I wanted to talk about a vital factor in English conversation skills. That is, understanding English speech rhythm.
If you want your English conversations to sound clear, flowing and more natural, you need to understand English speech rhythm.
A key factor in English rhythm, is getting the stress patterns right. This makes your English pronunciation and speech smooth and ‘English’ sounding.
Don’t forget, English listeners are always listening for the stressed syllables in words, and also the stressed words in sentences.
If you stress the wrong syllables and words, English listeners get confused. This makes you harder to understand, because the listener doesn’t know which words to pay attention to, and they don’t get the meaning of what you are saying. The wrong stress and therefore rhythm, also makes your English conversations sound stilted and unnatural.
It isn’t just the pronunciation of your words and sentences that give meaning, it’s also the English stress patterns which are a vital factor in English rhythm.
Today I want to focus on stress and rhythm in words of more than one syllable.
Understand Rhythm To Improve Your English Conversation Skills
The first part of understanding English rhythm is getting the syllable stress right in words . Click here to get more training on this.
The second part, and this is sometimes even harder for people, is to learn to actively de stress weak or unstressed syllables in words. The reason I say the second part of English rhythm is harder sometimes for non- English background speakers, is because in a lot of other languages all the vowels in all syllables are said strongly or stressed. It feels strange to them to actively de stress the vowel in a syllable. In fact it is the de stressing that they often need to practise. It is the play between stress and de stress that is an important factor in your English conversations sounding natural.
You can tell a syllable is stressed because you will hear the vowel said correctly, or clearly in the syllable. Let’s take the word ‘confidence’. You hear the ‘o’ sound said clearly so that’s the stressed syllable. The second /I/ and the ‘e’ aren’t said clearly. They are said as the schwa sound / ə/. The schwa sound is said like a grunt or very short /u/ sound.
So you have to actively and consciously de- stress the second and third syllables by saying the vowels as a schwa sound. The word isn’t ‘confidence’,with every syllable stressed and every vowel pronounced clearly, but it’s said ‘confədənce.’
Let’s look at another word. Let’s take the word ‘participants’. The two stressed syllables are ‘par’ and ‘ti’ ( so the vowels are said slightly longer, higher pitched and slightly louder). The ‘ar’ and /I/ sounds are said clearly. The other syllables are the de -stressed or weaker ones. We don’t say ‘participants’ with every vowel said clearly – it doesn’t sound right- we say‘ particəpənts’.
I hope that has made things a bit clearer.
Get more training in English speech rhythm, and get more natural sounding English conversations, with our English accent training courses. Select the accent you wish to learn below, to find out how.
Best wishes, Esther