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Want to master the pronunciation of English words? Listen to the rhythm

Did you know that words have… RHYTHM?

Maybe not like a pop song or jazz, but words have rhythm as a result of the stressed and unstressed parts in the word.

Now, every language has its own rhythm, and in this video you’ll learn how the rhythm of your language might be different than English.

Rhythm can help you significantly with your pronunciation and with understanding other people better.

In this episode, you’ll learn why it’s important and how you can practice.


Hey everyone, it’s Hadar. Thank you so much for joining me. Today we are going to talk about the rhythm of words, or the length of syllables. In this video I’m going to ask you to move with me as we pronounce long words. So, if there are people around you who might say something that would make you feel uncomfortable or judged, then make sure you’re doing it in a safe space because it’s our time right now. Okay? Good.

So, here’s the thing. A word is comprised of syllables, right, the small units: sy-lla-ble. Right? Every unit – and this is something that happens in all languages, so no matter what language you speak, in your language there are also syllables, that comprise words. In some languages, you know, words are comprised of only one or two syllables. And in others you can have like 15 syllables in a word. And that’s a lot, I know.

But what I want to talk about now is not really the pronunciation, and not even the stress – I have a different video about that, that I released recently. I want to talk about the relationship between those syllables, and why it’s important. And why it’s important to understand the rhythm, that there is like this internal rhythm within words. Because it will help you pronounce, especially the long words, with simplicity and a lot more clarity. Because rhythm plays a major component, and not a lot of people talk about it.

Now, when we talked about stress – and again, the video is linked in the description – we said that there is always a primary stress for every word. And the primary stress is that one syllable that sticks out the most. So for example, in the word ‘creation’, ‘cre-A-tion’, the ‘A’ is the primary stress: ‘cre-A-tion’.

The primary stress is the longest syllable of them all. Okay? So, we could have 10 syllables in a word, and the primary stress would be the longest. That’s how you distinguish it. Length, and pitch, and sometimes volume. But length is important. But what does that mean, or what does that say about all the other syllables?

Here’s the thing. Unlike many other languages, where every syllable receives the same beat – the same length, because the stress is distinguished by just volume – in English there is a significant difference in length. Significant, you know, to the untrained ear. In English, there are three different rhythms within a word, if you have three different stresses.

Because you have the primary stress, secondary stress, and weak. Primary stress is the longest syllable, the longest beat. Secondary is right there in the middle. And weak is a schwa: it’s super reduced, it’s the shortest syllable of them all.

So, if we take the word ‘creation’, ‘creation’, here we have three different stresses: primary, secondary, and weak – the schwa. The ‘A’ is the primary stress. The ‘cre’ is a secondary stress cause you can hear there is a pure vowel there. So it’s going to be longish, but not as long as the ‘A’ – ‘cre-A’. And then the final syllable is reduced: a schwa – sh’n, cree-EI-sh’n, cree-EI-sh’n. Right? ta-DA-da. Again. ta-Da-da.  ta-Da-da. Do it with me, and with your hand.  ta-Da-da. cree-EI-sh’n.

Now, why is that important? Because when you understand the rhythm, it is much easier to surrender to that reduction at the end. Because you understand that it needs to be very short and you won’t feel obligated to put in a vowel, even though maybe in your native language there is a vowel at the end, right, if this word is a long word.

So, you won’t feel obligated to say ‘cree-EI-shion’, right, adding some sounds there because you feel that you need to compensate for the length. If you tend to pronounce every syllable in the same length, then the ‘cree’ and the ‘EI’ are going to have the same length. How would you help your listener understand that that is the primary stress? And if you pronounce the schwa, or the reduced vowel – the week stress – at full length, like the primary stress, it’s going to feel like it’s as equally important – ‘cree-ei-shon’ – you’ll have to add a vowel that doesn’t exist.

So, before even talking about pronunciation, I think that if you understand the rhythm, or the rhythmic patterns of a word, it would help you so much in pronouncing the words clearly without putting in a lot of thought or effort.

Let’s look at another example. Let’s take the word ‘people’. ‘pee-p’l’. Now, here again, if you’re a speaker of a language where every syllable receives the same beat, your tendency – because the rhythm of a language is something so internal, we want to apply it everywhere. This is how we breathe and operate. And definitely, how we speak a second language, if we don’t learn new patterns, or don’t acquire new patterns.

So what you’d like to do would be to say ‘pee-p’l’, ‘pee-p’l’, right? So you’ll make the ‘pee’ sound really short to match the ‘p’l’. And then maybe you’ll add a sound right there.

What happens is, that the high E and the aspirated sound at the beginning – P – is compromised. So you’re not fully exploring the vowel at the beginning. And then the schwa at the end is lengthened: people [not aspirated] – people, people. TA-da, right?

