Education and Learning

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How to improve your pronunciation

This week ESL Pro Systems is offering our readers a number of tips and strategies for improving one of the most difficult areas of the English language- pronunciation. Here are some self-study tips and strategies you may want to try.

Word stress is the key to understanding spoken English. English is considered a stress-timed language, which means certain syllables receive more stress than others while the other non-stressed words are quickly glided over. Native speakers of English use word stress naturally. It’s so natural for them that they don't even know they use it. Word stress is not used in all languages. Some languages, Japanese or French for example, pronounce each syllable with e-qual em-pha-sis. So, non-native speakers who don’t use correct word stress often encounter two problems:

1.They find it difficult to understand native speakers, especially those speaking fast.

2.The native speakers may, in turn, find it difficult to understand the non-native speakers.

So, what exactly is ‘word stress’? Native speakers of English do not say each syllable with the same force or strength. In one word, they accentuate ONE syllable. They say one syllable loudly and clearly and all the other syllables more quietly.

Let's take 3 words: photograph, photographer, and photographic. Do they sound the same when spoken? No. Here’s why:

PHO to graph
pho TO graph er
pho to GRA phic

ONE syllable in each word is stressed more than the others. And it is not always the same syllable. This happens in ALL words with 2 or more syllables: TEAcher, JaPAN, CAnada, aBOVE, converSAtion, INteresting, imPORtant, deMAND, etCETera, etCETera, etCETera.

The syllables that are not stressed are ‘weak’ or ‘small’ or ‘quiet’. Native speakers of English listen for the STRESSED syllables, not the weak syllables. If you use accurate word stress in your speech, you will instantly improve both your pronunciation and your comprehension.

Try to hear the stress in individual words each time you listen to English - on the radio, or in films for example. Your first step is to HEAR and recognize it. After that, you can USE it!

When you learn a new word, you should also learn its stress pattern. If you keep a vocabulary book, make a note to show which syllable is stressed. If you do not know, you can look in a learner’s dictionary. All good learner dictionaries give the phonetic spelling of a word. This is where they show which syllable is stressed, usually with an apostrophe (') just before or just after the stressed syllable.

In addition to word stress, you also have to use correct sentence stress to sound like a native speaker.

As a general rule,

▪ stressed words in a sentence are considered content words. These include nouns (e.g. kitchen, Peter), (most) main verbs (e.g. visit, construct), adjectives (e.g. beautiful, interesting), and adverbs (e.g. often, carefully).

▪ non-stressed words are considered function words. These include determiners (e.g.: the, a, an), auxiliary verbs (e.g.: is, am, were), prepositions( e.g.: before, of, in), conjunctions (e.g.: but, and, so), and pronouns (e.g.: they, she, he)

Read the following sentence aloud:
The beautiful mountain appeared transfixed in the distance.

Now read this sentence aloud:
He can come on Saturdays as long as he doesn't have to do any homework in the evening.

Notice that the first sentence actually takes about the same time to speak well! Even though the second sentence is approximately 30% longer than the first, the sentences take the same time to speak. This is because there are five stressed words in each sentence.

Try this simple activity to practice using correct sentence stress:
Write down a few sentences, or take a few example sentences from a book or exercise. First, mark the word stress (check a good learner’s dictionary if you’re unsure), and then underline the stressed words in each sentence. After that, read aloud focusing on stressing the underlined words and gliding over the non-stressed words. If you do this regularly you’ll be surprised at how quickly your pronunciation will improve! By focusing on stressed words, non-stressed words and syllables take on their more muted nature.
When listening to native speakers, pay particular attention to how those speakers stress certain words and try to copy this when you speak.


1.Remember that non-stressed words and syllables are often "swallowed" in English.

2.Always focus on pronouncing stressed words well. Non-stressed words can be glided over.

3.Don't focus on pronouncing each word in a sentence with equal stress. Focus on the stressed words only.

For more great ESL, TOEFL® test, TOEIC® test, and teaching resources, just go to

Monday, February 19, 2007

Happy Feet: Lesson of Uniqueness

Humanizing Human Beings, To Be Little Candles for Others

In animation movie "Happy Feet", every penguins in Antartic empire must be able to sing heartsong, but Mumble grew different. He was not good singer. His ability in singing was under average. However, he had unique ability in toe-tapping skill. His feet dance also created rythm of music, but his community was not ready to accept it. Singinng is expression of happiness, and Mumble also said "Dancing is also expression of happiness."

Even if his community was not ready to appreciate his uniqueness,fortunately, Mumble did not feel inferior and he was aware of his unique ability. He kept dancing, and his happy feet dance grew better and better. Sometimes in real life, negative perspective to the difference can shut up one's development and innovative idea. However, it is in ourown decision to decide to trust in our ability and keep moving, or give up. Realize our uniqueness, and develop it.Your uniqueness can inpire others.

Mumble kept dancing and introduce his unique skills to his friends. At the beginning only a few were interested to dance but Mumble showed his confidence to introduce Happy Feet dance. His confidence and enthusiasm made his dance performance become more interesting, and it interested more and more penguins to dance. His dance was expression of happiness and it encouraged others. Doing or performing something with confidence and enthusiasm can make the better performance and interest others.

'Be confident with your uniqueness' was what Mumble did for himself first before he saved his community from famine. He made decision for himself to investigate the source of famine, the source of problem to get solution. He did happy feet dance enthusiastically, and showed his dance to human beeings. Finally, he led the penguins in his community of penguins to perform happy feet dances, and it sent the message to the world to save environment in Antartic. Put on your oxygen mask then you can help others." The story in 'Happy Feet' inspire us to do something for ourselves before we do something for others. It is also relevant to the safety procedure for flight passengers: 'Put on your oxigen mask first, before you help the others.' You cannot help other, if you cannot help your self. You cannot save the weak person of you are weak. You cannot serve the poor, if you are poor. You cannot feed the hungry if you are hungry. Change begin within ourselves.

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Thursday, February 8, 2007


Humanizing Human Beings, To Be Little Candles for Others

Often, in our life, we tend to delay our decision to grow, delay our desire to improve our work performance, we delay our steps for better life because we are afraid of failure. But, we delay we do not go anywhere. Delay to make courage step just make our fear grow worse.
Paulo Coelho in one of his short stories “Maktub” describes how the delay can have bad effect to our courage.

When the wanderer was ten years old, his mother insisted that he took course in physical education. One of the activities required him to jump from a bridge into a river. Early in the course, he was paralyzed by fear. Each day, he stood last in line, and suffered every time one of those in front made his jump -- because it would shortly be his turn. One day, the instructor -- noticing his fear -- made him take the first jump. Although he was still frightened, it was over so quickly that the fright was replaced by courage. The master says: "Often, we can afford to take our time. But there are occasions when we must roll up our sleeves and resolve a situation. In such cases, there is nothing worse than delay."

(The short story is taken from Paulo Coelho’s writing :”Maktub”)