Pronunciation Practice: Words with SILENT SYLLABLES 🤫

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

Are you pronouncing these English words correctly? To sound more like a native speaker and pronounce these words naturally, come and practise your English pronunciation with me!

We’ll practice the pronunciation of 28 common English words that include silent letters and silent syllables! Many of my students mispronounce these words; so, I’ll show you how to sound natural and relaxed as you speak in English!

Video Transcript Section 1

You’ve heard of silent letters in English but what about You’ve heard of silent letters in English but what about silent syllables? I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and today we’re going to practise natural English pronunciation. I’ve got a heap of really common everyday English words that you might be pronouncing a little awkwardly.

So we’re going to practise the pronunciation of individual words but we’ll also practise these words fluency as well. So get ready, we’re about to dive in!

So we’re talking about syllables today and just in case you’re a little unsure about what that means, this is a unit of pronunciation, it includes a vowel sound and often has some surrounding consonant sounds like cat has one syllable.

Healthy has two syllables. Enormous has three syllables and so on but what am I talking about silent syllables for? Let me give you an example of one of the words that I’m talking about.

1. natural /ˈnætʃ(ə)rəl/
naturally /ˈnætʃ(ə)rəli/

How many syllables does it have? You might have said three and I can’t blame you for that at all, it looks like there should be three right? But when spoken naturally, native speakers usually reduce the pronunciation of this word down to just two syllables.

And it’s the same with naturally. Most of my students will pronounce naturally with four syllables right but when a native speaker says this word out loud, usually you’ll only hear three syllables, naturally.

So I can already hear you asking “Emma does this mean that every native speaker always says ‘naturally’ with three syllables?”

No but usually we do because it’s easier to pronounce fewer syllables and it helps us to speak more quickly so this happens quite a lot. But the problem is that until you hear a native speaker say this word, you can’t possibly know about the different types of pronunciation, the spelling doesn’t change.

Even if you do hear a native speaker pronounce all of the syllables, the silent ones that we’re talking about today are always a reduced syllable, they’re very soft, they’re very hard to hear even when spoken naturally. So if you want to work on your English accent and sound more relaxed and more natural when you speak English then this video is definitely one to keep watching.

All of the words that I’m sharing today are very, very common words, ones that you are already using all the time so make sure that you are able to practise out loud with me. This is a pronunciation lesson so I expect you to be saying these words and these sentences out loud as we go through them.

2. every /ˈevri/

Just two syllables. Every. So you use this pronunciation every time okay? Once you get the pronunciation down to two syllables, it’s going to help you to pronounce so many words. it’s going to help you to pronounce so many words.

  • everyone /ˈevriˌwʌn/
  • everywhere /ˈevriˌweə(r)/
  • everything /ˈevriˌθɪŋ/
  • everyday /ˈevriˌdeɪ/
  • every /ˈevri/

3. business /ˈbɪznəs/

Now it really does look like there should be three syllables there right but it’s not. It’s not busy-ness but business. It’s confusing, I know. In fact, when I’m trying to write or type this word out, in my head, I still think to make sure that I get the spelling right and that is after to make sure that I get the spelling right and that is after as a native English speaker.

So I don’t blame you for being a little confused by this language. It’s business.

4. interest /ˈɪntrəst/

Interest. Not in-ter-est. Just two syllables. Interest.

5. chocolate /ˈtʃɒklət/

All my Filipinas out there this one is for you. Not choc-o-late but chocolate. So that last syllable is also really short, both vowel sounds in these syllables are really short. Chocolate.

6. aspirin /ˈæsprɪn/

So this is another example where it really looks like there should be three syllables right. As-pir-in. It’s just two. Aspirin. So it’s always pronounced this way. Aspirin.

7. Wednesday /ˈwenzdeɪ/

I mean, I know this one really does seem like you should be pronouncing three syllables. It’s very clear. Wed-nes-day. But no. We’ve got two syllables there and that D is a silent letter so there’s a lot going on here right? Wednesday.

8. comfortable /ˈkʌmftəbəl/

So it’s not com-for-ta-ble but just comfortable. And although you may hear the odd native speaker saying com-for-ta-ble, perhaps in the U.S, it’s not very common. Most native speakers will just reduce it down and it’s the same with this one.

