Teaching Tips

Teaching Contrastive Stress for Varied Speaking Levels

  • Greta Muller Levis (Iowa State University)
  • John M. Levis (Iowa State University)


Contrastive stress, in which words or syllables are emphasized to show their relationship to other words or syllables (e.g., It's not unknown, it's well-known), calls attention to how spoken lexical information is highlighted to express explicit and implicit comparisons/contrasts. By doing so, it evokes a set of possible referents and then uses pitch and length to select one referent from the group (Cowles et al., 2007). Although contrastive stress is common in conversational and planned speech, L2 English learners at all proficiency levels struggle with it, instead emphasizing repeated words (e.g., It's not unknown, it's well-known). Contrastive stress is highly teachable at all levels of instruction and promotes comprehensibility improvement with even modest levels of instruction (Benner, Muller Levis & Levis, 2014; Levis & Muller Levis, 2018; Muller Levis & Levis, 2012). Improvement is evident in controlled and more communicative activities. This teaching tip includes a variety of controlled and communicative activities to teach the production of contrastive stress, including strategies to identify contrasts in written texts, to produce contrasts in asking about and expressing preferences, to express contrasts using simple pictures, and in using contrasts to correct and disagree.

How to Cite:

Muller Levis, G. & Levis, J. M., (2019) “Teaching Contrastive Stress for Varied Speaking Levels”, Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Proceedings 11(1).

Download PDF
View PDF

Published on
01 Jan 2020