Pronunciation Tip: Word Stress

57958534_3d8c9b4a2cDid you know that it’s extremely difficult for a native English speaker to pronounce any word without stressing one of the syllables?

Stressing a syllable means that one part of each word gets a bit more time than the others.

Take my name, Emily, for example. Emily has three syllables. The stress is on the first syllable, so the “eh” sound gets just a bit more time than the other two syllables. Saying it any other way sounds like a different word.

Years ago, I asked a student for clarification on how to say his name. I asked which syllable to stress. His answer completely bewildered me: he said it didn’t matter. In English, it always matters!

This is one key to improving your own English pronunciation. Word stress is so natural to us that we struggle to speak without it. If you are speaking without it, we are going to have trouble understanding you. If you are stressing the wrong syllables, communication might still fail.


Listen for word stress. If you’re learning new words or taking notes, don’t just write down the spelling – include the stress. It might be difficult to identify the stress, and that’s OK! Just trying, even if you get it wrong, will get you thinking about it and noticing it.

Listen to Emily read this post. (Vocaroo will open in a new tab)

Photo Credit: Francois Bester on Flickr

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