applied the rules for stress found in English to her name and stressed the second syllable. When I asked Tomoko if she corrected her Canadian friends’ pronunciation, she said that she did not. She felt that their pronunciation of her name was very cute — a lovely example of  flexibility.  Flexibility is one of the many reasons that she so successfully interacts with people from a wide range of cultures.

The language teaching point that I would like to make is that speakers of some language groups have an easier time picking up the stress and rhythm of English than other groups do. When I lived and taught in Tokyo, Nanci Graves (a colleague) and I created an activity for a speech class that would give the English language students at our university a chance to practice the rhythm of English. We called the activity “Cats and Other Animals” and centered the lesson around four poems about animals. One poem came from T.S. Eliot’s Jellicle Cats and the other four are children’s poems written by Shel Silverstein. The drawings are also Shel Silverstein’s.

I have resurrected this activity and now use it in a speech class I teach from time to time. I use it as one of the lead up activities to a speech my students give that requires them to tell a folk tale from their first culture. One of the points that is assessed is their use of drama and the activity “Cats and Other Animals” is a fun way to give them some practice before they give their presentations.

Digital technology has enabled me to add this activity from several (two or three hundred?) years ago. I scanned it, and I am now adding it to my “TESOL File Drawer.” Take a look. Use it if you’d like, and have fun.

Cats and Other Animals


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