Learn how to break long words up and practice by stress: stressed syllables on their own, and unstressed syllables together.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over how to work on long words.
Multi-syllable words can be really tricky. There are so many sounds and transitions in them. So today we’re going to talk about how to work on multi-syllable words.
I encourage you to keep a running list of long words that have come up in conversation for you that are hard for you to say. Maybe they are words that relate to your field of study or work.
Let’s use as an example the word ‘underestimate’. First, look it up in the dictionary and get the IPA. But what I really want to talk about today is, make sure you know what syllables are stressed. This is a five-syllable word with stress on the middle syllable. There is secondary stress in this word, marked by the little line at the bottom. I’m going to say, don’t worry about that. They’re more like unstressed syllables than stressed syllables.
Let’s start by just practicing the stressed syllable. Es. Do you know the shape of a stressed syllable? I made a video a long time ago about how the voice should curve up and then down in a stressed syllable. The sounds are the most important in this stressed syllable – they should be the clearest in your word. Practice just the stressed syllable using a hand movement, the shape is really important in making the word sound natural. Es, es. Maybe even try it in slow motion. Es.
Now let’s look at the rest of the syllables. We have two before and two after. Practice these syllables together, there’s no need to practice them separately like the stressed syllable.
First we have ‘under’. These syllables should be really different than the stressed one, es. Under, under. What’s different? They’re a little quieter, less clear, they don’t have that shape. There’s less energy in the voice. Under – es – timate. Two more syllables, also unstressed. under-, -timate. There’s less mouth movement for these unstressed syllables, isn’t there? under-, -timate. They’re simpler. At the beginning of the video, I talked about how long words can be hard because there are so many sounds, but I want you to see that in unstressed syllables, the sounds don’t have to be fully formed and fully pronounced. These sounds are quieter, flatter in pitch, faster, simpler. under-, -timate. This should make long words easier, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to practice them. You do, you need repeat a new word over and over, but the point is to break it up into simplified and stressed syllables.
Let’s keep working on it: under – es –timate [2x]. Underestimate [3x].
Let’s try another word: inevitable. First, look up the stress. The second syllable is stressed, which we know because of the mark before it. So let’s break it down. Ev, ev, ev. In – ev – itable, -itable, -itable, -itable. In – ev – itable. Inevitable [3x].
Put together a list of long words and work through them this way. I really think that breaking up a word into stressed and unstressed syllables is the best way to master it, along with repetition. The more you get used to the contrast of stressed and unstressed syllables, the better. Stress really matters in American English.
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Also, I’m very excited to tell you that my book is now on sale. If you liked this video, there’s a lot more to learn about American English pronunciation, and my book will help you step by step. You can get it by clicking here, or in the description below.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.