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Galimatias Blog

Liven up your pronunciation

Kirjoittanut: Rytkönen Claire / 9.3.2021 12:19

A good way to make your English livelier and improve your public speaking skills is to emphasise the keywords in an English sentence. This will really make them stand out and sound far more fluent and close to native. This can be challenging for Finns who sometimes sound a little flat when speaking English. This is usually due to using Finnish stress patterns when speaking English. However just learning a little about English stress and putting a few points into practice can make a big difference.

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Liven up your pronunciation

Let’s look at stress in English and how you can use it to make a good impression.


The first thing to understand is that Finnish and English stress patterns are very different. In Finnish word stress falls regularly, on the first syllable of word units, and is relatively even. English however has a very variable stress pattern and much stronger stresses.

By a stronger stress we mean that English speakers will hold a stressed syllable/word for longer and often significantly raise the tone and volume of the voice. This also means that the other unstressed syllables/words will be much faster and with a lower tone and volume. This can even change the pronunciation of vowels inside a word as they are stressed or unstressed.

e.g.
PROject (projekti)   is a noun with 1st syllable stress : stressed “o” sounds like “o”
proJECT (ennustaa) is a verb with a 2nd syllable stress : unstressed “o” sounds like “a”

You can see how stress can make a big difference. For more about the stress inside words please see our previous blog: https://www.galimatias.com/blog/pronunciation-how-to-avoid-rally-driver-intonation

In this blog we will focus on the stress pattern in sentences. But how can you identify which words to stress in English?


Here is a famous example:
This is the house that Jack built

This sentence was used to help identify German spies during the Second World War. Germans could have fluent unaccented English but stress patterns would reveal them. A German would pronounce this sentence with a very regular stress - each word would have an almost equal weight and volume.

However, for native English speakers it would have a strong stress on the word Jack.
This is the house that Jack built

Their voice would rise in tone and volume and almost lightly pause on this word.

But why does English so strongly stress certain words?


The key point is that English is very much a language of nouns (substantiivit). This is in sharp contrast to Finnish which is a language with a key emphasis on verbs. Foreign language learners of Finnish soon realise how important the verb is to the structure of a Finnish phrase or sentence.

A Finnish sentence can consist of only a verb e.g. “Satoi.”
This is impossible in English. We have to have a subject, a noun – “It rained.” Even though it is not clear who or what “it” is. This is also why Finnish sentences such as “Tavataan torilla.” or “ Vantaalla tapahtuu.” are a nightmare for English speakers. In these sentences there is only an activity and a location – we need more nouns, subjects, objects. Who or what is involved? These sentences with limited subjects and objects are too mysterious for English.

The English language stresses names, nouns, and numbers above all. Other important aspects to stress are superlatives (best, biggest), dates, and times.

What we generally don’t stress are articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and verbs with no special meaning.

Generally stressed

Generally unstressed

Names Articles
Nouns Prepositions
Numbers Conjunctions
Superlatives Verbs
Dates  
Times  


Look at these sentences. The key words to stress in English are marked in bold.

 
John became a sales manager and sales are 15% up.
2019 was the best year since 1980 and meant a Christmas bonus for employees.

Notice how the stress in English acts to pick up the key points. In fact, if you just pick out the stressed words you gain the main meaning of the sentence.

John    sales manager     sales     15% up 

2019     best year     1980     Christmas bonus     employees

Once you use this stress pattern, stressing names, numbers, nouns etc. it will make your English much more like a native speaker, and it also emphasises your most important points.

Test yourself - which words would stand out in these sentences?


The Katmandu dam project in Nepal is an exciting investment.
Nepal is considered to be one of poorest countries in the world.
The project is estimated to provide 70% of local energy needs using the hydropower potential of the Ganges river. The project will also create over 5000 local jobs and lead to the building of a new road.

Answer:
The Katmandu dam project in Nepal was an exciting investment.
Nepal is considered to be one of poorest countries in the world.
The project was estimated to provide 70% of local energy needs using the hydropower potential of the Ganges river. The project will also create over 5000 local jobs and lead to the building of a new road.

If you would like to learn more about speech and improving your public speaking contact Galimatias on https://www.galimatias.com/kielikoulutus

Aiheet: English language, English pronunciation, wordstress, StandOut, Make a good impression, Be more fluent

Rytkönen Claire

Kirjoittajana Rytkönen Claire

English language professional, Head of English at Galimatias

Galimatias

Galimatias on vuonna 1996 perustettu valmennusyritys, joka tarjoaa palveluja yrityksille, organisaatioille ja julkishallinnolle.

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