Stress-free Stresses in English Pronunciation

Breakthrough Pronunciation, American English Pronunciation workshop

Today I am delighted (*happy*) to share a guest post from the talented pronunciation coach, Elena Mutonono, who also happens to be my co-host for the upcoming Breakthrough Pronunciation Workshop. Breakthrough Pronunciation is a 3 day workshop designed to help you … Continue reading

Travel with Me, Part 2a: The Foo Fighters at ACL + 5 ways to learn with them

“I’ve got another confession to make….”

I’ll be using music, again, to teach you some English today! The song, the lesson, and the reason is far from random, though, as you know I am at Austin City Limits this weekend! (WOO!) More than just a music festival with 8 stages, and 130 bands, Austin City Limits offers an experience into the city’s food, art, and local community charities and organizations! It’s my first year experiencing this festival, and to say I am excited is an understatement (a statement/sentence that makes something seem less important).  Read more abou the experience here.

 I am excited for so many of the bands playing this weekend! Several of them, every day on the lineup get me pumped up (excited, stoked, filled with energy). Tonight’s headliner is “The Foo Fighters,” an American rock band from Seattle formed in the ’90s. If you’ve heard of Nirvana, or Kurt Cobain, you’ve most likely heard of the Foo Fighters as it was founded by David Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer. I enjoy the music, but I also think Grohl’s clear voice make his songs an excellent opportunity to practice English. Today I am going to give you:

5 ways to practice and improve English with the Foo Fighters

1. Learn pronunciation with the song, “Best of You”

The song begins, ends, and includes several lyrics that are almost sung in conversational form, which gives you a clear idea of how these words are commonly pronounced in everyday English situations. You can do your own Google search of the lyrics (“best of you lyrics”) or open this link, since we are going to use it later. Use the lyrics page to read along with the song, see how the words are written, versus(compared to) how the sound songs. You can listen to the song in the Youtube video below.

  • WORD CONNECTIONS: many words are often linked together when spoken, and there are 4 main situations where this happens.
    • One of them we’ll review today: consonant/vowel. When a word ends in a consonant, and the next word starts with a vowel, these words are connected or linked together. EXAMPLE: the first line: “…I’ve got another confession to make…” The word ‘got’ ends in a T consonant sound, and ‘another’ begins with a short vowel a sound, so they connect to sound like, “gotta – nother”.
    • Another situation we’ll review: consonant/consonant. When a word ends in a consonant sound that has a similar position of a consonant sound that starts the following word, the words are connected. Check the position of your mouth [your tongue] when you say the ‘N’ sound. Do you notice your tongue upward, behind your top teeth? Now, say the ‘T’ sound. Your tongue should be in the same position. Because of these similarities, the words will just flow into each other, rather than putting effort to a start a new sound. EXAMPLE: using the same first line: “…I’ve got another confession to make…” The the “N” of ‘confession’ links to “T” of ‘to’ to sound like “confessionnA make”
  • CONTRACTIONS: just like conversations, songs will often use the contractions of words for a shorter, easier way to communicate. Native speakers use contractions more often than not when speaking casually, so you should definitely get comfortable saying these as well. You’ll hear the contractions (and see them written) for: I have-I’ve, I am-I’m, everyone has-everyone’s, did not-didn’t, can not-can’t, I will-I’ll, it is-it’s , etc….   How many more can you find in the song? I included those just from the first 1 minute and 50 seconds of the song.
  • ENDING -ING: not only are words often linked together, many sounds have modifications in spoken English, which include word reductions. These reductions happen when certain sounds of a word are eliminated, or just not pronounced. Sometimes your mouth/lips/tongue can be in the correct position, but you just don’t let out the air needed to make the particular sound. The “G” in ending “-ing” is often cut when speaking, so rather than hearing the word end in the “G” (the sound from the throat), you’ll only hear the “N.” EXAMPLE: “Everyone’s got their chains to break…holdin’ you.” (second 12 in the video below)  “Is someone gettin’ the best, the best…” (second 24) “You gave me somethin’ that I….” (second 54)

Do you need additional pronunciation practice?

pronunciationpractice

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2. Practice listening + improve spelling with lyricstraining.com

I’ve recommended lyricstraining.com and I’ll do it again! Why? It’s the 3 Fs: Fun, Fast, and FREE! You’ll train your listening skills, practice typing, and improve your spelling at the same time. The website has over 15 Foo Fighters videos and songs to practice with, so what are you waiting for? Let me know which song was your favorite!

