Learn How to go with the Flow and Speak Fluid English
People often tell me they have been working on their English clarity and have mastered the pronunciation, but are frustrated because they find they still can’t speak fluid English- that is, with smooth, flowing sentences!
The stress pattern in a word, phrase or sentence conveys meaning and therefore plays an important part in helping the listener understand you more clearly.
As I mentioned in part one of this article, to speak smoothly in English instead of sounding stiff and unconnected, it is important towork on the following elements:
- syllable stress within words
- key word stress and word groups or phrases within sentences.
Syllable stress in words of 2 syllables or more
Most words of two syllables or longer have one syllable stressed, and this varies from word to word. We signal stress by loudness, length of vowel and difference in pitch. We lengthen the syllable and thus the vowel is lengthened and said clearly. Sometimes the syllable is said more loudly, and the pitch is changed and becomes slightly higher.
General rule about stress placement in two syllable words
If the word is a noun or adjective the first syllable is accented or stressed.
If the word is a verb the second syllable is stressed. For example at a word level:
He bought a reject vase at the big sale.
He had to reject the job offer. (the bold is the stressed syllable)
These are general rules as there are also some exceptions to this and words with 3 syllables or more are different again.
Key word stress in sentences
Native English speakers listen for key words in sentences to obtain the meaning of what is being said. Key word or key word stressrefers to the words that are emphasised or stressed in a sentence or phrase.
Let’s use the following sentence as an example: “I didn’t want you to run.”
Each word in this sentence (except for ‘to’), could be the key stress word (the word that receives the stress), and so change the meaning.
-Stress on the ‘I’ could mean that someone else wouldn’t mind if you run but ‘I’ do. (I didn’t want you to run.)
-Stress on the ‘you’ could mean that I would have preferred that someone else had run. (I didn’t want you to run.)
-Stress on the ‘run’ could mean that it would have been better if you had walked or driven. (I didn’t want you to run.)
Word stress and sentence stress don’t operate separately from each other. A word may usually have a specific syllable stressed when said by itself. The same word in a sentence may need to be less stressed or stressed differently because of the meaning structure of the whole sentence.
You can get a sense of this can and you can attune your ear to hear this, by listening to native speakers and listening for the ‘stress’ and melody of
the sentences. Then you can practice mimicking the native English speaker exactly. We have many sentences and dialogs in our English Accent Programs that you can use to practice this.
Phrasing or grouping of words in sentences
It is also important to notice and mark down how the words are being phrased or grouped together in a sentence.
Have a look at this example of noticing and marking the phrasing in a sentence: “He saw the new table after he finished speaking to the lady next door.” (you could underline each phrase rather than make a gap between phrases as well)
Of course you don’t make a big stop between the phrases, but a very, very slight pause and your voice can go up very, very slightly.
Try this exercise:
Listen to a news reader or someone speaking in a movie/ dvd.
Write down some of the longer sentences they say.
Listen again, and as you do, highlight the words in the sentences the speaker phrases or chunks together.
Listen again and check what you highlighted.
Then use the markings you have made to practise phrasing the words the way the speaker has done.
Enjoy speaking smoothly!