Weak forms are a key part of English pronunciation and knowing how they work can improve the way you sound a good deal. In this lesson I show you
why they matter
what they are
how to practise them
places to learn more about them
Why you should learn to use weak forms
Avoiding a common mistake
One problem a lot of people have is that they believe to speak well they should make all the sounds very clear and so give them equal weight when they speak. This is just not how English works. To get the sound of English right you need to learn to de-stress some words even if you think you’re speaking less clearly. Those words are weak forms
Weak forms contain the most common sounds in English
If you’re wondering whether it’s worth bothering learning about weak forms, here’s a thought for you. Most – not all – weak forms sound pretty much the same – they are certainly the most common sound in English. If you don’t use them, then you’re not sounding English!!!! Don’t believe me?
Try saying these words
computers [not a weak form but it contains the same sounds]
Now listen to me speaking them in a sentence
You should hear that all those words contain the same sound – it’s what we call the schwa sound. Here it is again – word by word:
It’s a common sound because we make it when we don’t stress a word – that’s a lot.
It can help with listening too
One reason why you may find listening in English hard is that you may not hear what you expect to hear – clearly distinguished sounds and words. This is partly because a lot of weak forms sound much the same and you can’t distinguish the words. If though you learn to make the sounds yourself you can learn to hear the sounds better when you listen.
When do we use weak forms?
To understand this you first need to understand a little bit about sentence stress. The general idea is that we de-stress words when they are not important to the meaning of the sentence. This is normally when they are grammatical words such as
How can you learn to use these weak forms?
First learn what they are and get the sounds right
A good first step is to learn what the sounds are. This is a handy list. Read through it and practise making the sounds. If you need help with the phonemic alphabet, you can try this interactive version. (flash needed)
This is one area where it can help you to learn phrases. If you focus on phrases you’ll find some sounds are weak. See these examples
That’s an interesting question
If you ask me
If you focus on making weak sounds in phrases like this, then you can find it easier to make the same sounds when you speak more generally.
Put the words in sentences – repeat
Weak forms only really make sense when you use them in complete sentences. One exercise you can do for yourself is to say 4/5 similar sentence, write them down, mark the sentence stresses and then find the weak forms – just look for the small grammar words.
I don‘t use a computer for work very often
I play games on my computer about twice a day
I prefer to use my desktop and not my laptop
I use my laptop for sending emails and browsing the net
Try saying the sentences using only the stressed sounds. Repeat. Repeat. Now say the whole sentences using the weak forms too – try to keep to same rhythm. What you should find that is you make the weak forms quite naturally if you keep to the rhythm – you’re saying more sounds in the about the same space of time. Listen to me here:
Find a model video – listen and repeat
This is where sites like TED and Youtube can help too. Find a video that interests you, listen to it, pause it at the end of every sentence or so and try and repeat what you heard. It helps to have a transcript here.
This lesson is just a quick introduction. if you want quite a long – and very good – video explanation try these: