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1. Purpose

You already know a great deal of chemistry and you have demonstrated good reading and writing skills in English. You probably have not had much opportunity to speak English, especially not the technical vocabulary of chemistry. The terms on the audio tape and transcript were chosen not for their scientific meaning but to help you to:

  • Develop precision in speaking using professional vocabulary.
    By imitating the pronunciation on the tape, you will learn how to say words that are common in chemistry but not commonly taught in English classes. There are only 71 key terms in the sample here, but many more technical terms are used in the sentences and questions.
  • Develop familiarity with technical English.
    Our intent is to provide examples of the language you may hear and need to say to other chemists and chemistry students.
  • Increase familiarity with English used by teachers and students in this context.
    In classes and on exams, your teachers will ask you questions. When you are a teaching assistant, undergraduate students will ask you questions. The samples given here should help you recognize common patterns in questions about chemistry.
  • Develop phrasing patterns and rhythm.
    There is a lot more to speaking a language than simply pronouncing each word perfectly in isolation. In English, the important words in a sentence usually are stressed, louder and often at a higher pitch than the less important words Phrases, sequences of words that combine to create meaning, are separated by short pauses. Pauses that interrupt meaningful sequences of words make speech difficult to understand. (For example, that last sentence contains the groupings "Pauses that interrupt" "meaningful sequences of words" "make speech" and "difficult to understand.")
  • Increase control of word stress patterns.
    Each key word is written twice, once normally and again with the syllables separated by spaces and the stressed syllable in underlined capital letters (UN der lined CA pi tal LET ters). Only the key words are marked in this way. You should listen for the stress pattern in all the other words in the sentence.
  • Don't worry about speaking fast (FAST DOES NOT EQUAL FLUENT).
    First you strive for accurate pronunciation, stress, and rhythm. Speed will come later, after your speech is accurate and comfortable for you.
  • Concentrate on precision and clarity of pronunciation.
    Consonants are the most important. Vowels in the unstressed syllables of American English are often not very clearly pronounced by native speakers.

2. Format

This manual is divided into two sections: The first section is a list of all of the words you will be working with and the second section is the key term and supplemental material.

Section 1
Listing of terms by number of syllables and stress patterns - The first section of this manual has a listing of the 71 terms covered in this manual. The terms are organized in a slightly unusual way in this section. You will find the terms grouped by number of syllables and stress pattern. All one-syllable words are grouped together. Similarly, all three syllable words with primary stress on the first syllable are grouped together.

Using this organizational pattern, you can see that words that which look very different in terms of their spelling and form share an important feature: rhythm and delivery. For example, when looking at the words "ion" and "wavelength," you might not expect that they are produced using the same stress and rhythm pattern: two syllables with primary stress on the first syllable. As you work through the exercises, listen carefully for the rhythm and balance of syllables in each word. This is an important feature of spoken English.

Section 2
For each key term, you will see six sections. On the tape, you will hear all six spoken twice, once by a male speaker and once by a female speaker. The sections are as follows:

  • Term - the word itself
  • Term with Primary stress marked - The voice on the tape will stress the word as indicated.
  • Term used in a statement - Some terms have more than one statement. The statements may not be related in meaning. Sometimes more than one statement was included because the word is used with different meanings or in different contexts.
  • Term used in a question typical of an instructor - These are the sort of questions teachers might ask you, or you, when you teach, might ask a student. Some of these "questions" are imperatives, for example, "Explain...," "List...", Tell me why..."
  • Term used in a question typical of a student - These are the sort that your students might ask you when you teach. Many contain introductory formulas, such as "I have a question", or "I didn't understand that - please explain" or "This may be a silly question, but..." These formulas warn you that the question is coming.
  • Term used in a general use of the word, by non-scientists - Many technical terms were taken from ordinary English and given new, specialized meanings. In other cases, ordinary English has adopted a technical term in a metaphoric sense. In some cases the examples given are simply homonyms, words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings.

3. How to use the web site

Work on one term per day - (approximately 10-15 minutes per day). The order of the terms is not important - it's merely alphabetical. Feel free to start with terms that seem particularly relevant to you. If you read over the material quickly you will find many other technical terms in the sentences. Feel free to choose the key term because of its association with some other words.

Listen to the entire set of recordings for the term - the term itself, sentence, question, and usage in non-technical English.

Practice with the recording in the following way, with each of the two spoken versions:

  • Listen to the word in isolation.
  • Say the word on your own.
  • Listen to the word again.
  • Say the word with the speaker, imitating the speaker's pronunciation as clearly as you can.
  • Repeat this procedure with each sentence and each question for the word. Pay attention to the pronunciation and stressed syllables of technical terms other than the key term. Pay attention to the grouping of words into meaningful phrases and to the rhythm of the sentences as a whole. You will hear differences between the two spoken versions, but both are examples of acceptable native English.
  • Finally, go through the entire set saying the information with the speaker.

Practice on your own. Repeat the terms and sentences without the tape. When you are comfortable speaking the sentences, try varying them by substituting other nouns or verbs, or changing the order of phrases, or turning the declarative sentences into questions and the questions into declarative sentences.
Make notes on the transcript. Mark the primary stress that you hear for words that are not key words. Mark the phrasing of meaningful fragments within sentences. Write down any questions that you have in the manual, and bring it with you when you come in August. Your suggestions will improve a second edition.

We hope that the practice will facilitate your transition into our English-speaking world.

EXTRA CREDIT: Practice responding to the questions asked for each term. (A helpful hint: in real life, when you need time to frame your answer, you can say, "Let me see..." or "Let me think about that..." or "I know the answer..." or "I think I remember that..." while you are finding the right words for the your answer.)

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