As you continue mastery of resident English speaking, you may find that your sentences sound a bit choppy and lack the flow or fluidity of native speakers. This is an issue a great many students face.
The reason for the struggle is most often the fact that English is a stress-timed language. This means pronunciation is not enough for natural-sounding fluid speech, especially if the student’s language of origin is syllable-timed.
Stress-timed languages differ from syllable-time languages in that some syllables will be longer or shorter in stressed-timed languages. In syllable-timed languages, all syllables are pronounced with the same length.
Several elements need your attention and practice to help your speech flow and allow listeners to understand you.
The practice of linking refers to putting words together when you speak instead of pronouncing them separately. For example, ‘put it’ is said ‘pu tit’. Linking is governed by a rule to help you know how to use it.
If a word ends in a consonant, and the next word begins with a vowel, then you ‘run’ them or link them together. This is covered in more detail in our full accent programs in the chapter “Extra tips for clear speech and pronunciation.”
One way to help train yourself to use linking when you speak is to notice where native speakers make elisions. You can do this in conversations or listen to newscasters and how they link words. Try writing down a sentence or two and highlight where the words are linked. Read this aloud several times a day until it no longer feels unusual to you.
2. Syllable Stress in Words with Two or More Syllables
Words with two or more syllables tend to have different stress on one of the syllables. This is achieved in several ways:
- Length of vowel
- Difference in pitch
When the syllable is said more loudly, the pitch automatically changes and becomes slightly higher. By lengthening the vowel, it is said more clearly.
The accepted rules about stress placement in two-syllable words are:
- The first syllable is accented or stressed if the word is a noun or adjective.
- If the word is a verb, the second syllable is stressed.
He bought a reject vase at the big sale.
He had to reject the job offer. In both cases, the bold is the stressed syllable.
**Remember** These are general rules with some exceptions, and words with three or more syllables are also different.
3. Key Word Stress in a Sentence
Native English speakers listen for keywords in sentences to get the meaning of what is being said. Keyword or keyword stress refers to the words emphasised or stressed in a sentence or phrase.
For example: “I didn’t want you to run.”
Each word in this sentence (except for ‘to’) could be the key stress word and 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 teach your ear to hear the word stress by listening to native speakers for the sentences’ stress’ and melody. Then, you can work on mimicking the native English speaker exactly. We have many sentences and dialogues in our English Accent Programs that you can use to practice this.
4. Phrasing or Grouping of Words in Sentences
To become familiar with how native speakers create phrases or groups of words in sentences, note how speakers’ words are being phrased or grouped together in a sentence.
For example, “He saw the new table after he finished speaking to the lady next door.” This sentence would be said in the following groups, “He saw the new table after he finished speaking to the lady next door.” Pausing when saying sentences like this does not need to be long. Usually, the pause will be quite short, and your voice will go up slightly.
This exercise is an excellent way to learn this speaking skill.
- Listen to a speaker on recorded television and write down some of the longer sentences they say.
- Listen again, and 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.