When a learner of English as a foreign language first enters the circle of native speakers, they have a linguistic shock.
Natives speak quickly, swallow half of the sounds, do not pause between words and phrases. The sentence sounds like one whole – and the overheated brain simply cannot understand what exactly they are saying.
In the United States or Britain, they don’t speak like BBC announcers, with pauses and clear articulation of words – and you need to be prepared for this. And to speak like a native speaker, you need to train coherent speech yourself. We will talk about this today.
Problems of students who are learning fluent English
The most important and common problem is that many do not understand the basic principles of conversational fluent English.
Work begins on extracting individual sounds, improving articulation, and studying contractions. But these are all particulars – they give an imaginary sense of progress, but they practically do not approach a fluent spoken language.
Students have two main problems:
Impossible to understand fluent English speakers. Much of this is a matter of addiction, but the British and Americans swallow sounds and merge individual words into one continuous stream.
When you try to speak fluently on your own, the tongue becomes entangled and speech turns into an inarticulate mumble.
And suddenly it turns out that fluent oral speech has nothing to do with written. And you can forget about the studied transcriptions of words – because in a coherent speech, almost all words are articulated differently than the student is used to.
The simplest example. Phrases “I don’t know” and “I do not know”.
“I don’t know” sounds completely normal and adequate. That’s what everyone says. But in the phrase “I do not know” there is a clear emphasis on the “do not” part. Native speakers usually say this when they are annoyed. For example, when they have already been asked about something several times, and they are tired of repeating that they “do not know”.
Very often, even “I don’t know” is shortened even more – to one word “Dunno”.
And this is not “connected speech” yet, but just one acronym. Native speakers don’t place accents where they don’t need to. In a sentence, only one or two words stand out in intonation, while the rest can go in one general stream.
To learn to speak fluently, you first need to understand the principles of fast speech from native speakers. They are not difficult to grasp, but they greatly change the approach to sound extraction.
Articulations of all words, connect
There are no spaces in the speech of a native speaker. They are possible only if the speaker wants to highlight a specific word or phrase with intonation. But in ordinary fluent speech, the words merge into one long and continuous phrase.
Let’s exaggerate a little the usual speech of a native speaker and see how Sean Shannon, the Guinness World Record holder in the “Fastest Speaking Person” nomination, who has been holding this title since 1995, articulates his speech. He is able to speak at a speed of 655 words per minute – more than 10 words per second.
This video gives an understanding of what a coherent speech looks like to the maximum, where it is almost impossible to highlight individual words – they all sound in a continuous stream.
Even in the part where he speaks at a normal pace and highlights individual words with intonation, it is quite difficult to recognize where the articulation of one word ends and the articulation of the second begins.
The thing is that in fluent speech, sounds merge and pass from one word to another. Let’s look at one suggestion.
Sometimes I get asked if there’s any repercussions, any downsides to be able to talk really quickly.
From time to time I am asked if there are negative aspects and consequences in the ability to speak so quickly.
The entire 17-word phrase is split into just two pronunciation passages. You can turn on the playback speed 0.75 and pay attention to how sounds are articulated at the junction of words.
If a word begins with a vowel, then the consonant from the previous word moves on.
The first part of the phrase “Sometimes I get asked” sounds like [sʌmtaɪm zagedɑːskd]…
Sound [z] from the word “sometimes” moves on. The word “I” drops a sound [ɪ]leaving only a short [a]… and together and “get asked” turns into a completely merged [zageda:sk]… In this case, the ending “-ed” is completely reduced.
Sounds mix with each other, drop out, transform. And that’s okay. If you pay attention to exactly how you speak fluent Russian, you will find exactly the same trend. Is that in English it is noticeable a little more.
You need to stop shaking the sounds
Another characteristic feature of native speakers’ fluent speech is the loss of a number of sounds. At a fast pace, they just don’t articulate at all.
Take this interview with Matthew McConaughey, who has a terry American accent. What is important is that he does not speak in stage speech, but in ordinary fluent English. He has excellent articulation of words, but he can hear that some sounds just drop out.
Pay special attention to the words “him”, “her”, “have”, “had”. When the actor speaks slowly and specifically emphasizes the word, the sound is clearly heard in him [h]…
But when he speaks quickly, the sound drops out. And only words remain [‘ɪm], [‘ɜː], [‘əv] and [‘əd]…
The situation is similar with the words “the” and “that”. Almost no native speaker in fluent English pronounces the vowel in these words. No [ðə] and [ðæt]as we read in the textbooks.
In the word “the” the vowel becomes a glottal stop. Then, instead of articulating the vowel, the throat closes and it looks like a chopped off sound.
The word “that” is even more interesting to pronounce. It doesn’t even have a hint of a vowel. Voiced [ð] immediately goes to [t]… And due to the fact that it is pronounced along with other words, it does not sound foreign. The brain assumes that there should be sound, even if it really isn’t there.
The problem is that in this approach only the first word and the last are well received.
Ifyou livimelon, ymay nodagedim nextime.
We tried to portray this phrase as closely as possible, as a native speaker would say it.
The initial “If you” and the final “next time” are quite understandable, even if they are pronounced as one word. But in order to understand what kind of “livimelon” and “nodagedim”, you need to try.
This is actually a phrase:
If you leave him alone, you may not to get him next time.
Due to the fusion and dropout of some sounds, the phrase “leave him alone” becomes “livimelon”, and “not to get him” – into “nodagedim”. Note that in fluent American speech, it is perfectly normal to replace the sound [t] sound [d] – this simplifies the articulation of words.
Native speakers in live speech use almost all available and generally accepted abbreviations.
The various “You’re” and “I’m” are used in common speech much more often than their full forms “You are” and “I am”.
Here are some other extremely popular abbreviations in the language that native speakers speak very often:
Gonna – going to
Gotta – got to
Wanna – want to
‘Cuz – because
Dunno – I don’t know
Couldya / wouldya – could you / would you
Gimme / – give me
Lemme – let me
Shoulda / woulda / coulda – should have / would have / could have
Kinda – kind of
Sorta – sort of
Lotta / lottsa – lot of / lots of
Whaddya – what do you
Whatcha – what are you
C’mon – come on
Ya – you
In oral speech, they are very, very common. And this greatly confuses people who learned the language as a second. Because whatcha doin ‘? it is extremely difficult to guess “What are you doing?” if you haven’t heard this phrase before. You have to get used to the sound again.
And these are only generally accepted language abbreviations that will be understandable to every native speaker, regardless of his age and social status. There are a lot of abbreviations in youth and professional slang, which further impair the listener’s perception of the language.
But it is in oral speech that they are relevant and can be used. In combination with the first two tips (fusion and dropout) and enough practice, you can develop high fluency without using sound-specific tongue twisters and other learning crutches.
Connected speech is largely a matter of understanding the phonetics of a fluent language and practicing in order to try to reproduce that phonetics on your own. Yes, this is difficult, because it almost completely changes the perception of the language and its sound, but this way you can really learn to understand the fast speech of native speakers and learn to speak fluently yourself.
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