Say, what?

? Do you have trouble understanding some (or all) native English speakers?

? Can you understand non-native English speakers more clearly?

? Do you find reading English much easier than listening to speech?

? Do you have reasonable actual knowledge of English and your ability to use it correctly, but you don’t sound natural when you speak?

Rest assured, you are not alone!

Confusion about meaning is especially common for non-native speakers listening to native speakers talk. This is a result of “connected speech”.

Connected speech is spoken language in a normal conversation. It is can also be called connected discourse. There is often a significant difference between the way words are pronounced in isolation and the way they are pronounced in the context of connected speech. In connected speech, words or syllables are clipped, phrases are run together, and words are stressed differently than they would be in writing. In English, words “bump” and “blend” into each other. We reduce the number of sounds when we’re speaking.

Anyone learning a foreign language needs practice listening to it being spoken naturally. But learners of English often have a difficult time picking out individual words from connected speech because words are so often blended together.

For example, when native speakers say “an avocado” you’ll usually hear them say, “anavocado”. The “n” in “an” gets joined with the “a” sound in “avocado” and it becomes almost like a single word. 

One of the features of connected speech is the deletion of sounds that occurs when words run together. For example:

·      “want to” can become “wanna”,

·      “going to” can become “gonna”,

·      “them” can become “’em” or “‘dem”

Note – These are very informal usages of common words that most often occur in casual conversation, so they would probably not be present in formal speech or writing.

Stress of words in English can also affect the ability of a non-native English speaker to understand speech. In English, the stress pattern of a word is generally influenced by its context. Connected speech further complicates the use of stress by relocating it from one word to another.

The example above can be used to investigate this further. The stressed sound is underlined.

·      An avocado

·      Anavocado

But beware, people with different accents, will stress words differently (Australian, British, American), which can further complicate listening to a range on native English speakers.

Here’s how to understand connected speech and how to speak naturally yourself.

1. Linking

Linking happens when a consonant sound at the end of one word gets attached to the first vowel sound at the beginning of the following word.

For example, when native speakers say “an apple” you’ll usually hear them say, “anapple”. The “n” in “an” gets joined with the “a” sound in “apple” and it becomes almost like a single word. 

In some cases, the sound of the consonant sound changes when it’s linked. For example, if I were to say “that orange” you would probably hear me change the final consonant “t” sound to a “d” sound as in “thadorange”.

Here are some other examples: 

  • “trip over” often sounds like “tripover”
  • “hang out” often sounds like “hangout”
  • “clean up” often sounds like “cleanup”

2. Connection

Connection happens when an extra sound is used to join two words. The intruding sound is often a “j”, “w”, or “r”.  For example, we often say:

·      “he asked” more like “heyasked”

·      “do it” more like “dewit”

·      “there is” more like “therris”


3. Reduction

Reduction happens when the last sound of a word disappears. This often happens with “t” and “d” sounds. For example:

·      “next door” often gets shortened to “nexdoor”

·      “most common” often gets shortened to “moscommon”


4. Replacement

Replacement happens when sounds blend together to make an entirely new sound. Some examples include:

  • “don’t you” getting blended into “don-chu”
  • “meet you” getting blended into “mee-chu”
  • “did you” getting blended into “di-djew”

5. Extension

Some sounds become a doubled or long consonant sound. In connected speech, when a first word ends with the same consonant sound that the next word begins with, we often put the sounds together and elongate them. For example:

  • “single ladies” turns into “single-adies”
  • “social life” turns into “social-ife”

Notice that in none of these cases does the spelling actually change. It’s just the sounds that change when we say them. 

Understanding connected speech when it’s used is extremely important. This is how native English speakers really talk. If you can’t understand English as it’s really spoken, you’re not really able to use the language. 

Producing connected speech is less important. Native speakers don’t need you to use connected speech to understand you. If you speak English clearly, carefully enunciating each syllable, you may sound a bit less natural, but you’ll certainly be understood. 

Here’s some ways to improve your understanding and use of connected speech

1.      You can use music to help you learn English. Music and songs are very helpful for connected speech. 

2.      You could listen to someone read an audiobook while you read the book itself.

3.      You could watch a show on Netflix or a YouTube video with the subtitles on.

4.      You could listen to an English podcast while reading the transcript of that podcast. (consider trying English Learning for Curious Minds podcast.)

Now, Those are great ideas for listening, but what about speaking? Speaking naturally is really only a skill you can develop through practice. 

1.      Shadowing is the ideal exercise for practising connected speech. In shadowing, you mimic or imitate the sounds that you hear as you hear them. So you practise saying full sentences exactly like a native speaker.

2.      Recording yourself speaking is another activity that has similar benefits. It lets you listen and see how the way you say a sentence might be different from a native speaker so you can correct yourself or make changes. 

3.      Find an online English conversation partner or find other ways of speaking English regularly.

Improving your understanding and use of connected speech is all about practiceJust remember that the reason connected speech happens is that it’s an easier way to speak. So relax and natural, connected speech will come.

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