How Americans Speak – Sentence Rhythm

We have talked about shortened words. We have talked about sentence stress. This week, we are going to look at American speech rhythm. Every spoken language is like a song. Your language has a special sound, and it is different from the sound of English. The tones and rhythm of a language make its song, and learning these things in English is very important for communication.

Many students say that American people cannot understand them even though they are speaking English. Sometimes the problem is that you are saying English words, but you are still using the sound/song of your language. This confuses Americans. They think you are saying English words, but the sentences don’t sound like English.

The song of English is like a song for marching (walking like a soldier). It has strong, regular beats. We say content words on the strong beats, and we mumble (say quietly and not very clearly) the other words between the beats. If a content word has more than one syllable, we always stress one syllable more, and we put that syllable on the beat.

In this video, you can hear soldiers singing a marching song. They are clapping the beat, and you can hear them singing content words when they clap:

I want to (wanna) be an airborne ranger.
Live me a life of blood and danger.
Airborne ranger
Blood and danger

I want to (wanna) be a SCUBA diver.
Jump right in that muddy water.
Muddy water
SCUBA diver

1, 2, 3, 4
Run a little, run a little, run some more.

Here Is the Important Part

The beat stays strong and regular, and we say content words on the beat. Sometimes there is nothing between the beats. In a simple sentence where every word is a content word with one syllable, every word is spoken on the beat, and there is nothing in between.

Kim eats lunch.

Every word is a content word. Every word has one syllable. You can clap and say all of these words. Try it.

However, sometimes there are syllables between the beats.

Kim eats her lunch.

Kim is eating lunch.

Kim is eating her lunch.

Kim is eating her delicious lunch.

Try to say each sentence. Say the content words (or the stressed syllable of the content words) on the beat. Put the other words and syllables between the beats. Here is a slow beat for practice.

Ask your teacher for more practice! We will continue with our pronunciation lessons next week!

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