Britlish

Speech Segments

Pronunciation

Pronunciation

No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.

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A look at how and why speech is broken up into parts, or segments, and how this segmentation affects pronunciation. This lesson will help you to hear the breaks in speech that we get at speech segment boundaries but not within the segments themselves. This look at this important feature of pronunciation also looks at content and function words and shows how these words are hear prominently or less prominently.

There are 2 ways of speaking: fast and slow. We speak quickly when speaking to friends about mundane matters, and where what we say is not overly important. We speak slowly when we want the listener to catch everything we say, and where what we say is important. Thus, when we speak and who we speak to affects the way we speak. When we speak, we are obliged to draw a breath. We fill our lungs with air and use this air to form our speech. Our speech consists of the modulation of this expelled air into a string of the 44 sounds on the British IPA chart. Obviously, there is a limit to the amount of air we can hold in our lungs, and thus there is a limit to the length of the modulated sounds that we can produce. Let’s call each string of sounds a speech segment. Within a speech segment, all of the sounds are smoothly linked together without a break. The faster we speak, the longer the speech segment can be. This is because the faster we speak the more modulated sounds we can fit into a breath. When we speak slowly, each modulated sound takes up more of our breath and slow speech segments tend to be shorter. The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. I still remember Pythagoras’s theorem from my school days. The teacher had to explain it slowly and carefully so that we would understand. The fact that this fact has been of absolutely no use to me in the entirety of my life up to now is neither here nor there. My use of it here as an example may be the only time that it’s ever been of any use to me. Did you see the film last night? Wasn’t it good! Here, I’m talking of a routine, familiar subject of no great import. There’s no need for me to speak slowly and carefully. As a result, unlike in slow speech, a lot of simplification is going on. A lot of the modulated sounds in my speech have merged together. Can you hear where each speech segment ends as I carefully explain Pythagoras’s theorem? | The square of the hypotenuse | is equal to | the sum of the squares | on the other two sides | Notice that within each segment, marked with a bar (|), there are no gaps between any of the words. Each word in a segment is linked to the next by linking features or simplification. The only gaps we hear in the modulated stream of sounds come between the speech segments. Clarity Because the words in a speech segment are linked to one another, it can be difficult to isolate the individual words. Nevertheless, within each speech segment there will be content words. Content words are those that carry the meaning of the sentence, and content words are always made prominent. By focusing on the content words, you will ensure that you get the gist of each speech segment. | Did you see the film last night | Wasn’t it good | | Yes | but it was a bit predictable | wasn’t it | In this short exchange, I’ve highlighted the content words. You should be able to hear these content words quite clearly, even though the other words, the function words, may be difficult to make out. 

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