Sam was a highly successful professional who had mastered his English accent training to pronounce all the English sounds correctly, by using our Speak More Clearly accent training course. All his sounds were even still clear when he spoke in sentences and chatted on the phone to clients. But, every now and then he would get puzzled looks from colleagues and customers, and sometimes even in a social situation. He couldn't understand what was wrong. He found this very frustrating. Hadn't he said all the words clearly? Yes he had…
What he hadn't done, was to also master English stress, rhythm and intonation. English listeners listen for the stressed and de-stressed elements in words and in sentences. Mastering this can be tricky for non- English background speakers.
In a 4 part blog series, I will be giving you practical English accent training on stress, rhythm and intonation in English speech.
This article is the first part of the series and training.
English Accent Training Part 1- Stress, Rhythm and Intonation practise- Stressing the main meaning words in English
English is a stress timed language so not all the syllables are pronounced with the same vowel length, and not all words in sentences are stressed or emphasised equally.
English listeners listen for the emphasised or stressed words in sentences to give them the meaning of what you are saying. You need to stress the main meaning words in a sentence more than the not so important meaning words.
If you give everything similar stress, then your English speech won’t sound flowing and smooth, but choppy and staccato. It also won't have the correct intonation or melody for English. Smooth flowing English rhythm is also one of the pronunciation elements you need to master to get a higher IELTS score.
Go to any page in our Speak More Clearly course . (If you don't have our English accent training course try and use something where you can listen to a speaker and have the printed text as well. )
Listen to the trainer say a sentence and note which words they put more emphasis on. This means the trainer says slightly louder, with slightly higher pitch , and then mimic that. The slightly higher pitch in the stressed word means your pitch goes up a little and then comes down, and doesn't stay the same pitch as the de-stressed words. This is a big part of the melody/ intonation pattern of English as well.
You could even print the page and underline the words that are given the main stress when the trainer says it to help you mimic them.
Important : You also need to actively de-stress the non stressed words- you don’t say them as loudly, or with a slight raise in pitch. Often these are short common words such as: has, was, a, and, to, for. They almost get ‘swallowed up'. They aren't important for the meaning – unless you need to emphasise them for a purpose.
For example: He went out first and then everyone else followed quickly. (the bold words are the stressed main meaning words). So if I just said the words that are bold in the sentence, you would still get the meaning – “He went first everyone followed quickly”. And the unbolded words are hardly given any emphasis or stress- they are said more quietly and ‘weakly'.
So the rhythm for this sentence would be ( as if you are tapping or drumming on something) DA DA da DA da da DA da DA DA The capitalised DA being the emphasised or stressed words and the words where the pitch rises and falls. Listen out for this and mimic it.
Continue to do the same over and over again till you begin to understand and hear the ‘melody’ and stress of English. You need to attune your ear to hear the rhythm this way. Then you will start to hear, and recognise it when other people speak to you as well.
Click here to get Part 2 for more on how to use English stress and intonation in your speech to sound flowing and smooth.
Click on a link below now, to learn about our accent reduction courses and start speaking more clearly.