Stressed Words

Stressed Words

Beaker can communicate with just stressed sounds, intonation, and timing. Can you?

Teachers, when you teach word stress, how do you explain it? What is a stressed word in a sentence? How can you tell which word it is? What’s more, why is it important? Here are answers to all of those questions. Here’s to hoping they’ll help you build and enhance lessons.

First, listen to this sentence.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

Now, listen again.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

Hopefully, you instantly see that the first time, the sentence is about eggs and the second is about the size of the bowls of cereal. We can tell because of the stressed words in the sentence (“eggs” in the first and “big” in the second).

How do we know which words are stressed? They’re louder and we stretch them out. For example “big” becomes “BIIIIIG”.

Why is word stress important? Well, it tells us which words are important in the sentence.

In the first sentence, the stress on “eggs” means the speaker really wants the listener to understand that word. Maybe the listener didn’t understand the first time they heard the sentence.

In the second sentence, the speaker wants to emphasize that they didn’t eat small bowls of cereal. Perhaps they were supposed to finish the cereal and are feeling defensive.

Finally, listen to a more regular reading of our sentence.

I ate three eggs and two big bowls of cereal.

The stressed words are: three, eggs, two, big, bowls, cereal.

Even if you only heard these six words, you would understand the sentence perfectly. (Assuming some context tells you that the sentence was in the past.) The words “I, ate, and, of” are less essential, so we don’t stress them.

When speaking naturally, we rarely stress each word in a sentence. In fact, some words are so diminished, you couldn’t possibly know what they are unless you know the language well enough to guess.

In lessons, if you can get the students used to listening for word stress and not worrying so much about catching every word, but rather knowing the kinds of words that are likely to be unstressed, listening will become that much easier.

Next week, you’ll see some suggestions for how to do just that.

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  1. Five Ways to Practice Stress « Stuart Mill English - [...] Two weeks ago, we discussed word stress. Here are five ways to teach it. [...]

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