Pronunciation

Pronunciation is far more that the accurate production of individual consonant and vowel sounds. For assistance with this basic aspect of pronunciation, a good, basic text is recommended. Please refer to the section on Supplementary Resources for suggestions. At an intermediate or advanced level, it is important to learn the pattern, intonation and the rhythm of the language, and to understand how they can be used to give information about the language structure used, or gain information or clues from what you hear.

Intonation

The intonation pattern used gives information about whether an utterance is a statement or a question, the type of question and expected response, or whether something is part of a series of items, or something on its own.

If the intonation pattern is incorrect, then the listener receives a confusing message and can be unsure of how to respond.

Stress

Word or syllable stress is used to identify the important or distinguishing information in a sentence; the items to which the listener must pay special attention. Many people have a problem hearing the difference between the words forty and fourteen. The difference is in the stress, or emphasis, given to the final syllable of these words; note the difference between FORty and fourTEEN. Similarly, if you are asked the question, “Did you go to a movie last night?” and you didn’t go to a movie, but you did go to the game, you will emphasize that information.

e.g., “Did you go to a movie last night?”
         “No, I went to the game.”

or if you had gone to a movie another time, the emphasis would be on the time.

e.g., “Did you go to a movie last night?”
         “No, I went to a movie on Friday.

The opposite of stress is unstress; the content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives and adjectives) usually receive more stress in a sentence than the other words. These other words are unstressed and it is important to recognize and use the unstressed vowel sound (schwa) that occurs in such words. Schwa is the sound you hear in the first and third syllables of the word banana; it is, in fact, the most common vowel sound in the English language. Use your dictionary to check on the pronunciation of new words; the schwa sound is represented by an upside down e. The schwa sound can be represented by many of the written vowels, e.g.,

‘e’ in excellent
‘i’ in medicine
‘o’ in common
‘u’ in future
‘ou’ in callous
‘io’ in nation
‘ia’ in special
‘iou’ in cautious

Linking

The individual words of the language are linked together to give the pattern of English. The individual words are not pronounced separately but form part of a stream of words that are linked together. There are two basic patterns to recognize and use.

A good way to practice is to take a short story from a newspaper (or elsewhere) and identify the pronunciation linkages and then read the article using the links.

All of these factors act together to give typical English pronunciation; your dictionary will give you the basic pronunciation. When you add the other information, however, not only will your listening skills improve, but also other people will understand you more easily.