When trying to improve an American English accent, most people focus on the sounds in a word. While learning how to pronounce the consonant and vowel sounds of Standard American English is a core component of accent reduction, there are other, more subtle aspects of American English that often prevent people from sounding like a native English pronunciation speaker. One of these is stress.
Whenever we say a word, there is always more stress on one syllable. This syllable is typically slightly louder, longer, and higher in pitch. Putting the stress on the wrong syllable in a word can make your speech sound heavily accented and difficult to understand. In some words, putting stress on the wrong syllable can even change the meaning. Heteronyms, are pairs of words which have the same spelling but differ in pronunciation and meaning. In many cases, the only difference between heteronyms is which syllable is stressed. Often, nouns have the stress on the first syllable of a word, while verbs have the stress on the second syllable. Take a look at some examples:
When will you be finished with the new project? He projects higher profits for next quarter.
The student entered a writing contest. He wants to contest the judge’s decision.
You can buy fresh produce at the corner market. He produces excellent results.
The team has made great progress this quarter. Have you progressed toward your goals?
She gave her secretary a present. Please present your idea to the team.
Want to hear some examples of how stress changes a word? Take a look at the video below!
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