pronunciation

British vs American English (Part 1)

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With well over a billion speakers, English is the most widely spoken language in the world by some distance.

Interestingly though, there are only a handful of countries where it is spoken as a native language by the majority of the population. For the rest, English is a language they’ve acquired.

As a result, different variants of the language have evolved over time – Singlish (Singapore English), Strine (Australian English), and Namlish (Namibian English) to name a few.

However, British and American English remain the most widely recognised variants.

So, just how different is the English spoken in the UK to that in the US? Let’s find out….

 

 

1. Spelling

It’s common knowledge that UK and US spellings differ. One reason for this is that American English has modified the spelling of a number of words to reflect the way they sound when they are pronounced.

For instance, while Britons spell the printed form issued by a bank as cheque, Americans spell it as it sounds, i.e. check. Although there are hundreds of such words that are spelled differently, the difference is often minor, so it hardly ever causes confusion. Here’s a quick comparison:

 

2. Pronunciation

This is a grey area, as there are a wide variety of accents within both countries, making it difficult to clearly distinguish between UK and US pronunciation features.

To take one example, a Londoner and Mancunian (someone from Manchester, UK) may sound radically different from each other despite being from the same country, i.e. the United Kingdom.

That said, one easily noticeable thing is how Americans generally accentuate every ‘r’ in a word, whereas the Brits don’t emphasise that sound, or they sometimes omit it altogether if a word ends in ‘r’.

While it isn’t important which version of English you speak, being aware of how accents differ is always useful.

 

GLOSSARY

Train Yourself to Read Faster (Part 3)

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So far in the series, we’ve discussed three things you should do and one you shouldn’t in order to read faster. Here are a couple more things to avoid.

 

Don’t sub-vocalise

Have you ever caught yourself pronouncing words quietly in your head while reading a text?

This habit of saying words in our mind as we read them is called sub-vocalising.

When we first begin to learn to read as children, we do so by saying words out aloud. This practice improves both comprehension and diction. As we grow older, we learn to be silent while reading, but the habit of pronouncing words one by one sort of stays with us. The difference, of course, is that by then it’s all done in our head.

There’s no doubt that vocalising text helps comprehension, but it also slows us down terribly, so it’s best to kick the habit.  One effective way to overcome this is to move the pointer faster than the speed at which you hear words in your mind.

 

Don’t re-read everything

Do you sometimes go back to a sentence you’ve just read and double-check to see if you’ve understood it correctly?

Don’t worry if the answer is ‘yes’, you’re not alone here.

When doing a reading exercise, however, fight the urge to re-read, because it may be a total waste of time. Instead, wait till you finish reading an entire section before you choose whether or not to go back to a sentence.

You’ll find that reading some more of the text can help you understand without having to re-read that first sentence.

 

Remember to follow these dos and don’ts, and you should be able to read faster with better comprehension.

 

GLOSSARY

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 3)

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So far in the series, we’ve spoken about four pronunciation features that a learner should try to improve – individual sounds, word stress, sentence stress, and weak forms. Let’s now explore two more such features.

 

5. Chunking

Ever heard of the word chunk? In a very general sense, it means a piece of something larger.

While speaking, it’s important that we package what we say for the listener so that they are not overwhelmed by too much information. And chunking helps you do just that! Breaking up long sentences into smaller chunks helps the listener understand better.

For instance, if someone were to ask you for your phone number, how would you like to give it to them?

Method 1

9876543210

Method 2

98 (pause)

765 (pause)

432 (pause)

10

Obviously, any listener is likely to find the second method easier, because the pauses in between help them take in information more easily. Now, let’s take this approach and apply it to a sentence.

Text

Did you know that London is the capital of the United Kingdom and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

Text with chunking

Did you know (pause)

that London is the capital of the United Kingdom (pause)

and has one of the largest immigration populations in the world?

 

6. Intonation 

In simple terms, intonation can be described as the music of a language when spoken. The rise and fall of the speaker’s voice changes the meaning of what is being said.

As you can see, in the first example, use of a rising intonation signals that speaker B is excited, whereas the falling intonation in the second example indicates displeasure or disappointment.

Use of appropriate intonation patterns does matter a lot, especially when asking questions, ending a sentence, using question tags, expressing feelings, or contrasting two things.

Without it, you run the risk of giving listeners the impression that you are not confident or not in control of what you are saying.

Remember, read up on these pronunciation features, introduce them while speaking, and you’ll start sounding better and better.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

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In the first part, we discussed two key pronunciation features – individual sounds and word stress. Here are two more aspects that can change the way you sound when you speak English.

 

3. Sentence stress

A sentence in English generally has two kinds of words: content words and function words. The first kind are words that give you the overall meaning of the sentence, so they are normally nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.

The second kind are usually small words that glue the sentence together to make grammatical sense. Naturally, function words are not usually stressed, whereas content words are. Here’s an example:

Tom has a brother and a sister
Content words: Tom, brother, sister
Function words: has, a, and, a

 

Learners also need to be aware that the way they say a sentence can affect its meaning. In other words, depending on which word(s) in a sentence they stress, the meaning changes. Here’s an example:

Question What the speaker means
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? What is the reason?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not someone else?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not travel by some other mode of transport?
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other place? 
Why are you flying to London tomorrow? Why not some other day?

