Word Stress in American English: English Rhythm for Clear Pronunciation (Syllable Stress)

Word Stress in American English: English Rhythm for Clear Pronunciation (Syllable Stress)


Most non-native speakers think that their
accent will improve when they work on their pronunciation. And they’re right. Well, sort of. For most people, pronunciation means the articulation
of sounds. By articulation of sounds, I mean the way
you move your lips, your mouth, your tongue, and your jaw. While these elements are important, they’re
not as essential as word stress. Word stress is when we make one syllable of
a word longer, louder and higher in pitch. This is why word stress is sometimes called
syllable stress. We’re talking about which syllables in a word
to stress. When we say the word stress, we mean emphasize. Like I said, word stress is when we make one
syllable of a word longer, louder and higher in pitch. As a quick reminder, a syllable is one beat
of a word. When we stress a syllable, we make the vowel
sound in the syllable clear and easy to understand. The reason that syllable stress is so important
for clear English pronunciation is that native English speakers are expecting to hear this
syllable stressed correctly. If you don’t correctly stress a word, a native
English speaker may hear that it doesn’t sound quite right, but they probably wouldn’t be
able to tell you why. When you stress the wrong syllable, the word
sounds off. If you’ve ever noticed that a native English
speaker didn’t understand you, it may not actually be your pronunciation of the word. It may be the way you stressed a word. A common example is the word “hotel.” I’ve heard a lot of non-native speakers struggle
to pronounce the word “hotel” the way we do in American English. Some people make both syllables of the word
“hotel” exactly the same length, something like “ho-tel, ho-tel.” Other people stress the first syllable of
the word “HO-tel, HO-tel.” As you can hear, that sounds a little strange
in American English. We pronounce the word “ho-TEL, ho-TEL.” Even if you pronounce the word correctly,
you can get all those different consonant sounds correct, and even the vowel, if you’re
not stressing the second syllable of that word – “hotel” – it’s going to sound a little off. Let’s look at another example: the word “university.” I’ve heard a lot of non-native speakers struggle
with this word because they either make each syllable exactly the same length – “un-i-ver-si-ty”
or they pronounce the word with stress on the first syllable: “U-ni-ver-si-ty.” If I hear someone say “U-niversity,” I can
decipher what they’re saying if I’m listening carefully and it makes sense in the context
of the sentence. However, the word should be pronounced “u-ni-VER-si-ty,
u-ni-VER-si-ty.” As you can hear, when I stress the syllable
“ver” – uniVERsity, it’s easier to understand the word. Knowing exactly which syllable should receive
stress in a word makes it easier to pronounce: uniVERsity. Instead of getting overwhelmed by how long
the word is, look for that stressed syllable. In just a moment, I’ll give you more examples
of word stress in words of different lengths. I’ll also tell you how to identify which syllable
should be stressed using your favorite dictionary. But first I want to talk about why word stress
is so challenging for many non-native speakers. Many non-native speakers struggle with word
stress in English because the rhythm of their native language is a little bit different. Some languages are what we call syllable-timed
languages. This means that each syllable is more or less
the same length. The rhythm of the language is measured by
the syllables. On the other hand, English is what we call
a stress-timed language. The rhythm of English comes from stressed
syllables. The beats are between stressed syllables. You may be struggling with word stress because
you haven’t thought about these lengthened syllables or you may need to adjust to the
rhythm of English. It can take some time to get used to hearing
the different rhythm that comes from a syllable that is longer, louder and higher in pitch,
especially if you’ve been speaking your native language for decades and you’re used to hearing
each syllable be more or less the same length. This is why it can take some work to start
stressing words correctly in English. However, it is well worth the effort. You’ll find when you put more attention on
word stress, you’re going to be more easily understood by native English speakers. Improving your word stress requires you to
unlearn the habits you’ve picked up from your native language and re-learn the habits of
English. To be honest, it can feel a little awkward
to hold the syllable a little longer than you’re used to. You may feel like it’s really obvious and
you may feel uncomfortable. You may also feel a little silly making your
pitch go up and down, or maybe you’re not used to changing up your volume in order to
emphasize certain syllables. But like I said, it’s well worth the practice if you want a
native English speaker to understand you. You wouldn’t be here if that weren’t important
to you. In order to speak English more clearly, you
need to pay more attention to word stress. Whenever you learn a new word, be sure to
