When you have a phonetic language like Spanish, for instance, it is quite easy to say the words you have learned from a book or a dictionary because if you know the sounds of each letter you can do quite well when speaking the language and everybody will understand you. But this is not the case with English which for a lot of people seems like a `crazy´language with its own rules. I already mentioned this feature of English in a post on phonetics and here I’m going to mention another feature of English that will also look pretty strange to many language learners, that is, letters that appear in words but should not be pronounced. I have created a slide with some of these letters and a practical activity that you can do if you click on the button below.
This great song by the British band The Cure really puts one in a happy mood and I must say, that it doesn’t matter how old the song is or how many times you hear it, it’s always smashing. Apparently the song was written in response to press criticism accusing the group of being incapable of writing anything cheerful (if you want to know what the press meant by this, look for their song ‘Lullaby’, even though I don’t agree). The meaning of the song is not clear. Some say it’s about love, some say it’s about enjoying Friday more than being in love with a person they probably meet on this day, and some people even go a bit further in their interpretation (there may be minors reading this post, so I’ll leave this to your own imagination). Whatever conclusion you arrive at, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it anyway. In this Learning English with songs, you can learn a couple of colour idioms and other expressions related to feelings as well as doing some phonetics.
Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem on animal rights and Christmas, is not only thought provoking, but is also put in such a humorous and clever way, that you actually can’t help admiring him as one of Britain’s top post-war writers.
Zephaniah, a dub poet and Rastafarian, once mentioned that his mission was to fight the dead image of poetry and take it to the streets with messages that concerned the daily lives of ordinary people; like you and me.
As an ESL teacher, having the opportunity to introduce students to the culture of my native UK and to poets such as Zephaniah, is really something awesome.
In yesterday’s English class we were talking about the difficulties one can encounter when travelling to a foreign country. Some students mentioned problems such as: jet lag, losing their luggage or missing a flight, among others. When suddenly, one student said ‘That people can’t understand you’. I must say that he was absolutely right! Unfortunately, even if we know the grammar and vocabulary of a foreign language, up to a certain degree, on some occasions, the influence of our L1 can be so strong that people might not understand us or even get the wrong message.
Just for a laugh, watch this video and you’ll get the idea of how a bad pronunciation can have a negative effect on your holidays.
Enjoy or laugh your head off. Whatever you prefer!
One of the typical problems learners of English frequently come across is how to pronounce the endings in regular past English verbs. When I mean regular I mean all the ones that end in -ed/d like ‘walk>walked’, ‘study>studied’. There are actually some simple rules that will help students get this right almost all the times.
Rule number one: careful not to pronounce the final -ed
It is very unusual to pronounce an ‘e’ before a ‘d’ in a past simple tense unless the consonant before the final -ed ends in either a ‘t’ or a ‘d’ (we’ll see this in a minute). So the past sound of final -ed in a verb like ‘designed’ would sound like /dɪ ‘zaind/ and not /dɪ ‘zained/.
Rule number two: pronouncing the final -ed and making it sound like an /id/
Verbs that end in a ‘d’ or ‘t’ do sound the final -e. Why? Because if you don’t sound it, you won’t be able to distinguish the difference between a present and a past tense. See this for yourself by saying the following verbs without pronouncing the ‘e’.
start > started */sta:t/
depart> departed */depa:t/
exceed> exceeded */ek’si:d/
Was it easy? Could you hear the difference between the present and past? Actually, these verbs should sound /sta:tid, dipa:tid, ek’si:did/.
You may have noticed that what actually comes out of your mouth isn’t exactly an -ed sound. Instead of this, you get an /id/. Well, this is basically because when people pronounce the final /d/, it is in the upper part of their mouths which is almost the same place as where the /i/ is pronounced. If you really want to make your final -ed sound like an -ed and not an -id, you’d have to sort of stop in the middle of the word, lower your tongue and focus really hard on it, which looks and sounds quite strange (and if you don’t believe me, try doing this in the mirror and see what you look like. Ha, ha, ha!!!).
Rule number three. Getting your ‘ts’ right
Pronouncing a /t/ instead of a /d/ isn’t a matter of choice. Rather it is due to the final sound in the word. If the final sound in the verb happens to be an unvoiced consonant like a ‘k’ or a ‘p’ or a ‘sh’, for instance, you’re are going to get that very English /t/ sound whether you like it or not. If you happen to get a ‘d’ sound instead, it probably means that you’re pronouncing the -e which isn’t correct.
So, with verbs like ‘walk’, work, flap, burp, should sound /wɔ: kt, wɜ:kt, flæpt, bɜ:pt/ when saying them in the simple past.
Lets do some listening activities to grasp the ideas we’ve just explained.
Not making the -e sound in all verbs that do not have a ‘t’ or ‘d’ ending. And, not making that -ed sound like a ‘t’ because the last sound is voiced (meaning that the vocal chords are vibrating).
When we MUST pronounce the -e in past tenses. TIP: when the last consonant is either ‘t’ or ‘d’. Listen to these verbs in the present tense and try to guess how they would sound in the past simple.
start – waste – flirt – imitate – affect – import
Last one! Now the ‘t’ sound. This happens when the last sound of the verb is silent (no vibration of vocal chords). We have quite a few and we can’t always trust writing as some of you will already know that English sounds don’t always correspond to the written form of a word.
Try to figure out what these words would sound like in the past simple before you listen to the audio.
finish – flash – cup – laugh – wash – watch – ice – hack – work – walk
The sound /r/ is quite different to the Spanish /r/. The English /r/ is not articulated with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth. Rather the front of the tongue (not the tip!) curls upwards and rises towards the top of the mouth cavity.
Another big difference between Spanish /r/ and /English /r/ is the in initial position (at the beginning of a word), Spanish /r/ is pronounced like a double ‘r’. Try saying the words rojo and perro. In both words the /r/ is the same. In English initial rs are much softer and do not vibrate in the same way.
PRONOUNCING ‘R’ AT THE END OF SYLLABLES
Another important thing to say about /r/ is that in the English language, pronouncing or not the ‘r’ that comes at the end of a syllable divides the different varieties of the English spoken in the world into two main groups (according to this criteria), rhotic and non-rhotic.
Rhotic or non-rhotic refers to the sounding of ‘r’ at the end of syllables e,g, car /ka:/ or /ka:r/.
The variety of English spoken in England does not sound the post syllabic ‘r’ whereas General American, Irish English and Scottish English, do pronounce the ‘rs’ at the end of syllables.
Some non-rhotic English varieties are: British English and New Zealand English.
The spelling of this sound is usually r or rr like in: red and carry /red/ /kæri/