As a student of history, I have spent a better part of my life devouring sources and books composed in complex English. I identify with my ESL students’ struggle to recognize reductions in everyday speech because I failed to familiarize myself with slang and what I like to call ‘easy-speak’ or reduction. While researching content for this article, I ran across this sentence: “Whadj’afta do ta come ta the U.S.?” 1  It took several glances for me to realize what the sentence was saying, and it suddenly occurred to me that the phrase would be even more confusing for L2 speakers with no exposure to reduction or slang. But what exactly does the term ‘reduction’ entail? Common reductions in speech include contractions, elision, assimilation, slang, and linking, to name a few. ESL learners’ inability to identify, hear and understand reduction in daily speech has a crippling effect on bilingual speakers’ performance. As a result, L2 learners sometimes mistake reductions as new words or offer confusing responses to their native peers. Teaching reductions should be a part of the ESL curriculum in the future and the online classroom. Helping your L2 learners identify different patterns of speech, slang, and reductions will prepare them for relaxed conversation in the outside world and prevent them from finding themselves in embarrassing or potentially awkward situations with native speakers.

Teaching Esl Reductions

Identifying Reduced Form in the Online Classroom

As an online English tutor, it is difficult to address subjects that are not built into the courseware as you only have a limited amount of time to cover the required topics. If that is the case, then how do you go about teaching something as complex as reductions in a 25-minute or 50-minute timeframe? The trick is to build the information into the lesson plan. Here is a list of the most common reductions in the English
language from College English Web 2

  1. wanna/ gonna/ oughda/ hafda/ hasda/ hada/
  2. n/ er/ fer
  3. Reduction of h Sound
  4. Vowel Reduction
  5. Elision
  6. Linking

Let’s examine a few common reductions

  • For example, suppose you are teaching an SBS class where the mission of the class is to talk about future intentions or what you are going to do or have to do. This would be a great opportunity to briefly address these reductions: gonna instead of going to, wanna instead of want to, and hafda instead of have to. Another example is in the GE and SBS classes teaching the use of ‘cannot’ and ‘can.’ A great exercise would be to have students practice asking each other questions using can’t, couldn’t, coulda, oughda, woulda, and shoulda. Contractions are perhaps the easiest to teach, and even young learners should be able to catch on quickly. StudyPK has a list of “common contractions in English grammar”3 on their site that you can go over with your students in the online classroom.
  • The reduced forms of and/or/for take the forms of n/er/fer/fe: e.g. cream n’ sugar, boys n’ girls, soccer er baseball, fer yer information.
  • The reduction of the h sound involves dropping the pronunciation of the h from him and her to im and er: e.g. Tell _im to give it back or I saw _er yesterday.
  • Vowel reduction involves “vowels in the unstressed syllables in a word [being] pronounced with the reduced vowel [schwa].” 4 For example: instead of ‘about’ we use ‘əˈbaʊt.’
  • Elision is described as the process in which “unstressed syllables are completely dropped; which causes the missing of one vowel or, literally, one syllable.” 5 Some examples include: I don’t know > I dunno, camera > kamra, history > histry, and mathematics > mathmatics.
  • Linking is one of the most common reductions in speech patterns. One source describes linking as “when a word begins with a vowel, the final consonant(s) of the word before it can link with the vowel and they combine to become a new syllable.” 6 Some examples of linking include: gonna, wanna, shoulda, coulda, kinda, jeet, betcha, whassup, sorda, lemme, gimme, and dunno.
  • G-dropping or reducing progressive: this is especially popular where I am from and what happens is that words ending with -g drop the g sound and you end up with talkin’, walkin’, sayin’, tryin,’ goin’, sumthin,’ nuthin’ and so on.

In addition to introducing your online learners to reductions, it is also a good idea to have students identify idioms and slang as well since these phrases may confuse the students, and your older students are very likely to encounter slang. The University of Massachusetts has a list of slang terms that you can help your older students keep a look out for.7 Keep in mind that reduction often involves function words such as auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and pronouns.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and Reductions

Sarita Z. Crawford and Heather L. Moffie have created a method for teaching reduced speech called “Wherd’ya Draw the Line.”8 Crawford and Moffie note, “when reduced forms arise, ask learners, “Does that go above or below the line?” In other words, is the form mostly something they will hear and should understand or also something they can write and speak in any context?”9 Games like “Wherd’ya Draw the Line” and “Whatcha gonna say?” (where students listen to reductions and respond
accordingly) help L2 learners listen to, identify, understand, and respond to reductions in spoken English. See the example I have created below:

Teaching Reductions Esl

Another case study by Dion Sanchez suggests using Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) to teach reductions in the online classroom. Sanchez defines CLT as using “authentic materials and fosters interaction between students while using role-play, games, and various communicative tasks to facilitate language learning.”10 Under CLT, less focus is given to the teacher who provides and facilitates learning activities. The majority of time is spent on student-centered conversation and peer-to-peer interaction. This creates a nearly actual environment where students take on a native speaker’s role, pretending in this case, but learning invaluable speech patterns. CLT does not rely solely on written assessment but uses games, AI curriculum, and engaging activities to promote learning. A good example is a game in which students pretend to be a character with a list of tasks to complete and are scored by using the correct reductions such as gonna and shoulda to respond to each task. Another way to teach reductions is to take the ALO7 songs such as “What can you do?” “What do you want to be?” and “Where do you want to go?” and reduce them in a sing-along to help students memorize and understand connected speech: ex. Whaddya wanna be? and wheredja wanna go? Social-emotional learning is a valuable tool to incorporate for the online English tutor. Utilizing social-emotional learning, encouraging risk-taking in AI-assisted activities will help self-conscious students interact better with the materials, their classmates, and the curriculum. Sanchez argues, “students with high motivation, self-confidence, and a lower anxiety rate are better equipped to learn a language then those students that have low-motivation, a negative self-image and high anxiety.”11 Exercising SEL in the online classroom will give your students the confidence boost needed to take risks, practice speaking without fear of criticization or embarrassment, and engage in peer-to-peer conversation in a collaborative environment. Peer-to-peer skills are essential in a world where your students will have to interact and work with native speakers on a daily basis.

The Challenges of Teaching Reduced Form in Spoken Language

The biggest challenge to teaching reduced form is the native speaker’s propensity to default to motherese or baby talk. We have all done this before, for example, when you have a new puppy and are trying to train it. You probably find yourself saying “come here” in a plodding, clearly articulated fashion so that your puppy will understand that you want it to come to you. Susan Verner observes, “the qualities of motherese include speaking more slowly, using more dramatic inflection, speaking at a higher pitch and articulating carefully.”12 These are not undesirable techniques to practice; however, outside the controlled classroom environment, your students will encounter native speakers who will not pander to their speaking style. Your L2 learners will experience less anxiety if they have a firm grasp on American slang conversation. This does not mean that you must discourage your students from speaking formal English. On the contrary, you can encourage your students to speak formal English, if they so desire, while identifying and responding to slang and reductions. ESL learners must be able to identify reductions in informal writing, such as that in social media and texting language. According to one source, “yet learners with academic and professional aspirations must be able to distinguish between the written reductions they see and the formal writing they are expected to produce.”13 Your ESL students must understand that reduced language is frowned upon in formal writing, especially for older students who wish to attend the university. This is imperative as many American students have allowed text language or textese to creep into formal writing. As a college student, I remember several professors calling out students who had repeatedly used textese in formal papers to say nothing of the grammatical or syntax problems. It will be easy enough for your ESL students to apply slang or textese on social media into their academic writing, but this must be addressed in the online classroom.

The ultimate goal

Teaching reductions should be a fun addition to your class that brings the students together and encourages student-led conversations and risk-taking. The easiest way to introduce reduced forms to your students is through the AI activities and songs already present in the courseware as well as facilitating student-led discussions and group activities that role-play American slang conversation.

Citations for Teaching Reductions in the ESL Classroom
1 Crawford, S. Z., & Moffie, H. L. (2016, June). Activities for Teaching Reduced Speech. Retrieved October 22,
2020, from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/downloads/features/2016/2016-
06_reduced%20speech.pdf
2 Reduction 1. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from
http://ce.etweb.fju.edu.tw/self_learning/study/advanced_pronunciation/advanced_pronunciation_u1.htm
3 Waqar, R. (2019, October 05). Common Contractions in English Grammar Full Form & Examples. Retrieved
October 25, 2020, from https://www.studypk.com/common-contractions-in-english-grammar-full-form-examples/
4 Reduction 1. (n.d.)., from
http://ce.etweb.fju.edu.tw/self_learning/study/advanced_pronunciation/advanced_pronunciation_u1.htm
5 Ibid
6 Ibid
7 American Slang Words and Phrases. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2020, from
https://www.umass.edu/ipo/sites/default/files/slang.pdf
8 Crawford, S. Z., & Moffie, H. L., from
http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/downloads/features/2016/2016-06_reduced%20speech.pdf
9 Ibid
10 Sanchez, D. (2017). Teaching Reduced Forms: A Curriculum Guide for Junior High English Language Teachers
Using Digital Technology Based Activities and Classroom Games (Doctoral dissertation, University of San
Francisco, 2017) (pp. 1-61). San Francisco, California: University of San Francisco., from
https://repository.usfca.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1726&context=capstone.
11 Ibid
12 Verner, S. (2016, February 10). Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: How to Teach Reductions. Retrieved October 27, 2020,
from https://busyteacher.org/6093-woulda-coulda-shoulda-how-to-teach-reductions.html
13 Crawford, S. Z., & Moffie, H. L., from
http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolc/downloads/features/2016/2016-06_reduced%20speech.pdf.

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