Good day, everyone! What is the weather like wherever you are? Here it’s a bit chilly and it’s just perfect for a couple of recommendations regarding English pronunciation. So, let’s get to it.
Pronunciation of numbers
It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between 16 (sixteen) and 60 (sixty), or between 13(thirteen) and 30 (thirty). Especially when it includes sounds that are not part of your native tongue –see the case of “Thirty” and “Thirteen” which feature a starting interdental sound unused in Spanish that is studied in the first post of our blog-. Maybe a good way to tackle this issue is paying attention to the stressed syllable in the word.
Unlike Spanish, English doesn’t use stress marks. What this means is that the stress is not particular to every word in a sentence, but rather that the emphasis of a sentence is placed on one or two of its content words. However, when analyzed individually, every word with more than one syllable has its particular stress, and this can help us with numbers. Follow this easy rule: all the numbers that end in the syllable “-teen” have the stress on it; all those than end in “-ty” DON’T have the stress in this syllable. This is what the black circles at the top of the following columns mean: the small circle is the unstressed syllable and the big one the stressed (Yes, you are very smart and you noticed: both “Seventeen” and “Seventy” have three syllables, but if you don’t tell anyone, it will be our little secret).
The column on the left is called “The teens” because these numbers end in this syllable. When you meet a person who is between 13 and 19 years of age, you can say “S/he is in her/his teens”. The column on the right is called “The tens” because each number encompasses a group of ten units.
Three tricky terms
(There, try starting by saying “Three tricky terms” three times really fast).
After years of teaching, it becomes suspicious that certain words are constantly mispronounced. Perhaps in the future the error will become the rule for that is a law of language evolution, but in the meantime, the similarities between these three words can be used to our advantage.
First, let us be clear about something: there is no single absolute way to pronounce any of these words. Differences can be found in various English-speaking regions of the world, socioeconomic brackets and even age groups. The pronunciation suggested in this post is based on the ease it may represent to native Spanish speakers.
The syllables of a word in Spanish can be separated without even speaking the word; it just takes reading and breaking the chunks of consonants and vowels. This is possible because in Spanish the written form commands the other skills of the language. In English, it is the spoken delivery that shapes the presentation of the others. For this reason, syllables will look mighty different. Hence, “Vegetable” has 3 syllables (Vege-ta-ble), “Interesting” also has 3 (In-teres-ting) as well as “Comfortable” (Comfor-ta-ble). This is their first similarity, they all have three syllables.
The second similarity is that all of them carry the stress on their first syllable, as you can see in the green underlining.
As you might know from your own experience, not all the letters written in an English word are necessarily pronounced and this is the third similarity between these three words: they all have letters that vanish in the pronunciation; they are crossed out in red.
Well, and to wrap it up, why not a few exercises? As you know, years like 1997 in English are not read after the Spanish model. That is to say, we don’t say “One thousand nine hundred ninety seven”. Instead, we break years in two groups of two digits each and read it as teens and tens: “Nineteen ninety seven”.
So, read these sentences aloud:
1) The year 1330 started on a Monday.
2) The year 1440 was a leap year (It had 366 days).
3) The Colombian city of Valledupar was founded on January 6, 1550, by Hernando de Santana.
4) The year 1660 was also a leap year.
5) There is a village in Queensland named after the year 1770.
6) Guess what? 1880 was yet ANOTHER leap year. Weird, huh?
7) On February 11, 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison after 27 years.
Surely you did wonderfully on that one. And to practice English spelling here is a piece of advice: every time you see a long word, no matter what language it is in, spell the vowels first and then the consonants. See how fast you can do it. Try these:
Hopefully you had some fun and are now able to use these tips to improve your pronunciation. Is there any topic you’d like to see on this blog? Then leave us a comment and we’ll get our monkeys slam away at their computers for you! Ta!