Articles on child speech research and teaching English pronunciation

Research articles

If you would like to see my thesis exactly as submitted then download:

  • Messum P.R. (2007) The Role of Imitation in Learning to Pronounce, PhD thesis, London University.

However, for more efficient printing you might prefer a single-spaced version:

Alternatively, you might like to see just the abstract and table of contents.


Part 1
of the thesis deals with how timing relationships emerge from the breath stream dynamics of child speech rather than through being imitated (modelled). (I.e. how English, for example comes to have long and short vowels, pre-fortis clipping, 'stress-timed' rhythm, and so on.) Part of it is summarised in:

  • Messum P.R. (2008) Embodiment, not imitation, leads to the replication of timing phenomena. In: Proceedings of Acoustics '08 Paris: SFA/ASA/EAA, 2405-2410.

Early versions were summarised in:

  • Messum P.R. (2005) Learning to talk: a non-imitative account of the replication of phonetics by child learners. In: Chatzidamianos G. (ed.) CamLing 2005: Proceedings of The University of Cambridge Third Postgraduate Conference in Language Research, 99-109

  • Messum P.R. (2003) Invariance of effort in child speech breathing as a 'fast and frugal' heuristic for the acquisition of durational phenomena in stress-accent languages. In: Solé, M.J., Recasens, D., Romero, J. (eds) 15th ICPhS, 2007-2010 Barcelona: Causal Productions.


Part 2 of the thesis, dealing with the replication of speech sounds, is summarised in Messum P.R. (2007) How children learn to pronounce and in a poster Messum P.R. (2007) ASA New Orleans. I would recommend looking at these before reading Part 2 (which is rather long), to get the gist of the argument.

Ian Howard and I have been working on the development of speech sounds through a computer model of an infant, called Elija:

We were invited to comment on an experiment reported by MacDonald et al. (2012) in Current Biology:


Teaching articles

I summarised the two parts of the thesis and discussed implications for teaching the pronunciation of English in an article written for the IATEFL Pronunciation SIG and in slides presented at the IATEFL 2008 conference:

  • Messum P.R. (2008) What if children don't learn to pronounce by imitation? How should we teach older learners? Speak Out! (Whitstable, IATEFL) 39:16-21

  • Messum P.R. (2008) Children don't learn to pronounce by imitation, nor do adults. (IATEFL Exeter conference)


Earlier I wrote more about the specific application of the ideas in Part 2, that sound qualities are not learned by imitation

  • Messum P.R. (2002) Learning and teaching vowels. Speak Out! (Whitstable, IATEFL) 29:9-27

  • Messum P.R. (2004) Autonomy, as soon as possible. Speak Out! (Whitstable, IATEFL) 32:12-23


Then about the specific issue of how to teach sentence stress:


Most recently, I have argued that the English articulatory setting is also determined by the distinctive stress-accent of English, and suggested that this gives us a new opportunity to teach this articulatory setting:

  • Messum P.R. (2010) Understanding and teaching the English articulatory setting. Speak Out! (Whitstable, IATEFL) 43:20-24
(You may want to read the 1964 article by Beatrice Honikman that I refer to a few times in this article. There is a copy available here. The most recent work on articulatory settings across different languages has been done by Constantine Borissoff. His articles are available on his website. And follow the link to the PronSci downloads site immediately below for more about teaching the English articulatory setting in an article I wrote for SpeakOut in 2012.)

I will post articles about teaching from 2010 onwards, including articles written with Roslyn Young, at the PronSci downloads site.