Picture of Nguyen Quang Vinh
by Nguyen Quang Vinh - Monday, 15 May 2006, 08:15 PM

Conducted by Le Thuy Chi FA2-2000



First of all, I would like to express my great gratitude to my supervisor, Senior Lecturer Nguyen Minh Phuc, M.A, for his valuable suggestions, comments, correction and encouragement, without which this research would not has been comprehensive.

Besides, I also want to give my special appreciation and thanks to the students of FA 2000, FA 2001, and FA 2002 for their enthusiastic and encourageous support in providing the data for this study.

Finally, I would like to convey my gratitude to my classmates for their help during the development of this study. Without their help, my research would not has been made possible.


Table of contents

Acknowledgements . 1

1. Introduction .. 3

1.1. An overview ... 3

1.2. My approach .. 4

2. Some theoretical background to the concept “stress” . 5

2.1. The characteristics of stressed and unstressed words . 5

2.2. Some specific rules for stressed words . 6

3. Findings and Discussion .. 10

3.1. Findings . 10

3.2. Discussions . 11

4. Implications . 14

5. Conclusion .. 15




1. Introduction

1.1. An overview

M any studies have shown that stress plays a very important role in English language production and perception. In English language production, Brown and McNeil in “The tip of the tongue” phenomenon studied the phenomenon of speakers who cannot remember a word but have it on the tip of their tongue. Their study showed that with those speakers, the infrequently used words could become faint with disuse, and only parts of them could be clearly remembered. Those parts are usually the beginning and the end of the word together with its number of syllables and the location of the primary stress. In the study of Fay and Cutler (“Slip of the tongue-1987) on the phenomenon of slips of the tongue in spontaneous speech also indicated that speakers only slip on those words with similarities in stress patterns with the same number of syllables, and with the same syllable carrying primary stress.

In language perception, it would seem that heavy reliance on information about stress pattern and the nature of the stressed syllables is a common and efficient way of speech comprehension. Reliable researches indicated that when listeners mishear a word, it is usually stress pattern and the natural of the stressed syllable which decide what listeners think they hear. The stressed syllable information is very important for the listeners to reconstruct the whole massage. So, not surprisingly, when the stress pattern is incorrect, errors in interpretation occur. Bansal in “The intelligibility of Indian English” (1966) gave many interesting examples of misinterpretation when words with initial stress were uttered with second-syllable stress: “atmosphere” was heard as “must fear”, “ yesterday” as “ or study”, “character” as “director” and so on. Longer utterances like “ talking among themSELVES” as “talking among THEMselves” and were consequently misperceived as “ talking among DAMselves”.

As a foreign learner of English, I myself could not avoid of making many stress errors, neither did my classmates. Therefore, in my view, stress related error making and correction become a very challenging but interesting matter.

In this study, I will attempt to:

- point out the characteristics and basic rules of word stress placement;

- identify and describe the stress errors that Vietnamese students often make;

- find out the possible reasons for those errors, and

- show implications and make some suggestions for correcting/ avoiding these types of errors.

Thus, I hope this study will help learners of English figure out some likely areas of errors stress related problems that hinder the spoken communication in both English language production and perception.

1.2. My approach

I n order to reach the aim of this study, I have consulted theory and information from books that are specified in this essay’s topic: Stress errors in Students’ reading aloud. Also I have done the tape – recorded readings of students at different level (first year, second year and third year) to collect the data for this study. In addition, to make my report more convincing, information was downloaded from the Internet to be reliable sources of this study.

2. Some theoretical background to the concept “stress”

2.1. The characteristics of stressed and unstressed words

I n the book “ English Phonetics and Phonology”, Peter Roach held the view that “all stressed syllables have one characteristic in common, and that is called “prominence” ( p72 and 73) . The stressed syllable of a word is recognized more prominent than the rest syllables of the word. So, what makes a syllable become more prominent than others? Also in his book, P.Roach looked at, at least, four different important factors: loudness, length, pitch and vowel quality.

