This video tutorial is about “multisyllabic words,” since it is a common question from American English accent students with many native language backgrounds. A multisyllabic word means a word with more than one syllable, such as “i-med-i-ate-ly” (immediately)- (5 syllables).
Mandarin Chinese has different “syllable rules” than English. In Mandarin Chinese, words are all one syllable. This means that native Chinese speakers may have the natural tendency to inadvertently drop syllables in long multisyllabic words in English, and dropping syllables does affect pronunciation.
For example- jǐn jí chū kǒu means “emergency exit.” In Chinese, all words in this short phrase are 1 syllable. However, the English word “e-mer-gen-cy” is 4 syllables. Another example is- hǎo gǎo xiào meaning “That’s hilarious.” Again, note that all words in the Chinese phase are 1 syllable, but “hi-lar-i-ous” in English is 4 syllables. (Mandarin examples from DigMandarin.com)
Multisyllabic words are also challenging for non-native English speakers because it is sometimes “natural” for American English speakers to drop a syllable. This all takes practice. For example, in a word like “vegetable” ve-ge-ta-ble, which logically appears to have 4 syllables, American English speakers drop a syllable when speaking to say
This video is going to have 2 practice exercises for students. The first practice exercise is to repeat regular multisyllabic words while tapping your hand, to get a “feel” for pronouncing syllables.
The second practice exercise is 5 words to repeat, where it is natural to drop a syllable in American English.
Practice Exercise 1:
In this exercise, I will say a word and post it written. Repeat the word after my model, and tap along to get a “feel” for multisyllabic words:
“Vacation” - 3 syllables
“Government” - 3 syllables
“Experience”- 4 syllables
“Ordinary” - 4 syllables
“Communication”- 5 syllables
Practice Exercise 2:
In this exercise, continue to repeat these words while tapping to give tactile feedback to multisyllabic words. These words are more challenging because one syllable is naturally dropped by American English speakers. Note my model and repeat:
“Broccoli”- 2 syllables when spoken
“Average”- 2 syllables when spoken
“Basically”- 3 syllables when spoken
“Laboratory”- 4 syllables when spoken
“Extraordinary”- 5 syllables when spoken
I hope that this tutorial was helpful for you, the accent student, in increasing your awareness of multisyllabic words in American English. Since each speaker is an individual, you may be pronouncing multisyllabic words, or you may need extra support from a professional accent teacher. These tutorials are designed to empower the accent student, to increase the awareness of your own pronunciation trends. It is recommended that you consult an accent coach about your own personal pronunciation patterns and accent goals. Also, accent coaches with with students on promoting the pronunciation of multisyllabic words from words to longer sentences and conversation.
Enjoy speaking English with confidence and your language journey!
Leann Rhoades, M.S. CCC-SLP
Accent Coach/ Speech Language Pathologist
All About Accents