If you are working to improve your English pronunciation or comprehension you’ll love this video. I show you everything I know about the key elements of natural American English pronunciation: reductions, linking, stressed/unstressed syllables and placement.
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This is your final lesson in the 100 most common words in English series. Here, we’ve been going over the pronunciation of the 100 most common words in American English to see what we could learn, and I’ve been teaching pronunciation and accent reduction for over 10 years, and even I was surprised at what we saw. Today we’re going to go over lessons that we’ve learned in the previous videos and talk about how you can approach studying the pronunciation of American English.
I started this project because I saw another teacher going over how to pronounce the 100 most common words in English on YouTube, and I was surprised by what was being taught. It was the full and complete pronunciation of each word, for example, AND was taught to be pronounced AND but that’s not how we pronounce it! Let’s hop over to Youglish to study Americans using this word in sentences, without thinking about the pronunciation.
And you have–
And with, and with
And you, and you
And you, and you
So we’re getting either and or an–
So you can hear, it’s not AND. It’s ‘an’, or ‘n’, reduced, said really quickly. So, I wanted to make you a series where we talked about this, the real pronunciation, the way words are used in whole sentences.
AND is a stressed pronunciation, and. But in English many words are unstressed, or even reduced, and this is what happens with ‘and’. We reduce it: that means we drop or change a sound. And what I found as we went through the words together really surprised me. Out of 100, there were only 25 words where I thought, that’s never unstressed, and it never reduces. We never change or drop a sound. Wow. Only 25 out of a hundred. That means if you go by the book pronunciation, the full, stressed pronunciation, you will not sound natural speaking English.
In the very first video, we played around with what English would sound like if every word was stressed and fully pronounced. The sentence was: This is for work. This is for work. It should be: This is for work. This– is for work. We have the ‘for’ reduction. What if every word was stressed? This is for work. This is for work. Every word would have that up-down shape of stress, would be longer, and it sounds a little robotic, doesn’t it? It definitely doesn’t sound like natural American English.
Let’s look at one more sentence. All of these words are in our 100 Most common words list. Stressing, fully pronouncing each word sounds like this: I am going to get my first one.
I am going to get my first one. Uh-uh-uh. Up-down shape of stress. Other than the stress, everything else is perfect English: all the sounds are right, everything is linked together.
I am going to get my first one.
I am going to get my first one.
I am going to get my first one.
It’s hard to do that. It’s hard to make everything stressed. It sounds completely unnatural even though placement is right, linking, the sounds. It sounds completely unnatural because of the stress. We have to have unstressed or reduced words for rhythmic contrast. We have to have rhythmic contrast for natural, native English.
So in this series, we studied the real pronunciation, not the book pronunciation, not the full pronunciation. But the pronunciations actually used in sentences, in conversation. Let’s draw some conclusions together.
We have two kinds of words in English: content words, which are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, and function words, which are all the other kinds of words. Content words are generally stressed, and function words are generally unstressed. Some of these words also reduce, meaning, we change or drop a sound.
And what makes American English sound good and natural is not fully pronouncing each word, it’s speaking with contrast between stressed, fully pronounced words, and unstressed, less clear words. Don’t be afraid of the less clear words. The more you know about what they are and how they sound, the better your listening comprehension will be, and the more natural you’ll sound when speaking English.
When we began the list at 1, the most common word in American English, which is THE, it took us until number 28 to find the first word that is a real content word that will not reduce, that will not be contracted, that will not sometimes be unstressed. So that means the 27 words that came before it, the 27 most common words in American English, are either unstressed or reduced at least some of the time.
The conclusion here is, you can’t just ignore this. Basically, you can almost not speak a single sentence without using words that are unstressed or reduced. We use them all the time. Unless you’re just going to use single words, and never speak in sentences, you should know about this.
The next conclusion is that, as we studied, we found that the words generally reduce one, maybe two ways. So you can learn this. It’s not a mystery how to understand how we reduce words and how to practice them. I have two playlists that I’ll link to at the end of this video, one is a playlist of videos that goes over specific words that reduce, like AND becoming ‘n’, and also to a playlist of my Ben Franklin videos. In these videos, we study conversation and find all of the function words that reduce, and how Americans use them to link words together. Those are great exercises.
Now, here’s a part where I do want to make a quick plug for my Academy. You may or may not know, I have an online school, Rachel’s English Academy, with a collection of online courses that contain lots of videos, but even more importantly, lots of audio files. I’ve found that when you watch a video, you learn something. But when you train with audio, repetitiously, you learn it with your body, you bring it into your habit, and you make it something you can use. So with all the videos you’ll see on a specific reduction, I have audio files that help you train that word, over and over, in lots of common word combinations and sentences. I really encourage people to learn with the body, not just the mind when it comes to speaking, because we have to make these habits to improve. If you’re interested in checking out the Academy, there is a 30-day money-back guarantee, you can see more by clicking here or in the description below.
Another thing that surprised me as we studied the 100 most common words together was that there were quite a few content words where we did reduce or change something. Normally I would have said we never do that with a stressed word, but that wasn’t right. For example, in ‘just’, ‘first’, and ‘most’, we can drop the T if the word is followed by another word that begins with a consonant. Just think about it. Just think, just think. This is really common. We drop the T between two other consonants.
Also there are some stressed words that combine in very familiar combinations and reduce, like the verb ‘go’ in ‘gonna’, the word want in ‘wanna’, the word ‘give’ in ‘gimme’. Can you ‘gimme’ a second? These are not reductions that I would write, but in spoken English, they’re really common, and yes, they’re even good English.
An effective way to practice your English is to take the text from a video, like a TED talk or your favorite TV show. But make sure you have the transcript, preferably printed out. I know that’s very old-school. As you listen to a phrase, circle the words that pop out, that have that up-down shape, that are the most stressed. You might have to listen to the same phrase more that once. But as you focus on this, your ear will become more tuned to the stress. Study the phrases. You’re looking at, not only the words you circled, but the words you didn’t circle, these are the unstressed or reduced words.
Most of my students need to practice making unstressed or reduced words more quickly and simply. The contrast of long and short doesn’t feel natural to them. So as you study native speakers, pay attention to these unstressed words. Pay attention to the reductions.
It’s not a bad idea to watch this series again. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck because you’re not studying random words here, you’re studying the 100 most common ones. The ones you’re most likely to use over and over in conversation. In this series, you have the chance to study the shape of stress, the up-down melody of the voice, and also the contrast with the flat, lower pitch, simply and quickly said unstressed or reduced words. Make up additional sentences. Practice them out loud. If you felt really comfortable in all 100 of these ords, that could make a real difference in your overall speaking.
Earlier in this video I promised you links to a few playlists. Here they are. First, a playlist that goes over all the words that reduce. I have a video for the ‘to’ reduction, ‘then’, ‘for’, and several more. I’m also linking here to the collection of Ben Franklin exercises. That’s when I take a bit of conversation and study everything about it, so we can pick out the reductions together and figure out how Americans use them so you in improve your listening comprehension and pronunciation. I’ll also throw in a third playlist, that’s going to be one focusing on real life English. In those videos, we often study reductions, as well as idioms, interesting vocabulary words, and so on.
Enjoy these playlists. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.