The pronunciation of English words is notoriously challenging. You can learn English with this video and get detailed pronunciation guidance for the 10 most common English words. This video is the first in a series that will teach you the pronunciation of the 100 most common English words.
As you learn English (American English) your exact pronunciation of English words is what determines how much you will sound like a native speaker. Many teachers do an injustice to pronunciation training by slowing down their pronunciation of English words. Teachers do this reflexively. Their aim is to help you learn English more quickly by slowing down their pronunciation in their training materials. They have the best of intentions as they slow down their pronunciation so that you can learn how English words sound.
But American English is not spoken that way. If you want to learn American English pronunciation, it’s not just about the English words themselves. You need to hear and understand the pronunciation of native American English speakers and attempt to learn English not in a slow, methodical way, but rather in the manner that American English speakers themselves have learned pronunciation (i.e. Your pronunciation of English words needs to incorporate frequent reductions, contractions and the unique vocal placement of American English).
This video (and the entire Rachel’s English collection) is devoted to helping you learn English pronunciation. I’ve been devoted to helping you improve your pronunciation for years! I’m not new to this. My passion is helping you improve your American English Pronunciation and this video starts at the top: teaching you the exact pronunciation of the top 10 most common English words!
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In this video series, you will learn how to pronounce the 100 most common words in American English.
I got this idea when I saw a couple of other videos on this topic, and I was horrified at what I saw. In those videos, people were teaching the full pronunciation of these words, like: THAT, HAVE, TO. So many of the 100 most common words are function words and they reduce. It is completely unnatural to fully pronounce each word in American English. Let me show you what I mean.
This sentence is four words, and each one of these words is in the 100 most common words list.
This is for work.
That’s the full pronunciation of each of those words. And if that’s all you learn about the pronunciation, then this is how you would pronounce that sentence: This is for work. This is for work. Well, I don’t want any of my students thinking that that is the correct way to pronounce that sentence. It’s not. It’s not natural.
This is for work. This is for work. Is and for are not fully pronounced.
Rhythm in American English is extremely important for capturing the character of the language: for understanding Americans when they speak, and for sounding natural and being easily understood when you speak. Some syllables are long, and some are very very short. This contrast is the rhythm of American English. In order to make those short syllables really short, some words in American English, some of the most common words, reduce. This means a sound changes or is dropped. And everybody studying English should know these.
Let’s take our sentence again and talk about the real pronunciation of it.
This is for work. Two words are longer. This. Work. And two words are shorter. Is, for. This is for work. This is for work. So it’s not iz but is. And it’s not for but fer. This is for work. Rhythmic contrast.
So as we go through the 100 most common words in American English here, we’re going to talk about rhythm and reductions at the same time, to make sure that you’re learning the correct pronunciation, not the full pronunciation, which is rarely used in most function words.
Okay, let’s start at the beginning.
The number one most common word is THE. In the sentence it will become the, the. Very fast with a schwa. This is when the next word begins with a consonant. For example, “the most”, the the, the most. It’s usually pronounced with the EE vowel, the, the, the. If the next word begins with a vowel or diphthong, for example, “the other”, the, the, the. The most important thing about the pronunciation of this word is that it should be said very quickly. The cat. It should never be THE CAT, THE CAT. Always ‘the cat’. The, the, the very fast.
The next word is ‘be’, and I assume this means the verb TO BE, conjugated. I am, you are, he is, she is, it is, we are, they are. The important thing to know about these pronunciations is that they will almost always be said in a contraction, ‘I am’ becomes I’m, I’m, I’m. Said very quickly, I’m. Sometimes you’ll even hear as just. the M sound: M’sorry. M’sorry, mm, mm, mm. That is a natural pronunciation. YOU ARE, you’re, reduces to ‘you’re’. Super fast. basically no vowel. You’re, you’re. You’re gonna be okay. You’re, you’re. Very fast. HE IS becomes ‘he’s’.He’s. SHE IS is she’s. She’s. IT IS, it’s, it’s, it’s. Sometimes we reduce this even further we change a sound, we dropped the vowel. We say just ‘ts’. Ts, ts. ‘ts cool! ‘ts awesome! Ts. Have you ever heard that? ‘Ts cool. ‘Ts raining. It’s a common reduction. WE ARE, we’re, becomes ‘we’re’. We’re running late. ‘we’re’, ‘we’re’. Very fast. THEY ARE, they’re becomes ‘they’re’. Very fast, the vowel changes, they’re. They’re okay. They’re, they’re.
Word number three: to. Almost never pronounced this way, to. We use a reduction: the vowel changes to the schwa. To, to, said very quickly. And sometimes, the true T at the beginning changes to more of a D sound, or a Flap T. “Let’s go to the beach.” Go to the. Go to. Go to. How is ‘to’ being pronounce there? to to, go to. A flap of the tongue, and the schwa. Said very quickly. Go to. Go to the beach. It’s nothing like TO, is it?
