American English is weird
When you think about it, American English is a weird language. That’s because:
- The spelling doesn’t match the pronunciation.
- The stress patterns aren’t marked.
- Many words are reduced and linked together.
This means that American English correctly is tough if you didn’t grow up with it.
How to speak more clearly
The first thing you need to know in order to speak American English clearly….in a way that Americans will easily understand….is how to use the correct syllable stress patterns!
Most people born outside North America never learned to use American English syllable stress patterns.
So if what I’m saying is new to you, it’s not your fault!
Two common syllable stress patterns
Here are two patterns that are very common in American English:
In words ending with the suffixes ion, ity, ic, ial we typically stress the FIRST syllable BEFORE the suffix.
Lengthen the vowel in the stressed syllable and raise your pitch a little bit.
The extra vowel length and rise in pitch will help American listeners to hear that syllable clearly.
In words ending with the suffix ate we stress the FIRST or SECOND syllable BEFORE the suffix.
Learn, listen & apply the rules
Every week, my accent reduction coaching clients tell me that using syllable stress correctly REALLY allows them speak American English more clearly.
Research on comprehensible speech confirms this.
Once you learn these syllable patterns you must:
- listen for them in daily conversations
- make a conscious effort to use them in your own speech
After a while (the amount of time varies from person to person) you find yourself using the correct syllable stress automatically.
Is this information NEW for you?
If you are just starting to learn about syllable stress, I invite you to try some free trial lessons on syllable stress.
My training programs will teach you how speak American English in a way that your colleagues will respect and understand!
About the author
Susan Ryan is an American English communication and accent reduction coach.