Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Part 1: Learning the American Speech Rythym

One of the issues I find when working with ESL clients learning accent reduction at Accent Master is the tendency to bring in the rhythm of their first language when speaking American English.  Changing the rhythm is challenging but not impossible.  So follow this 3 part series on rhythym in American English.

Rhythm the beat or prosody of speech.  The way you sound when you imitate an American's speech in your own language.  Each language has there own sound or rhythm.  To speak with the American rhythm their are 3 features to consider:

1.      Alternation 
2.      Linking
3.     Trimming

Here we will look at alternation of stress in sentences.  


Alternation simply means to alternate between stressed and unstressed words or syllables. Heavier stress occurs at approximately regular intervals of time.  With the weaker words syllables squeezed in between.  It important to realize that one vowel carries the stress for the word, so the whole word is not longer and louder but the stressed vowel or syllable does.  For more information word stress please go to that post: word stress video.

 Words that will carry more stress will be longer, louder and with a fully produced vowel sound.  The stress in a message unit is generally found on content words or loud function words.

Content words include

  • ·         Nouns
  • ·         Verbs
  • ·         Adjectives
  • ·         Adverbs

Loud function words are words that carry important grammatical meaning such as

  •    Question words
Who, what when where why
  • ·         Demonstrative pronouns: demonstrate thing or things  this, those, that
  • ·         And negatives: no, not

While our soft function words that do not receive stress are

  • ·         Is, are
  • ·         Pronouns: he , she, they, them etc..
  • ·         Articles a, the
  • ·         Prepositions: in, on, under etc
  • ·         Conjunctions and, but , also,

Not that they can be left off!  Just because they are not stressed does not mean that they do not serve a great informational purpose.

Say the following sentences stress the words bolded:

Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise

Hope of gain  lessons pain

In the following sentences I put  first just the stressed words then added soft function words.  Adding on the soft function words barely changes the amount of time it takes to say the sentences.

   Friends             need              help
My friends have needed help
My friends have been needing some help

2.      Proposals due Friday
Our proposal’s due Friday
Our proposal’s due on Friday
Our proposal should have been due Friday

 Here I put the stress mark as close to the stressed vowel of the stressed words as possible.  Try to copy the pattern.  American English does have an up and down flow to it.

Immigration to the United States has been a major source of population growth and cultural change
throughout much of the history of the United States.. In 2006 the United States accepted more legal   
immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined. After ethnic quotas
on immigration were removed in 1965 the number of actual (first-generation) immigrants living in  
the United States quadrupled, from 9.6 million in 1970 to about 38 million in 2007. Over one million
people were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008. The leading countries of origin of immigrants to
the United States were Mexico, India, the Philippines, and China. Nearly 14 million immigrants
entered the United States from 2000 to 2010.

It is challenging to alternate the stress.  The benefits though are real.  The American ear is trained to hear this pattern so when English is produced with an accented rhythm it does cause a delay in understanding what is being said. Important information maybe missed. 

Accent Master


No comments: