Improve your pronunciation

LEARNERS’ pronunciation and confidence will significantly improve when they know the rules that apply to speaking English.

To help learners with this, The 4S Approach to Literacy and Language – Accelerated English Programme teaches The 4S Keys to Pronunciation.

A very simple Key to remember is that multi-syllabic nouns usually stress the first syllable, e.g. gar/den; den/tist; pi/lot; oc/to/pus.

The main exceptions to this rule are those words that have an obvious “root” component from which they have been made, e.g. invisible; reporter. When a “root” is part of a word, it is usually the root-syllable that is stressed.

The 4S Key To Pronunciation teaches: In a multi-syllabic word, the stress also can be on the root or base from which it has been built. For example: ex/pend/i/ture; e-val/u/a/tion; re/sour/ces; in/fla/tion; e/vac/u/a/tion.

In contrast, when a word is used as a verb, the stress usually shifts further down the word to another syllable. Compare the following sentences:

The President will address the Congress (verb) – What is your new address? (noun).

If one is unsure what syllable to stress in a bi-syllabic word, it is “safe” to stress both, e.g. ham/mer.

Another easy Key to remember is: double consonants usually split, e.g. but/ter, span/ner.

Speakers need to know also that when a word or syllable ends in a consonant, it is said to be “closed”, and the previous vowel is usually short or regular.

The relevant 4S Key teaches: Closed syllables end in consonants and the vowel is usually ‘short’, e.g. ban/ner; cof/fee.

Another way to remember this Key is: consonants usually close – vowels usually open.

When the double consonants split in a word, the first syllable is “closed off” by the first of the double consonants, which makes the preceding vowel “short” or regular, e.g. hap/py; tof/fee; win/ner.

Double consonants have another Pronunciation Key: they usually follow short vowels.

The final “e”

In English, thousands of words end in the vowel “e”. A characteristic one needs to remember for pronunciation purposes is that it is rare for the final “e” in a word to be pronounced.

Usually, when a word ends in the vowel “e”, it is silent but the preceding vowel is “long”, i.e., it says its own name, e.g. bake; scene, ride; note, cute.

The relevant 4S Key To Understanding Pronunciation teaches: The final silent “e” lets the other vowel do the talking.

There are only a handful of common words that say their “final e”, i.e. apostrophe, catastrophe, epitome, hyperbole, recipe, posse, coyote – the, me, she, he, we, thee and the names of people such as Marie, Debbie, Annie, Kylie, Ronnie, Donnie, etc.

There are other closely linked 4S Keys that relate to vowels making their “long” sound. The first one refers to “open” syllables, i.e. those ending in a vowel, e.g. mo/tel, Pe/ter, du/gong, ti/ger, ta/ble, ho/bo, pre/fer, no/tice.

Open syllables usually end in a long vowel. In contrast, closed syllables end in a consonant.

The main exceptions to the Open Syllable Key are those words that end in the vowel “e” where the final “e” is silent, e.g. take.

Another 4S Key teaches about “stand-alone” vowels, i.e. syllables that consist of just one vowel such as a/gent, e/ven, i/tem, o/dour, u/niform, ex/am/in/a/tion, etc.

Stand-alone vowels are usually long.

The common exceptions are words beginning with “a” such as a/bout, a/gain, a/do, a/mount, etc.

In these words, it is now common practice to make the “uh..” sound one hears in comma and panda.

Knowing the keys to understanding pronunciation is a sure way to quickly improve one’s ability to pronounce words correctly.

Of course, there are exceptions that need to be remembered, for example with words that have been borrowed from other languages, or because of the presence of what are known in 4S as the Influential Consonants.

When a learner has mastered the Key that relates to a particular “clue” word, dozens of other related words can also be pronounced correctly and with confidence.

For example, when one knows that the “o” vowel in mo/tel is pronounced as a “long” sound — because open syllables usually end in a “long” vowel — one can also correctly pronounce related words, such as mo/tion, mo/tor, ho/tel, vo/ter, vo/cal, so/cial, po/tion, de/vo/tion, and so on.

by Keith 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.

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.

for a free copy of the 4S file: “101 Wrongly Pronounced Words”.

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