2.1.1.The loudness

Most people keep the feeling that a prominent syllable is pronounced louder than the others. Yes, if in a sequence of identical syllables, one is uttered with the intensive loudness, it would be heard as stressed syllable. But only with changing the loudness of one syllable, the speaker will encounter some difficulties and the perceptual effect of stress is not strong.

2.1.2. The length

Among others syllables with the same length, if only one of them is lengthened intensively, there is quite a strong tendency for that syllable to be heard as stressed.

2.1.3. The pitch

Every syllable is pronounced on some pitch, it might vary from low pitch to and high pitch. Within a word, for example, if one syllable is noticeably said differently from the others, it will be recognized as prominent, and of course a stressed syllable. Therefore, to place some movement of pitch (e.g. rising or falling pitch) on a syllable is an effective way to produce a syllable with prominence.

2.1.4. The vowel quality

A syllable will be considered as a prominence if it includes a vowel that has different quality from neighboring vowels. Let’s give a nonsense word “ba:ba:ba:ba” as one example. If the second syllable is replaced by “ bi” syllable, that replacement one will usually be heard as stressed.

In short, a stressed syllable can be recognized thanks to the combination of those four factors. Many studies such as “The Intelligibility of Indian English” of Bansal. R.K or “English phonetics and phonology: A practical course” of Peter Roach have shown that among the fours, the strongest effect is produced by pitch and length respectively, and then, loudness and quality.

2.2. Some specific rules for stressed words

2.2.1. The placement of stress within one word

* To determine where the stress is in a word with two syllables is still a simple decision: either the first syllable or the second one, never both of them. Here, we just consider the very basic rules of stressing the syllables, not the whole exceptions.

- For verbs : The basic rule is that: when the second syllable of that word contains a long vowel or diphthong or triphthong; or it ends with more than one consonant, so that second syllable is stressed. For example:

contain [k nte n] abstract [ btr kt]

decide [d sa d] insist [ ns st ]

When the second syllable is a consist of a short vowel and only one (or none) consonant, therefore, the stress falls to the first syllable. Thus:

open [ p n] hinder [h nd ]

The first syllable is also stressed if it includes “ ”. For example:

follow [ f l ] borrow [b r ]

- To adjectives, adverbs and prepositions : The bi-syllable adj. (also adv, pre) is stressed following the same basic rules like rules to verbs.

- To nouns : To the nouns, the rules are quite different. If the second syllable has a short vowel, the stress will be focused on the first syllable.

apple [ peggl] title [t teggl]

money [m n ]

On the contrary, if the final syllable contains a long vowel. the stress will be on that final one. Thus:

mistake [m ste k] design [d s n]

* Poly- syllabic words

- In general, to poly-syllabic words, the stressed syllable will be on the third position, which is counted from the end to the beginning. Thus:

family political university

hospital economy opportunity

- Poly-syllabic words with prefix: with these prefixes listed below, the stressed one will be on the first syllable right after the prefix:

a- : above com- : compare

de- : decide en- : enjoy

in- : indeed per- : permit

be- : become con- : connect

em- : employ es- : escape

im- : important ob- : observe

pre- : prepare pro : pronoun

trans- : translate

- Poly- syllabic words with suffixes: with these kinds of suffixes, the stress will be put in the syllable before the suffix.

