Improve your pronunciation with syllables and stress

Improve your pronunciation with Syllables and Stress

Before even thinking about reading a book on pronunciation or ways to improve your spoken English, you must adhere to one basic principle to improve your pronunciation and that is observation. 

To speak better English an observant eye will be as useful to you as an observant ear. By that I mean, watch what people say and how they say words in English. Watch how native English speakers move their mouths. 

Where is their tongue in the mouth when words are pronounced?Are the lips of the mouth parted or are they tight and drawn in? Observe, observe, observe. This is going to be one of the best ways in which you will train yourself to speak like a native.

A top tip when you really start working on your pronunciation is to see yourself as an actor. Watch yourself in the mirror as you speak. Record videos of yourself speaking on the phone. Even keep a video diary of your progress. Once you start to watch yourself more when you are speaking English, you will be able to observe your language habits more and compare those to native English speakers. This is where progress starts to happen. Now read on, to discover the top tips and speaking techniques from Engli-teach, for ways to start to improve your pronunciation.

Pronunciation – Starting with Syllables

Stress is one of the most important ways to improve your pronunciation but before you can fully use stress in the correct way when speaking English you need to understand syllables.

Let’s look at these words and identify the syllable count in each one:

fast – has one syllable

person – has two syllables = per /son

beautiful – has three syllables – beau / ti / ful


So how do we know what sound each syllable has?

One syllable has one vowel sound and one syllable sound

Vowels are the letters: a / e / i /o / u

How to improve your pronunciation with syllables and stress

Improve your pronunciation by understanding the connection between syllables and stress

What is the connection between syllable and stress?

To answer this, know the five main features of a stressed syllable:

  • A stressed syllable has a  l-o-n-g-e-r  sound as in: com p-u-ter / pho – tog – ra – pher
  • It is generally LOUDER than the other sounds in the word, with a more extended sound, as in – comPUTer
  • It has a change in pitch from the syllables coming before and afterwards. The pitch of a stressed syllable is usually higher.
  • It is said more clearly -The vowel sound is purer. Compare the first and last vowel sounds with the stressed sound.
  • It uses larger facial movements – Observe how native English speakers use larger facial movements when they are pronouncing stress in words. Observe their mouth and the shape it is making to create the sounds. 

Consider the words: suspect / import / insult


All of these three words have two syllables and they are nouns or adjectives so:

the stress is on the first syllable

Consider the words: suspect / import / insult

These words are both nouns and verbs so the general rules are as follows: 

With nouns, the stress is  put on the first syllable

Suspect = Sus / pect

“You are the suspect!”


With verbs the stress is put on the second syllable. 

Here the noun ‘suspect’ is transformed into a verb.

“I suspect you.”


With compound nouns the stresses are fairly  equally balanced but with a stronger stress on the first part.





Function and Context

Word stress of words is also very important to pronunciation. Being able to pronounce words correctly also depends on understanding the relevance of the words and their relationship between their function and context. This is why just learning lists of words without any real understanding of their meaning in use is futile.

By first learning the relationship of a word to it’s function in use, you will understand and learn more when and where to place emphasis on particular sounds when pronouncing letters and words.This will improve your pronunciation.

Take your English dictionary and choose any word from it that you don’t already know how to pronounce and at this point don’t look at the meaning of the words that follows.

Now try to pronounce that word without knowing if it is a verb, noun or adjective. 

How easy what this to do?



Improve your pronunciation more by completing the following pronunciation practice exercise below. 

Additional tips to Improve your Pronunciation

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