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Source : http://cle.ust.hk/~material/pl/
These pronunciation lessons have been developed to help you:
understand the systematic differences between English and Cantonese pronunciation;
monitor your own speech and become aware of ways in which you can improve the intelligibility
of your own spoken English;
become aware of the rhythm of English in contrast to that of Chinese;
use stress (strong and weak syllables) appropriately in both words and sentences;
make use of transcription in dictionaries.
Each lesson introduces an aspect of English pronunciation and many include short tasks for
practice. You can expect to finish a lesson in 15 minutes.
Table of contents
Lesson 1 A guide to English pronunciation
Lesson 2 Syllables and wordstress
Lesson 3 Weak syllables
Lesson 4 Rhythm
Lesson 5 Syllable structure in English and Chinese
Lesson 6 Consonants and consonant clusters
Lesson 7 Linking words
Lesson 8 Sentence stress
Lesson 9 Intonation: showing feelings
Lesson 10 Intonation: as punctation
Lesson 11 Sound symbols
Lesson 12 Linking words: more ways
Lesson 13 Long vowels ending in voiced consonants
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Lesson 14 Sentence stress and intonation to convey a writer's message
Lesson 15 Highlighting keywords
Lesson 16 Using sentence stress to contradict or correct
Lesson 17 Pronunciation and grammar
Lesson 18 The schwa in "that" clauses
Lesson 19 Synthesizing all the pronunciation skills studied so far
Specific problem sounds for Cantonese speakers: /v/, /z/ and 'th'
Practice 1: /l/ and /n/
Practice 2: /l/ and /n/
Practice 3: /t/ and /d/
Practice 4: /t/ and /d/
Practice 5: /k/ and /g/
Practice 6: /k/ and /g/
Practice 7: /ɪ/ and /iː/
Practice 8: /ɪ/ and /iː/
Practice 9: /e/ and /æ/
Practice 10: /e/ and /æ/
Practice 11: /ɔ/ and /ɒ/
Practice 12: /ɔ/ and /ɒ/
Practice 13: /uː/ and /ʊ/
Practice 14: /uː/ and /ʊ/
Practice 15: /ə/
Practice 16: Word stress - compound words
Practice 17: Word stress - nouns VS verbs
Practice 18: 'ed' endings
Practice 19: 'ed' endings
*Many of the lessons contain audio materials and/or interactive tasks. Please consult the "Technical" section on the
menu bar if you have any problem displaying the transcriptions or listening to the sound recording in MP3 format.
Lesson 1 - A guide to English pronunciation
What is 'Pronunciation'?
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Pronunciation is a broad term used to describe a number of aspects of producing the appropriate
sounds in the language targeted. Most people think it refers to only the separate, identifiable sounds
of words, but it covers more than just that. As well as the sounds there are also the sentence tunes,
and the use of pitch and loudness to indicate importance or strong feeling.
The English sound system
All languages have their own unique sound systems. We can find sounds in English such as "th"
which cannot be found in Cantonese. Similarly there is a sound "eui" in the Cantonese word for
'team': 'deuih' ( ), which does not exist in English. Sometimes the same sound is found in both
English and Cantonese, e.g., 'ng'. But it never occurs at the beginning of an English word, whereas it
does in Cantonese, as in 'ngh' ( ) and 'ngh' ( ). These words are difficult for many English
speakers to pronounce.
Some, but not all, of the difficulty Cantonese speakers have with English is due to such differences
Another major area of difference is the tune or intonation of the language, which is the pattern of rises
and falls in pitch. In Cantonese, the word meanings are distinguished by changes in pitch commonly
called tones. For example, the word 'ma' can mean 'horse'
( ) or 'mother' ( ) according to whether the pitch is rising or falling. However, in English, the
changes in pitch indicate the feelings of the speaker or show that the sentence is not yet finished.
'No', for example, can be said in many ways: the pitch tells the listener the real meaning, that is, the
emotional meaning, which the speaker wants to convey.
The third and probably the most difficult aspect of pronunciation to master is the rhythm of
English, which is totally different from the rhythm of Cantonese (or other dialects of Chinese).
English has strong and weak beats similar to the beat in music. The beat is marked by loudness and a
higher pitch. We refer to it as stress. The sound in a stressed syllable is said to be strong. Individual
words can be strong or weak, or contain both strong and weak sounds. Phrases have strong and
weak sounds and in sentences, the most important words will be strong, or stressed. The differences
between strong and weak syllables are extremely hard for speakers of Cantonese to master. This is
possibly because in Chinese each syllable is written as a separate character. But the rhythm which
works for Chinese does not work in English. The rhythm of the strong beats in English is regular, as
in music. There may be any number of weak beats between the strong ones.
To add to the difficulty, English words run together so that a sentence often sounds like one long
word. This is often hard for Cantonese learners to do. Probably the most important way to master
this running together is to practise linking words beginning with a vowel to the last sound of the
preceding word, e.g., the_end; stop_it.
