Great Pronunciation Doesn’t Mean Saying Every Word Perfectly

When a child reads a story the individual words are sometimes read in the right way but without any rhythm. This gives the story a staccato quality where there are no stressed or unstressed words in a word and every word in the sentence has the same rhythm. The problem with this is that it is very hard to follow what happens in the story when someone reads this way. People do not speak in a way that is with a uniform rhythm.

Non-native speakers of English also have a problem speaking English with the right rhythm. This is because they don’t know about the schwa sound – the sound of an unstressed syllable in English. It can be hard to know where the schwa sound is in English because any vowel can have this sound.

‘The dog said to the boy I want to play in the garden.’ – Imagine this sentence said in a computer voice without any rhythm. It sounds unnatural. You can hear how this sentence sounds in the video above.

When we read an individual word in the same way that a child does when they learn to read, the word sounds different to the way we say it in flowing, connected speech. This is because in natural, connected speech we hear the schwa sound when the the words of the sentence become joined together, and sound like flowing speech.

Here is the same sentence with the schwa sounds marked:

‘Thə dog said tə the boy I want tə play in thə gardən.’

When the sentence is pronounced normally by a native speaker it seems that in comparison to the computer voice without any rhythm, these same words are now being pronounced very fast. Actually, they are not being said faster, it just sounds that way because the words are connected now with the schwa sound ‘ə’.

How to Find the Schwa Sound

Small grammar words – only the important words in a sentence that carry meaning are stressed. The small connecting grammar words in a sentence like ‘the’, ‘to, ‘a’ or ‘an’ are often pronounced with a schwa sound.

Contractions – common contractions like ‘wanna’ and ‘gonna’ (want to and going to).

‘Er’ Words – when a word ends with -er then the second syllable is a schwa sound. For example gardən.

By slowly training your ear to hear the schwa sound and by relaxing your pronunciation so that you stop speaking in a way that is precise, your speech will become more natural – like a native speaker.