identify the word stress pattern first. Here’s how you can identify word stress patterns. I’m going to show you the phonetic spelling
of the two words I just gave as examples, hotel and university. If you’re not familiar with the IPA, don’t
worry, you don’t need to know every single detail right now. What I want you to pay attention to are the
symbols that indicate word stress in English. You can use any online dictionary or resource
and you can even search in Google. These symbols are consistent across dictionaries. To identify which syllable receives the most
stress. You want to look for the symbol that kind
of looks like an apostrophe. It’s at the top of the word. This symbol is going to come before the stressed
syllable. When you’re pronouncing a word, you want to
make sure this syllable receives the most stress. You want it to be longest, loudest, and highest
in pitch. If you’re looking carefully, you may notice
a symbol that looks somewhat like a comma at the bottom of the word. This identifies secondary stress. This means that these syllables are still
pretty clear, but they’re not as long, loud or high in pitch as the primary stressed syllable. When you’re getting started with word stress,
don’t worry too much about secondary stress. Focusing most of your attention on primary
stress will help people understand you. As you continue to work on your accent and
you continue to evolve as a non-native English speaker, you’re going to be able to add in
secondary stress. Not every word’s going to have secondary stress. It’s just something to be aware of, but your
attention should go to the syllable that receives primary stress. This is absolutely essential to correctly
stressing words in English. Native English speakers are going to be listening
for this stressed syllable more than anything else. Now that you know how to identify primary
and secondary stress using the phonetic alphabet, let’s look at a few examples. Let’s get started with one syllable words. In my experience, many non-native speakers
rush through one syllable words. Because they’re easier to say than those longer
multi-syllable words. Most people just jump over them in order to
rush to the more tricky words. But I know you’re smarter than this. I want you to pay extra attention to these
one syllable words. Of course, we do use longer words as well,
but most of the words we use are simple. So you want to make sure you pay attention
to these one syllable words. Be sure to watch my video on how to stress
short words in order to speak English more clearly. I’ll include a link in the cards and also
in the description below the video. So now that I’ve convinced you to pay attention
to one syllable words, let’s look at some examples. Let’s start with the word “time” – time. Many non-native speakers rush through that
word, but as you can hear, the word “time” is stressed – time. I pronounce the word “time” by lengthening
the vowel sound, making it louder, and also making it higher in pitch: time, time. Another common example is “school” – school. This word is tricky for a lot of non-native
speakers, but if you put extra emphasis on lengthening that vowel sound – school, school
– moving your mouth through all those different shapes, it’s going to be clear and easy for
a native English speaker to understand: school, school. Can you hear the difference? Remember, don’t rush through those words. Make sure to make them longer, louder and
higher in pitch. Now, let’s look at two syllable words. Let’s talk about the word “today” – today. As you can hear, I’m emphasizing the second
syllable, “day.” That vowel sound is super clear and easy to
understand. It’s longer, louder and higher in pitch: to-DAY,
to-DAY. Here’s another example: patient, patient. In the word “patient,” I’m emphasizing the
first syllable: PA-tient. Even though you can still hear all the sounds
in the second syllable, the first syllable is the clearest and the easiest to understand:
PA-tient, PA-tient. Let’s move on to three syllable words. Let’s talk about the word “analyze” – analyze. As you can hear, the word “analyze” is stressed
on the first syllable: AN-al-yze, AN-al-yze. That means that the vowel sound is the clearest
and the easiest to hear: AN-al-yze, AN-al-yze. As you can hear, I’m making that first syllable
longer, louder and higher in pitch. Here is another example: attention, attention. As you can hear, I’m stressing “ten”: at-TEN-tion,
at-TEN-tion. You can hear a difference between the stressed
and unstressed syllables. At this point, you may be asking me, “What
about the syllables that aren’t stressed? What happens to those?” As I’ve been explaining, the vowel sounds
on stressed syllables are the clearest and easiest to understand. On vowels that receive secondary stress, they
are still clear and easy to understand, but they aren’t the clearest. They’re just a slight bit below. When syllables are unstressed, their vowel sound
is still clear, but you really don’t hear them as much. And then we even have what we call reduced
syllables. When syllables are reduced, they’re reduced
to either the schwa sound – the “uh” sound in about, about – or they’re reduced to the
“i” sound, like in my name. This will vary based on regional accents and
it will depend on the word so you really have to listen carefully to which sound it’s reduced
