Some English pronunciation tips

09 Nov 2011 // places

Although I learnt English as a second language, I now wear it like a well-worn glove. But in science, there are tons of made-up poly-syllabic words, and I occassionally trip over some of them, such as: equilibrate, equilibrium and equilibration.

However, I've been learning a bunch of languages the last few years, and through doing that, it's thrown English pronunciation in relief. I'm starting to get a conscious handle on English pronunciation, and I've discovered some useful rules that were not apparent to me before:

  • English is an accented language. There is one emphasized syllable in every polysyllabic word, unlike say, Chinese or French where there are no syllable stresses. In Chinese each syllable is delineated quite clearly, giving a staccato feel, whereas in French, you tend to slide or slur over syllables in a word.

  • for two syllable verbs, the emphasis is on the second syllable

  • for two syllable nouns, the emphasis is on the first syllable

  • for words of three or more syllables, the emphasis is on the second or third last syllable. How to decide? Well, vowels are typically classed as long (dipthongs such as 'oe', or the long 'i' as in 'sheep') or short. If the second-last syllable is long, the emphasis lies there.

  • if the second-last syllable is short, then the emphasis falls on the third-last syllable.

  • A really surprising thing in English is the glottal stop. Consider the word kitten. Pronounce it slowly and you will voice the 'tt' – KIT-ten. But if you start speaking quickly, the 'tt' will not actually be voiced and a swallowed sound is made instead – KI'en. Glottal stops happens all over the place

  • In the Australian and English accents, the r at the end of the words are not voiced, although I've found that most monolinguistic Australians swear that they can hear an r when they pronounce such words.

  • English unlike most other European languages has something called sentence stress. That is you actually speed up over most of the sentence and slow down for the key part of the sentence, such as the object. If you don't do this rolling sentence stress, you end up sounding quite mechanical.

So now I can prounce these words without embarrassment. It's e-QUI-li-brate, e-qui-li-BRA-tion and e-qui-LI-bri-um.