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Lesson Transcript

Gina: Hello, I’m your host Gina.
Gabriella: And I’m Gabriella.
Gina: Stress in British English.
Gabriella: We’ve already covered the pronunciation of consonants and vowels, and now we’re moving onto stress.

Lesson focus

Gina: And we don’t mean the type of stress that comes from moving house, getting married, or starting a new job, do we?
Gabriella: No, we don’t!
Gina: There are no tones in English, so you might be thinking that now you know about pronouncing different letters, you can speak English like a native.
Gabriella: But, it’s not that easy! English is a stress language, and stress plays a very important part in making English sound natural, and understandable.
Gina: So first, what is stress?
Gabriella: It means to put extra emphasis on certain words or syllables. It’s something that native speakers do naturally without even thinking.
Gina: That’s right, every word we’ve spoken so far in this lesson has stress applied to it, but it’s so natural for native speakers, that we really don’t recognise we’re doing it or even hear it.
Gabriella: But, we notice when it’s done incorrectly.
Gina: That’s true.
Gabriella: There are two types of stress that we will talk about in this lesson.
Gina: The first is the stress on individual words.
Gabriella: We put stress on different syllables in words. If the stress is wrong, it can make the word difficult to understand.
Gina: Often stress falls on the first syllable, but there are so many exceptions to this that it’s best not to follow that.
Gabriella: Yes, words with suffixes and prefixes, for example, have different stresses.
Gina: Okay, let’s hear some examples of stress.
Gabriella: We’ll start with a very short and easy word. “Cat”.
Gina: The stress is applied to the “a” in the middle, right? Even though it’s a one-syllable word, there is still stress there.
Gabriella: Ready for another example?
Gina: Sure!
Gabriella: “Parrot”.
Gina: That has two syllables, and the stress is at the beginning, on the “Par”. It sounds wrong the other way around - “parROT”.
Gabriella: It sounds like a different word. Another example is “confusion”.
Gina: Oh, that’s three syllables with the stress on “fu” – the middle syllable.
Gabriella: Yes, that’s right. Stress is so important in English that it can literally change a word into a different one.
Gina: It can?
Gabriella: Yeah. English has several words that are spelt the same, but have different meanings. We can tell the difference between them because of the stress that is applied to the word.
Gina: And I’m sure you have an example?
Gabriella: Of course! Listen to this sentence - “The army want to desert the desert”.
Gina: Ah, “desert” and “desert” are both spelt D-E-S-E-R-T, aren’t they?
Gabriella: Yes, but we can tell the difference because the stress is placed on different syllables.
Gina: With the stress on the first syllable “DEsert”, it means a dry and barren piece of land that is covered by sand.
Gabriella: With the stress on the final syllable “deSERT”, it means to abandon something.
Gina: Stress can also change depending on accent, can’t it? There are words where Brits and Americans place stress in different places.
Gabriella: Yes. In British English, we would say “CariBBEan” and “garage”.
Gina: Whereas Americans say “CaRIbbean” and “GarAge”.
Gabriella: Nice American accent there.
Gina: Thanks! As well as stress on syllables, we also stress words in sentences.
Gabriella: Yes. Every word in an English sentence has to be spoken for it to make grammatical sense, but we place stress on the more important words.
Gina: Can we have an example?
Gabriella: I put the pen in the brown bag.
Gina: There, the emphasis was on “put”, “pen” and “bag”.
Gabriella: That’s the important information. Words such as “the” and “in” aren’t really important at all, so we don’t place stress on them.
Gina: But we have to still say them for the sentence to make sense.
Gabriella: Yes. We can also use stress to emphasise different things. If there were several bags of different colours, the most important part of the sentence would be that the pen was placed in the brown bag.
Gina: So the stress would be placed on “brown”, instead.
Gabriella: I put the pen in the BROWN bag.
Gina: Stress serves many purposes in English, and is something that learners definitely need to keep in mind at all times.
Gabriella: Yeah. Listen to as much English as you can and try to copy it. It can make sentences easier, or harder, to understand, as well as change the meaning of words.


Gina: Okay, that’s all for this lesson.
Gabriella: Thanks for listening, and see you next time!
Gina: Bye!