Module 1: Part 1 – Phonology

Hello Exam Seekers,

As I have already mentioned in my previous posts about the TKT (Teaching Knowledge Test), it is a series of modular teaching qualifications which test the teacher’s knowledge in specific areas of English language teaching.

There are 3 core modules, designed by Cambridge to providefoundation in the practice and principles of language teaching:

TKT: Module 1 — Background to language teaching
TKT: Module 2 — Planning for language teaching
TKT: Module 3 — Classroom management

Today, I’m going to talk about:

  • MODULE 1 – Language and background to language learning teaching
  • PART 1 – Describing language and language skills         
  • UNIT 3 – Phonology

Last time, I wrote about Lexis, which describes an individual word or sets of words, i.e., vocabulary items, that have a specific meaning, for example: tree, get up, first of allAnother aspect of the language is Phonology. Both Lexis and Phonology are important, but if we want to communicate orally in a language, we need to know how to properly pronounce the words.

So what is Phonology? It is the study of the sound features used in a language to communicate meaning. In English, these features include phonemes, word stress, sentence stress, and intonation. Here is a sample of how Cambridge assesses your knowledge about Phonology:

Cambridge TKT Module 1 Part 1 Phonology Sample
Cambridge TKT Module 1 Part 1 Phonology Sample

As you can see, you need to show that you know some characteristics related to phonology. Why? Because, for instance, if you are providing your students with a listening activity and they don’t get a couple of words or don’t understand a sentence, it might be related to how the words are enunciated or how they connect to other words phonetically.

Secondly, pronunciation communicates so much of our meaning. Producing sounds in a way that can be widely understood is vital in language learning. So focus in lessons on different aspects of pronunciation helps to make learners aware of its importance. Therefore, you must know phonology to teach pronunciation, stress, etc.

So you need to study Phonemes, Phonemic Symbols, Phonemic Scripts, Diphthongs, Word Stress (stress/unstressed/weak syllables), Sentence Stress, Main Stress, Connected Speech, Contractions, Rhythm, Intonation, and Minimal Pair. Here are some key concepts:

Phoneme: the smallest unit of sound that has meaning in a language. E.g., the “s”, which represents the plural in many words in the English language.

Phonemic Symbol: the written representation of the phonemes. E.g., /ɪ/ and /æ/, which represent the sounds “i” and “a” in “pin” and “pan”. Bellow is the phonemic chart, where you can find the representation of the phonemic sounds in the English language.

Phonemic / Pronunciation Chart - IPA International Phonemic Alphabet
Phonemic Chart – IPA International Phonemic Alphabet

Phonemic Script: a set of phonemic symbols that show in writing how words are pronounced. E.g., “/ˈbjuːtəfl̩/”, which represents the word beautiful; or “/ˈjeləʊ/”, which represents the word yellow. Even though we are talking about the English language here, there might be some differences when we talk about accents from different regions and countries. There is a website that helps us write English transcriptions called I use it quite often, make sure you check it out.

Here is a list of phonemic symbols taken from the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which shows the sounds of British English:

IPA International Phonemic Alphabet

Monophthongs: single vowel sounds. E.g., “/ˈpʊt /”, for put; or “/ˈdɒk/”, for dock.

Diphthongs: a combination of two vowel sounds. E.g., “/ˈmeɪk/”, which represents the word make; or “/ˈsəʊ/”, which represents the word so.

Word Stress: part of words that we say with greater energy. In dictionary entries for words, another symbol usually accompanies the phonemic script. E.g., “ ˈ “ in “/ˈbjuːtəfl̩/ ”, “ __ “ in ” /ˈbjuːtəfl̩/ ” or others like “ º “ or capital letters.

Stress: the pronunciation with greater energy (i.e. with more length and sound). We usually show stressed syllables with “ __ “ as in pencil, children, and important.

Sentence Stress: how sentences and incomplete sentences are pronounced – we say different parts of the sentence with more or less stress (i.e. slower and louder, or quicker and more softly).

Main Stress: one word strongly stressed in the sentence, which the speaker thinks is the most important in the meaning of the sentence; Secondary Stress: the other words stressed in the sentence, which might be strong, but not as strong as, or as important as the main word/main stress; Unstressed: words that are not stressed in a sentence. E.g., “She came home late last night” and “I can’t understand a word he says”, the words with the main stress are the underlined ones, the words with secondary stress would probably be came, home, last, night, and can’t, understand, says, and the unstressed words she and I, a, he.

I say “would be” because it depends on the speakers’ choices of stress. Depending on how the speakers choose to stress the sentences, they can provide different meanings. We usually stress content words (such as nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives – which provide information), rather than structural words (such as prepositions, articles, pronouns determiners – words we use to build the grammar of the sentence). Changing the stress of a sentence changes its meaning. Look at the examples:

  • The girl ran to the sea and jumped in quickly. (i.e. not another person)
  • The girl ran to the sea and jumped in quickly. (i.e. not to any other place)
  • The girl ran to the sea and jumped in quickly. (i.e. not in any other way)

Connected Speech: spoken language in which all the words join to make a connected stream of sounds. Characteristics such as contractions help to keep the rhythm of sentences.

Intonation: the movement of the level of the voice, i.e. the tune of a sentence or a group of words. We use intonation to express emotions and attitudes, to emphasize or make less important particular things we are saying, and to signal to others the functions of what we are saying. E.g., to show we are starting or stopping speaking, or whether we are asking a question or making a statement with rising (↗) and falling (↘) tunes.

Minimal Pair: words distinguished by only one phoneme. E.g., ship and sheep, hut and hat, think and thing, chip and ship.

So, now that you know what to study for Unit 3 – Phonology, why don’t you try and answer the task above? Learning about phonology makes teaching phonology easier.

Well, I do hope I have helped! If you still have questions about Phonology, please comment in the comment section below.

And for more information, check the TKT 3 Core Modules Book (link for the book in Brazil here):

Cambridge English TKT Core Modules


That’s it for today! Please like the post and follow the blog on:

You can also listen to this post at Anchor!!!

Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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PS: All samples are provided by Cambridge.

Answer Key:

1. B
2. C
3. B
4. A
5. C

One comment

  1. Thank you so much for this valuable content. I have a question about the difference between sentence stress and intonation. In a sentence we put more emphasis on content words and less on grammatical words so we use a lower pitch with structural words. This is called stress. But we also use rising and falling intonation with some words. Intonation can express our attitude and feelings but the examples you provided for sentence stress might also convey our feelings. For example I saw her at the mall with JOHN. Here we stress John but it expresses my surprise that I cannot believe she went there with JOHN. We can say that both the words we stress might change in a sentence depending on what message we want to convey but also the way we make changes to the pitch we can have the same effect. I would really appreciate it if you could clarify it for me. Thank you

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