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English Pronunciation Pod 80

Saturday Feb 26th, 2011
English Pronunciation Podcast 80-
The Rhythm of English: Which words do we stress in a sentence:

Learn how to choose the right words to stress when speaking with an American accent.


In this week's podcast, we're going to to learn how to speak in the rhythm of American English.
When you learn to speak with the right rhythm of English, you sound more like a native speaker and more
importantly, it's easier for people to understand you.

The focus of this week's podcast is:

  • To learn which words of a phrase or sentence Americans usually stress.
  • To practice speaking in the rhythm of an American with some key expressions.

Exercise: Please Listen and repeat the following sentence:

We drove for a long time.

Notice how I stress certain words withing that sentence: drove , long and time.

But what exactly do we mean by "stress" in English. And why did I stress those particular words?

Review: What is Stress in English

As we previously learned in podcast 14 , stress in English is primarily indicated through the lengthening
of a vowel and a rise in pitch.

Stress = longer vowel +rise in pitch (intonation).

This rise in pitch is also called "pitch emphasis." Remember, more volume is not essential.
Longer vowels and higher pitches
are the real way to indicate a stressed syllable or word.

In any phrase or sentence, certain words receive more stress and we can hear that their vowels
are longer and the pitch of their stressed syllable is somewhat higher.

In this sense, English is different than many other languages of the world whose rhythm and stress is actually quite even.

But how do we know which words to stress ?

Which words receive the most stress when speaking with an American accent?

The answer is actually quite simple and logical: the words which are the most important
and newest pieces of information are the words that receive the most stress.

When it comes to understanding proper stress and rhythm, we must divide words into two categories:
content words and structure words.

Content Words vs. Structure Words

Content words: Content words are usually stressed. Content words are the words which give a sentence its
unique meaning. They are "the meat" of our message, the core of our message that we want to communicate.

Structure words,however,are usually not stressed. They are simple grammatical words which could be
a part of any sentence. They are generic. Prepositions like "at" or 'to", articles like" the" and "an" are examples
of structure words which are usually not stressed.

Now let''s make a complete list of content words and structure words:

Content Words (usually stressed)
"wh question words"( who, what, where, why, when and how) demonstratives (this, that, these and those)

Structure words: (usually not stressed)

pronouns (all types of pronouns)
modal verbs (can, could, will etc.)
helping verbs
the verb "be".

If youre not familiar with all the grammatical terms I just used, you can find a full detailed list in my
English pronunciation course in mp3 -Best Accent Training.

Let's listen to a sentence and notice how the content words are stressed and the structure words are not stressed.
Listen for long vowels and higher pitches on the content words.

We drove for a long time.

Notice how I stressed "drove", "long" and "time".

Exercise: Please listen and repeat stressing "drove" "long" and "time".

We drove for a long time.

All of the words which I stressed are content words,drive is a verb, long is an adjective and time is a noun.
Most importantly, they contain the most important part of my message. By stressing these words, I highlight
the most important part of my message and make it easier for my listener to understand me.

Stress and Intonation are Signals

In this sense, stress and intonation are signals to our listener. They tell our listener," this is the important part of my message. "

Let's look at the words which I did not stress. "We", a pronoun, "for", a preposition, and "a" an article.
Notice that these are all structure words and are therefore are not stressed. Their vowels are shorter and their pitches are lower.

Can Structure Words be Stressed?

You may have noticed that sometimes structure words are stressed. It is possible to stress a structure word.
In the previous example, I might have said something like:

We drove for along time. -stressing the structure word "we".

I would do this in this case where I wanted to show contrast. If I want to specifically show to my listener that we and not
they or you drove, I would stress the pronoun "we". But if my point is more about the act of driving and for how long,
then I do not stress "we."

As I mentioned before its all pretty logical.

It all comes down to this: stress the pieces of information which are the most important at that moment of the conversation.
These just happen to usually be content words.

Now let's practice some key expressions of English paying attention to our rhythm.

Remember to make the stressed syllable of content words longer and with a higher pitch.

Really try to feel the rhythm of the sentence almost like its music. If you've ever studied music,
you know that it's important to pay attention to note duration- how long the note lasts and it's also important
to pay attention to the pitch of the note.
The same is true for languages, especially English.

Exercise: Listen and repeat paying careful attention to the rhythm of your sentences:

Nice to meet you.

I'm working on a project .

Do I need to make an appointment?

Practice is Key!

Learning to speak English with a standard American accent is a gradual
process but if you work at it regularly and practice as often as you can, you're going to improve!

The Right Training Tools for Better Pronunciation:

Accent reduction is primarily a physical activity . It's important to have the right training tools for better pronunciation.

That's why I recommend that you try my full English pronunciation course in mp3-Best Accent Training mp3s!

No matter what your first language is, Best Accent Training has the lessons you need for speaking English clearly and correctly.

All the sounds of English in one course!

Best Accent Training mp3s contains all the sounds of English with step by step instructions and practice exercises.
You get mp3 lessons on every vowel of English, every consonant, syllable stress lessons, intonation lessons and connected speech!

Best of all, Best Accent Training is a fast and easy download that you can put on your mp3 player and take with you wherever you go!

I specifically designed it for that purpose!  Download it here!

Any questions, comments or suggestions ? Contact us at:   contact@englishpronunciationpod.com

Thank you and see you next time!


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After practicing with Best Accent Training daily,
I can say that my English communication has improved 100%. "

- Domingo Ponce Rodriguez- - Marketing Manager USA (Spain)

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