Dialogs serve many purposes and with a little imagination can do more. Dialogs can be a source of:

1. Cultural and real-life information on the situations in which our adult education students, who are immigrants and refugees, find themselves; a source of things that they need to know.

2. Language in the "real world," rather than simple structural exercises, which tend to be useful, but often don't show how U.S. Americans may actually communicate with each other.

3. A major source of phonological and structural data, including the often neglected "suprasegmental features" of English....in plain language, the music of American English, which is always distinct from that of the many other languages which we deal with.

As I have mentioned before, my best source of ideas and inspiration are my students, sponsored by the Adult Education Department of Austin Community College, and who have a strong need to become functional members of our community. They want to be successful taxpayers!

I create dialogs based on real needs. In many cases, the inspiration comes from students who are caught in real-life situations and ask me for advice. My advice is limited, because I certainly don't know "everything." However, as a longtime resident of Austin and a few other places, I cautiously, at least, send my students to the mostly right places. Several days ago, one of my students from Mexico, who assists her husband in the roofing business, called me and asked if I would mind advising her husband on whether or not he should sign a document, which he did not understand. I told her that I would look at it and at least tell him (in Spanish) what it was about. The document soon arrived by FAX. It was asking him to sign a "release of lien," on a roofing job that he had done. I called back and talked to him and he communicated that he had been paid about half of what he had been promised by the client. I told him that he needed to find a bilingual attorney, who had a background in contracts. His next question was, "Where do I find a good attorney. "The last one I talked to charged me a bunch of money and then didn't come through." I told him about the Travis County Bar Association, and said that they would know an attorney who was bilingual and had knowledge of contracts. I would, under no circumstances, have attempted to give him legal advice or suggest a particular attorney. However, I felt that sending him to a reliable source of information was appropriate.

The next day, I wrote a dialog based on that situation, and included information on the Legal Aid group for students who could not afford an attorney. Students were pleased with this information. Several needed it, AND a lot of language was acquired in the process.

My point is that dialogs are probably the most productive way to communicate useful information and enhance oral and reading skills at the same time. I have included a number of dialogs in my "ESL Criteria Performance Measure (ESLCPM) Manual," many of which cover subjects mentioned in the required "Texas Curriculum." This manual is issued to participants in my "Teaching English from Day One" workshop. Although many of my dialogs are Austin centered, they could be easily revised with local place names and numbers.

Following are 1. A description of primary stress and juncture. 2. Classroom procedures in teaching dialogs, and 3. A sample dialog, "New in America," which explains some cultural differences that students need to know about.

If you want to produce dialogs that are locally centered for your area, you can write them. The best and most necessary subjects to make a dialog about, often come directly from students, who want to know what to say in particular situations. International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols, including some of the marks which I use, can be downloaded free of charge from www.SIL.org , which also has a great deal of information on languages all over the world.

You can also put primary stress in words and groups of words using the alt key + numerical combinations, that is used to put accents and other symbols in foreign languages: á is alt 0225, é is alt 0233, í is alt 0237, ó is alt 0243, ú is alt 0250, etc. For digraphs and other situations in which these marks don't show up in the right place, an exclamation point ' may work.

Input from you is always welcome.


The Music of Language
Student Handout

JUNCTURE-spacing, combined with pitch in this system. Juncture is represented by arrows (↓ →↑ )

THOUGHT GROUP-(or breath group or phonic group) a natural group of one to eleven syllables in English, bounded by junctures and containing one primary stress. A sentence may contain one or several thought groups. These groups may or may not coincide with the punctuation used in written English.

PRIMARY STRESS-the loudest syllable within a single word or a thought group, marked with ’ Each separate word in English has one primary stress, but within a thought group in English there is also only ONE primary stress. Other word stress reduces to secondary, tertiary, or weak stress after a word is placed among others. Primary word stress can be found in a dictionary. Thought-group stress, is made naturally by native speakers of English. It is sometimes in contrast to something that has been said or asked and at other times it "just happens." There are tendencies, but no consistent "rules."

INTONATION-The overall term used to describe stress, pitch, and juncture and some other features. The features of language ABOVE AND BEYOND (supra) vowels and consonants (segments or pieces of language) are called SUPRASEGMENTALS.


Falling juncture:↓ Found after statements and questions with question words.
Where does Jóhn live?↓ He lives in Aústin.↓

Rising juncture:↑ Found after questions without question words.

Is John in Aústin now?↑ He's hére?↑

Sustained juncture:→ Found between "thought groups" within a sentence, indicating BRIEF level pauses.

John lives in Aústin→not far from hére↓ This is Máry→who plays ténnis→at the hígh school↓

Once ESL learners have learned to identify and mark sentences in English, using this system, spoken by a native speaker, their speaking skills will be considerably enhanced. Non-native speakers of English will not be understood in the workplace, or when dealing with the general public in the U.S., until they achieve reasonable control of stress and intonation.