9. vegetable /ˈvedʒtəbəl/

Vegetable. Not veg-e-ta-ble. Just three syllables. Vegetable.

  • Can I order the vegetable pizza?

10. different /ˈdɪfrənt/

Not diff-er-ent. Just two syllables.

  • If I were you, I would choose a different colour.

11. temperature /ˈtemprɪtʃə(r)/

So it’s not tem-per-a-ture. Temperature.

  • What temperature will it be tomorrow?

12. politically /pəˈlɪtɪkli/

Now adverbs like this that end in -ally can be a little tricky because they don’t all follow the same rules but politically has only four syllables. It’s not po-lit-ic-a-lly. Just politically. Four syllables. Politically.

  • His decision was politically motivated.

13. practically /ˈpræktɪkli/

Another very common adverb not prac-tic-a-ly. It’s just three syllables. Practically.

  • I’ve practically finished already!

Now before we move on, let’s practise using some of those words in sentences out loud. So you’ll see the sentence come up on the screen. Don’t worry, I’m going to highlight the words that you need to pay attention to and I want you to first read it out loud yourself, then you’ll hear me say it so I want you to listen, then repeat again after me. Are you ready?

  • On Wednesday, I’m cooking roast chicken with vegetables. Can you bring your chocolate cake for dessert?
  • I’m interested in every business and I’m comfortable speaking to everyone.
  • I practically melted, the temperature was so high! I wish we visited at a different time of year.

So now we’re moving into a bit of a grey area. All of the words from now on in the lesson have two accepted pronunciations so if you are using that extra syllable, you’re not wrong. But most native speakers will use the shorter version because it’s easier and it allows us to speak quickly. Most of my students though will use the longer version because having the extra syllable in there gives them a little bit of extra space when they’re speaking – a little bit of extra time. But let’s try and simplify the sounds a little, the sounds that you’re making when you say these words and try and make it a little bit more efficient.

14. family /ˈfæm(ə)li/

It’s a pretty basic word, right? Probably one of the first ones that you learned. I wonder how you’ve been pronouncing it all this time. Have you added that extra syllable or are you just using two? You will sometimes hear native speakers pronouncing family with a little schwa syllable in there. Family. Sometimes I say it like this too so it’s not wrong. But most of the time, native speakers will reduce it down to just two syllables because it’s more efficient. It’s simple.

  • Most of my family lives in Melbourne.

Now what’s awesome is that you can see in the phonemic script that the extra schwa sound optional syllable. So if you use the extra syllable, it is a reduced vowel sound, an unstressed sound that’s low in pitch. But you can drop it completely and when we speak quickly, we do. So the syllable becomes silent. It’s like it doesn’t exist at all.

Keep an eye out for that schwa symbol in brackets. You’ll see it in many of the words that come up on the screen now. You’ll also be able to keep an eye out for it in dictionaries as you’re looking up new words like this one.

15. listening /ˈlɪs(ə)nɪŋ/

Listening. So it’s perfectly okay to use three syllables. Listening. But to make things quick and simple, native speakers will often reduce it down to just two syllables.

16. travelling /ˈtræv(ə)lɪŋ/

It’s the same with travelling. So you’ll hear travelling with that extra schwa sound in the middle. Travelling. But to make it more efficient, to speak quickly, reduce it down, cut it out.

  • I was listening to his story about travelling across Australia.

17. literally /ˈlɪt(ə)rəli/

Or literally. So it’s really common to hear both of these pronunciations by native speakers. Literally with four syllables and literally with three. So it’s more common to hear the four-syllable version in American English and that’s to do with specific pronunciation features in that accent. So you’ll hear literally with that flap T sound, right? It sounds more like a D. Very short vowel sounds. Literally. In the UK, it’s more common to hear the three-syllable version. And that’s because of that more pronounced T sound right? That’s a feature of their accent. Literally.

  • And here in Australia, we literally use both versions. Literally!

Because we also use the flap T too. So you can take your pick here.

18. actually /ˈæktʃuəli/

So you’ll hear actually with four syllables. But actually is way easier with three right, as long as you can make that CH sound easily. If it’s a little tricky for you, you might prefer to keep four syllables. Actually.

