You know I have talked about English Pronunciation and speaking English fluently before, but I realised I left out an important element!
I have already told you about some of the elements you need to practise to speak English fluently so that you don’t sound stiff and unconnected when you speak. These are Linking, Elision, Syllable stress within longer words, and phrasing words together in sentences. You can find the details in my other blog posts: Speak Fluid English and Go With The Flow .
So here comes the important element I missed!
English Pronunciation- Syllable versus Stress Timed Speech Rhythm
Syllable timed– When your native language is syllable timed, you say every vowel in every syllable clearly. You make sure that each is given the same stress and is the same length. The syllables take approximately the same amount of time to pronounce. Many languages are syllable timed including a lot of the Asian languages, Italian, Spanish, French and Greek.
Stress timed- In a stress timed language like English or German, some syllables are said longer and some shorter. The stressed syllables are pronounced longer.
So if you were to say the word comfortable in a syllable timed way you would say ‘com for table’. Whereas English pronunciation, or stressed timed pronunciation, it is said ‘ cumftəbl’. (the ə sound is a schwa sound said like a very short ‘u’ sound).
Because English is a stressed timed language, English listeners are listening for the stressed syllables and words in a sentence to let them know which words stick out, and are the most important for the meaning of the sentence. When all the syllables are said with the same length as in a syllable timed language, speech clarity is diminished. This is because English listeners will take longer to get your meaning. The important words aren’t being stressed.
Lloyd James first proposed the idea that languages have different rhythms in 1940. He observed for instance that the rhythm of Spanish is like a machine gun , and that of English is more like the rhythm of Morse code.
Try this for your self. Without using words imitate the sound of a machine gun, and then imitate the sound of Morse code and you will see the difference!
English Pronunciation Tip to help you get the Rhythm of English
Listen to someone say a sentence -you could use one of the many sentences in my accent reduction training course– and notice which syllables are longer and which shorter. This is just like when you drum on something making some beats shorter and some longer to make a certain rhythm. You could even mimic the rhythm using the word ‘dah’. For example I will use the word competition. In English it would look like daah-dah- daah -dah ( the double ‘a’ said slightly longer).
Give it a go and let me know in the comment section below how you went.