'No-one understands me!'
'I always have to repeat myself.'
'People speak too fast in English and I can't understand them!'
Does this sound familiar? If so, read on to understand some of the features of spoken English and how you can better use them to help you.
Languages can be broadly grouped into two main types: stress-timed and syllabic-timed. What does this mean? First, we need to understand what a syllable is. For example, the word 'syllable' has three syllables
syll - a – ble
which shows you that a syllable is the smallest unit of sound in a word with a vowel sound. Here are some more examples: 'Malaysia' has three: Ma - lay - sia, and 'country' has two: coun - try. Now we need to know what 'stress' means in pronunciation terms. It means to make something stronger (louder, clearer) when we say it. Got it? Ok! Back to our types of languages:
In these languages, syllables have similar lengths or amounts of time. Syllables may still have stress, but each one is roughly of similar length and each syllable should be pronounced clearly. Languages include Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indonesian, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Turkish, South Asian Languages, Italian, and French.
In stress-timed languages, like English, it's very different. Syllables all have different lengths because important (i.e. stressed) syllables are longer, and less important (i.e. unstressed) syllables are shorter. If a syllable isn't important, we don't need to hear it clearly and it's often 'reduced' (very little). In fact, if you pronounce a syllable clearly when it should be unstressed, it sounds like you're stressing it, which will then make the word very hard to understand for an English speaker. For example, photograph, photographer, and photographic all have different stressed syllables so if you say one of the unstressed syllables clearly, it might sound like you're saying a different word.
This is a picture representing the difference between the two language types: