TO be a superior English speaker, one must understand the special characteristics of the language.
Particularly important are those relating to the syllabic structure of words and those that determine the sounds made by the various symbols and symbol combinations from which words are formed.
Many of the 450,000 words in the modern English language can be traced back to the Germanic Angles, Saxons and Jutes – to French – to Greek – to Latin and to at least another 40 to 50 countries.
This ‘origin’ characteristic explains why some of the symbols and combinations in ‘borrowed’ words such as kiosk, chef, fiord, plateau, mechanic, bouquet, cello, etc. make different sounds.
Firstly, a speaker must be aware that all the vowels can make different sounds.
‘a’ makes eight different sounds: cat, ape, want, saw, ask, about, air; orange;
‘e’ makes five different sounds: egg, eat, eight, chateau, pretty;
‘i’ makes four different sounds: sit, side, radio, onion;
‘o’ makes eight different sounds: hot, goat, son, two, woman, corn, women, colonel;
‘u’ makes six or seven different sounds: hut, unit, rude, put, busy, bury, buy – depending on whether the sound of ‘uy’ is included.
Again, the various sounds of ‘y’ must be known as it often plays the role of a vowel, e.g. a long ‘e’ sound in pony and Yvonne; a long ‘i’ sound in spy and sky, as well as a short, regular ‘i’ sound in bicycle and gymnast.
Also vital is knowing that five of the consonants — ‘w’, ‘r’, ‘l’, ‘q’, and ‘v’ — are categorised as Influential Consonants, because they can influence or affect the sound of other symbols is vital.
The consonant ‘r’ usually changes the sound of the vowel that comes before it. Compare ‘car’ and ‘cat’. Similarly, “w” can change the sound of vowels and consonants in words, e.g. won, work, warm, which, sword, and write.
Likewise, the five regular vowels also can influence the sound of other vowels in a word.
When two vowels are together in words such as in rain, seat, tie, boat and fuel, the first vowel is sounded but the second one is silenced.
The final ‘e’ in a word usually affects the sound made by a vowel that precedes making it produce its ‘long’ sound, e.g. state, scene, bike, rope, jute.
A very important characteristic of English is that the vowels are often silent in words, i.e. they are not sounded. For example: eagle, home, waiter, country music, vacuum.
The consonants: b, c, d, f, g, h, k, l, n, p, r, s, t, w and y also can be silent in words, e.g. thumb, neck, Wednesday, cliff, sign, ghost, knee, etc.
All English words are pronounced in syllables which can vary in number, e.g. One Syllable: cow; shark — Two Syllables: cam/el, pi/lot — Three Syllables: pel/i/can, oc/to/pus, — Four Syllables: hel/i/cop/ter — Five Syllables: ex/am/in/a/tion.
Every syllable, in every English word must have at least one vowel or the semi-vowel ‘y’. The rare exception, depending on one’s pronunciation, is ‘rhythm’.
Another characteristic is that some core combinations can make more than one sound, e.g:
- ‘ar’ = far, wart, canary, parallel
- ‘ear’ = fear, bear, learn, heart
- ‘our’ = hour, four, tour, colour, journey, courage
- ‘ain’ = pain, mountain
- ‘ice’ = advice, office, police
- ‘an’ = answer, many, wand, bank
- ‘on’ = monster, Monday, donkey, monk.
In turn, different core symbol combinations can make the same sound, e.g:
- ‘air…’ = heir, there, share, chair, canary
- ‘er…’ = camera, bird, turkey, worm, injure, learn, journal, guerilla, were
- ‘or…’ = short, score, board, door, four, walk, bought, dinosaur, insurance, warning.
Finally, one needs to know that some words, called homographs, are spelt the same but are pronounced differently and have different meanings. For example:The medic wound a bandage around the wound on the soldier’s leg.
The archer aimed his bow at the bow of the boat.
Myra will read from a book she had not read before.
The key to English proficiency is to know its special characteristics and to practise, practise and practise.
by Keith W. Wright, the author and creator of the 4S Approach To Literacy and Language (4S) — a modern, innovative and proven method of accelerating the learning of English.
He is also the Director of International Language Academy (ILA).
The 4S methodology and the associated Accelerated English Program (AEP) mentioned in this fortnightly column are now being used internationally to enhance the English language proficiency of people from a diverse range of cultures and with different competency levels.
contact@4Sliteracy.com.au for your free full copy on Pronouncing Nouns and Verbs.