Again, we don’t fully pronounce this word. It’s not OF, it’s of. Schwa, very light V, said very quickly. And actually, you’ll often hear this word without the ‘v’. Then it’s just the schwa, and we pronounce it this way all the time in the phrases ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’. kinda, sorta. For example, I’m kinda tired. Kinda. Kinda, uh, uh, uh. Schwa, very fast. Kinda.
Ok, we’re only four words in, but let’s review. I’m going to put up a sentence. Look at it, find the reduction, and then say the sentence with the reduction. Say the reduction very quickly. Here’s one sentence:
I am running late (I’m running late.) How quickly did you make that first word? Try it as just the M sound. Mmm, mmm. M’running, M’running. M’running late. Sorry guys, I’m running late. So natural. When you learn the reductions in American English, and you start to really use them in your speech, you gain a native feel. Also, understanding Americans becomes easier because you can start to identify the reductions.
One more for you to try out loud now: I want you to try reducing the word ‘to’. Look at it, think about it, now try it out loud. “I know how to do it.” How to, how to, how to. I’m making that the Flap T and the schwa. Are you? Try it again. How to, I know how to do it.
Alright, we’ll keep going with number 5: AND. And. Another word that we rarely fully pronounce. There are a couple of different ways to reduce this. We’ll start with the full pronunciation, and we’ll reduce from there. AA vowel followed by N consonant: the tongue is lifted in the back for AA, Aaaa. Then relaxes before the N. Aa-uh, aa-uh, aa-uh. So it’s not a pure AA sound. Aa-uh, aa-uh. And, and, and, and, and. First reduction is just dropping the D. “An’, An’and I think it will be okay.” An, An’ I, An’ I. No D, just the N into the next word. An’ I think it will be okay. Another reduction, more common, is to just say the N sound, “N’. N’ I think it will be okay.” N’, N’, just straight from the N into the next word. N’ I, N’ I think it will be okay. Cookies and cream, salt and pepper, black and white, up and down, left and right. All of these, I’m just making a quick N sound, linking the two other words. Up and down.
Number 6. Okay, we’re actually going to do 6 and 32 together, because they’re related. They’re the articles A and AN. Now, we don’t say A and AN. We say ‘a’ and ‘an’. Schwa. Very fast, very little movement for the mouth. A, a, a coffee. A, a or An, an example. An, an. A, an.
Number 7. IN. We don’t drop or change a sound here. We don’t reduce. But it is still unstressed. This mean it should be really short, less clear. Instead of saying ‘IN’, we would say ‘in’. “He’s in love.” In, in. “She’s in a hurry”. In, in, in. So be careful. It’s not IN. That sounds stressed. It’s ‘in’.
Number 8: THAT. You know what I realize? I already have a video for a lot of these reductions. I have a video on the pronunciation of THAT and how we really pronounce it in a sentence. So I’ll give a brief description here, but I’ll also link to that and other related reduction videos in the video description. THAT is a word that can be used lots of different ways in American English. And in some cases, in many cases, we reduce the vowel from AA to the schwa, uh. So THAT becomes ‘that’. Now the ending T: the pronunciation of that sound depends on the beginning of the next word. If the next word begins with a vowel or diphthong, it’s a Flap T: That I, D d, d that I. If the next word begins with a consonant, then it’s a Stop T. That she. That, that That she. I know, it’s a little confusing. Check out my video on the word THAT for a longer explanation and more examples. But just note that we often don’t pronounce this word, that. We often reduce it so it has the schwa that.
Number 9: the verb HAVE. Just like the verb ‘be’, this will often be used as a contraction in spoken English, which is already a reduction. We’re already changing sounds for that: I HAVE becomes I’ve, I’ve I’ve I’ve I’ve. “I’ve been wanting to see that.” I’ve I’ve. YOU HAVE becomes ‘you’ve.’ HE HAS becomes ‘he’s’. He’s he’s. You’ve you’ve. He’s been waiting. He’s. Here’s something interesting: the pronunciation of the HAS contraction. With ‘he’ and ‘she’, it’s pronounced as a Z. Hiz. Hiz been, hiz been. But with Shes shiz shiz. But with it, its, it’s been raining, then it’s an S sound. It’s. He’s, Z it’s, Ss S. WE HAVE becomes ‘we’ve’, we’ve’ we’ve’ and THEY HAVE becomes ‘they’ve’ which sounds like deiv when it’s unstressed.
Number 10: the pronoun I. Usually said very quickly, it’s not “I” but “I”. I think so. I, I, I. I think, I. If you’re speaking really quickly, you can maybe get away with something more like ‘aa’ than ‘I’. I think so. Aa aa aa. I think so. When it’s said so quickly, you can’t really tell if I’m doing the full diphthong I or not.
Wow. Okay, we just did the ten most common words in English, and none of them are fully pronounced. They’re all words that are unstressed or reduced. Interesting. Keep your eyes out, that’s an idiom that means to look for something. We’d expect to it will be coming in the future. So keep your eyes out for future videos in this series where we will go over the rest of the words in this list. Here’s playlist, and as I create the new videos, I will add them there. When will we find our first stressed word in the 100 most common words of American English? We’ll have to find out.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.