Learning how to hear and mark stress and juncture can be accomplished, after the students have become well acquainted with the system, in the dialogs that follow. Basically, the instructor takes unmarked dialogs and has the students listen to the whole thing one time, while the instructor is reading. Next, the instructor reads thought groups, one at a time, and has the students mark the stress and junctures that they hear, with a pencil equipped with an eraser. After the dialog is completed, each student reads a line out loud and describes stress and juncture marks. Corrections are made verbally.

SAMPLE: TEACHER (out loud): This is my friend Jóhn→who lives near o'ur house↓

STUDENT: "Primary stress on the O of John, sustained juncture after John, primary stress on the OU of house, falling juncture after house."

(for teachers)


1. Give the students copies of the dialog. Remind them that the arrows ↑→↓ are called "juncture" and represent pitch and spacing, dividing thought groups, and that the ' primary stress marks above vowels show the loudest syllables IN EACH GROUP OF WORDS. Require your students to learn this terminology, including falling, rising and sustained juncture and to know their significance in their accurate performance of dialogs.

2. Read dialogs to the class at normal speed and with no exaggeration at least twice, with the handouts open. The teacher should ALWAYS be the first source of spoken language in a given exercise. Explain new vocabulary and situations as needed. Explain cultural differences in dialogs, when appropriate. Be sure that all of the students have a pretty good idea of what's going on before the practice. This may take a while. That is fine, as long as the explanations are in English. There is no such thing as wasted time in ESL, if two-way communication in English is taking place.

3. Have the entire class repeat the dialog twice, with the dialog turned over, so that ears will be given priority, giving no more than one thought group, between the arrows, at a time. If the utterance is too long to retain, use backward buildup. Seven syllables seems to be the natural retention limit for most people. Thought groups in English can have up to eleven syllables.

You will find less accuracy in repetition of spoken English if the students look at the words! Adults are very visually oriented, sometimes to the detriment of spoken English.

EXAMPLE: "Here's one that you can úse→to buy some frózen foods↓"

BACKWARD BUILDUP: foods/frozen foods/some frozen foods/to buy some frozen foods/etc.

4. Have individuals selected at random, repeat sentences, one thought group at a time, with the dialogs turned over so that they won't be able to see the dialog. That way listening, rather than reading, is emphasized. Diplomatically correct major pronunciation or other problems by modeling correct responses.

5. Have the students role play from the written language with the person next to them. Go around the class monitoring and diplomatically correcting. Don't overcorrect or worry about small details. When correcting, simply model the correct response.

6. Encourage the students to memorize the dialogs as homework, to provide new vocabulary and structure, as well as speaking English in a natural structural environment.

7. As students advance and become more aware of this system, they can be taught to insert these symbols in unmarked materials that are read to them. Explain that there are no “rules” for proper placement. They must be heard in full sentences spoken by native English speakers and then marked by thought groups.


Tom: Hi, 'Ali↓ It's good to se'e you again↓

Ali: Hi, Tóm↓ How are you dóing?↓

Tom: Just fíne↓ Wéll→after six months hére→in the U.S.'A.→ what do you thínk?↓

Ali: I'm always surprísed↓ Just when I think I knów→what Americans are líke→something háppens→ to make me change my mínd↓

Tom: Can you give me an exámple?↑

Ali: Yés↓ When I arríved here→from m'y country→I thought that Américans→ weren't fríendly↓ In m'y country→people go out of their wáy→to help strángers↓ At fírst→people seemed cóld↓
Now I feel quite wélcome↓

Tom: So what do you think has chánged↓

Ali: The fúnny thing→is that I think 'I've changed.↓

Tom: In what wáy?↓

Ali: For óne thing→perhaps I expécted people→to come to mé↓ In m'y country→we ápproach strangers↓ If they look lóst→we offer to hélp↓ Hére→we have to ásk for help↓ The go'od news→is that Americans are véry helpful→once you ásk them for help↓

Tom: So what do you thínk→is the dífference→now that you knów us better↓

Ali: What I réalize now→is that Américans→are more prívate→than wé are↓ I come from tríbal people→where nobody is a stránger↓ Americans seem to have another wáy→of looking at the péople→aro'und them↓ There is more spáce→but we are wélcome→in that spáce↓ Américans→ don't want to inváde→O'UR privacy↓

Tom: That sounds ríght↓ Each culture is dífferent→from every óther culture↓ Visitors into néw cultures→need to find o'ut→what the dífferences are→so that they will fe'el→more cómfortable.

Ali: I'm le'arning↓ I'm getting to knów→Americans bétter→every mónth→and my respect is grówing→all of the tíme→thanks to friends like yo'u↓ I'll see you later Tóm↓

Tom: See you so'on↓ Cáll me→if you think of anything élse↓ I love talking about cúltures↓

©2003-Ted Klein