So I really want you to move with your body. So relax your body, roll your shoulders back, relax your head. Make sure you’re not holding a lot of tension. Because when you do the work where this work, if you’ll hold a lot of tension, you’re going to always want to stay with what’s comfortable. It’s not going to be easy to explore new things. It’s going to feel… you’re going to feel rigid.

So, I think that how you carry your body and how you breathe, really affect, you know, how you practice new things. Okay? So, did you roll your shoulders back? Did you check for tension? Breathe in to your belly. Good.

And now again, let’s try the word ‘pee-p’l’. ‘pee’ – you lean forward and you pull back. Ancestors. AN-ses-t’rz. ‘AN’ – primary stress, long. ‘ses’ – ‘e’, right there in the middle, secondary stress. t’rz, t’rz, t’rz – short. TA-da-da. Ta-da-da. I really want you to move with it. TA-da-da. AN-ses-t’rz. AN-ses-t’rz.

Complicated. KAAM-pluh-kei-d’d. So we have ‘KAAM’ – the primary stress, ‘pluh’ – reduced. ‘kei’ – it’s like swimming there, right? Like in the, not in the deep end, it’s just like where the water is still low, and it’s safe. KAAM-pluh-kei-d’d. KAAM-pluh-kei-d’d. KAAM-pluh-kei-d’d. TA-da-ta-da. TA-da-ta-da. KAAM-pluh-kei-d’d. Complicated.

And then, once you feel that you’ve gotten the rhythm: TA-da-ta-da, TA-da-ta-da, right? And if this seems weird to you, then stay with me and do it a little bit more, because it’s important. And your body knows what a rhythm is. If you know how to sing a song, if you know how to move your head to the music, even if it’s off-beat, you know what rhythm is. You know what long versus short is, right? Everything around us is rhythm – long and short, it’s like how we speak.

Now, the reason why it’s so important also is not just because it’s how you pronounce a certain word, because that rhythm plays a crucial role in the language as well. Important is stressed and long, less important things are short and fast. Emphasis – effortlessness. Right? So you constantly shift with this because that’s how you deliver your message with clarity, deliver your emotions, get people to feel and to think, and to respond to you the way you want them to respond.

So, the rhythm, and the voice, and all of that, all of the things that we do now, just within the word – these things are there so we can get it into our body. And it makes sense when we just talk about a word. But ultimately, we would want to take it to the phrase level, and the sentence level. So we feel how the language likes to be spoken. It’s not just to sound this or that. The language has its own rhythm, and we want to embrace it because that gives you more power, and you become more clear.

Now, let me clarify this. It’s not that you’re not going to be clear if you don’t use the rhythm. But understanding it also helps you hear it better. And when you start recognizing it and becoming more aware, because if you’re saying to yourself right now, “Wait, it’s too much. I’m not there yet.” But if you understand it, you start hearing it. If you start hearing it, you start integrating it into your speech subconsciously.

If you can’t hear it, you can’t make it. If you hear it and you don’t practice, at least it’s there. So, something’s happening in the back of the mind. So when you do start working on it, it would be easier. ‘EE-zee-uhr’. TA-da-da.

Communication. k’m-yu-nuh-KEI-sh’n. ‘k’m’ – schwa, ‘yu’ – secondary stress, a little like in the middle. ‘k’m-yu-nuh’ – reduced. Sometimes it’s ‘ni’ as well. k’m-yu-nuh/ni-KEI – primary stress, longest; sh’n. k’m-yu-nuh-KEI-sh’n. ta-da-da-DA-da. ta-da-da-DA-da. Communication. Casual. TA-da-da. Not ‘ka-ju-UHL’ – ‘KA-ju-uhl’. TA-da-da. Society. ta-TA-da-da. Again, ta-TA-da-da.

So, hold out the primary stress, it also helps practice the primary stress. But really focus on the other syllables as well this time. Society. Society. Season. Another opportunity to practice the high E, right? Season. TA-da. TA-da. Season.

Now let’s talk about trickier words, where you have two syllables, and a primary stress and a secondary stress, no reductions here. Campaign. ‘kam-pein’. So here to get to the ‘a’ sound in ‘campaign’, you have to allow some space, right? If you don’t have space, it’s going to be reduced to either ‘k’m-pein’ or ‘kuhm-pein’, right? If you’re saying that, then this is definitely something that you want to explore. It’s not ‘k’m-pein’ – it’s ‘kam-pein’.

