Back-chaining is a useful technique in teaching oral language skills, particularly when it comes to polysyllabic words. For example, ‘Mussorgsky’ is a difficult name for many non-Russians. The teacher first gets the students to say the last syllable, ‘-sky’; then to repeat it, with '-sorg-' attached before: ‘-sorgsky’; and then all that remains is the first syllable: ‘Mus-sorg-sky’. This technique is easier for learners than the more obvious front-chaining, starting with the first syllable, as it requires them to put the new element first, where it is less easily forgotten.
Back-chaining also respects the phonological structure of English better than front-chaining: as there is usually no difference in stress between a word spoken in isolation and one spoken at the end of a sentence, it is arguably better to begin with the final syllable (main stress in bold):
Chaining sequences for the English word 'aroma':
- (1) Front-chaining: [ə] - [ə.ɹəʊ] - [ə.ɹəʊ.mə]
- (2) Back-chaining: [mə] - [ɹəʊ.mə] - [ə.ɹəʊ.mə]
In English, syllables tend to follow a stressed-unstressed pattern, e.g. happy (though there are many exceptions). The order -ma, -roma and aroma respects this. Starting with a- and aro- entails reversing this pattern, which complicates learning. Teachers might also choose to present a chain as pairs of syllables, e.g. beginning with -roma, then aroma: this introduces the strong-weak stress pattern from the outset.
- Compare psychological in isolation, it's psychological and psychological profile, where only in the last does the main stress shift to another syllable.