Let’s look at another example: ‘I found a cat!’ Here the article could be weak or strong and this small change would completely alter the meaning for a proficient speaker. With the weak schwa sound, the sentence would mean, I found a random cat. Using the strong /eɪ/ would change the meaning to; I did not find the cat I was looking for, but I found a different cat. If we change the article to ‘the’, so ‘I found the cat’, when ‘the’ is weak /ðə/ we mean we found our cat, when it is strong /ði:/ this would mean we found a very special cat, perhaps we have been looking to get a cat for a long time and now we have found the perfect one!
2. Linking sounds
When a word ending in a consonant is followed by a word starting with a vowel, the consonant leaves the word it should belong to and joins the following word to help the sentence flow better. For example, ‘Look at me!’ would become ‘loo_kat me!’ or ice cream sounds like I_scream!
We can also join a word ending in a vowel sound with a word starting with a vowel sound. For instance, ‘Hello Anna!’ would become ‘Hello/w/Anna’. We have three sounds which link vowel sounds, /w/, /j/ and /r/, which all follow different sounds. Here are a few examples:
- I have three/j/apples
- I can see two/w/elephants
- law/r/and order*
- Can I have four/r/oranges?**
Can you spot the patterns? The vowel sound at the start of the second word does not affect the linking sound, it is totally reliant on the first vowel sound.
3. Elision (missing sounds)
As I tell all my students, English speakers are lazy, that’s why, when possible, we do not pronounce some sounds. The most basic form is contractions, which you will be familiar with and I am sure you already know some other examples, like the word vegetable, where we say /veʤtəbl/, camera /kæmrə/, or comfortable /kʌmftəbl/. This is also true when we have a word ending in a consonant followed by a word starting with the same or a similar consonant, such as ‘his socks’ /hɪˈsɒks/ the final ‘s’ from ‘his’ disappears and the two words join together. Another example is ‘should be’ the ‘d’ disappears and the two words join together to become /ʃʊbi:/ as the ‘l’ is also not pronounced.
Let’s put all of these aspects into practice, here is a sentence for you:
‘I like to eat an apple after I have had my afternoon nap.’
In the comments write out how you think this would be said by a fluent speaker!
So, next time you are listening to some fast speech in English, listen carefully, and see if you can notice any of these changes. Once you start to notice them, you will be surprised at how often they occur.
Now you can practise speaking more fluently and this will help your comprehension too! Have fun 😊 and let me know if you have any questions.
*this only happens with a non-rhotic accent***
**people with a rhotic accent would pronounce the final ‘r’ whether the word is followed by a vowel sound or not, those with a non-rhotic accent only pronounce the ‘r’ before a vowel sound
***this is mainly true for English, Welsh and Australian accents, as Scottish and American speakers generally have a rhotic accent