-ian : musician -id : stupid

-ion : discusion -ical : politiacal

-ial : social -ify : beautify

-ible : possible -ience : experience

-ient : patient -ity : possibiliy

-ish : foolish -ious : delicious

-ive : native -ant: important

- The stressed syllable will be the last syllable if a word contains the suffixes listed below:

-ee : employee -eer : engineer

-esque: picturesque -ette : cigarette

-ique : antique -ine : machine

-oo : bamboo -oon : balloon

-metal : fundamental

- The suffixes that do not change the position of stress within a word:

-able : reason – reasonable -age : marry – marriage

-al : propose – proposal -en : deep – deepen

-er : prison – prisoner -ful : forget – forgetful

-hood : brother – brotherhood -ing : pain – painting

-like : wolf – wolflike -less : doubt – doubtless

-ly : recent – recently -ment : develop – development

-ness : happy – happiness -ous : religion – religious

-fy : beauty – beautify -wise : clock – clockwise

-y : jealous – jealously

2.2.2. The placement of stress in compound words

In general, the simple rules for stress in compound words can be used, but they are not extremely reliable in all cases. For these cases listed below, the stress falls on the first word.

*The compound word has its meaning, not the combined meanings of each elements: blacksmith, blackboard, greenhouse...

*The first part of the compound is noun, verb, “out” and “ over”: coalmine, sun-rise, swimming-pool, reading room, outlook, overcoat, overview...

*The stress will be focused on the second element if they are:

- Combined by an adjective and a noun: loudspeaker, first-class, hand-make...

- Combined by a Past-participle word and a noun: burning building, singing bird, sleeping child...

- Combined by two nouns in which the first element is the material of the second noun: paper bag, brick house, stone bridge...

- Separated in meaning: moving picture, front door...

2.2.3. The placement of stress in sentence

There are three types of Sentence stress: Sense stress, logical stress, and Emotional stress.

* Sense stress

The sense stress occurs very commonly in spoken English. So what is sense stress? It usually is spoken with content words – which include verb, noun, adjective, adverb, numeral, pronoun... in strong form. To contrast, the Form words such as article, preposition, conjunction, are more frequently pronounced in weak form.

E.g. : I’m reading a veryinteresting book.

Whowas that on the phone?

You mustdo ityourself.

* Logical stress

It is the way of stressing in some certain words in a sentence in certain circumstance, just because the speaker wants the listeners to focus on these words but not those.

E.g. : -We saw Mary crying yesterday

( We “saw” but not “heard”)

-We saw Mary crying yesterday

(“Mary” but not Jane crying )

-We saw Mary crying yesterday

(“We” but not her mother saw her crying)

-We saw Mary crying yesterday

( Mary was “crying”, not laughing)

-We saw Mary crying yesterday

(“ Yesterday” but not today)

* The Emotional stress.

The emotional stress is used when the speaker wants to highlight a very strong feeling in order to make sense to their listeners.

E.g. : Oh ! We are lost !

My God ! You are hurt !

3. Findings and Discussion

3.1. Findings

T he study of students’ reading aloud with a given text (more details, see Appendix 1) of 393 words (there are 117 poly-syllabic words) has indicated that stress errors have become a real problem to concern. Apart from all proper names and particular place names which have their own way of pronouncing; stress errors were counted in those poly syllables. Group 1 (the first year students) had made a total of 76 errors, responsibly counted from 16 to 23 each student. To group 2 (the second year students) the total errors were 60, ranging from 11 to 20 of each. And the last group – group 3 (third year students) also made 30 errors even when they have been taught about rules and ways of reading correctly. (See the table 1 given below).

Group of student





Total of errors

Group 1 (First year)






Group 2 (Second year)






Group 3 (Third year)






Table 1 : Result of the analysis of poly-syllabic words stress errors

in the students’ reading

The data at table 2 also shows that there are some certain poly- syllabic words in that text which were very often read incorrectly.


No of students made errors/total students

record ( v & n)

11 /12













Table 2 : Poly-syllabic words with high frequency of stress errors

3.2. Discussions

A nalyzing the students’ learning process, these findings really show their great difficulties in communication in the target language. Stress errors still appear to be a concerning matter for all students, from the unior to the senior ones. The stress errors belong to one of the two reasons as follows (or both of them):

a. Primary and/ or secondary tress falls on the wrong syllable, and

b. All the syllables are stressed.

