When speaking quickly or casually, native English speakers often string words together with a linking sound bridging the gap between the words. Speaking each word individually limits the rhythm and speed of speaking, therefore native speakers let the ends and beginnings of words bump into each other. Why is this important for you to learn? Well, knowing how and why sounds link is a key to unlocking the door to fluency. Using linking sounds will make your speech flow better and recognising them will allow you to understand motormouth native speakers.
This article will outline the three ways that sounds can be connected and give common examples of linking sounds that you can listen out for the next time you watch English language TV shows or listen to English language radio. Practise saying the examples I give in the article to give your tongue some English exercise.
Now, just a reminder before we jump into the linking:
- Vowel sounds are those that are usually represented by the letters A, E, I, O, U in English. The five vowels all have various sounds.
- Y can also be used to represent a vowel sound (e.g. in 'gym'.)
- Consonant sounds are the other sounds in English and are represented by the other 21 letters of the English alphabet.
Consonant sound + Vowel sound
When a consonant sound at the end of a word (e.g. 'turn') meets a vowel sound at the start of a word (e.g. off), the consonant sound moves to the front of the following word. 'Turn off' is often said 'tur-noff'.
Example: 'Can you tur-noff the TV, please?'
It seems simple enough, but what you must remember is that it is the consonant and vowel SOUND that we are interested in, not the written consonant or vowel. Some words are spelt with a vowel at the end but their final sound is a consonant sound (e.g. 'have').
Example: 'Can I have a glass of milk, please?' becomes 'Ca-nI-ha-va-gla-sof-milk-please?'
See how the consonant sound /v/ leaves 'have' and joins 'a'. There are a few other examples of consonant + vowel linking in this example. Can you spot them?
Vowel sound + Vowel sound
Linking an end vowel sound to a starting vowel sound is a trick that requires you to think about the positioning of your lips. The position of your lips at the end of the first word determines which sound (/y/ or /w/) you will have to produce to link the vowel sounds together.
Vowel sounds represented by A, E and I (eɪ / i: / aɪ) are formed by stretched lips. When our lips are stretched by the end of the first word we produce a /y/ sound to connect the end vowel to the vowel that starts the second word.
Example 1: 'He ate all the chips' becomes 'He-y:ate all the chips'.
Example 2: 'We are the champions!' becomes 'We-y:are the champions!'
Vowel sounds represented by O and U (əʊ / u:) are formed by round lips. When the sides of our mouth comes together and our lips form a tight, round shape we produce a /w/ sound to connect the end vowel to the vowel that starts the second word.
Example 1: 'Let's go out for a drink' becomes 'Let's go-w:out for-a drink'.
Example 2: 'No other website is as good as Italki' becomes 'No-w:other website is as good…'
Consonant sound + Consonant sound
There are many consonants, and so therefore, there are many combinations of consonant + consonant linking sounds. Really, there are too many combinations to list in one article! Here are a few of the most useful to learn though. Be prepared for some exceptions!
Consonant sound + same consonant sound
Generally, when the same consonant sound ends the first word and starts the second word, the sound can just be continued and two words can sound like one.
Example: 'gas station' becomes 'gasstation'
However, there are six exceptions to this, namely the 'stop consonants' which are represented by t, d, p, b, k, and g. These require a stop in the release of air when you go from one word to the other.
This means that words ending and starting with the 'stop consonants' are actually easier to tell apart as there is a clear stop between words.
Example: 'bad dog' cannot become 'badog'. Instead, the 'd' at the end of 'bad' and the 'd' at the start of 'dog' must be separated by a stop in the release of air from your mouth. Thus, they sound like separate words.
Consonant sound + similar consonant sound
Some consonant sounds in English are very similar, so similar in fact that one sound (e.g. /v/) can be assimilated (absorbed into something else) into another sound (e.g. /f/). Recognising similar sounds in English can help you assimilate one into the other so that your speech flows well.
Example: 'Excuse me, can you move forward a bit?'
Most consonant sounds + consonant 'h' in pronouns
The /h/ sound in pronouns like 'him', 'her', 'his', 'hers' gets eaten by the previous consonant sound. This process can be called 'elision'. Remember that this usually only happens when native speakers are speaking quickly and some native speakers may not omit the 'h' in the pronoun not matter how fast they are speaking.
Example: 'I really hate him' becomes 'I really hate-im'.
So, there you have it! Well, at the very least the points above are a small portion of the huge multi-layered cake that is the English linking sounds. The best way to practice is to listen hard to the way native speakers connect their words when you take classes with your English teacher and to think whether the connections they make are:
- C+V (consonant and vowel)
- V+V (vowel and vowel)
- C+C (consonant and consonant)
There are really too many 'rules' and far too many exceptions to spend hours and hours studying this. Really, the best way is to recognise it and then experiment with it and put it into use. When you listen carefully for it, you'll be surprised at how common linking sounds really are.