Now that you’ve had some time to get comfortable with the basics of word stress, I want to focus your attention on the details.
As we discussed in the Introduction to Word Stress
, the essential elements of stress are making one syllable longer, louder, and higher in pitch.
When you joined this program, you were probably producing at least one of these consistently.
In my experience, most people struggle the most with lengthening stressed syllables, so I want you to pay extra attention to how l-o-n-g you hold stressed syllables.
I suggest holding them until it feels a little bit uncomfortable or awkward. 😮
When you’re practicing, you’ll notice how long they feel.
But when you’re speaking with other people, you’ll naturally speed up a little bit so the long syllables will sound just right.
If you’re new to the accent reduction process, I encourage you to take it easy on yourself at first.
When you work through the stress pattern exercises, just focus on syllable length, volume, and pitch.
Make stressed syllables l-o-n-g-e-r, LOUDER
, and higher in pitch
. Exaggerate. Drill these three elements into your memory by listening to and repeating the practice exercises.
If you’re ready for more of a challenge, let’s move on to talking about the details.
To reduce your accent, you want to make sure you’re producing syllables the way native speakers do.
In the next section, Producing Natural-Sounding Syllables
, we’ll explore some of the elements that give English its distinctive sound and rhythm.
First, let’s examine the differences between stressed, unstressed, and reduced syllables
So far, we’ve discussed stressed syllables, but the contrast between stressed and unstressed/reduced syllables
is what creates the natural rhythm of English.
Stressed syllables are super clear and crisp, unstressed syllables are still clear but less distinct, and reduced syllables are crunched or squashed.
To sound more natural, you want to pay special attention to the vowel sounds on stressed syllables
Making a syllable longer actually gives your mouth time to move through all of the different shapes created by English consonants and vowels!
In particular, you want to pay attention to what I call vowel shaping, or the way our mouths move when producing long vowel sounds.
We actually add an extra sound at the end
which changes the sound of the vowel, called an off-glide
.Watch the full lesson
for a complete explanation because you really do need to see it - and hear it - to believe understand it. 😉
The first step is simply to increase your awareness
of this extra shape at the end of your vowels.
As you move forward, you’re going to use this shape to create transitions between syllables
The shape of your mouth creates a noticeable change in pitch and volume.
Think of your pitch and volume sliding up to a stressed syllable and sliding down to an unstressed or reduced syllable.
Picture the volume control on a stereo or even a dimmer switch for a lamp or ceiling light. 🎚️
This transition is subtle and can take some time to master.
If you feel like you sound a little choppy, robotic, or staccato
when speaking English, you’re probably not creating this gliding or sliding transition between syllables.
Like I said, your job right now is simply to become more aware
of it as you practice stress patterns and listen to native speakers.
As you progress through the practice exercises, I’ll remind you to pay even more attention to vowel shaping and how to use your pitch to link syllables.
Last but not least, I want to emphasize a key point that is central to reducing your accent: pay attention to one- and two-syllable words!
Even though these words are short and easy to say, they should still be stressed.
Because we prefer clear, simple vocabulary in English, you’ll be using short words all the time. Don't forget to make them longer, louder, and higher in pitch.
For practice, please review the first seven stress pattern exercises
. They include many short words, so you can start practicing with them if you haven’t already!
In the next two sections, we'll talk about stress patterns in more depth.
But remember, you can start practicing with them now!
You are training your ear to hear these patterns and your mouth to produce them.
You don’t need to fully understand why these patterns exist in order to practice with them.Spend at least ten minutes a day listening to the practice exercises and repeating them.
If you’re commuting on the subway and you can’t speak out loud, you can actually say the words in your head. 🎧
The more time you can dedicate to practicing, the sooner you will hear results!