Improving your pronunciation when speaking English is possible once you:
- become aware of the rules of English pronunciation;
- notice your errors;
- correct your errors with self-monitoring; and then
- repetitively practice the corrected speech.
Just as you can change the muscles in your body over time by exercising, you can change the way the muscles in and around your mouth move to pronounce English words.
Often times, when you learn a new pronunciation rule, you practice that rule alone in isolation. But real life requires that we put all of the rules together!
In this lesson, we will take one phrase, “stick out your tongue” (which was requested by Elemental English user Harumi from Japan — thanks, Harumi!), and transform it into speech as spoken by Americans.
“Stick out your tongue”
STEP 1) Identify the content words, which you will stress.
Here, the content words are the verb, adverb and noun:
These three words carry the meaning of the sentence. If you change one of these words, you change the meaning of the sentence.
Therefore, you will stress “stick”, “out” and “tongue”. (Stress = you say it longer, louder, higher in pitch).
STEP 2) Identify the function words, which you will de-stress.
Here, the function word “your”, a possessive pronoun, gets de-stressed — it’s pronounced with a very relaxed, short [ə]). Therefore, we do NOT say [YOWR], but we say the de-stressed and quick [yər].
“STICK OUT your TONGUE”
[STIK ÆUWT yərTɅŊ]
Notice how de-stressed and quickly I said [yər], which just attached itself to the content word that followed it.
[STIK ÆUWT yərTɅŊ]
STEP 3) Identify the areas to connect and link your speech.
Native English speakers connect speech in order to speak with greater flow, efficiency and musicality. This is especially done when a word that ends in a consonant is followed by a word that begins with a vowel: (C+V).
We would not say “pick it up” [PIK IT ɅP] but we would push the consonants forward and attach them to the words that follow to say [PI KI TɅP].
Applying this connected speech rule to the phrase at hand, we connect speech in two areas:
- First, push forward the [k] at the end of “stick” [STIK], and attach it to “out”;
- Second, connect the [t] + [y] between “out” and “your”.
“STI CKOU Tyour TONGUE”
[STI KÆUW tyər TɅŊ]
STEP 4) Transform the sounds.
English speakers unconsciously change the sounds of English based on the vibration in their vocal chords and the movement of their articulators. Therefore, the [t] sound meeting the [y] sound often results in a [ʧ].
[t] + [y] –> [ʧ]
Americans don’t carefully say, “I got you!” But we connect the [t] at the end of “got” with the [y] at the beginning of “you”, and then de-stress the pronoun “you”.
“I got you!” results in
- “I gotcha!”
- [ai GAʧyə]
Therefore, in our example, we do not say [STI KÆUW tyər TɅŊ] but we say
[STI KÆUW ʧər TɅŊ]
Step 5) Ensure the proper articulation of vowels and consonants.
The phrase “stick out your tongue” [STI KÆUW ʧər TɅŊ] presents some challenging vowel and consonant sounds to non-native speakers.
Be especially careful with [ɪ] vs. [iy]. Pronounce “stick” as [STIK] and not [stiyk].
“Out” requires that you round your lips [AEUWT], which naturally results in the [w] sound at the end of the word. [ÆUWT].
*Remember*, you don’t have to memorize every single pronunciation rule and say every phrase exactly as an American says it. That’s not the point of improving pronunciation!
What’s important is that you understand how Americans transform their speech. The more you understand this, the better you will be able to comprehend native English speakers and the better you will be able to express yourself clearly.
<h3><em><strong>Don’t forget to subscribe to the <a href=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/english-pronunciation-language/id465174263″ target=”_blank”><span style=”text-decoration: underline;”>Elemental English podcast on iTunes</span></a>. </strong></em></h3>
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