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Lesson 2 - Syllables in English words
English words can have one or more syllables. Here are some examples.
one syllable must can
two syllables study exam
three syllables diligent analyze
four syllables analysis registration
five syllables environmental durability
six syllables permeability anthropological
If an English word has more than one syllable, one of the syllables of the word should sound
stronger, or stressed. It is said more loudly, on a higher pitch and is slightly lengthened. There may
be more than one stressed syllable in a poly-syllabic word such as “environmental”. In most
dictionaries, the symbol used to indicate stress is /ˈ/ placed before the stressed syllable, e.g., eˈxam.
If a word has more than one stressed syllable, the major one is called primary stress /ˈ/, and the
other secondary stress /ˌ/ e.g., ˌphiˈlosophy. These stresses are usually indicated together with the
pronunciation symbols /ˌfɪˈlɒsəfɪ/. Check your dictionary for the system used. The remaining
unstressed syllables are pronounced very fast, i.e., with weak vowels.
Find out the stresses in the following words.
1 must 2 can
3 study 4 exam
5 diligent 6 analyze
7 environment 8 durability
9 permeability 10 anthropological
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Counting syllables and recognizing wordstress
Listen to the recording and write the number of syllables for each word in the space provided. Also read each word to
yourself and find out where the stress is.
Lesson 3 - Weak syllables
Syllables which are not stressed can be described as weak. They are pronounced very quickly and
softly. Learning to pronounce unstressed syllables weakly can be difficult for Cantonese speakers.
Identifying weak syllables
Find out the strong and weak syllables of the words below, e.g., toGEther, and then practise pronouncing the words
1 protect 2 subtract
3 purchase 4 estate
5 analysis 6 horizon
7 equipment 8 insurance
9 exhibit 10 representative
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International Phonetic Alphabet
We can use the International Phonetic Alphabet to indicate how words are pronounced. Click here
to see and listen to the English phonetic symbols.
Recognizing transciption symbols
Read the words transcribed below and write them out in normal spelling in the space provided. The first one has been
done for you.
The symbol for the most common vowel sound in spoken English is /ə/. It is
always unstressed, and said very quickly, softly and at a low pitch. We call it the
Lesson 4 - The rhythm of English
The strong and weak syllables of English result in a rhythm that is similar to the rhythm of music.
The strong (stressed) syllables are like the beat in music. Strong syllables are long. Weak syllables are
usually short. Strong syllables usually have weak ones around them, but if two strong ones occur
together, they are said just as slowly as if they did have weak ones around them.
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Look at the following examples:
(a dot = short, a dash = long)
· — · — · —
result detect confuse
— · — · — ·
final science table
· — · · — · · — ·
computer in Sydney distribute
— · · — · · — · ·
absolute tentative chemistry
· — · · · — · · · — · ·
infanticide it's terrible impossible
— · · — — · — — —
Give me a break! Run along! Mind out
— — — —
Get lost! Don't know!
Marking rhythm in sentences
Find out the strong and weak beats in the following limerick. Then try to work out the rhythm (which is characteristic
of a limerick) and practise reading it.
There was a young student called Billy
Who really was terribly silly
He ate a whole pig
And became far too big
And that was the end of poor Billy
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Phone: (852) 2358-7851
Lesson 5 - Syllable structure in English and Chinese
Words are made up of syllables; the center of a syllable is a vowel, e.g., /aɪ/ as in "I"; or /maɪ/ as
in "my". One of the differences between Cantonese and English is the structure of a syllable.
English has far more consonants around the central vowels than Chinese.
Final consonants have different values in different languages. Compare the final consonants in these
in the English word "but" and the Cantonese word for a pen "bt" ( )
in the English word "lock" and the Cantonese for fall down/get down "lohk" ( )
in the English word “cup” and the Cantonese for class as in 1st year class " t nɪhn
As soon as we understand the difference in the way the final sound is pronounced in each language,
it is easy to understand why Cantonese speakers may not hear English endings, so do not say them
and then do not write them.
Lesson 6 - Consonants and consonant clusters
Practising final consonants and clusters
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Say these phrases concentrating on the final consonants. Remember the rhythm. There should be two beats in each
1 Don't talk.
2 The shirts were scorched.
3 We asked him some questions.
4 He squealed loudly.
5 The results were ruined.
6 The experiments took time.
7 The discs are corrupt.
8 I asked her out.
9 I was quite upset.
10 But I soon bounced back.
Practising initial and medial consonant clusters
A good strategy for pronouncing two or more consonants together is to say them slowly and imagine there is a very short
vowel between them. Practise the following words:
project train question quality streamlined
process strip triangular thread screws
electrical cylindrical rectangular micrometer description
Reading consonant clusters in a sentence
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Practise reading aloud the sentence below; focus on the consonant clusters but don't forget about
the rhythm (strong and weak sounds).
Trains trundle through here throughout the night. Freight has priority.