(This posting includes a handout which you are welcome to use with your students.)
A student, Tim, once came to my class all excited and asked me, “Hey David, wha ya gonna do di wee-en? I wanna gedouda taw.”
I was pretty sure that he was trying to say something in English, but I had no idea what it was. After repeating the sentences several times, he became embarrassed and decided to write them down. “What are you going to do this weekend? I want to get out of town.”
He told me that the teacher in his previous class was doing lessons on reduced forms of speaking and had encouraged them to use them when speaking. So this student whose pronunciation was often hard to understand because he tended to drop final consonants of words (e.g. wee = week / taw = town) was being encouraged to do something that would make him even harder to understand. Crazy!
How to work with reduced forms. (Handout exercise included)
When I was teaching in Greece, one day, two of my neighbors who spoke English fairly well said to me that it was so much easier understanding my English than other English-speakers whom they had talked to. They wondered why it was so easy to understand me.
I’ve heard this same thing from some of my ESL students. I imagine many of you who teach ESL also have heard this.
Besides probably speaking slower and being careful not to use slang terms, I’m sure that we are avoiding reduced forms in these situations.
Needless to say, outside our ESL classrooms, students hear people using reduced forms all the time. So, in order to understand every English-speaking person like friends, neighbors, sales clerks, and even their mainstream teachers, our students will need practice understanding reduced forms. In fact, studies have shown that ESL students who have worked with understanding reduced forms performed better on quizzes after listening to academic lecturers than students who hadn’t.
However, students never need to use reduced forms when speaking. In other words, there will never be a conversation breakdown because they didn’t use reduced forms. On the other hand, there is a much greater chance of miscommunication if they try to use them before they are fairly fluent, as was the case with Tim at the beginning of this post.
As students get more exposure to English and more confident in their ability to be understood, they will naturally start to incorporate reduced forms in their speech, but in the meantime, it’s only counterproductive to take class time having them practice using them when speaking.
Here is a unit that I’ve used to help my students understand reduced forms of don’t, doesn’t and didn’t contrasted with affirmative sentences. You’ll notice that it includes a variety of exercises in which students are decoding what is being said.
Feel free to try it out with your students. Reduced forms exercise don’t didn’t HO and Script / Answer Key Reduced form exercise don’t didn’t AK HO
Here is a list of common reduced forms that I’ve taught my students for comprehension:
Whaddya = what do you
(“Whaddya want for dinner?”)
Whatcha = what are you
(“Whatcha got in there?”)
(“He’s upset ‘cuz he can’t find his cell phone.”)
Don/doezn/din= don’t/ doesn’t/didn’t
(It din happen like that.)
Couldya, wouldya = could you, would you
(“Couldya save me a seat?”)
Gonna, gotta, wanna, oughta = going to, got to, want to, ought to
(“I wanna get a DVD.”)
Kinda/sorta = kind of, sort of
(“This is kinda sour, isn’t it?”)
Dunno= don’t know
(“They donno what caused problem.”)
Shoulda/woulda/coulda= should have, would have, could have
(“She coulda called earlier.”)
Gimme = give me,
(“Gimme your assignment before the end of class,please?”)
Lotta/lottsa = lot of, lots of
(“We don’t have alotta time, so please hurry up.”)