If you talk too fast, will people be able to understand you? Isn’t it better to speak slowly and say every syllable and every word clearly? No. Rhythmic contrast is an important characteristic in American English, and in order to get that, some words and syllables have to be fast.
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In this American English pronunciation video, I’m going to respond to a question from a member of the Rachel’s English community about speaking quickly vs. slowing down.
Fabio recently said that when he was in America trying to sound American: speaking quickly, linking sounds, making Flap T’s, people had a hard time understanding him. When he started speaking clearer and more slowly, he was understood perfectly. He says, do you really think it’s necessary to speak fast and linking everything?
Great question. This brings up two things that I want to talk about. The first, and maybe most important thing, is that I don’t teach that you should be speaking really fast as a general rule. I’m sure Fabio isn’t the only one confused by this. When I talk about saying words that reduce really quickly, like “because of the”, the point isn’t to speak fast. The point is to create a contrast. You must have clearly pronounced stressed syllables. You cannot speed through those and be easy to understand. But, when you have clearly pronounced stressed syllables and quick, maybe reduced unstressed syllables, you have contrast in syllable length. And this is what’s important in American English. Not speaking fast. If every syllable is fast, you’re going to be very hard to understand. So it’s as just important to make your stressed syllables clear as it is to reduce and simplify and speed up your unstressed syllables.
So, speaking with stressed and unstressed, fully pronounced and reduced, clear and fast syllables is one of the defining characteristics of American English. It’s a stress-timed language, and I’ve made a video about that. I’ll link to it at the end and in the description below. Don’t rush everything, just create contrast.
What if you have perfect sounds, but every syllable is the same length? Let’s see.
Hello my name is Rachel and I live in Philadelphia.
I think probably everyone could understand that. But it didn’t sound very natural, did it? Also, that was with every sound being perfect. If some of your sounds aren’t perfect, and you try to fully pronounce everything with you have no rhythmic contrast, suddenly you have multiple factors that might get in the way of being understood.
So to answer Fabio’s question, I do think it’s necessary to reduce words that reduce in American English, and to link words together in a thought group, like we generally do in American English, in order to maximize your changes of being understood.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience and asking that very important question.
I’m going to put an on-screen link now to a video on English as a Stress-Timed Language, and a collection of videos on words that reduce. Those links will also be in the description of the video. In the final section of this video, there’s also a link to a playlist on American English in Real Life and Ben Franklin exercises. Both of those sets of videos have lots of examples of real life words that reduce and rhythmic contrast.
So, in conclusion, you don’t want to just speak fast all the time. You want contrast of stressed and unstressed syllables. The stressed syllables will be longer. But those unstressed words will be very fast.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.