Copyright © 2016-2019 Jennifer Helfand                                               jennifer@englishtoinspireyou.com  www.englishtoinspireyou.com

                                                                                                                         

Connected and Reduced Speech

Part 1

The first time Nuria, a friend of one of my students in Spain, went to the U.S., she said a lot of what she heard sounded like this: 

Wha-sha-wha-sha-wha-sha.

She said she asked people to speak more slowly, but that didn’t help.

She had already been studying English for two years at that point, and felt very bad that it was so difficult for her to understand what people were saying. She thought that meant her English was horrible.

 

When she returned to Spain, she signed up for a beginner’s English class even though her English was at a much higher level. Then she felt great.

I completely understand. By my third year in Spain, I still didn’t speak the way I wanted to.

(yup: informal word for “yes”)

(nope: informal word for “no”)

Third year:

(bask in the glory of something: to enjoy the attention you receive from being very good at something)

Speaking is only part of communicating, and the other half, listening, is just as important. Or at least it should be.

There’s a reason English language learners sometimes have difficulty understanding English, and it has nothing to do with (is not related to; has no connection with) a lack of vocabulary. It’s because of how some sounds get connected and other sounds get reduced (shortened). 

Ellen, my super cool friend and the person who gave me my very first teaching job, first explained it to me using the following example.

 

She wrote: 
 

on the blackboard and asked me: 

(déjà vu: the feeling that you have experienced something before the moment in which it happens. For example, you go to a park that you have never been to before and it feels like you’ve already been there, or you have a conversation with someone about something you’ve never discussed, but you feel that you remember that exact conversation.)

But when she asked me:

I understood.

(sounds good: you agree with the idea someone suggested)

You never see “did you eat” and “did you” written as “djeat” and “d’ju”. But if you listen to how native speakers ask this question if they don’t enunciate (say each syllable clearly), this is often how it sounds:

 

A: Djeat dinner yet?

B: No, dju?

A: No. Wanna goda a restaurant?

B: OK. Whadyawanna eat?

A: Some jelly?

 

This is how it’s written:

 

A: Did you eat dinner yet?

B: No, did you?

A: No. Do you want to go to a restaurant?

B: OK. What do you want to eat?

A: Some jelly?

 

 

This lesson is going to explain a few of the ways that words get connected and reduced in English. Once you know these patterns, you’ll start to recognize them. Then it will be much easier for you to understand.

 

As always, send me an email if you have any questions!

 

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There’s something called a syllable. Syllables are the parts that words are divided into when they’re pronounced.

 

Some words only have one syllable, like “book”. Some words have many syllables, like “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis”. It has 19 syllables. It’s the longest word in the English language. (It’s a type of lung disease.)

 

Here are some more examples:

 

One-syllable words:

  • book

  • go

  • eat

 

Two-syllable words:

  • student /stu-dent/

  • teacher /teach-er/

  • decide /de-cide/

 

Three-syllable words:

  • understand /un-der-stand/

  • library /li-brar-y/

  • hospital /hos-pi-tal/

 

Four-syllable words:

  • communicate /co-mu-ni-cate/

  • explanation /ex-pla-na-tion/

  • misunderstand /mis-un-der-stand/

 

For words with two syllables or more, there is always a syllable that gets more stress (emphasis) than the others. Those syllables are in bold and all capital letters in the examples.

 

Two-syllable words:

  • student /STU-dent/

  • teacher /TEACH-er/

  • decide /de-CIDE/

 

Three-syllable words:

  • understand /un-der-STAND/

  • library /LI-brar-y/

  • hospital /HOS-pi-tal/

 

Four-syllable words:

  • communicate /co-MU-ni-cate/

  • explanation /ex-pla-NA-tion/

  • misunderstand /mis-un-der-STAND/

 

Just like every word has a syllable that gets the most stress, every sentence has some words that are stressed more than other words.

 

Basically:

word: stressed and unstressed syllables

sentence: stressed and unstressed words

 

For example, in this sentence, you usually stress the words in yellow:

 

  • My friend and I travel every summer.

 

The stressed words are usually the most important words in the sentence. They’re the ones that people pronounce the loudest, and you can understand a lot of a sentence’s meaning even if you only hear those words: friend, travel, every, summer.

 

The words that get stressed are called “content words” because they contain the content (information) in the sentence.

 

The words that don’t get stressed are called “function words” because their function (purpose, job) is mainly to connect the content words together.

 

content words = stressed words

function words = unstressed words

 

There are only six groups of content words in English:

  • nouns

  • verbs (main verbs)

  • adjectives

  • adverbs

  • WH-question words (when they are part of questions)

  • negative words

 

Here are some examples.

 

  • nouns

    • student, Sam, dog, cat, living room, Boston, book, computer…

  • verbs

    • go, think, talk, dream, hear…

  • adjectives

    • beautiful, funny, nice, red, happy…

  • adverbs

    • carefully, quickly, often, happily…

  • WH-question words

    • who, what, when, how, how much, how many…

  • negative words

    • no, not, never, aren’t, isn’t, wasn’t, weren’t, don’t, can’t, won’t...

