There’s more to language than a common set of words that everyone in their native country uses to communicate. The way you talk – your dialect and accent actually identify you as belonging to a specific region within the country you call home.
The trouble is that English, no matter whether it is South African, Australian, or British English, does not match up well with other countries’ languages.
English is not a language spoken mainly from the back of the throat (guttural), nor is it entirely tonal and English is not particularly melodious, like Spanish or Hindi.
Yet, you too can speak English more clearly alongside your native language; all you have to do is follow these few tips.
Detect the English Rhythm
Even though the English language is not musical, it does have a rhythm to it. This rhythm is the result of syllable stress; stress that helps give meaning to the words.
Let’s find the rhythm of this sentence: she put the bowl of apples on the table.
The three most important words are ‘put’, ‘apples’, and ‘table’. Speaking this sentence with proper stress would make it sound like this: ‘She put the bowl of apples on the table.
You can try it: with each bold syllable, you might clap, tap your foot or move your hand down, as a music conductor would.
To identify the most important words in any sentence, you should think about what is happening, what the action is happening to (or on), and the object of the preposition.
See if you can master these sentences:
I never knew that Rome could be so beautiful!
Bill loves to play cricket.
Last night’s dinner was not very good.
Let’s go for a walk, shall we?
Has Emma written you a letter yet?
Proper Syllable Stress
For many people learning English as a second language, how to pronounce words is sometimes confusing. In this respect, you are quite fortunate: the English language has rules in place for syllable stress.
- For most two-syllable nouns and adjectives, the stress is on the first syllable.
- Hou-se, chil-dren; pret-ty, jol-ly
- For most two-syllable verbs, the stress is on the last syllable.
- Be-gin, de-cide, ar-rive
- For words ending in -ic, -sion, -tion the stress is always on the before-last syllable
- to-nic, de-mo-cra-tic; ten-sion, pen-sion; men-tion, ac-tion
- For words ending in -al, -cy, -ty, -gy, -phy, the stress is always on the syllable third from the end
- ma-gi-cal, far-ci-cal; de-moc-ra-cy, de-cen-cy; mons-tro-si-ty, de-pen-da-bi-li-ty; psy-cho-lo-gy, chro-no-lo-gy; to-po-gra-phy, pic-to-gra-phy
As with every rule, there are exceptions to these. For instance, the two-syllable ‘answer’ is stressed the same way whether it is used as a verb or a noun: an-swer.
The Smallest Units of Sound
Throughout this article, we’ve talked a lot about syllables and their usage in learning how to master a proper English ‘accent’ – namely, that lets you sound more like a native English speaker.
So, what is a syllable, exactly?
It is the smallest unit of sound, generally made up of at least one vowel and one consonant. However, some syllables are made up only of a single vowel, like the ‘o’ in ‘geography’.
On the other hand, other syllables might have two or even three consonants, such as in the word ‘an-swer’.
Many common words in English are ‘sight-words’. These are words you can recognize on sight because they are used very often.
Sight-words make learning English vocabulary easy but there are only 220 such words; how are you supposed to learn words that are not ‘sight’?
Schoolchildren in English-speaking countries ‘sound’ new words out by reading individual syllables and then stringing them together and applying syllable stress to say the whole word correctly.
If small children can do it, so can you!
Being able to recognize syllables is a crucial part of learning English vocabulary.
Sounding new words out syllable by syllable works so much better than merely imitating the sounds your teacher or talking dictionary makes.
Furthermore, adopting the rhythm of the language will help greatly with your accent reduction so that, soon, you too will speak English rhythmically and fluently.
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