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Okay, cool cool.
A lot of people want to improve their English pronunciation. They want to talk in a smooth, natural way that makes sense to foreigners. Maybe you’ve thought something like this, too.
I noticed a mistake that many people make when learning English pronunciation. They focus on “L” and “R”, or “TH” and “S”, or very complicated words. The truth is, to have naturally sounding pronunciation, you don’t need to study any of that.
The one thing you need to pay attention to to have natural sounding pronunciation might surprise you, actually.
In university, I took a phonetics class, an 「音声学」class. What do you think we studied more than anything else?
We studied “stress,” 強弱, more than anything else. Because the most important thing for you to learn when you’re learning pronunciation is 強弱.
What do I mean by 強弱 or “stress”?
In English there are two types of sounds. One is stressed and one is unstressed; what I call 強音 or 弱音. Stressed sounds. 強音, are longer, louder, and a higher pitch. Unstressed sounds, or 弱音, are shorter, softer, and lower in pitch.
At least in English, the 強弱 that you use determines the meaning of what you’re going to say.
The 強弱 is very, very important.
The whole world is speaking English now: people from different cultures, languages, and countries, and even in English native speakers.
There are lots of different regional dialects where the individual sounds are pronounced differently.
So, if you pronounce a sound differently from how I pronounce it, it still sounds natural. But if you make a mistake with the stress pattern, I’m not gonna be able to understand what you’re saying.
Let’s take the English word for 「明日」, tomorrow.
In tomorrow there are three sounds: “to” “mo” “ro,” but only one of them is stressed. One of them is 強音.
That’s the “mo.” The “to” and the “ro” are unstressed. They’re 弱音. They’re very soft. Listen to it one more time :Tomorrow.
But what if I take the stress and change it from “mo” to “to”? What does it sound like to native speakers?
Ugh! That already sounds really strange to me! ToMOrrow and TOmorrow have the same sounds in them, but because the stress is different, it sounds like a different word to me.
If you ask me, “Hey Arthur, what are you doing TOmorrow?” I wouldn’t understand what you’re saying.
“Huh? TOmorrow? What’s that?”
The thing is, the 強音 in words are very important. They hold the meaning of the words and
you have to pronounce that clearly. But especially in American English, the 弱音, the unstressed syllables, don’t need to be pronounced that well. In fact if you pronounce them really 適当, It actually sounds natural.
So if I say “tomorrow” “timorrow” “tamorrow” “tohmorrow,” they all sound like the word tomorrow, 明日. But if I say “tomeerrow” “tomerrow” “tomohrrow” “tomarrow” then they sound a little bit strange
So, how are you going to know which words are stressed and which ones are unstressed?
Well, unfortunately, there is no clear-cut rule for knowing ahead of time, but there are some patterns and the only way to learn these patterns is by speaking a lot, reading a lot and learning a lot of words. But you don’t have to worry.
If you’re having trouble with stress, you’re in the same company as me, because native speakers also sometimes don’t know where the correct stress in words are.
I remember when I first saw the word A-F-F-L-U-E-N-T. I knew was an adjective, so I pronounced it as “Affluent”. But when I went to Seattle, what were people saying? “AfFLUent.” When I first heard them say “afFLUent,” I didn’t understand what they said.
And when they heard that I said “Affluent” they didn’t understand what I said. We had to teach each other our pronunciation so that we could communicate well.
So next time you’re learning the pronunciation of words, don’t focus on the “TH” or the “R” and the “L”. Focus on the 強弱 and make sure you focus on pronouncing the 強音 correctly.
And not worry about the 弱音 so much. Now I have a question for you:
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Until next time enjoy your English adventures. Bye!