 

4. Weak forms

As we already know, some words in a sentence are stressed, while others are not. The words that aren’t are generally function words, and some of them have two pronunciations – a weak form and a strong form.

Generally speaking, we produce a weak form by changing the vowel sound in the word to a schwa /ə/. Here is the same example: Tom has a brother and a sister. 

When saying this sentence, we use the weak form of all the function words so that the content words get highlighted.

Word Strong form Weak form
has /hæz/ /həz/
a /eɪ/ /ə/
and /ænd/ /ən/

Listen out for it when you next hear a native speaker talk or radio. Remember, if you wish to talk like a native speaker, then mastering the use of weak forms is a must.

Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 1)

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What’s your biggest worry when setting out to learn a new language? Perhaps mastering grammar or widening your vocabulary?

 

For most learners, it never crosses their mind that pronunciation can be a key element in success.

 

No matter how accurate or fluent your English is, bad pronunciation can seriously weaken your ability to communicate successfully. After all, if you mispronounce a word, it can change the meaning of what you were trying to say entirely!

 

In this series, we’ll talk about six key pronunciation features that you can help you improve.

 

  1. Individual sounds

Did you know that the pronunciation of each word in English is a combination of short individual sounds called phonemes? Pronouncing these individual sounds accurately is half the battle. A good place to start would be the phonemic chart, which has all 44 phonemes, neatly grouped into three sections: consonant sounds, single vowel sounds and double vowel sounds.

 

Remember, producing a phoneme accurately requires you to position your mouth and jaw in a specific way. So, you could be in for hours and hours of diligent practice before you are able to make the right sounds.

Here’s the British Council phonemic chart to get you started: https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/phonemic-chart

 

 

  1. Word stress

In English, a word is usually made up of one or more syllables, which are basically small sound units with a vowel sound and one or more consonant sounds. Here’s an example:

 

Word English
Phonetic transcription /ˈɪŋɡlɪʃ/

 

The word English has two syllables – ‘En’ and ‘glish’. While pronouncing, the first syllable has to be emphasised more than the second. Similarly, all words in English have a unique stress pattern, so while speaking, some parts of words need to be pronounced more strongly than others. If you don’t, the listener may find it difficult to understand you.

 

Here’s a quick tip: once you begin recognising all the phonemes, use a dictionary to check if you’re producing the right sounds while pronouncing a word.

 

 

GLOSSARY

 

set out
Form : phrasal verb
Meaning : to begin doing a task with a particular aim
Example : Having saved up for years, Matt and Eva set out to build their own house.

 

half the battle
Form : phrase
Meaning : the most challenging part of doing something
Example : As a salesman, winning a potential customer’s trust is half the battle.

 

be in for something
Form : phrase
Meaning : going to experience something,
Example : Your dad is in for a shock when he finds out you’ve had your tongue pierced!

 

What to Expect in a Decent Dictionary (Part 1)

 

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A decent dictionary, be it printed or electronic, can be an invaluable tool when trying to improve your English. Sadly, not many language learners exploit it to the full.

 

So, what can you typically expect to find in one?

 

  1. The meaning(s) of an English word or phrase

Most words in the English language have more than one meaning, and dictionaries usually list them out.

Example:

run (verb)

  • to move quickly using legs
  • to manage a business
  • to use a computer program
  • (of liquid) to flow in a particular direction
  • to try to get elected to a job
  • to drive somebody to a place

 

  1. Part of speech

This refers to one of the grammatical groups that a word belongs to depending on how it is used in a sentence. Remember, a word could have different forms.

Example:

drive – verb (= when used to talk about operating a vehicle)

drive – noun (= when used to talk about someone’s energy or desire to do something)

 

  1. Pronunciation

The phonetic transcription of a word usually appears alongside it to help users pronounce the word accurately. Alternate ways of pronouncing the word can also be found in some dictionaries.

Example:

 

Word Pronunciation

(British English)

Pronunciation

(North American English)

restaurant /ˈrestrɒnt/ /ˈrestrɑːnt/
sure /ʃʊə(r)/ or /ʃɔː(r)/ /ʃʊr/

 

  1. Verb forms

Most verbs in English have between 3 and 5 forms; knowing them is essential to be able to make different grammatical structures.

Example:

 

Present simple

I / we / you / they

Present simple

he / she / it

Past simple Past participle -ing form
cut cuts cut cut cutting
dance dances danced danced dancing
eat eats ate eaten eating

 

  1. Other grammatical information

A comprehensive dictionary may also contain other important information, such as the plural form of a noun, or whether a noun is countable or uncountable.

Example:

thief (singular) – thieves (plural)

furniture (uncountable)

 

If you’ve just started learning English, using a dictionary regularly can help stretch your limited vocabulary, so be sure to use one.

 

GLOSSARY

 

decent
Form : adjective
Meaning : of good enough quality
Example : Is there a restaurant nearby where I can get a decent meal?

 

exploit
Form : verb
Meaning : to use something well in order to get benefit from it
Example : I don’t think students exploit the study resources in our library enough.

 

to the full
Form : phrase
Meaning : to the maximum
Example : Youngsters usually want to enjoy life to the full.

 

comprehensive
Form : adjective
Meaning : including many details
Example : He’s writing a comprehensive guide to tourism in Asia.

 

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