Monday, May 29, 2017


You’ve all had frustrating moments when you say something as carefully and clearly as you can, but your listeners just don’t get it! Sorry to say, mastering difficult sounds (like the TH, R, L, or maybe V/B or V/W confusion) may not be enough. The problem may go beyond pronunciation alone.

In fact, your “music” may be out of tune for American English (see two Tips before this). A monotonous style of speaking (which is not “musical” in English) can either confuse those trying to follow you, or put them to sleep with a boring presentation.

You can rectify this by varying and breaking up segments within your sentences to emphasize key words or phrases. Do this by separating the words of your sentence into “Content Words” and “Function Words.” (You will need to understand, or study up on, English grammar terms in order to do this easily.)

Content Words are important words that convey crucial meaning to the sentence. They include nouns, main action verbs, adjectives and sometimes adverbs, negative words (not, never, can’t, etc.), and the last word of a sentence. Content Words must be spoken with stress, either by saying the word louder, holding it longer, or speaking it more slowly and clearly.

By contrast, Function Words connect or incorporate the more important Content Words so that the sentence functions grammatically. Function Words include pronouns, articles, prepositions, and auxiliary verbs. They are spoken with less force or clarity, and moving quickly along.

Here are two examples (Content Words in bold and spoken boldly; Function Words moving quickly along).

I can’t go with you now; I have more important things to do this afternoon.

That’s okay. I need to be home for dinner by six, so there probably isn’t time anyway.

As with most of our Tips, this is a bigger subject than we can cover completely here. But it’s something to be alert to, and then work on with greater study if necessary.