English Pronunciation Tips

Introduction

Pronouncing English well involves more than just pronouncing individual sounds in the correct way. Good pronunciation also requires correct stress placement, rhythm, and intonation. Sounding natural when speaking English also requires linking words and sounds in the same way a native speaker does.

Stress

Correct English pronunciation requires stressing words correctly. Every word of more than one syllable has one syllable which is stressed more than the others. Stressing a syllable means making it louder, longer, or higher pitched than the other syllables. In order to be understood easily by a native speaker, it is important to correctly stress syllables within words.

Just as some syllables are stressed, other syllables are unstressed or reduced. These syllables sound weaker than more heavily stressed syllables. Unstressed or reduced syllables are often quite short and indistinct.

Correctly stressing and unstressing syllables will help your listener much more than just improving individual sounds but using an incorrect stress pattern.

When you learn new words, be sure to learn the correct stress patterns. Be aware, though, that some words are stressed differently in different countries. For example, in American English “weekend” is stressed on the first syllable, but in British English “weekend” is stressed on the second syllable.

Rhythm

Just as it is important to correctly stress syllables within words, it is also important to correctly stress words within phrases and sentences. Just as there is one syllable which gets the most stress in a multi-syllable word, there is one word which gets the most stress within phrases and sentences. There are also words which get little or no stress within phrases and sentences. This stressing and unstressing of words is part of the rhythm of spoken English.

In addition to stress, grouping words together and then separating the groups of words with a slight break, pause, or lengthening is an important part of the rhythm of English. Other features of English rhythm are reducing or eliminating individual sounds and linking words together.

When stressing words in phrases and sentences, the most important word receives the most stress. The most important word is determined by the speaker. In general, when starting a new topic, the last noun, verb, adjective, or adverb gets the most stress. When answering a question, the word that most clearly provides the answer receives the most stress.

Linking

Linking refers to connecting sounds. English speakers usually link the last sound of one word to the first sound of the following word. This linking often makes two words sound like one word. Speakers also link vowel sounds which occur in separate syllables.

Intonation

Intonation refers to the variation of pitch when speaking. There is a wider pitch range between high and low sounds in English than in some other languages. This variation of pitch is used to distinguish between statements and questions, between certainty and uncertainty, and between finished and unfinished statements. Intonation is also one of the methods used to stress or highlight information in a statement. There are two main intonation patterns.

  • Falling intonation – Use for statements and information questions. Intonation rises on the last content word of a sentence and falls at the end of the sentence.
  • Rising intonation – Use for yes-no questions. Intonation rises at the end of the question.

Pronunciation Techniques

Try to use the following techniques to help you improve your pronunciation:

  • Slo::::w do:::wn! If you speak too quickly, your listeners may have trouble understanding you.
  • Pause between meaningful phrases or groups of words.
  • Use stress. When speaking, stress the correct syllable of a word and stress the most important word of a phrase or sentence.
  • Use meaningful intonation. Use falling intonation for most statements and information questions. Use rising intonation for most yes-no questions. You may need to increase your usual pitch range between the highest and lowest sounds.
  • Imitate native speakers. Listen to recordings of native speakers and try to imitate their speech. Try to imitate stress, rhythm, linking, and intonation in addition to individual sounds. Listen and repeat many times.
  • Mark passages for pronunciation features (e.g. stress, linking, problematic sounds) and then read them aloud. Record and listen.
  • Use a mirror. Look at your mouth when speaking. Be sure you are using your lips and tongue correctly to form each sound. Exaggerate the movements when practicing.

 

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