To sound like a native English speaker, we have to pronounce each word clearly, right?
Actually, no! There are many cases where native speakers take shortcuts.
This usually happens with small words like ‘the, and, to, in, for, that.’ To communicate our meaning well, we emphasise nouns, adjectives and verbs, and all the other words are said quicker. This is how you can develop a natural rhythm when speaking English.
|Full word||Reduced sound|
|the||tha (not ‘thee’)|
|to||ta (not ‘too’)|
|for||fa / fuh|
‘And’ usually sounds like ‘n’ in fast, informal speech. In fact, it’s sometimes written as ‘n’ in classic pairs, for example: fish ‘n’ chips, Guns N’ Roses, rock ‘n’ roll. In early text speech, where each letter you sent in a text message cost you a few pennies, people used to leave out vowels and shorten words. ‘See you later‘ would become: ‘c u l8r.‘
We also take shortcuts with common words. I can’t remember the last time I said ‘Goodbye’, because it’s always shortened to ‘Bye’! We tend to shorten common words when they either have near-linking sounds, or multiple syllables. If you listen closely to a native speaker, they likely won’t say the word ‘probably’ with 3 syllables. We often shorten it to ‘problee’. In a grammatical pattern like ‘have been’ (I’ve been, you’ve been, they’ve been), the V and B sounds are both made using the lips. It’s not a linking sound because V and B are different letters, but it is very near. Because of this, ‘have been’ often sounds like ‘habeen’ (I been, you been, they been) in fast, colloquial speech.
The general rule is, if it’s difficult for you to pronounce, it’s probably difficult for native speakers to pronounce too. In a word like ‘clothes’, the TH and S sounds are made using the same part of our mouth. It’s hard to say them together in one word. This is why native speakers often take a shortcut and skip a letter. Here are a few examples:
|Full word||Usual pronunciation|
Another way in which native English speakers take shortcuts is by choosing a simpler word. When learning English we often use the term ‘auxiliary verb’ (og-zi-la-ree) to refer to words like be, do, and have. In the sentence ‘Are you eating?‘, ‘are‘ is the auxiliary verb. But this is a mouthful. We can also call this the ‘helping verb’. It’s quicker and easier, so let’s do it! It’s brilliant to have advanced vocabulary, and the amazing variety of English adjectives enriches the language, but we don’t have to make things hard for ourselves. It’s common to shorten difficult words, like laboratory into ‘lab’ or ‘dissertation’ into ‘diss.’
Because English uses the alphabet system, it’s easy to use acronyms. Why say ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ when you could say ‘DNA’? I’m a keen knitter, and find that knitting uses a lot of acronyms and abbreviations (by the way, the word ‘abbreviation is so long, we sometimes abbreviate it to ‘abbr.’!) Here are a few stitches: K, P, SSK, K2tog, Sl, YO, psso, Ktbl, Ptbl. Actually, this is not to do with pronunciation, but to save on printing costs. There are many benefits to taking shortcuts!