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

 

 

CAE: WRITING – TIPS (2)

Synonyms.

It’s really easy. Forget about bombastic adverbs. Forget about using thesaurus.com (yes, it is useful at times, but you need to look up each synonym in a dictionary anyway as their meanings and uses might be slightly different). You can even forget about locating the key words in your writing instructions and coming up with their synonyms so that you don’t repeat anything from the instructions in your writing (well, it would be great, but it might be tricky).

Just avoid the following general words and use their equivalents that fit the context and register (formal/informal):

  • happy – pleased, glad, delighted
  • important – crucial, vital, of utmost importance, worthwhile
  • difficult – challenging, tough, tricky, a hurdle, a struggle
  • great – superb, outstanding, amazing, brilliant
  • bad – terrible, horrible, awful, a nightmare, quite bad, not up to the standard, disappointing, non-existent, unsatisfactory
  • interesting – fascinating, memorable, fun, mind-blowing, enriching
  • dangerous – risky, hazardous, be in danger of, run the risk of
  • excited – thrilled, ecstatic, over the moon, extremely pleased
  • angry – mad, furious, not particularly impressed by, I’m afraid to inform you

 

  • think – suppose, guess, reckon, feel, believe, assume, hope
  • like – enjoy, to be a keen x, to have a great time doing something
  • hate – loathe, detest, avoid, try not to
  • recommend – suggest, (strongly) advise, my tip would be to, you had better
  • show, explain – present, highlight, outline
  • going to do something – thinking of doing something, planning to, intent to, look forward to doing something
  • meet – get to know somebody, arrange a meeting, make an appointment, meet up, catch up

 

  • people – visitors, foreigners, holidaymakers, local inhabitants, the public, the audience, hotel guests, hordes, fellow students, commuters, citizens, peers
  • problem – difficulties, struggle, hurdle, setback, issue

FALSE FRIENDS: NOUNS

Some new CAE strategies soon! First, however, I’d like to share with you the lists I’ve prepared for my Spanish-speaking students here in San Sebastian. The knowledge of false friends is essential for many aspects of the Advanced Exam – from Use of English (especially 1 and 3) to Writing.

The following nouns have different meanings (all or some) in Spanish and English. Read their complete dictionary definitions to be sure you know the difference.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/

You don’t study a “career”.

It’s very rare to have a favourite “plate”.

A “conference” usually takes a whole weekend.

“Parking” is an activity, not a place. So is “camping”.

“Ambience” does not equal a lot of people in a nice bar.

“Formation” is not connected with education.

“Suburbs” have no negative connotations.

“Compromise” has nothing to do with your mobile phone contract.

You don’t go to college when you are six.

You don’t go to an “institute” when you are a teenager.

You don’t get your bachelor’s degree in your teens.

A park contains not equals a playground.

A carton is what you our milk out of, not a box.

A brick is not a container.

A container can be any size.

A recipient is a person.

A “tupper” is a Spanglish word and so are “touristic”, “sportive”, “informatics” and a “relax”. Sorry!

Nobody is “crack” or a “machine”. A baby is not a “creature”

A “globe” is not a toy.

“Constipation” happens to a different body part.

A “lecture” doesn’t involve books.

A “notice” is not something new.

“Lanterns” are not used in emergency.

“Jubilees” are not people.

People didn’t fight with “spades”, not on regular basis at least.

A “tramp” is a person, not a situation. Remember that “trump” also exists and has different pronunciation!

A “chimney” is not a fireplace.

Illusions are usually sad.

An “agenda” is not a diary.

A “monitor” is not a person.

A “bank” is not a piece of furniture.

“Installation” has little to do with sports. You are looking for “facilities”.

A “fabric” is not a place.

An “escape” has little to do with “fumes”.

“Collars” are not romantic presents.

An “abortion” is never natural.

An “editorial” is a piece of writing.

A “camp” is not a pitch or a court and a “colony” is not a summer c

 

A “sauce” is not a tree.

“Footing” is not a sport.

“Arena” is not always filled with sand.

Students don’t go around with carpets.

A “menu” is not “dish of the day”.

“Competence” is something positive.

“Deception” is not when you expected ice cream and didn’t get it.

“Delight” is not a crime.

A language has hundreds of “idioms”.

The above is not a “phrase”.

A “manifestation” is not a protest.

A “recollection” is not collecting things, nor is it religious.

“Accommodation” is related to hotels.

An “apartment” is any “flat”, but a “flat” is never a “floor”.

People don’t study “letters”. They study science though.

You can write a letter to your local “authorities”. But your “correspondence” is not going to be about train connections.

Not every murderer is an assassin.

A “motor” is only  part of a “motorbike”.

A ” motorist” drives any car.

Don’t use the word “bitch”, but it does not mean a “prostitute”.

“Blouses” are for women only, and “suits” are for men.

“Dining rooms” are at home, “cafeterias” are at schools and hospitals.

“Casualties” are people.

 

FALSE FRIENDS: VERBS

Some new CAE strategies soon! First, however, I’d like to share with you the lists I’ve prepared for my Spanish-speaking students here in San Sebastian. The knowledge of false friends is essential for many aspects of the Advanced Exam – from Use of English (especially 1 and 3) to Writing.

The following verbs have different meanings (all or some) in Spanish and English. Read their complete dictionary definitions to be sure you know the difference.

http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/

“educate” is not “bring up”

“advertise” is not “warn”

If you “molest” someone, you should end up in prison.

“matriculate” isn’t really used. You are looking for “enroll”.

“fabricate” is not “manufacture”

“pretend” is “fingir” ONLY

“ignore” is not “be unaware of”

“revise” is not “check, go through, inspect”

“examine”usually means “look carefully, inspect”

“announce” is not “advertise”

“reform” is not “refurbish”

“renovate” is not “renew”

You usually “do/go”, not “practice” – do yoga, go surfing.

“assist” is not “attend”

“discuss” is not “quarrel”

“hallucinate” only happens on drugs

“interpret” is not usually used to talk about actors. And “paper” neither”!

Double-check your use of “suppose” and “result”!

Finally, “put”. Yes, “put”. Here the rule for Spanish speakers is: only use it for “putting things on the table” etc. Avoid in elsewhere, unless you want to produce nightmares such as “It puts in my book that…” or “She put herself very angry”. Thank you.