Six Ways to Improve Your English Pronunciation (Part 2)

Image courtesy of Ben Grey via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

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)

Image courtesy of Matt Harasymczuk via Flickr (CC 2.0)

 

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!

 

Too Busy? How to De-stress and Achieve More

via GIPHY

 

Exams can be stressful – in fact, we need a bit of stress to help us perform to the best of our abilities.

 

But, attempts to be the best at everything we do, can lead to more stress than is good for us.

We think we are bound to achieve more if we can only do more – cram more and more into our schedules, juggle work and study, learn a new language – and the list goes on…

While this can work a some of the time, and we proudly boast to our friends that we are ‘just so busy’; in actual fact we are overdoing it and forgetting to find time for those things that we need to help us de-stress and achieve more.

 

Here are a couple of things to remember to help you find that balance:

 

You can’t do everything all at once

Trying to achieve a lot with the time you have is good. But if you think about it, multitasking means you can’t give your whole focus to one thing, so everything ends up below the high standard you’re aiming for.

Just focusing on one thing at a time however, can make best use of your time and allow you to do that one thing really well.

We can’t all spin plates like this guy, you know.

 

 

 

Give yourself time to unwind

Your body and brain need to recharge so they can work at their best. It is a simple thing, but we can all forget it and find ourselves slumped over our keyboard/books in the small hours of the morning. It’s better to get decent rest.

That doesn’t mean that every second of the day should be non-stop action either. Just as our bodies couldn’t run from morning til night without a break, our brains need moments throughout the day to wonder off and daydream.

Doing this means when we want to (like exams), we can sharper our focus and attention.

 

3 Top Tips to Survive Exam Stress

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‘the strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown’

Have you ever been so stressed about an exam, that it stopped you from giving your best?

It’s a common trap and one that is easily fallen into. Often, the more you want something, the more weight you put on your own shoulders to accomplish it. You then risk burning out: losing sleep, skipping meals, and running yourself into the ground. And whilst a little bit of stress is good to keep you focussed and alert, what steps can you take to keep it under control? Here are three…

 

  1. Sleep well.

“Sleep is not a luxury,” says Dr. James O’Brien, medical director of the Boston SleepCare Center in Massachusetts, USA. “It’s a necessity for optimal functioning.”

It’s maybe tempting to burn the candle at both ends to fit in extra studying, but that could be eating into your chances of performing well.

Sleeping allows the brain to recharge and reset for the day ahead. Without it, your memory, mood and ability to concentrate will be severely hampered. So get plenty of rest.

Tip: 7-9 hours a night is just right.

 

  1. Keep it real.

For some exams, there is a real need to revise certain facts, dates, equations etc, so you need to learn these by heart. For IELTS, your knowledge is not being tested, only your ability to speak, write, listen and read in English. It’s a test of your English for the real world.

So, your study should be about widening that ability as best as possible. Yes, it’s important to know how to form past and future tenses etc., but this is best learnt through using real language. Knowing that you’ve studied in an effective way will give you more confidence and reduce your stress.

Tip: Read the newspaper every day and practice writing summarising the articles you read or start a conversation with a friend on that topic.

 

  1. Practice, practice, practice

The gothic horror novelist H.P Lovecraft wrote that ‘the strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown’ – and he should know!

This definitely comes into play when we’re faced with a test or exam. ‘Not knowing’ what the test will be like or how the exam is structured can leave us stressed out.

So, the simplest way to overcome this is to get hold of practice test papers and familiarise yourself with the test itself.

If you’re thinking about taking the IELTS test you can find lots of free resources and practice papers here.

 

Tip: Try recreating test conditions by timing yourself as you sit a practice test.

 

GLOSSARY

 

Running oneself into the ground
Form : phrase
Meaning : to make yourself very tired by working too much

 

optimal
Form : adjective
Meaning : Best or most favourable

 

burn the candle at both ends
Form : phrase
Meaning : The go to bed late and get up early.

 

Eating into something
Form : phrase
Meaning : To use or take away a large part of something valuable (eg, money or time).
Example : The high cost of living in London is eating into my savings

 

 

hamper
Form : verb
Meaning : to stop something happening easily
Example : Ankle injuries severely hampered Usain’s sprinting career.

 

 

 

Come into play
Form : phrase
Meaning : Becoming active or effective
Example : Conditions for workers will change once the new labour law comes into play

 

 

 

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