Have you thought about stressed and unstressed syllables in the English language?
Does it really matter if we teach this concept to struggling readers?
The English language is a stress-timed language. When we speak or read fluently, there is a natural rhythm that occurs. This aids in comprehension, pronunciation, syntax, and expression. The stressed and unstressed syllables and words in English give it its rhythm. This musicality of English, the ups and downs, the connected speech, and the linking of words, which changes when placed in running speech, aids in our understanding and being understood.
Before my therapist training, I had never thought about the impact that stressed and unstressed syllables have on spelling, pronunciation, syntax, and meaning. I honestly didn't know that the English language is a stressed-time language or what that meant for instruction. Now, I clearly see that by explicitly teaching the concept of stressed and unstressed syllables to my students, it aids in their decoding, encoding, and comprehension.
A stress syllable is the part of the word that receives a stronger syllable mark. This is noted by the articulation of the word with the mouth open wider, the voice being louder, and the sound being held longer. When we stress a syllable or word, it is emphasized.
Stressed and unstressed syllables can impact the vowel sounds. Look at the following word:
The stress is on the second syllable. The syllable "nan" is read with a short vowel sound following the closed syllable pattern, but it receives the stress of the word. The first and last syllables are open and unstressed. This shifts the vowel to a schwa sound of /u/.
Look at where the syllable division occurs within the next words. Do you notice that the stressed and unstressed syllables shift the vowel sounds?
Engineer': last syllable is stressed
English: first syllable is stressed
Photograph: first syllable is stressed
Stressed and unstressed syllables can shift pronunciation and meaning within words as well. Often the shift in the stressed syllable will change a word from a noun to a verb.
Dyslexia is a language-based learning difference, so developing the ear for the rhythm in our language and noticing how that connects to spelling, reading, and meaning is something that needs to be explicitly taught and practiced. This week I am sharing a free activity for syllable division practice. Click here to sign up for The Dyslexia Classroom's community and get access to this freebie.
I hope this post will help you understand the importance and the impact of stressed and unstressed syllables. Comment with any questions you may have on this topic. I love to hear from you!
Have a great week!
The Dyslexia Classroom