  • Actually, I was in Melbourne last year.

19. favourite  /ˈfeɪv(ə)rət/

So instead of] fa-vo-rit. Favourite. It’s easier, it’s faster to use two syllables so why would you use three?

20. memory /ˈmem(ə)ri/

So like favourite, both types of pronunciation are common. Memory with that little extra schwa syllable in the middle. Memory or memory.

  • What’s your favourite memory from childhood?

21. camera /ˈkæm(ə)rə/

So this is another favourite word for native English speakers to shorten. Camera. Two syllables only. Many of my students will say cam-e-ra but camera is definitely much more natural. Camera.

22. restaurant /ˈrest(ə)rɒnt/

So this word is very commonly pronounced with four or even five syllables in other languages. French, Spanish, Italian, German, even Japanese. But in English, you will hear native speakers reduce that down to just two. Restaurant, which is very quick and easy right unless you have trouble with that STR consonant sound like in street and struggle, it can be tricky to have so many consonants together so if you find that a little tricky, stick with restaurant. Try this one with me.

  • I think they allow cameras in the restaurant but you can’t take them into the show afterwards.

23. average /ˈæv(ə)rɪdʒ/

If you’re a native English speaker and you use the three-syllable version, please let me know about it in the comments and tell me where you’re from because it sounds so odd to me to hear av-e-ridge. I’m sure there must be somewhere where they pronounce it that way. Much more common to hear average, two syllables only. Average.

24. miserable /ˈmɪz(ə)rəbəl/

So it looks like there should be four syllables, mis-er-a-ble but we just shorten it to miserable.

  • This miserable weather is average for this time of year!

25. conference /ˈkɒnf(ə)rəns/

So again, if this word is similar in your native language, you might be used to pronouncing that extra syllable in there. The little schwa. But in naturally spoken English, conference is much, much more common. Conference.

26. several /ˈsev(ə)rəl/

So you might hear several again with a little schwa syllable in there. Several. This is a really handy word actually, it’s used to refer to an imprecise number, not an exact number of things or of people so it’s not a really large amount but it is greater than two so if you don’t want to be specific, it’s a great word to know. But it’s very natural to just use several instead.

27. separate /ˈsep(ə)rət/

There are several international speakers speaking at the conference. Separate. Now this one is a little tricky because there is a clear pronunciation difference between the verb separate and the adjective separate. I go into that in much more detail in this lesson up here, the pronunciation between the verb and the adjective so check it out later if you want to.

But you may hear a difference in the pronunciation of the adjective form, separate or separate. Separate. Very, very slight.

28. Catholic /ˈkæθ(ə)lɪk/

This one’s tricky because of that TH sound right. You might find it easier to keep that extra schwa sound, that extra syllable in there between the TH and the L consonant sound. So this one I understand if you are having a little bit of trouble with it but you’ll hear catholic, three syllables or catholic. Shorten it right down to just two.

  • There are several buildings constructed by the catholic church in the 15th century.

Now it can be a little tricky to realise if you’re pronouncing these words one way or the other so what I encourage you to do is to check the description box down below, I’ve added all of these words so that you can make your own recording of yourself reading them aloud in that order. Then you’ll be able to compare them to the way that I’m pronouncing them in this video.

So I’m going to read them out loud one more time, one at a time so that you can listen back to your recording and compare it to mine, alright? So this is your homework task.

  • natural
  • every
  • business
  • interest
  • chocolate
  • aspirin
  • Wednesday
  • comfortable
  • vegetable
  • different
  • temperature
  • politically
  • practically
  • family
  • listening
  • Travelling
  • literally
  • actually
  • favourite
  • memory
  • camera
  • restaurant
  • average
  • miserable
  • conference
  • several
  • Separate
  • Catholic

As I said at the start of this video, pronouncing the extra syllable in all of these words is no big deal at all. You’ll still be understood and of course, that’s the most important aspect of communicating in English, right? This lesson was really about helping you to be more efficient with your language, to help you speed up, sound more natural and relaxed as you speak. Let me know if you’ve got any questions or comments about this lesson down below and then come and join me in there, right there in that lesson. I’ll see you in there!

Links mentioned in the video

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