3. Expand vocabulary + idioms with the song, “The Feast and the Famine”

It’s time to use the song’s lyrics again, so click here or do your own Google search. This song, as you will learn in the 4th way to learn with The Foo Fighters, is about Washington D.C. and its iconic music scene. Do you think you would understand any of that from the lyrics? Are there any parts of the lyrics that you don’t understand? Below I’ve pulled out some vocabulary that is a bit more difficult, or harder to find in a dictionary. The title in a way is an idiomatic expression, relating to “feast of famine” which means to have a very large amount (feast) of something, or close to nothing (famine). How does this title relate to the song’s meaning?

  • to burn for: to want something very much → “burning for truth”
  • to take (someone) for (something): to believe that (someone) is a certain way → “they took you for fools”
  • to be left to do (something): to be in an ending situation that you must do something, usually alone → “a poor man left to do”
  • nothing to lose: a situation that cannot be made worse by taking a risk → “Crossroads with nothing to lose”
  • heavy: very serious or important → “Come change now shit’s getting heavy”
  • gaping: very large/open → “gaping wound”
  • put back together: to reconnect parts or pieces of something that fell apart → ” Put back together by a….”
  • P.M.A: positive mental attitude → “What is that P.M.A.?”

4. Listen to authentic English in use with their HBO Documentary-Series

To create and later promote their newest album, The Foo Fighters toured across America filming the creation of their newest album and celebrating their 20th anniversary. They visit some of the country’s most influential cities on music and music’s history, document the writing and recording of the album’s songs, and interview many fellow musicians along the way. Use these interviews amongst native speakers as a way to practice listening, while learning common slang/expressions and some history of American music. Just watching the series will be listening comprehension practice! The series aired on HBO; however you can also access it via Amazon and Google. If you don’t have HBO, then hop on Google, which will lead you almost everywhere! Don’t forget to let me know what your favorite episode is!

HBOfoofighters

5. Get real life English [writing & reading] practice

One of the reasons I started this English blog was to give the students in my classroom some REAL English, it is what I am all about as I hope you have learned. I am definitely not one of those teachers who relies heavily on text books, and irrelevant material, so I am continually trying to connect English learners with more organically, authentic English in use. That is why I will be recommending a website that encourages readers (YOU) to contribute their thoughts and ideas to the site’s content. The last way you’ll learn with The Foo Fighters, is by reading what others have said about their song’s meanings and responding by contributing your own. You can definitely share your thoughts on the comment section, and I encourage you to do so, but connect with others on songmeanings.com; what do you think the song “Best of You” really means? Do you agree or disagree with some of the comments you read? Does someone open your mind/change your idea of what the song is really about?

 

Each of these 5 ways to learn with The Foo Fighters above will get you practicing different skills, some of which include: listening, vocabulary building, writing, reading, and speaking [pronunciation]). If you’d like even more speaking practice, I suggest making a video that has you practicing one of the ways above. For example, you can record yourself singing (or saying if you’re shy) the lyrics with word reductions and contractions to practice pronunciation, or you can create sentences using the new vocabulary. Another way could be to share your thoughts on some of the songs, lyrics, and their meanings; in a video, tell me! Share with me via e-mail or social media! Notice that each of the ways also include some questions in bold yellow, which are ways to connect with me. Answer them in your videos practicing speaking, or in the comments below where you improve writing! I look forward to talking with you soon!

Happy Studying! ♥

Please help me, help others learning English! Please share this post with someone you know learning English, teaching English, or just loves the language! I bet music fans would also enjoy it, so thank you. xo Jennifer

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Common Pronunciation Issues…Eliminated!

