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PRONUNCIATION PRACTICE: do these words sound the same or just similar?

As you probably know, English words sound different in sentences than when read a single word.

Read these sentences out loud (not just in your head!) at a normal speed, say the highlighted words over and over, and decide if they sound the same or just similar.

1A: That's an iced drink

1B: That's a nice drink

2A: I walk to work

2B: I walked to work

3A: It's a long way to the city

3A: I can't wait to go there!

4A: Pass me the gray book, please

4B: That's a great book, you should read it!

5A: If you have children, tell them poor people need our help

5B: Mix the ingredients in the bowl, then pour them into the pot

Post your answers below as a comment.

All feedback is welcome, please don't be embarrassed to make mistakes - italki is a safe space to be wrong. I'll post the answers + explanations once there has been some participation.

Good luck!

Sep 3, 2016 11:32 PM
Comments · 37

That's an iced drink / That's a nice drink

Many learners take each word as a separate entity. That's OK when thinking about meaning, but not about pronunciation, because whenwespeakwedon'tyusespacesaswedowhenwewrite (when we speak we don't use spaces as we do when we write). Words flow into one another like water in a river, they're not linked together like beads on a necklace. Therefore, the /n/ in an ice "belongs" to "ice".

Now, what happens if you don't link the words? What you're doing is actually ADDING a consonant in there! It's called a glottal stop, and isn't officially a consonant in English because it doesn't affect meaning, but glottal stops are actually everywhere in everyday speech.

Don't know what a glottal stop is? Try say "aaaooohh". Now try say "uh-oh". That cough-like interruption in the middle? That was a glottal stop. In fact, all utterances that start with vowels start with a glottal stop.

However, we avoid mid-sentence glottal stops in English. Instead a vowel will "steal" the last consonant of the previous word:

I'll go there right away

Learning should be all fun and games

I've got to go now, I'll catch up with you later

September 4, 2016

Good topic Alan

If anyone would like to hear a Canadian speaking these sentences, just click on the link below.

September 4, 2016

It's a long way to the city / I can't wait to go there!

Here the difference is very small, but it's there. This phenomenon is called gemination. It's a very technical term in English, but all Arabic- and Persian-speakers will know the equivalent in their language: tashdid.

How does your mouth move when you pronounce a /t/ sound?

1. Your tongue goes up, touching the roof of your mouth behind your teeth

2. Your tongue goes down again, releasing a burst of air.

Gemination means that step 1 is longer: your tongue goes up and stays there for a split second before releasing the air. In "wait to", the /t/ sound (note: only one /t/ sound due to elision) is slower than in "way to" because it's geminated.

Is gemination common in English? Yes, very. Does it play a major role in meaning? No, not really. Tashdid/Gemination in Arabic is extremely important, and can radically alter meaning. For example, "darrasa" (دَرَّسَ) means "he taught", but if you pronounce it without the gemination, it means "he studied" (دَرَسَ). Gemination is so important in Arabic that they actually have a special diacritic mark for it in their writing, the shadda ( ّ   ).

But the situation's quite different in English. If you are terrible at speaking or hearing gemination, it's unlikely to hinder you in any meaningful way...I just thought discussing it here might be interesting for our Middle Eastern friends.

September 4, 2016

OK here we go!

All of these pairs involve a set of phenomena roughly grouped under the term features of connected speech.

Do you, as a learner, need to study these features and use them in your own speech? No! There are several reasons:
1. The rules are incredibly complex and inconsistent, and you will likely confuse yourself horribly

2. You absolutely can speak English without using any connected speech, and everyone will understand you. However, if you use connected speech poorly, people will definitely misunderstand you.

3. Most learners use connected speech instinctively once they get to a certain level. Even a low-level speaker will (correctly) pronounce "want to" as "wan to". In many ways, learning to speak connected speech by reading about it is as silly as reading a book about how to walk or breathe.

However, it's a very good idea to be aware of connected speech, because it makes your listening far more flexible. If you expect the words in a sentence to sound exactly as they do individually, you're going to have a very hard time.

Anyway, here are the answers:

1. Same

2. Same

3. Different

4. Different

5. Same

September 4, 2016

[...] tell them poor people need our help / Mix the ingredients in the bowl, then pour them into the pot

Another example of assimilation. I mentioned above that /p/ is a bilabial (lips) consonant, right? Well so is /m/! So /mp/ is a very easy sound to make.

But what about the /np/ in "then pour"? /np/ is  really awkward, because /n/ isn't bilabial (it's alveolar, though that's not important).

So, to make our lives easier, we change the /n/ to a /m/ and say "them pour".

Okay, in conclusion:

- Be aware of connected speech when you listen, but don't try too hard to use it yourself

- Some forms of connected speech are more important to know about (eg. /t/ elision) than others (eg. gemination)

- Think of spoken English as a flowing stream of sound-water, not a string necklace of word-beads

September 4, 2016
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Persian (Farsi)
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin), Persian (Farsi)