VOA - Everyday Grammar - Betty Azar - Sounds of Grammar

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And at least in writing there are spaces between words. If only that were true in speaking! If only speakers paused briefly between words, it would be so much easier for learners. Teachers in second language classes often speak slowly and distinctly, as I am doing now. But in the real world, well, it's not going to happen. Or, to say that in normal contracted speech, Well, i'snotgonnahappen. Speakers squeeze sounds together, or drop sounds, or say them so softly and quickly that a listener can barely hear them. When you listen to my sentence again, notice that the t is almost completely dropped from it's, and going to becomes gonna. Well, i'snot gonna happen. As a teacher, I've often heard students say things like Bye. I leaving now. I see you tomorrow. What's missing? The grammar sounds are missing, in this case the m and l sounds for am and will. Listen for them in the corrected sentences: Bye. I'm leaving now. I'll see you tomorrow. The m and l sounds are barely said aloud. But a native speaker hears them. Do you? Listen again. Bye. I'm leaving now. I'll see you tomorrow. And then, sometimes native speakers drop not only sounds but complete words. Listen to this: Bye. ‘M leavin' now. See you tomorrow. If you're saying "Not fair!," you're not the first English learner to feel that way! Here's a sentence about a man named Tom. Tom is a noun. In writing, you will see Don't worry. Tom will be here soon. In speaking, you will hear Don't worry. Tom'll be here soon. Listen for Tom will again: Don't worry. Tom'll be here soon. Here's another example of a contraction with a noun: My book is on the table. becomes My book's on the table. And another example, this time with are: In writing you will see My books are on the table. In speaking you will hear My books're on the table. Again: My books're on the table. The verb sounds are so quick that it's almost impossible to hear them unless you expect to hear them. Listen again: My book's on the table. My books're on the table. Question words (such as where, when, why) are similarly contracted in speech. In writing, each word is separate. For example: Where are the students? Where have they gone? In spoken English, the question word is contracted with the verb: Where're the students? Where've they gone? Again: Where're the students? Where've they gone? No wonder it's hard for learners to catch these grammar sounds! If you think English speakers talk really fast, you're right. They do! Do and did are also often reduced. Listen for do you : D'you know Mrs. Lee? Again: D'you know Mrs. Lee? Did can be a quick d sound when it's combined with a question word. Listen for where did and what did: Where'd she go? What'd she do? Again: Where'd she go? What'd she do? Here's another example of shortened spoken English that my students usually enjoy. Two people are talking. D'ja? No, d'joo? In other words, spoken slowly: Did you eat yet? No, did you? Did is a good example of a function word. A function word gives grammar information. In the sentence Did you eat yet?, did tells us that the speaker is talking about the past and is asking a question. In contrast, eat is a content word. So are words such as Tom, yesterday, lunch. Content words have specific meanings. Function words are the ones that are the hardest to hear in speech. Content words are usually said more clearly and loudly. Along with helping verbs, other common function words are and, to, the, and a. Let's look at and. And shows the relationship between two nouns: Bob and Tom tells us there are two people. Like most function words, and is usually reduced: I had lunch with Bob ‘n Tom yesterday. A learner could easily think that "Bobbintom" is one word! To is usually reduced to a slight t sound: Let's ask Tom to come with us. sounds like Let's ask Tom t'come with us. Again: Let's ask Tom t'come with us. The and a can be especially hard for learners to hear. Listen for the and a: In class yesterday, I asked the teacher a question. Even if you know the and a are supposed to be there, you have to listen hard to hear them. Listen again: In class yesterday, I asked the teacher a question. If learners don't know what grammar sounds they're supposed to hear, chances are they won't hear them. If they don't hear them, chances are they won't include them in their own speaking and writing. In other words, an awareness of grammar can prepare you to understand what you're hearing, and hearing the sounds of grammar can, in turn, help you use English more accurately. I'm Betty Azar. Betty Azar wrote this story as a contributor for VOA Learning English. Adam Brock was the producer. Jill Robbins was the editor. You can visit Betty Azar's website at www.azargrammar.com. Betty Azar would like to thank Stacy Hagen for sharing her expertise in the grammar-listening connection.

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