English Communication Confidence Blog

Rhythm Contrast In American English

Mar 28, 2022

 Syllable contrast in English is one of the hardest things to achieve when speaking English as a second language, but with this post, you'll start to make progress. I promise!


Hey everybody. It is Jill Diamond


And I am here today...I wanted to talk a little bit about that rhythm contrast. I was doing this exercise today with one of my clients and we just, we had a good time using our hands as a way to pull out the important words and make sure to get the contrast between stressed and unstressed syllables, but also stressed and unstressed words. Because it's really easy to understand it intellectually, but it's another thing to move away from equal stress, where all the words get equal emphasis and really providing that contrast between the important syllables and the important words. So I want to pull this up, let me pull up the exercise we were working on. So we were working on this exercise and you've probably seen it in one of my videos, but I want to just take you through it in a slightly differently. Okay. Uh, so if we start here, we know that when we have three words like this, that are all content words or information words, we know that they get an equal stress and it becomes a little emphatic. It's almost in this case, like a command telling somebody what to do. We say, use two stamps. Two stamps. Use two stamps. Three words. One syllable each, and they all are long and emphatic. So if you use your hand and you say, use two stamps,


Try that. Equal stress long.


There's no contrast. But if we go down to number six. You, you see the same message that you, you need two stamps. You need to have more than one stamp. You need more postage. Postage is another word for stamp. You need more postage on this. Now, what do we see? We see three words here, need more postage. Those three words are information words. They're content words.: These words you on, and this. Those are the structure words. Those are the glue. We need to show the contrast of rhythm in order for you to sound more native-like in your speech. So the way we do that, listen to this, we say, we need more postage on this. You need more postage on this. So using your hands to pull out the syllables. You need more postage on this and you get postage as a long syllable, and the second syllable is the schwa, short, unclear syllable. So it's not all emphatic. It's not, you need more postage on this. If you're speaking like that, you're working too hard on diction. You're working too hard to be clear with every single sound that you produce and you don't need to do that. You need to reduce these words you, on, and this syllable and say, you need more postage on this. Postage on this... Dada dada. And that next part goes quickly. Try that.


Okay. Now looking here as another one. Drive me home. Now, normally me would be a structure word, but here it's a command. Every word is going to have the same emphasis. Drive me home. Because they're all one syllables as well. So it's all emphatic. It's strong, it's equal. But when we get to this one, we see: need, drive, home. I need you to drive me home. So we start to get the contrast so that these pronouns and these prepositions get reduced. And in this case, I need you to drive me home. So in this case, the me can be reduced because it's a sentence. It's a full sentence. It's not a command, not equal stress. And you say, I need you to drive me home. Can you do that with your hands?



And if you need to, you can start at the end and work your way back. Home. Me home. Drive me home. And you here drive me home. You should hear the drive and home are long, but me is short. To drive me home. So I start here with to and I reduce it ta drive me home. And then I go to here and I see you, you, you to drive me home and I reduce the you. But then when I get to this word, I have to make it long. I have to stress it, right? And I say, I need you to drive me home. Try that. And then if you add the pronoun again, it's reduced. It's short. I need, I need, so the need is long. I need you to drive me home and try using your hands to pull out the sounds.



Okay, good. Now, if we look here, here's another one: Big deals take cash. Every word is a content word. Every word is, has the same value. But when we come up here, we start to see, not just that we've added articles like the or pronouns like you, but we've also added two-syllable words, bigger, bigger one syllable's long and the other short, and you have to do that in order to sound native-like your speech. All right. So listen to this. The bigger the deal, the more cash you need. You get: the more cash, the more cash. So you start to get emphatic here, the more cash you need. So try this, the bigger, the deal, the more cash you need, try that. And if it's hard, break it into parts, the bigger the deal. And you can pause as long as you pause in a good place. No problem. The bigger the deal, the more cash you need. Okay, good. And I think let's see, we have one more. We can do. Here we go. Work smart, not hard. Say that. That's all equal.




And now look at all these words. Two syllable words, one syllable clear and long. The other one short: working smarter, better working harder. Try that first. Just emphasize the first syllable. Use your hand: working smarter, better working harder. So those words are all important. Now we have to add in these other words, listen to it as I put it all together, working smarter is better than working harder. And I use my hands to pull out the stressed words. Try it. Working smarter is better than working harder. And you can do that right here. If you want to pause after smarter. It's a logical place to stop.




Spend some time here, work on this exercise. It's an excellent way for you to really understand how important rhythm contrast is. If you want to sound native-like in your speech, but you just want to have more flow. Okay? You need to have flow, not just by connecting sounds, but by making sure some words are, are longer and some syllables are longer than other. All right. Want to wish you all a happy holiday. If I don't talk to you again before Christmas and I will make you another video before new years. Bye.

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