Happy Thursday to you!  We are nearly finished with Week 2 of our August Learning Plan, and our focus all week has been on improving our speaking skills! If this is your first time on English Outside the Box’s learning … Continue reading

Word Reductions in English: American Pronunciation + 5 minute English video

John can watch them today with her, and Paulo can go with him tomorrow.

Before we begin, take a second and read that above sentence aloud. If you really want to test yourself and monitor your progress, then I recommend recording yourself reading it. Did you notice anything special or unique about the underlined words?  Once you’ve record yourself, you can move on….

In school we’re taught to e-nun-ci-ate our words when we talk, to speak clearly and not mumble our sounds. However, have you ever heard a native English speaker actually pronounce every…single..word when speaking? Of course not! English speakers (and most languages) are lazy, we do all kinds of things to make speaking easier. We reduce, link, and modify sounds, we contract words, and we often say words differently than they may look. As the title suggests, I want to emphasize that I am writing about American English here, but I know those on the other side of the world have their own word modifications and reductions, we’re just not reviewing them here.

As I mentioned, there are many words with sound reductions, links, and modifications; however, to simplify things, we are only going to review 5 of these words today. To have some fun before we get into the lesson, how many of you reading can relate to this meme?

mumble

I would bet money that you have experienced this AT LEAST once if you are an English learner, and even an English speaker too! Not giving up, not saying “never mind,” and not just agreeing because you didn’t understand someone is something I pretty consistently tell my students. But, there’s a meme so it has got to be true!

I wanted to use this meme to not only put a little smile on your face before you learn, but also to point out one of our sound reductions. Did you already notice the “n” in the middle of bottom text? Do you know what this “n” is supposed to mean?

Any guesses?

 

Well, if you said “and,” then you are absolutely correct, nicely done!

In addition to AND, we will also review the reduction of sounds in the pronouns THEM, HIM, and HER, as well as the modal, CAN.

So why do these words “change” in speech?
These words are a few of many that have weak and strong forms. So they change in speech, depending on how they are being used. The strong forms, when they are said with stress, happen only when they’re used individually or when the word is being emphasized.

The weak form, however, is used when the word is unstressed in a sentence. Because these words are “function” words (giving grammatical meaning, not lexical) they are not emphasized or stressed, and are linked or modified in connected speech. We’ll review these weak sounds since we’re focusing on conversational English.

AND is going to to sound like the consonant “n”. Notice that even in the meme above, the creator wrote the letter in place of the actual word. Remember, writing in this way is not correct, and definitely shouldn’t be practiced.

THEM and HIM are going to sound the same, so contextual clues will let you know which one is being used. In both words, you need to drop the beginning sounds “th” for them and “h” for him and just say the ending “-em”. However, in connected speech, you will make more of an “um” sound, closer to a short “u” (of umbrella) rather than a short “e” (of elephant).

HER is going to follow the same pattern as the pronouns above, you’ll drop the beginning “h” sound and only pronounce the “er”. Remember that in American English, it’s a very hard “r” sound…like a pirate!

CAN is going to have a change in the vowel sound; instead of pronouncing it with a short “a” sound, like apple, you should be pronouncing it with a short “i” sound, like igloo. So the word in connected speech will sound almost identical to the word “kin”.

Let’s take another look at the sentence you read at the top of the post:

John can watch them today with her, and Paulo can go with him tomorrow.

If you listen back to your recorded voice, do you think you were saying them correctly, according to the information you just read in this post? Consider reading the sentence, as if it were written like this:

John kin watch-um today with-er, n Paulo kin go with-um tomorrow.

Try and re-read the sentence, focusing on the sound changes, and again record yourself to check the progress. Let me know how you did below!

For more examples, watch English Outside the Box‘s newest 5-minute English video about pronunciation and word reductions on my YouTube channel. Make sure you subscribe to continue getting new content and free English lessons!

You can also watch it here! ♥

The end of the video gives you ways to connect with me via the blog or social media, which is a great way to receive some feedback and take your learning to the next level. Don’t be shy, I’d love to hear from you and hear you creating some of your own examples, so I’ll talk to you soon!

Happy Studying! ♥

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