LISTENING VIA PRONUNCIATION (2)

RULE 1: ENGLISH IS NOT BASED ON SYLLABLES

Languages can be divided into two groups. Listening to Spanish, German and Japanese (as mentioned before) we can usually write things down even if we don´t understand them. This is because, in these languages, the more syllables we pronounce, the more time we need to pronounce them. Sounds logical, doesn´t it? The bigger the number, the longer the time. But not in English.

In English you need to keep a certain rhythm while you speak. Stressed vowels in the most important words are going to be pronounced “well”, that is in such a way that we, learners, can understand them. All other vowels are going to be reduced to the minimum – they often simply disappear.  It doesn´t matter how many syllables/vowels there are between the important ones – the rhythm is always the same.

To see how it works, try this example (which I learned at British Council Krakow). Start by saying the first line slowly, clapping as you pronounce each word. Keep clapping at the same rhythm, while including more and more words from the other lines. You use the same amount of time to pronounce each line.

Exercise 1.

WORDS                                 HAVE                         STRESS

some WORDS                       HAVE                         STRESS

some WORDS                       HAVE                         some STRESS

some WORDS                       should HAVE             some STRESS

some of the WORDS                         should have HAD      some STRESS

some of the WORDS                         should have HAD      some of the STRESS

Of course, “some” or “should” (on their own or in shorter groups) are pronounced in a certain way, which can be found in a dictionary. However, in longer groups, their vowels or even consonants are going to be reduced or eliminated. In reality, the lines above are (more or less) read like this:

Exercise 2.

WORDS                                 HAVE                         STRESS

sm WORDS                           HAVE                         STRESS

sm WORDS                           HAVE                         sm STRESS

sm WORDS                          sh HAVE                    sm STRESS

sm of th WORDS                  sh av AD                     sm STRESS

sm f th WORDS                    sh av AD                    sm f th STRESS

 

Generally, we reduce “little words”: articles (e.g. the), pronouns (e.g. her), auxiliaries (e.g. can), linking words (e.g. and) and so on. We can´t eliminate the article “a” because it´s important for the grammar, but we can reduce its vowel to something that is neither “a”, nor “i”, nor “e” – just a neutral, indistinguishable, short vowel sound.

It´s easier to learn which vowels to reduce or eliminate in a given word than a given sentence, and there are even some rules to help you. Below are some examples. Remember that you can listen to the words using an online dictionary.

 

Exercise 3.

Try not to pronounce the unstressed vowel before the final “n”:

nation > na tn

mountain > moun tn

London > Lon dn

Sweden > Swe dn

urban > ur bn

but!

Berlin > b lin

Japan > J pan

(Here we pronounce the vowel because the final syllable is stressed)

 

Exercise 4.

Try not to pronounce the unstressed vowel before the final “l”:

label > la bl

total > to tl

local > lo cl

Google > Goo gl

national > na tn l

 

Exercise 5.

In international-looking words, you “eat” as much as you can. Count the syllables – the English word is going to have at least one less.

literature > li tri che

chocolate > cho clt

restaurant > re strnt

history > hi stri

Barbara > bar bra

 

Exercise 6.

Consequently, “able” at the end of a word is NOT pronounced like “to be able to”:

sociable > so ci bl

comfortable > com fti bl

vegetable > ve gti bl

fashionable > fa shn bl

 

Exercise 7.

“Age” at the end of a word is NOT pronounced like “at the age of 3”:

courage > cou ridge (like in “fridge”)

storage > sto ridge

wreckage > wreck idge

 

Exercise 8.

Basically, if you see a short familiar word at the end of a longer word, it is not pronounced like the short word you know:

“climate” doesn´t rhyme with “mate”

“surface” doesn´t rhyme with “face”

“purpose” doesn´t rhyme with “pose” etc.

 

Exercise 9.

Finally, “-ture” and “-dure” are one syllable long:

structure > struc che

posture > pos che

texture > tex che

torture > tor che

procedure > pro ce je

 

What about reducing sounds in sentences, you ask? Fortunately, it helps just to KNOW about this phenomenon of “eating sounds”. A fellow teacher told me that her students thought that she talked a lot about some “festival”. If they knew better how English works, they would blame the pronunciation instead of focusing on the meaning. The “festival” was, in fact, an expression both easy and common: “first of all”.

You already know some phrases like that. If you remember that “wanna” is “want to” and “gonna” – “going to”, what could “dunno” be? It´s “I don´t know”! As you can see, English people themselves need to guess a lot from the context, that´s why they have so many jokes based on this, for example the so-called “knock knock jokes”, which you can easily google:

 

Joke 1.

A: [outside] <Knock, knock> [on the door]
B: [inside] Who’s there?
A: Orange.
B: Orange who? [demanding a surname]
A: Orange you going to let me in?

 

Joke 2.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Lettuce.
B: Lettuce who?
A: Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.

 

Joke 3.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Police.
B: Police?!
A: Police open the door!

 

Joke 4.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Bingo.
B: Bingo who?
A: Bingo in to come and see you for ages.

 

Joke 5.

A: Knock, knock.
B: Who’s there?
A: Juno.
B: Juno who?
A: Juno what time it is?

 

Of course, there are other jokes based on pronunciation, too. There is even a separate word in English for them all: “puns”.

 

Joke 6.

When you’ve seen one shopping centre, you’ve seen a mall.

 

Joke 7.

Q: How do you fix a broken tuba?

A: With a tuba glue.

 

 

Exercise 10.

Here is a list of all the lines mentioned above, which you can use to practise:

I want to have some fun. > I wanna av some fun.

I don´t know. I´m going to phone her. > Dunno. Gonna phone her.

Aren´t you going to let me in? > Orange you going to let me in?

Let us in, it’s cold out here. > Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.

please > police

I´ve been going to come. > Bingo in to come.

Do you know what time it is? > Juno wha time it is?

You´ve seen them all. > You´ve seen a mall.

a tube of glue > a tuba glue

 

Finally, do remember that if you are a Spanish speaker, you eat sounds too and this can lead to some serious mistakes in English pronunciation. No wonder if “helado” is pronounced “elau”! Personally, I even have problems understanding English names on Spanish TV because “Robert Hunt” becomes “rover hun”. What other words are seriously mispronounced because of “eating” sounds the Spanish way?

 

Exercise 11.

Don´t eat these consonants! Remember there is an important difference in pronunciation between these pairs of words:

car – card                                block – blog

for – Ford                                dock – dog

wear – word                            path – pub

boar – board                            crap – crab

han – hand                               rover – robber – Robert

 

 

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