Pronunciation and Accent Reduction
To improve your pronunciation and reduce your accent, you need to work on these 6 areas:
– sentence stress
– word stress
– linking of individual words
– sound clusters (including reduced forms)
– correct use of sentence intonation
– individual sounds
When trying to improve their pronunciation, many learners focus on only one area – individual sounds – and ignore the others. You can drastically improve your pronunciation in shorter time if you focus on ALL these areas.
- Sentence Stress
Sentence Stress is the most important and the easiest way you can improve your pronunciation in a very short time.
There are 2 kinds of words in an English sentence:
1) Meaning words (important words, key words)
2) Grammar words (small words, not so important)
Let’s look at the sentence ‘A teller at the bank was polite.’
How many words in total? Seven.
How many key words? Three (teller, bank, polite)
English language is like music. Music has a beat/rhythm. There are 3 beats in this sentence: boom, boom, boom = teller, bank, polite.
What happens to the grammar words? They join the key words in groups:
Ateller atthebank waspolite.
English language has the beat frequency of about 0.6 seconds. It means we say one key word every 0.6 seconds. It doesn’t matter to us how many grammar words are in the sentence – if there are many, we will speak them very fast because we must follow the rule of 0.6 seconds.
To learn more about the Sentence Stress and to practice, please click here.
- Word Stress
Each word has a number of syllables, for example:
go, jump, goal, keep, move, school, smile (1 syllable)
quickly, moving, hotel, building, final (2 syllables)
industry, finances, translation, Canada (3 syllables)
application, surprisingly, industrial, Canadian (4 syllables)
communication, intentionally (5 syllables)
internationally, identification, biotechnology (6 syllables)
Can you guess which words are the most difficult to pronounce and understand? The words with 2 syllables!
When learning new words, pay special attention to their pronunciation if they have only 2 or 3 syllables. These words look easy but they can be very tricky.
Word stress is the music of the word. Native speakers listen to this music when you speak. If you get the music wrong, people will not understand you!
Stress means you must speak one part of the word LOUDER than other parts. You can find word stress marked in all the dictionaries, but the best way to learn the correct pronunciation is to LISTEN AND REPEAT. This is how children learn the correct pronunciation – from listening and repeating.
- Linking of Individual Words: Consonant + Vowel
In English, when a consonant sound is followed by a vowel sound, they link (=join) together and are spoken together.
English vowel sounds: a, o, u, i, e. All the others are consonants (b, d, p, t, s, etc.)
Examples of Linking:
The word ‘it’ would almost always link to the word before it.
‘Open it’ sounds like ‘Openit’
‘Show it’ sounds like ‘Showit’
‘Find it’ sounds like ‘Findit’
Phrasal Verbs are almost always linked and are spoken as one word:
‘find out’ sounds like ‘findout’
‘pick up’ sounds like ‘pickup’
‘put off’ sounds like ‘putoff’
To learn more about Phrasal Verbs, please click here.
Because of linking, the sentence
‘I needed it so I took it.’ will sound like ‘I neededit so I tookit.’
‘I put it on the table.’ will sound like ‘I putiton the table.’
‘I gave it up.’ will sound like ‘I gavitup.’
Grammar words like articles, pronouns and prepositions would usually link to other words.
‘Can I get a sample?’ sounds like ‘CanI geta sample?’
For more examples on Linking and to practice, click here.
- Sound Clusters and Reduced Forms
When individual sounds and words meet, they often change and sound very different together.
Some examples of such changes are:
‘Do you want it?’ sound like ‘Dju wanit?’
‘What are you going to do?’ sounds like ‘Wacha gonna do?’
‘Could you help me?’ sounds like ‘Kuju help me?’
‘We should have gone earlier.’ sounds like ‘We shouldev gone earlier.’
The sound ‘t’ in Canadian pronunciation has many ways to change when combined with other sounds, for example ‘trip’ sounds like ‘chrip’ and ‘water’ sounds like ‘wader’. To learn more about Canadian pronunciation, click here. To learn more about Reduced Forms, click here.
Intonation is the music of the whole sentence.
There are three types of intonation:
1) Rising (your voice goes up)
2) Falling (your voice goes down)
3) Combination (Rising and Falling)
When to use Rising Intonation:
– At the end of ‘yes/no’ questions (for example: ‘Do you like it?’ ‘Is it cold?’ ‘Are you sure?’
– In a list after each item (‘I bought apples, bananas, oranges, grapes….)
– Any place in the middle of the sentence when you want to show that your sentence is not finished (you have not finished speaking yet and you don’t want other people to interrupt you)
When to use Falling Intonation:
– At the end of ‘Question Word’ questions (for example: ‘What time is your flight?’ ‘Why is he not here?’ ‘How do you like your tea?’)
– At the end of a sentence (‘I like it.’ ‘He is coming tomorrow.’)
When to use Combination Intonation:
Combination intonation can be used to express emotions (feelings), such as surprise, impatience, etc. It is very important to learn to use it correctly. If you don’t use it at all, people might think you are a cold person, or they might misunderstand your intentions.
For example, people might use the word ‘Really?’ with the Rise and Fall intonation to express these feelings.
The best and the easiest way to learn this intonation is to LISTEN AND REPEAT after the native speakers, copying the exact music of the word(s). This is how children learn to speak correctly. Adult learners are often shy to repeat the music of the English language, while children are not shy.
- Individual sounds:
You need to know how a particular sound is formed inside your mouth. That means you need to know the position of:
1) your tongue
2) your lips
3) your teeth
4) how wide to open your mouth
5) whether to add your voice or not
The reason individual sounds may be difficult is because you don’t have the same sounds in you first language (your native language) and so you don’t know how to position and move your tongue and lips correctly. You will need either a teacher/friend to show you the position and the movement (or you could find some videos online).