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Learning the pronunciation rules of English isn’t just about trying to speak more clearly. Learning and practicing how native English speakers transform their speech will help you to understand them when they’re speaking.
Let’s practice English pronunciation rules, while trying to improve your listening skills by analyzing these two sentences.
“I understand how hard it’s got to be. But you have to do some work here!” (2x)
I said these two sentences very informally and naturally, and I transformed the speech as many native English speakers would in quick and casual conversation.
1) “I understand”
- Notice how I connected my speech between all of the words in both sentences.
- When I connected “I” + “understand” –> [y] sound from “I” [aiy] became attached to “understand”, which then sounded like “yunderstand”.
- “I understand”
- Here, I connected the speech, so that the “h” became a bit less pronounced. Sometimes in real life, I say the “h” and sometimes I don’t. This is because I don’t want it to slow me down. The goal of English is to be efficient — to say the most you can in the shortest amount of time. Saying an “h” clearly sometimes slows us down, so we often delete it in function words.
- Notice how I connected the consonant [d] in “hard” + the vowel [ɪ] in “it’s” to say “dits”.
- “har dit’s”
- Note that “hard” is the more informal way of saying “difficult“. If I were speaking or writing in an academic or work setting, I would have said a more sophisticated term such as “difficult” or “challenging”.
- Note also that “it’s” is also a bit more informal, and should be avoided in academic writing. You would write “it is”, or better yet, replace “is” with a more sophisticated verb.
- First, I connected the verb “got” + “to” –> “gotto” with no breath between words. Then,
- I de-stressed that function word “to” and said it as [də].
- “got__to” –> “gotto” –> “gotta”
- Note that saying “got to” or “gotta” is an informal way of saying “has to” or “must”.
- In English, we do not de-stress the last words in sentences, even if they are function words. So, you can say the “be” here nice and clearly in this case.
I’ll say this sentence again like a native English speaker would in casual conversation. Notice how the pitch of my voice (the musical note) goes slightly up on the more important words in the sentence.
“I understand how hard it’s gotta be.”
“But you have to do some work here!”
- When you connect your speech and the [t] in “but” hits the [y] in “you”, [t] + [y] –> “ch” [tʃ].
- Then, because “you” is a function word (a pronoun), I de-stressed it and said “you” as “ya”.
- “But you” –> [bʌtʃə]
- When I combined the verb “have” + “to” –> “haveto”
- I de-stressed the function word (the preposition) “to” –> [tə]
- The voicelessness of that [t] (meaning, no vibration in the vocal chords) transformed the [v] in “have” –> its voiceless counterpart, a [f].
- “have__to” –> “haveto” –> [hÆvtə] –> [hÆftə]
- To create the “do” sound, be sure to round your lips to include the [w] sound at the end of [duw].
“some work here!”
- Notice how I connected all of the words, and that I did not take breaths between each word.
- “Work” was the focus word in this thought group, so because I wanted the listener to focus on that important word, my pitch went up a little.
- “some work here.”
- Also, because I connected my speech and am speaking with efficiency, notice that I slightly deleted the [h] sound in here, and said “ere” [iyr].
Sentence #2 one more time:
“But you have to do some work here!”
Notice how I pause for just a moment between the two sentences, and notice how my pitch (the musical note of my voice) goes up on stressed content words, and goes down at the end of each sentence.
“I understand how hard it’s got to be. But you have to do some work here!”
Remember, you do NOT need to use all of these pronunciation rules when you speak. And there’s no need to try to sound exactly like a native English speaker. Your individual accent gives you special character and carries your heritage in your speaking. Those are beautiful things to hold on to. What’s important is that you speak clearly, so that you can speak confidently, and that you learn pronunciation rules to improve your listening skills.
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