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The Secret to Great American English Pronunciation? Stress!

Speak for success!Mastering an American English accent is no easy task. Learning idioms, the nuances of vocabulary, and how to produce the precise sounds of American English words takes a lot of hard work and practice. But there is another crucial aspect of American English that often gets overlooked: stress patterns.

Every word that we say has a particular stress pattern: there is one syllable that should be emphasized more than the others by making it louder, longer, and slightly higher in pitch. In your native language, producing stressed syllables is probably second nature and requires no thought. However, when learning a new language, stress patterns can be tricky.

Stress may seem like a small detail, but it can greatly affect how your message is understood. There are many words in the English language whose meaning is defined by their stress pattern. For example, heteronyms are words which have the same spelling, but differ in pronunciation and meaning. In many cases, the difference in pronunciation is based only on the stress. This means that if you stress the wrong syllable, your listener may completely misunderstand your message!

One trick that can help you figure out the stress pattern of a word is its part of speech. Typically, in heteronym pairs, nouns have the stress on the first syllable of a word, while verbs have the stress on the second syllable. Take a look at the following words. Each of them has two meanings based on the stress pattern. Try saying them aloud with differing stress patterns, and see if you can recognize the different heteronyms:

  • conflict
  • produce
  • progress
  • project
  • contest

Want to hear the correct pronunciation? Watch the video below to hear Corporate Speech Solutions’ founder and president, Jayne Latz, give great examples of how stress patterns affect American English pronunciation.


For information on the New York Based Speech and Accent Reduction services offered by Corporate Speech Solutions please give us a call at 212-308-7725 or visit us on the web at www.corporatespeechsolutions.com. Not in NYC? No problem! We also provide Skype and video conferencing services.

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