Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Get your intonation right

So you've just finished your 100 hours of English class and you've studied all the English tenses, irregular verbs, comparatives, prepositions and modal verbs. So you can speak English, right? Wrong. You arrive in London for that long-awaited shopping/theatre trip and suddenly you realise that you can't understand a word of what people there are saying!

What went wrong? You had a good teacher. You studied hard and took careful notes of vocabulary items and grammar rules. But the English they speak in England still seems like chinese.

It could be Chinese for all you know because it's not the same English that your teacher spoke. It is normal, even very necessary, for your teacher to speak slowly and clearly so that you understand. I increase the pace of my speech as my students level of understanding improves. But even with high level students my speech isn't the same as the way I speak in England, with my family for example.

More important than pronunciation is intonation. English words have strong stress patterns, unlike French, which can sound a little monotone in comparison. There is a stressed syllable (accent tonique) and a weak syllable in almost every word.

So a word like "manager" is pronounced "MANager" Ooo

but "computer" is pronounced "comPUTer" or oOo.

In your dictionary, the stressed syllable is indicated by an apostrophe ' before the stressed syllable. You don't have to learn phonetics, but it helps to recognise a few of the vowel sounds.
You can find them here: pronunciation guide

You must listen to a lot of spoken English in order to have a good level of comprehension. One good way is to listen to "The Archers" every day. You can find my advice about this (in French) here or in English on this blog.

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