Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English
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  • Clear Speech: Pronunciation and Listening Comprehension in American English
  • Judy B. Gilbert
  • Published by: Cambridge University Press
  • Level: Intermediate
  • First Published in: 2005

Clear Speech is the perfect book for students looking to perfect their pronunciation and get it to sound like the standard accent heard in the United States. The book offers several important rules, practice activities, listening exercises, and visual diagrams to help students improve their speaking skills. This book is perfect for Intermediate to Advanced students.

Review posted: 14/10/2013
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From the very beginning the author describes this book as a “North American speaking and listening comprehension guide” and when I read this caption I was a bit skeptical. Personally, I think “North American” is a very broad term because it not only includes The United States and Canada, but Mexico as well. Being an American ESL teacher I always try to expose my upper intermediate and advanced students to the different regional accents in The US and Canada. Many times after doing this my students tell me that they were not aware of how many variations and accents there were in both Canada and The US, despite them being in the same continent.

I was slightly put off by this term but as I carried on reading I was pleasantly surprised. Although I’m sure the author is referring to the standard accent heard in The United States, this small detail shouldn’t discourage anyone from taking a closer look at the book. The book begins with both a letter to the student and the teacher. The letter to the student is written in a very personal manner and it highlights the main points of the course and what the student is expected to learn after finishing the book. The letter to the teacher is a bit more detailed and it highlights what the teacher should focus on (attention to vowels, rhythm, listening comprehension, etc.) and what new features are available in this edition of the Clear Speech series.

Many accent training books start off by diving into exercises or listening activities right away, but this book does not take that approach. The book begins with a very thorough listening test divided into seven parts. The test then comes to a closing with a speaking section where the student must read from a script in order to analyze his/her speaking patterns. Depending on whether the student is learning independently or in a class, he/she can either record him or herself or read the caption out loud to a teacher.

"Clear Speech, the world's favorite pronunciation series, helps students master the most important features of spoken English by following easy-to-follow presentations, helpful rules, and extensive practice in pronunciation with additional visual support." - Judy B. Gilbert (Author)

The book begins by preparing the student with intonation and syllable stress activities. What I found to be really practical about this section is that there are hand and finger illustrations which encourage the student to tap out the syllables of each word. There is also a section entirely dedicated to –ed ending words which is something many ESL student struggle to pronounce correctly.The section also focuses on the topic of “silent letters” and syllables which are not pronounced. Words like “vegetable” or “laboratory” which are commonly pronounced with the wrong number of syllables are corrected in this section.

A main focus is put on “the music and rhythm” of the English language with the help of audio clips and illustrations describing when the students’ voice should rise or fall.In the following chapters the author makes use of even more illustrations, which I thought were very useful. There are many drawing of where the tongue should be placed when saying certain words or how teeth should be positioned when pronouncing Th, S, and Z sounds.

Although the audio activities were fun and easy to understand (even for lower level students) there can be a bit of confusion relating to when the listening activities should be used. You may notice that in certain sections of the book there is a symbol of a headset next to some of the activities. Personally, I saw this symbol as an indicator that a listening activity was related to the speaking exercise. To my surprise, this was not the case for all the activities; the symbol of the headset seems to be randomly placed beside different sections and chapters. I am not quite sure why this was done, but it can get very confusing when trying to find the correct audio clip relating to each exercise.I am also not sure if this was just my luck, but the audio CD would not play on certain programs on my PC. At times the CD would only work on the Windows Media Player and other times it would not play on a regular stereo or audio device. A co-worker of mine also had this issue so for anyone working with this book, please keep this in mind and consider downloading the files online on MP3 format.

One small thing that I found to be a bit distracting and inconvenient was the use of the phonetic alphabet seen all throughout the book. For teachers or students who are studying to be English teachers this can be very helpful, but for ESL students who simply want to communicate with native speakers and improve their listening skills, it is not so useful.This aspect of the book can be modified or ignored altogether, but the fact that the book sometimes makes references to certain phonetic symbols or compares one symbol to another can be quite confusing for students.

Personally, I would recommend that this book be used with other types of materials in order to keep your students stimulated and engaged. Despite the few faults this book has, the content it offers is actually very useful. For teachers who want to get the full benefit of this course I would recommend buying the teacher’s edition as well as Clear Speech from The Start, which is the first part of this series.



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