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The Teaching of the Weak Form of Words in English

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The Teaching of The Weak Form of Words in English

By/ Kamal A. Attijaney


The use of weak form of words is a common feature of spoken English. However, in my teaching career, I have found that only few Secondary School students actually use it when speaking or reading in English. The rest of students just utter separate tasteless words that have lost all their tones. One possible reason could be that they have never been taught or trained on using the weak forms, therefore, they do not have any idea what the weak form is and consequently do not use it in their speech. Another reason for that has something to do with teachers. A lot of teachers, as far as I am concerned, do not bother nor pay attention to the importance of using and teaching the weak form of words, and this is due to three noticeable reasons; the first is that they do not know the weak forms very well. Second, the majority of teachers have some knowledge of weak forms, but they do not know about their role in spoken English nor how to teach them. After all, it is easier to teach individual sounds, such as vowels and consonants, or introduce new words without paying attention to their pronunciation within speech than the weak form.

Equipped with personal experience and literature review, I aim in this article to show the importance of using the weak form, and present some ideas and techniques in presenting and teaching it.

What is the weak form?

English is a stress-timed language, which means that stressed syllables are equal in timing. In order to fit our words into this pattern, we tend to "squash" or compress other syllables or words occurring between stresses, in order to keep up with the more or less regular rhythm (Mayers 1981:422). Therefore, compressing or "weakening" some sounds is necessary to keep the rhythm of English. A weak form is the pronunciation of a word or syllable in an unstressed manner. Of course, the difference between the strong form (stressed) and the weak form (unstressed) of a word is not apparent in writing, but in speech these two variations in pronunciation can be drastically different. If spoken in isolation, the weak form of a word would probably be unintelligible. Weakening does not only occur merely within words. It can occur as a regular alternative feature with some words, and these words so regularly change vowels that they can be said to have two forms, normally referred to as strong and weak forms. The word to can be said in two ways, for example:

I am coming to see you / tu/

I am coming to see you / tÉ™/

We could attempt to define words or forms which behave in this way thus: weak forms occur in English spoken


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