English is not a syllabic language. English people do not pronounce every letter in a word. Some are pronounced, while some aren’t. Among those sounds that are pronounced, some are stressed, while others aren’t stressed. That means if you pronounce every sound with equal strength your pronunciation will be bad.
Although each English word has a particular fixed stress pattern, the syllables that are stressed in one word may not be stressed in another. So how does one learn the correct pronunciation of each word? Well, there is no magic formula. You have to learn the pronunciation of each word along with their meaning and spelling.
Tips to improve your pronunciation
When English people speak, they stress some parts of words and sentences. These stressed syllables are not only louder; they also tend to have longer vowels, and they may be pronounced on a higher pitch.
In some languages each syllable in a word receives equal importance. English is different. In English some syllables are stressed while others aren’t. In sentences too, not all words receive equal importance.
The words that are usually stressed include nouns, principal verbs (e.g. work, write and speak), adjectives (e.g. nice, beautiful, kind) and adverbs (e.g. nicely, carefully and beautifully).
The words that aren’t usually stressed are prepositions, conjunctions, articles, auxiliary verbs and pronouns. While speaking, focus on the stressed words. The non-stressed words can often be swallowed.
Read the following sentence:
• She was sure that somebody had broken into the house. (The stressed words are bolded.)
• Susie didn’t know that Mike was an eminent cardiologist.
While speaking stressed words should be pronounced more slowly and clearly. Unstressed words are pronounced more quickly and less clearly.
Linguists feel that stressed syllables follow each other at roughly regular intervals. If several unstressed syllables come together, they are pronounced even more quickly so that they will not disturb the rhythm. That means even though two sentences can be of different lengths, if the number of stressed words in them is the same, we take the same amount of time to say them.
Compare the two sentences given below.
• John heard the noise.
• John heard that there was an explosion.
Although the second sentence is much longer than the first sentence, it doesn’t take much longer to say than the first one because both sentences have the same number of stressed words.
Exercise to improve your pronunciation skills
Take a few sentences from a newspaper or a magazine. Underline the stressed words and then read the whole sentence aloud. While reading stress the underlined words and glide over the non-stressed words. You will be surprised at how quickly your pronunciation improves.