 

 

Anything that is NOT a:

  • noun

  • main verb

  • adjective

  • adverb

  • question word

  • negative word

 

is a function word. Here are some examples of function words.

 

  • pronouns: I, you, she, him, us, them, myself, itself…

  • the verb be: am, are, is, was, were, be, being, been

  • auxiliary verbs (helping verbs, modal verbs): are, does, can, did, be going to…

  • determiners: a, an, the, any, some…

  • prepositions: after, before, next to, in front of…

  • conjunctions: and, but, although, since, until, because…

 

In these sentences, the content words are highlighted in yellow.

 

A: Did you eat dinner yet?

B: No, did you?

A: No. Do you want to go to a restaurant?

B: OK. What do you want to eat?

A: Some jelly?

 

Even without the function words, you can understand the meaning in these sentences:

 

A: Eat dinner yet?

B: No.

A: Want  go  restaurant?

B: OK. What  want  eat?

A: Some jelly?

The function words are often reduced (shortened) or connected to content words.

 

For example, the two function words “did” and “you” are sometimes pronounced “didja” or “didju” or “d’ju”.

 

Content words usually (but not always) aren’t shortened.

 

A: Dju eat dinner yet

    (Did you → Didja or Didju or D’ju)

 

B: No, dju?

     (Did you → Didja or Didju or D’ju)

 

A: No. Wanna goda a restaurant?

            (Do you want to go to:

            Do you → D’ or silent

            want to → wanna

            to → da or ta)

 

B: OK. Whadyawanna eat?

            What do you → Whadya or Whadaya

            want to → wanna

 

A: Some jelly?

 

There are a lot of words that you probably already recognize and may even use in their connected form. Some examples:

 

  • give me         gimme

  • let me            lemme

  • have to          hafta

  • has to            hasta

  • want to          wanna

  • going to         gonna

  • got to             gotta/goda

(In American English, a “t” between two vowels often sounds like a

“d”, so “got to” is often pronounced “goda” in the U.S.)

 

And there are a lot of words that get shortened that you’ve probably already heard and understood when they were part of a sentence.  

 

  • you                 ya

  • and                 n

  • to                    ta/da

  • of                    a/uh

  • can                 kin

  • for                  fer/fe (fer + vowel; fe + consonant)

 

A: I wanna goda the movies. Wanna come?

B: I’m kinda tired. Gimme an hour ta take a nap n then I kin come.

 

A: I want to go to the movies. Do you want to come?

B: I’m kind of tired. Give me an hour to take a nap and then I can come.

 

Sometimes native speakers aren’t aware of how they’re connecting and shortening words, so if you ask them to speak more slowly, they may say the sentence more slowly, but they may still use connected and reduced speech.

You can always ask: 

The more you practice listening to connected and reduced speech, the easier it will be for you to understand it.

 

To answer the question that many students have asked me: Do I HAVE TO speak like this?

 

This is my take (my opinion):

 

Language belongs to you. You decide how you want to use it. Some people, like my grandmother, who started learning English at age 12 when she arrived in the U.S., want to sound exactly like native speakers. My grandmother practiced English a lot and learned how to speak with an American accent. 

 

Other people, like one of my former students, Marco, don’t want to sound like native speakers at all. And that is perfectly fine.

 

 

 

Your voice. Your choice.

Anyway, there are many more rules and patterns.

Meanwhile, you can check out these examples from TV shows. I’ve included how the sentences sound, how they’re written, and the time they occur in each video.

 

 

From the TV show Friends:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cslyPxzMLWg

2:11 – 3:00

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGt-Sdwzxyw&t=2s

:45 – “Coudju just” instead of “Could you just”

1:08 – “Are ya kiddin’?” instead of “Are you kidding?”

3:20 – “I thought ya just” instead of “I thought you just”

 

The following clip is from the TV show Homicide. I’m very sorry to give you this clip about something so sad... But it has excellent examples of connected and reduced speech.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhplAN8ie2w

3:24 – “I dunno what happened” – “I don’t know what happened”

3:30 – “So whadawe got?” – “So what have we got?”

3:40 – “He’s gonna be.” – “He is going to be.”

3:47 – “Ze a jumper?” – “Is he a jumper?”

4:01 – “Ya wanna look now…” – “You want to look now…”

4:06 – “Lemme showya what’s what.” – “Let me show you what is what.”

4:14 – “Yeh. Callin n gedus sum help with the witnesses.  Otherwise we’re gonna be down here all week.”

“Yes.  Call in and get us some help with the witnesses.  Otherwise, we are going to be down here all week.”

5:00 – “Ya know growin’ up in New York, I heard ’bout this happenin’ from time ta time.”

“You know, growing up in New York, I heard about this happening from time to time.”

5:33 – “Whadamy doin’ here?” – “What am I doing here?”