Now, you know how to say the ‘a’, probably, and if you want to practice it more, I’m going to link to it in the description. But if you don’t allow it the time, it’s going to be a reduced. So, hold out the sound, give it the time that it needs. It’s a secondary stress, it’s not reduced. ‘kam-pein’. ‘kam-pein’. TA-DA. TA-DA. Right? ‘kam-pein’. Good.

Cafe. Same thing. ‘ka-fei’. Not ‘kuh-fe’, but ‘ka’ in American English – ‘ka-fei’. Right? So you drag it. Of course, if you say ‘kuh-fe’, everyone will understand you, especially me. I miss coffee so much. I haven’t been drinking coffee in one week and I feel it in my body.

Okay. One more word. Transportation. ‘trans-p’r-TEI-sh’n’. ta-da-DA-da, right. So really put it into notes and rhythmic patterns. ta-da-DA-da. So again, if you’re finding yourself doing something like ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta, then slow down, even record yourself. Pause the video, record yourself, and say ta-da-DA-da. ta-da-DA-da. ‘trans-p’r-TEI-sh’n’. ‘trans-p’r-TEI-sh’n’.

Okay. That was lovely, you guys, that was really lovely. The fact that you’re still here with me means that you are doing this with me, practicing. And I appreciate that and admire that so much. Because, you know, that’s what will get you to move on to the next stage, next level.

Okay. I have a list of words for you that you can practice, if you’re looking for words to practice. You can click the link below to go to my website. A list of 30 words, different, you know, two syllables, three syllables; primary stress, secondary, all stresses, many, many syllables. So, you can find it I’m on the website and you can practice with it if you want. If not, you can just google ‘long words in English’ or ‘words in English’. But that would be a little random and would take you a long time to find it. So come to my website and check out the list of words.

And yes, I would love to hear what you think about this: if that made sense to you, if it was clear enough, did that land with you? And if not, please feel free to ask me any questions that you have. I know this is, you know, not a traditional lesson. So if you have any questions, I’m going to be available right here in the comments, or in my DMs on Instagram. So, I’m inviting you to come on over there and chat with me as well.

Okay. Thank you so much for being brave, for doing this. And remember, mistakes is the only way to learn. There is no right way of speaking English, there is your way of speaking English. And of course, we are always here to be better, and the feel more expressive and unique when speaking.

Have a beautiful week. And I’ll see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
The InFluency Podcast
116. Want to master the pronunciation of English words? Listen to the rhythm

I also prepared for you a list of words to practice their rhythm. Here they are. Let me know in the comments below which were most challenging for you.

  1. Season
  2. People
  3. Effort
  4. Glamor
  5. Complicated
  6. Industry
  7. Financial
  8. Society
  9. Transportation
  10. Understanding
  11. Transformation
  12. Radioactive
  13. Ancestors
  14. Easier
  15. Happening
  16. Opinion
  17. International
  18. Refrigerator
  19. Responsibility
  20. Communication
  21. Creation
  22. Intrusion
  23. Decision
  24. Associate
  25. Calculate
  26. Casual
  27. Contain
  28. Relax
  29. Campaign
  30. Cafe

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17 Responses

  1. I am a filipino.. I’d like to thank you for your effort to teach us on how to become a good speaker. Your lessons have been a massive help to my learning english journey. I have been learning english for a couple of years and i’m still improving on it, specially my pronunciation which is one of my difficulties. However, watching your videos frequently, my pronunciation has immersed and improve a lot. Keep safe!! and more videos to be watched.

  2. EXcellent video class , my dear Hadar.
    Every video from you is a mountain of new learning. Love and kisses!

  3. Hello Hadar
    It’s a pleasure to watch your videos. The word “campagne” was a revelation to me, always thought that the first part is short. Would like to know more about body language and speech

  4. Dear Hadar !
    Thank you a lot for the engrossed, riveting video of “Hadar style”. Over my stay in America the “singing” character of American English has become conspicuous several time. For Instance, the long name of one of the Institution affiliated to the University I memorized with difficulties. It was the same with the name of this Institution’s manager. If he called me on the phone (perhaps, in addition the phone system distorted a bit) I have never recognized him by his or by the Institution’s name. However, both his name and that of the Institution sounded as if they were nice melodies. These was easy to memorize and recognize. Laszlo

  5. I been wasting my time, this video is a bomb. It so amazing, words are inadequate to express.
    Thanks a million times.

  6. Intersting and helpful!
    I am practicing English again. (Intermediate level – many years ago…)
    I will follow your videos to improve my pronunciation!!

  7. Thanks for such good video. Having worked for many years in a multinational record company in Italy, I often had people ask me why do British singers sound American when they sing? Well this is because the American English has a natural rythm of jazz-rock-folk sound and the words fit in smoothly as you stated!
    Grazie e bacio

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