to. But since the sounds are reduced, you don’t
really want to make those vowel sounds really easy to understand. You’ll be able to hear this a little bit more
when I go through the longer examples. Moving on, let’s talk about four syllable
words. Let’s start with the word “experience” – experience. Can you hear which syllable is being stressed
in “experience”? Experience, experience. As you can hear, it’s the second syllable:
ex-PER-i-ence, ex-PER-i-ence. In the word “experience,” the second syllable
is the clearest, the easiest to hear because it’s the longest, the loudest, and the highest
in pitch. However, the other unstressed syllables, you
can still hear the vowel sounds. They’re just not as distinct: experience,
experience. Next, let’s look at everyone’s favorite word,
“education” – education, education. As you can hear, I’m stressing the second
to last syllable: e-du-CA-tion, e-du-CA-tion. You can hear a difference – my pitch rises
to the stressed syllable and then falls back down afterwards: education, education. Have you noticed a relationship between the
word “attention” and “education”? If you’re listening carefully, you may notice
that words that end in -tion have a particular stress pattern: attention, education. The syllable before the -tion is stressed. In order to continue to develop your word
stress, you want to try to identify these patterns. While there are no rules that are true a hundred
percent of the time for word stress, you will be able to pick up on patterns and that will
help you reduce your accent in English. Last but not least, let’s talk about five
syllable words. We already mentioned one, “university” – university. Like I said earlier, looking for the stressed
syllable in these longer multi-syllable words makes it easier to pronounce: university,
university. Here’s another word: communication, communication. You may have noticed that’s another -tion
word, and that means that the syllable before -tion is stressed: com-mu-ni-CA-tion, com-mu-ni-CA-tion. Like I said a moment ago, this is a pattern
that you can practice. However, you may hear some words that don’t
follow this particular stress pattern. When you identify where the stress is on these
longer words, you can often figure out the pronunciation. That’s why I encourage you to pay more attention
to word stress. Even better tune your ear to word stress. Listen for the syllable of a word that is
longest, loudest and highest in pitch. This will help you start to decipher how to
pronounce it. Of course, you can always check to be sure
by looking in a dictionary, but the sooner you can tune your ear to listening to this
stress, the quicker you’re going to be able to pronounce words more like a native speaker. If you’d like more guidance on word and sentence
stress, I encourage you to check out my programs that are listed in the description of these
videos. In my opinion, stress accounts for 60 to 75
percent of your accent in English. When you start to master word and sentence
stress, you’ll start to sound even more like a native English speaker. I have plenty of drills that you can work
with. If you truly want to sound like a native English
speaker, be sure to pay attention to word stress. I encourage you to check out my other videos
related to word and sentence stress, which will be included in the description below
the video and also in the cards. Although you may feel a little disappointed
that there aren’t any rules you can follow 100 percent of the time, tuning your ear to
hear the rhythm of English is really going to go a long way. Tuning your ear to word stress will help you
understand native English speakers. We stress syllables on the words that are
most important. By listening for this stress, you’re going
to be able to understand what you should be listening to in English. And just a quick note, there is a difference
in word stress between British and American English. Some words or stressed the same and some are
stressed differently. When you’re practicing word stress, be sure
to practice the same accent. It will make life a lot easier. We can understand the differences in your
pronunciation, but it would be a little strange to mix different versions of English. I encourage you to watch this video a few
times and practice along with the examples. It can take some time to get comfortable with
the natural rhythm of English, especially if your native language uses stress differently
or it doesn’t exist at all. If you have any questions about word stress,
be sure to leave a comment below the video. To practice, I encourage you to look up the
word stress pattern for a word you find challenging. Leave a comment below the video, let me know
which word you’re struggling with, and emphasize which syllable should be stressed in that
particular word. I’ll let you know if you’re correct. If you have any additional questions, let
me know in the comments. I’ll be making more videos on stress and intonation and I’d love to hear what you need more help with. Once again I’m Kim from englishwithkim.com. I’m your guide to the essential conversation
skills you need to sound more natural in English. If you like this video, please give it a thumbs
up and share it with a friend. Have a good one. Goodbye.

