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Tu cita con el inglés (vol.17) – STRESS, Pronunciation & Intonation

Como en pasadas entregas de “Tu cita con el inglés”, dada su importancia, hoy volvemos a tratar el tema de la pronunciación. De esta forma, el profesor Ronan O’Donnell de A2B English nos trae este mes un artículo que, basándose en la entonación y en la acentuación, podrá ayudaros a mejorar vuestra pronunciación cuando habléis en inglés.

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STRESS, Pronunciation & Intonation

You don’t need to speak like a native speaker. After all there are many different variations of pronunciation within the UK so who decides which one is best for us to use. What is important is that you are understood and that your pronunciation does not impede communication. Remember also that pronouncing every word correctly will make you sound unnatural as English is a stress timed language. This means that you must stress certain words in a sentence. Non stressed words in English are usually spoken very quickly and it is often difficult for second language speakers of English to understand what has been said. To improve in this area start listening to the words that people stress when they are speaking. One useful source for practicing your listening skills is LBC radio 97.3.

Stressed words in sentences are usually content words (nouns, most verbs, adjectives and adverbs) and non-stressed words are known as function words(determiners, conjunctions and prepositions).

While you don’t need to pronounce every word clearly, it is important that you stress the content words. These are the words that carry the most meaning while function words as the name suggests make the a sentence grammatically correct.

You will probably still understand the following sentence even with the function words missing.

went       bar      finished     course

This sentence is obviously not complete but you have an idea of what i s being communicated. What do you thing the missing function words could be?


We went to the bar after we finished the course.

The four content words are stressed in the sentence. Interestingly the amount of time between each stressed word is the same even if the number of syllables is different. In this sentence for example there are 3 syllables between ‘bar’ and ‘finished’ and one syllable for the function words ‘the’ and ‘we’. However, the amount of time spent saying ‘after we’ and ‘the’ are the same and for this reason a native speaker will say ‘after we’ very quickly and say ‘the’ and ‘we’ more slowly. The speed with which the function words are spoken varies to maintain the same rhythm of the content words.

As you can see we can remove the function words and still get the meaning of the sentence. However, if you remove the content words the sentence has no meaning. A good exercise is to take a paragraph of text and underline the key words or content words. Practice reading out loud while stressing the content words. Focussing on key words will help you when listening to native speakers and also help you when you to sound more natural when you are speaking.


Tu cita con el inglés (vol.17) – STRESS, Pronunciation & Intonation
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Ronan O'Donnell

English teacher in London. Founder of A2B English, providing English Teachers to Individuals and Businesses in London.

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