How we say words is important. Most non-native speakers who speak the dialect of standard English do so with an accent synonymous with the country they come from or live in. This makes the English they speak sound different. Still, non-native speakers can get comfortable speaking English. They can achieve this with the help of pronunciation rules.
This article intends to share with you a few pronunciation rules you were most likely never taught at school.
How did Pronunciation rules come about?
Pronunciation rules began when the British Isles were conquered by the Germanic tribes, the Saxons, the Jukes, and the Angles. These tribes which spoke different dialects recognized as Celtic influenced the original English of the British Isles and gave rise to the Old English, Early English and also the Middle English.
As the years passed, English experienced a shift and further changes occurred leading to the language we have today.
The English language also faced the influence of the French, Latin, the church and the wealthy aristocrats of the time but thanks to the works of William Shakespeare, the English bible, the early modern English, and other notable English works, English has evolved to be a modern, global language spoken by millions of people around the world.
However, it is pertinent to note that the effects done to English due to the influence of the other tribes who conquered the British Isles has spread around the world just like the language itself.
Non-native speakers also speak the language with an accent relevant to their country and this pales the structure of the English language. But, with the appropriate use of the English pronunciation rules, non-native speakers of standard English can achieve accurate pronunciation of English words.
Rules for Pronouncing Vowels
There are 7 pronunciation rules for the English language, 5 of which apply to vowels pronunciation and 2 for consonant pronunciation. Before considering the pronunciation rules for Vowels, knowing what a vowel sound is and the difference between short vowel and long vowel sounds is important. You can learn about this from a standard English dictionary.
Below are the Pronunciation rules for pronouncing vowels.
Pronunciation rule 1 states: Vowel followed by a single consonant at the end of a Word is pronounced as a short vowel
Represented as Consonant-Vowel-Consonant(CVC) words that follow this pronunciation rule are mostly three-letter words and are usually among the first set of English words non-native English speakers and English students learn to read. Examples are; Man, Pup, Kit, Cot, and Tap.
Pronunciation rule 2: A Vowel followed by two consonants at the end of a word is also pronounced as a short vowel
Illustrated as CVCC, words that conform to this pronunciation rule are single vowels that are followed by a consonant cluster.
Consonant clusters or consonant blends are 2 or 3 more consonant letters that precede or follow a vowel within a word or syllables.
Examples of words within this category of pronunciation rules are;
Pick, Want, Wish, Back, Hand and Pull.
Pronunciation rule 3: If a Vowel is the final letter in a word, it is pronounced as a long Vowel
This pronunciation rule applies for a vowel which appears at the end of a word in a single syllable word or a multisyllabic word. It can be found in words like be, he, to, ago, and ale. You
These words are represented as CV(consonant-vowel).
Pronunciation rule 4: Known as the Silent “e” rule, this rule states that if an “e” appears at the end of a Word, it Is Silent. The Preceding Vowel if separated from the “e” by one or more Consonants will be pronounced as a long vowel
This rule is most likely the first rule every student of English is taught. An easy way of accurately applying this rule is by crossing out the silent ” e” or underlining it and marking the preceding vowel as long.
The silent “e” rule is represented as CVCe. Examples are ape, hate, care, bite, nice and note.
Pronunciation rule 5 states: If two vowels appear next to each other in a syllable, the second vowel Is silent and the first vowel is pronounced as a long vowel
Represented as CVCC, this pronunciation rule says that the speaker should say the first vowel and ignore the second.
English examples of words under this category include beat, load, peel, train and true.
Rules for Pronouncing Consonants
Pronouncing consonants will be easier with an understanding of consonant clusters or consonant blends and how it works.
Consonant blends in English pronounce two or more consonant letters as one sound.
Some consonant blends comprise two sounds which are pronounced as one complex sound. Examples are; pl in pluck, bl in black, and tr in trophy. Other consonant blends are only one English sound. They can be spelt by using two or more consonants. Examples include sh (wish, push), ch (chair, chart, teach), and tch (watch, hatch).
Pronunciation rule 6: If one consonant follows a vowel in the middle of a Word, it is pronounced as the first sound in the next syllable
Pronounce cat-er and ca-ter. Sounds different? The second is the correct pronunciation while the first sounds like a different word. In pronunciation rules, where a consonant is pronounced in a word does make a difference. Other examples in this pronunciation rule are; pap-er, not pa-per, pro-tect not protect.
The 7th pronunciation rule states: When two Consonants follow a vowel in the middle of a word, one consonant will be pronounced at the end of the first syllable with the other pronounced at the beginning of the next vowel
This rule applies for consonant blends acting as one consonant sound and for non-blend consonants.
Also, when a consonant is doubled in the middle of a word, this pronunciation rule is applied.
Examples are can-not, sub-ject, top-ple, and ab-ject.
English has evolved over the centuries to become a complicated language with several rules to follow. Initially, it was not so.
Obeying the rules associated with English will not only give students of English a better chance of pronouncing an English word they encounter but do not know how to pronounce, but it will also get rid of the accent problem associated with non-native English speakers.