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Out of the mouths of babes

June 17, 2012

The prosodic features of English — intonation and rhythm — are the “road signs” for both comprehension and compressibility.  Learner trained in prosodic features have better listening comprehension, and the ability to use prosody is key to listeners being able to understand the speaker.  (Gilbert)

What are these babies saying?
It is striking how easy it is to imagine the content even when there are no words. It’s also obvious that they are “speaking” English.

Implications for L2 Listening

Discussion of rhythm and intonation is sometimes relegated to pronunciation classes, but recognition and understanding of prosodic features in English are key to comprehension. Different languages have differing prosodic features, and so important features in English may not be immediately obvious or salient to a learner. Explicitly teaching prosodic features can help learners become better listeners.


Gilbert, J. B. (2008). Teaching pronunciation : using the Prosody Pyramid. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press.

From → Perception, Prosody

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