So, you want to know how to speak in English and be understood by others. You look up a word in the dictionary and see funny symbols for the pronunciation (phonetic symbols) that you don’t understand, or better yet, you click on a sound file to hear a recording of the word as it is spoken by a native speaker. You try to pronounce it, but you aren’t sure if what you have said comes close to what you heard, or if others could really understand what you have said.
And that’s not the end of the story. You try to say the word in a sentence, in context. After all, we don’t speak each word separately. This poses other problems. How should the sentence actually be said?
Here are some tips.
- If you are trying to say a long word, try to break up the word into syllables – or parts of a word. For example, try breaking up the word “pronunciation” like this: pro-nun-ci-a-tion. Then try saying the whole word without breaking it up.
- Pay attention to what part of the word is stressed. For example, in the word “pronunciation”, the ‘a’ is stressed, so that we say something like “pro-nun-see-AY-shun”. How do you stress a part of the word? Try making your voice ‘sing’ this stressed part a bit higher, and then go down to normal.
- When you hear a whole sentence, try to see what part of the sentence has more information, and stress this part. For example, if you were asked “Who is sitting at the table?”, you could answer “BOB is sitting at the table”. You would stress BOB, because this is the information that is important for the person who is asking you this question. But if you were asked “Where is Bob sitting?”, You could answer “Bob is sitting at the TABLE.”, because ‘at the table’ is the information that is missing. We usually stress the noun parts only, so that is why only TABLE is stressed, and not the whole phrase “at the table”.
- Notice that all words in a sentence are said one right after the other, with no empty delay time or space between words. We – do – not – talk – like – this. This is what is meant by being ‘fluent’ – you don’t separate words, and don’t say ‘uh’, or ‘uhm’ a lot.
- Some words in sentences are hardly pronounced. These words usually have very little information, like function words. Words that are hardly pronounced are words like: ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘for’, ‘and’, ‘at’. Notice that they are very short words and if they were missing, you could still understand the sentence. In regular, connected speech, it would sound something like this: “Notice (tht) they (er) very short words (n) if they were missing, you could still understand (th) sentence.”
So, how does connected, regular speech really look like? Try reading this sentence: “Noticethttheyerveryshortwordsniftheyweremissing, youcouldstillunerstandthsentence.”
Now do you see why it is so difficult for you to be able to pronounce English?