As a result, a number of questions should be asked about this problem. What are the consequences of stress errors in spoken production and perception ? What are the sources of these errors? What should be done to help students avoid and correct these errors – in case they have completed those already?

Undoubtedly, stress errors do effect English production and perception. Stress patterns are said to be crucial in pronunciation of poly-syllabic words because they affect the syllables and the segments that constitute syllables. The certain English nouns and verbs such as REcord – reCORD; PREsent – preSENT; SUBject – subJECT; CONtract – conTRACT... are the good illustrations for it. Thus, should those words, in particularly, are uttered wrongly, it might cause the misunderstanding between the speakers and the listeners, or in other words, it does hinder the communication by requiring the guess-work or implications of those related to this conversation. An interesting example is: in “... the radio and the television programs all over the world were interrupted to give the news of his death...” a stress was given incorrectly to the first syllable of the word “interrupted” instead of the third one. So, the native listeners thought they heard: “... were INTERESTED to give the news of his death...”

Why do Vietnamese students make stress errors? What can be the causes of those errors? If the answers to these questions can be found, it is hoped that something could be done to help students to avoid/ correct them. Do such errors as noted above necessarily belong to the negative language influence? In Vietnamese, all words can be said to be the mono-syllabic words ( with some exceptions of compound words, which also have separate syllable and distinctive tone. For example: long lanh, rung rinh, dat dao...). Such difference between Vietnamese and English might cause obstacles for Vietnamese learners when they learn how to pronounce poly-syllabic words with stress patterns in English. Very often, Vietnamese students, especially the beginners, tend to pronounce all the syllables with the same loudness, length and pitch – these called “prominences” – thus give the full stress to all syllables. This characteristic should be considered as a negative influence of our mother tongue. Therefore, it seems that the students’ native language can be counted for the reasons why stress errors occur.

Another possible reason is that certain words such as “record” (verb and noun) or “contract” (verb and noun) can be said to be the developmental errors. At a particular level of learning English, the student might meet the word “record” as a verb, and she or he learns to pronounce it correctly. Another time, s/he sees that word again, but this time as a noun. But s/he made a stress error of overgeneralization and pronounces it like a verb.

There is one more reliable source that results in this phenomenon. In Vietnam , a very good consultation of Vietnamese students whenever they have any difficulty in pronunciation and word stress is the dictionary. Yet, in Vietnam there are many kinds of dictionary available for learners. For instance, there are dictionaries of high quality such as “The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary” or “The Dictionary for Learners (Collins)”, etc. On the other hand, there are also kinds of badly designed and unreliable quality dictionaries. One of those is the bilingual pocket dictionary by Le Ba Kong in which all English words are given with Vietnamese “equivalent” of pronunciation, and often without stress. For example : record [ ri cod] , thirteen [ sot tin]...

It can be seen clearly how many problems those dictionaries may cause to the learners rather than to help them. Even with the very good dictionaries, if the students do not get familiar with the different ways or different transcription symbols; they are likely to be confused. That confusion might lead to the situation of making such errors in stress mentioned above. Following are the examples of the different transcription ways of these words: “record” (both in verb and noun), and “contract” (verb and noun):

record no [rek d] contract no [k ntr kt]

record (v) [rik d] contract (v) [ k ntr kt]

(From “ English – Vietnamese Dictionary” - The Social Science Publishing House)

record no contract no

record (v) contract (v)

(Source: the “Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary- Melbourne”)

record no [ re kord] contract no [kon trakt]

record (v) [ rikord ] contract (v) [ k ntrakt ]

(Source: “Chambers’ s Twentieth Century Dictionary-London”)

So, the problem here is not to classify the sources of the errors, but it is how to avoid and how to correct them. In the process of learning and teaching, Vietnamese learners and teachers tend to pay more attention to the fluency ( how fast they could speak ) and to the number of vocabulary ( how many words they could remember ); but less attention to the correctness ( how they could speak a sentence with correct stress and intonation ). By that, there should be some changes in the students’ awareness in the ways they approach to their target language.


