Our students are often concerned about the flow of their speech. Choppy speaking is sometimes distracting or difficult to understand. If your native language is syllable-timed, you speak very uniformly.
The rhythm of your jaw movement is more even, the vowels in words are of similar length, and you tend to say each word separately. Much like the steady beat of a drum, you pick up individual words. Your speaking sounds like Da; Da; Da; Da.
Learning about flowing speech, linking, and elision will help you master the techniques needed for a smooth speech like a native English speaker.
To have a flowing English accent, you will need to make a few adjustments to how you speak. Your jaw movements need to change so words flow together. You may feel as if you are saying one long word made up of a few syllables instead of several words.
For instance, the phrase ‘put it on your end’ will have a flowing rhythm. So, ‘put it on’ joins together as putiton. Likewise, ‘your end’ will sound like ‘yourend’ when pronounced so the words flow. Rather than the deliberate individual words, the rhythm is ‘dadada dada.’
The technique known as linking is the result of joining a word that ends in a consonant to the next word if it begins with a vowel. Once again, you may feel like you are saying one long word instead of two or more words.
For example, ‘want it’ becomes ‘wan-tit’; ‘but our’ becomes bu-tour (butour); ‘was a’ becomes wa-sa (waza); ‘after all I am on duty’ becomes afterall Iyamon duty. In the last example phrase, an intrusive ‘Y’ sound helps the transition from ‘I’ to ‘a’ in I am, so the sound is ‘Iyam.’
This technique involves joining a word that ends in a consonant to the next word if it begins with the same consonant. So, we elide or leave off the final consonant of the first word.
Several illustrations will help make this clear. Using the phrase ‘want to’ – we do not say the words with both /t/ sounds pronounced separately. We join them – ‘wanto’. The same is true for ‘head down’, which becomes ‘headown’ – He put his ‘headown’ this time, or ‘face sore’ becomes ‘fasore’ -It made his ‘fasore.’
Also, when the first word ends in a /z/ and the second begins with an /s/ we do the same because the sounds are made the same way in our mouth except that /z/ has a voice added. For instance, the phrase ‘his seat was so warm’ joins in two places, ‘his seat’ is now ‘hiseat’ and ‘was so’ ‘waso’. Together they make the phrase ‘hiseat waso warm’.
Application and Practice
Till now, to be clear in English, you may have had to practice saying each word clearly and separately, or you may still be using syllable timed rhythm instead of English stress–timed rhythm. Because the words and phrases used in these examples may not be how you are used to saying them in your everyday life, you will need to practice joining words up like this and applying what you are learning. Consistent practice will help your mouth make new muscle memory to help you master these techniques.
- Print ten pages from our accent reduction course. You can choose any five vowel pages and any five consonant pages.
- Look over the pages and highlight any examples of linking or elision.
- Choose one page and listen to the audio trainer in the course. Then say the sentences out loud with them. And mimic aloud with them.
- Repeat this using the same page for three days in a row. This will help achieve new muscle memory and make the process easier.
- After doing this with all ten pages, choose a paragraph from a text in the course, and highlight the linking and elision. Read this paragraph aloud to yourself each day for seven days. Pay special attention to the linking and elision.
- Choose a different paragraph and repeat the process. Next, record yourself reading aloud and listen to the flow of your speech. Doing this will make the flow of your words sound more natural.
Pronunciation with a Twist
Adding an element of fun to learning can help reinforce the lesson. So, we will use an unusual element, the limerick, to help you stress the essential main meaning of words in sentences, become familiar with the rhythm of English, and practice linking.
A Limerick is a humorous verse of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines rhyme with each other. The shorter third and fourth lines form a rhymed couplet.
Click here for a recording of two limericks.
In addition to the recording, the text of the limericks is below. The main meaning words that should be stressed or emphasized are underlined to help you practice the flow of the limericks. English listeners pay attention to the stressed main meaning of words. These help them understand what is being said. If you stress all words equally, you sound ‘choppy’ or ‘staccato’ and not smooth and flowing. It will also be more challenging to understand.
Enjoy practising using these limericks to reinforce the flow of your speech.
A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill can hold more than his beli-can (belly can)
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m damned if I see how the heli-can. (hell he can)
There was an old man of Peru
Who watched his wife making a stew
But once, by mistake,
In a stove she did bake
That unfortunate man of Peru.