47 Replies to “Word Stress in American English: English Rhythm for Clear Pronunciation (Syllable Stress)”

  1. Thank you so much. This was useful. Also I found out that some words change to another words if you don't stress the right syllable, and the person would ask you "do you mean…"
    Good to see you again.

  2. Thanks for your efforts.
    Please can you tell me what's the differences between stress on record as a verb and as a noun?

  3. Hi Kim, great video.
    I think that is essential understand how to stress words in English if you want to reduce your accent. I'm Italian and I struggle with finding the right stress, melody and even rhythm when I speak English.
    However I'm trying to overcome that problem surrounding my self by English.

  4. Hello Kim!
    Cool video as always. I find it interesting, in Russian, we have a very different rhythm of speech, it's monotonous and we pronounce every word. That's why people usually understand us well, but at the same time, it causes problems with speaking fluently. On the subject of the American accent, which I'm particularly interested in, I have a hard time pronouncing t sound in the words like " water". I think many people have a mix of British-American pronunciation, and it would be interesting to see more videos on that!

  5. Hi Kim, Great video! Thanks! I noticed you speak faster than most YouTube teachers do. Interesting! Best, Albert

  6. Be sure to check out this playlist on word and sentence stress in American English for even more guidance on stress! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL81YJkck6j1vHrMoHzzgti7vMwqzjwWwZ

  7. Thanks a lot.Are all stressed syllables high in pitch ? For example " bedroom" " bed" is stressed but I think when it comes in a yes or no question our voice goes up
    This is a bedroom. here bed is stressed but room is higher in pitch than bed but in " is this a bedroom? BED IS STRESSED and higher in pitch than room.i think not all stressed syllables are higher in pitch than nonstressed ,it depends on whether the sentences has a falling or rising intonation.

  8. You've summed up all the essential points that an ESL student needs to be careful with. I've been working on my accent acquisition for some time now and you've addressed all the pitfalls that one may experience. You understand this process well. Great content!

  9. I speak English in a daily basis since I talk to patrons all day long ‘ there are some days where I sound so fluently and naturally as a native English speaker but for some strange reasons sometimes I can’t even understand my self when I speak
    Any clue???

  10. Regarding the apostrophe ' which indicates the stress point of the word, I've found the app: Word Stress. It has a list of almost all English words along with apostrophe which indicates where I should stress the word correctly.

  11. thank you Kim, this is very interesting, it"s actually a new discovery for me as i never understood the why of this comma(' ) in the dictionary. anyway i have a question. what is the meaning of this two dots in a word (:) and you spoke about the one syllable school (skul) and you said we can keep it longer… isn't school a short vowel? can one keep a short vowel longer?

  12. thank you Kim, i learned on pronunciation and intonation, but also in fluency, i learn a lot from hearing you..you are so authentic

  13. Hi,kim
    Actually I am struggling to matching the rhythm of english so I am repeating every sentences with native speaker so I feel better.could you tell me is it correct method for matching the rhythm

  14. Subscribed… Fan from Indonesia…I like your accent though. But, you speak continuesly, you need to stop and then speak again.

  15. Hi Kim,
    Thanks a bunch 4 your video
    You have mentioned that you will recommend a good dictionary to hear the right word stress
    What is the best American dictionary ?
    Another question plz
    Does accent matter?

  16. American English is my mother tongue and I live plus grew up in the northern parts of the US, but I need to practice this, I miss-enunciate my words on occasion and people sometimes cannot understand me.

    I can be pretty monotone at times. But either way, I find it interesting to look at my own language, American English, and see what's fascinating about it, I want to see what people of other lingos find what's interesting about English.

    My list of languages I am going to acquire into my personality, and study is the Spanish language and the Japanese language.

  17. Mam pls listen to me…. Start your paid course… We will buy your course…. Start american accent reduction course…. We need accent reduxtion course… Not spoken english…. Pls mam….

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