4. Implications

I n the Findings and Discussions, there are some typical examples of stress errors and there also are some possible reasons for that. In this part, I’d like to give out some implications in order to help students and teachers to avoid and to correct those kinds of errors. It is hoped to be useful.

* To students :

- Whenever you learn a new word, do not forget to learn its transcription and its stress as well.

- Speak out that new word with correct stress pattern until you have the feeling of having that “correct” word on your own.

- Pay more attention to the words that have different grammatical meanings simultaneously, such as a verb, a noun, an adjective...

- Try to correct step by step your known-words, which are pronounced wrongly by looking it up again in the dictionary or by asking other people.

- Listen intensively while others speaking and do the correction work to yourselves if there are any stress errors in those talks.

- Do not try to speak so quickly. Sometimes it is that effort will damage your English.

* To teachers :

- Retrain themselves in order not to make stress errors because it might be his or her own mistake but, needless to say, it will be passed on to hundred of students.

- Let your students have more opportunities to speak. At that time you can listen and correct them if they make any stress errors.

* To the Universities’ facilities :

- The facilities should be better equipped and modernized such as : computer, TV, video, cassette, lab-room...

- The sources of information should be more up-dated in order to help students have a better look to the country, people, and culture... of their target language.


5. Conclusion

I t can be conclucted that stress is a really difficult aspect in the process of learning, and stress errors still happen with most of the students, from the elementary to the advanced ones. Although it is a hard task, yet the stress and stress-errors correcting need more attention and more effort from both learners and teachers. So, hopefully that the information from my small essay are of the great use to all people who are teachers, would-be teachers, and to whom care for this matter.



Reading text

Elvis Presley - Story of a Superstar

When Elvis Presley died on 16th August, 1977 , radio and television programs all over the world were interrupted to give the news of his death. President Carter was asked to declare a day of national mourning. Carter said: “Elvis Presley changed the face of American culture.... He was unique and irriplaceable”. Eighty thousand people attended his funeral. The streets were jammed with cars, and Elvis Presley’s films were shown on television, and his records were played on radio all day. In the year after his death, 100 million Presley LPs were sold.

Elvis Presley was born on January 8th , 1935 , in Tupelo , Mississipi. His twin brother, Jesse Garon, died at birth. His parents were very poor, and Elvis never had music lessons, but he was surrounded by music on an early age. His parents were very religious, and Elvis regularly sang at Church services. In 1948, when he was thirteen, his family moved to Memphis , Tennessee . He left school in 1953 and got a job as a truck driver.

In the summer of 1953 Elvis paid $4 and recorded two songs for his mother’s birthday at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. Sam Phillip heard Elvis and asked him to record “That’s All Right” in July 1954. 20,000 copies were sold, mainly in and out the Memphis . He made five more records for Sun, and in July 1955 he met Colonel Tom Parker, who became his manager in November. Parker sold Elvis’s contract to RCA Records. Sun Records got $ 35,000 and Elvis got $ 5,000. With the money he bought a pink Cadillac for his mother. On January 10th, 1956 , Elvis recorded “Heartbreak Hotel”, and a million copies were sold. In the next fourteen moths he made another fourteen records, and they were all big hits. In 1956, he also made his first film in Hollywood .



Basal, R.K, 1966. “The Intelligibility of Indian English” . Ph.D Thesis. London : London University

Brown, R., & McNeill, D. 1978. “The tip of the tongue” Phenomenon.

Cutler, A. 1980. “Slip of the tongue”. New York , Academic Press

Roach, P. 1983. “English Phonetics and Phonology: A Practical Course”. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press

Picture of Student Graduated
by Student Graduated - Saturday, 8 September 2007, 08:35 AM
It is pretty good analysis. Well done.