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An important step in being understood and sounding more American is learning to use American intonation. Intonation is the music of speech, the stress patterns or rhythms, the pitch changes, and the vocal tone. Intonation is complex, but there are some simple rules that you can learn which will help you understand and use correct American intonation.
For words with more than one syllable, we have an intonation pattern within the word. One syllable will have the main stress. This syllable will have a vowel sound which is held longer, has a higher pitch, and a clear vowel tone. Listen to the examples below. Can you hear which syllable has the stress?
Stress is marked with a small diacritic (a line similar to an apostrophe) before the stressed syllable. For example, on the word together, the stress falls on the second syllable "ge."
It is easiest to listen to the word and repeat, following the stress pattern that you hear. For access to thousands of recordings of common words, technical and business words, and words sorted by sound and stress pattern, consider a subscription to our full online practice site.
One final note on word stress - you are most likely using it correctly for most words. Error patterns are most likely to occur on words that you learned through reading rather than listening, as well as words that have a different stress pattern in the dialect of English that you first learned. For example, many dialects of English including Indian English and English spoken in many parts of Africa and Europe are influenced by British English, which has some differences from American English. For example, British English will stress the first syllable of French loan words, such as ballet and cafe; whereas American English will stress the second syllable, ballet and cafe.
Some languages have consistent stress patterns on words. For example, in Spanish, the last syllable is always stressed, unless the word ends with an s, n, or vowel, in which case the stress in on the second-to-last syllable. If your native language typically stresses the first syllable of a word, you may be likely to have errors on American English words that have syllable stress on the second or third syllables. You can find words sorted by syllable stress for your practice on our full site.
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