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Rhythm Practice: Stress + De-Stress | English Pronunciation Lesson

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Introduction

Every language has its own music, or rhythm, so if you speak English with the music of your first language, others may have a hard time understanding you.

Example

In American English, we say the name of those little, green bean snacks that we get at Japanese restaurants:

  • “edamame” [ɛ də mey]

by de-stressing the 2nd syllable and stressing the 3rd syllable.

In Japanese, however, a language where syllables carry equal stress, they would say it something more like:

  • “edamame” [ɛ dʌ mɑ me]

So, the same exact word completely changes because of the music of each language.

The Rhythm of English

The rhythm of English is created by stressing some words and de-stressing others.

1) We stress content words, which carry meaning in a sentence. These include:

“Stress” means we say a syllable or word:

  • longer
  • louder
  • higher in pitch

 

2) We also de-stress function words, typically little words, which are more about the grammar and structure of the sentence. These include:

Let’s Practice

Let’s practice the rhythm of English by playing with the words in a sentence.

If I spoke like a little child, using only content words, notice that you would still understand me, despite the incorrect grammar.

Example

  • “Want new iPhone®”*

Here, I stressed the verb, adjective and noun, and said each of them nice and clearly, on the beat.

  • “Want new iPhone”*

Now, let’s add some function words for correct grammar, and notice how the musical beat of the content words stays the same.

  • “I want a new iPhone.”

Did you hear that the same three content words still carried the same beat of the music of the sentence? This is because native English speakers say those de-stressed function words very quickly.

Listen again.

  • “Want new iPhone”*
  • “I want a new iPhone.”

This stressing and de-stressing is part of what creates the music of English. This is why if you speak English with the music of your first language, it may create confusion for the listener.

Now, let’s play with a few more sentences, but this time, let’s say them how we would speak in everyday life. Can you still hear the same musical beat and the rhythm of English?

Listen and Repeat

  • “Search word Google™”
  • Search the word on Google™.”
  • “Order Amazon®”
  • “I’ll order it on Amazon.”

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