An interesting thing I’ve noticed about some of our ESL students is that they can speak clearly enough until they start to read. Then the “music” is all wrong and I have to work very hard to understand them.

What can be done about this? The answer may surprise you.

Most ESL students have studied how to make the different sounds of English. Many have trouble with r and l, and also with th. But the technique I want to tell you about has nothing to do with those sounds.

When we stress a word, we show that it is important. We do this by saying it a little louder, making our voices a little higher, and/or saying the word a little more slowly. Listen for the stressed words the next time you hear a native speaker. S/he is telling you that these words are important.

You know what the pause button is for on your DVD player. Native speakers of English use their “pause button” a lot! Listen for the tiny pauses next time you hear a native speaker.

If you can learn to read with correct stress and pauses, people will understand your English much more easily.

It will help if you have studied English grammar because the grammar of a sentence helps us figure out where the stress and pauses are. Nouns and action verbs are stressed. Here’s an example:

He FOUND the DOG under the BED.

After each stressed word, there is a little pause.

He FOUND the DOG under the BED.

We also pause after a clause. Here’s an example:

He was LOOKING for it, but he COULDN’T FIND it.

You can practice stress and pauses using these four steps:

  1. Listen to a tape or DVD for which you have the words.
  2. Mark the stressed words and the pauses.
  3. Practice reading with the tape or DVD.
  4. When you’re listening to a native speaker, try to notice his/her stressed words and pauses.

Do this every day, and soon you will notice that other people understand you much better!

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