How to Sound More Natural: By Linking Words

Many English learners pronounce each word separately because they want to make sure their speech is clear and easily understood or because they may “think” in individuals words instead of thought groups. Speaking this way may help with clarity, but it also creates speech that sounds non-native and a bit choppy and mechanical, somewhat like computer-generated speech.  Linking words is key to avoiding this unnatural sound.

 

Native English speakers connect, or “link,” words together when communicating one thought group. Linking means connecting the last sound of one word to the first sound of the following word. The result? Smooth, natural, fluent-sounding English.

Do you sometimes drop word endings by not pronouncing the final consonant? This problem will be solved if you apply the rules of linking to your speech since linking requires you to connect the final consonant with the following word, if it begins with a vowel. As a result, the final sound becomes the first sound of the word that follows it. 

You know what? This will make things easier for you, too! 

 

Linking Consonants to Vowels

Let’s look at an example.  

Which is more difficult for you to pronounce: “burned out” or “burn doubt?”

We’re guessing the first one is more of a challenge for you.  The good news is that a native speaker would pronounce “burned out” as we would read “burn doubt.” 

Another example? “It’s – a – cold – evening” can be a mouthful when pronounced separately, but if you say “it sa col devening,” you’ll sound more natural and will spend less effort getting that phrase out! 

Word combination Sounds like 
Deep end  Depend  (w/ accent on the first syllable) 
I like i I lie kit 
Hold o Hole Don 
Get up late  Ge da plate
This guy  The sky
Kicked out  Kick doubt 

 

Linking ing + Vowel

Be careful not to skip the /g/ sound when linking the ing ending of a word to the vowel sound of the following word. For example, “going on” should not be pronounced as “goin’ on” in standard English. Be sure to create a quick nasal “ng” /ŋ/sound by touching the back of your mouth with the back of your tongue.

Try linking in these examples

 

  • I’m thinking about it
  • How about staying in tonight?
  • Are we really doing it? 
  • This just isn’t working out

 

Linking Consonant to Same Consonant

When the final consonant of one word is the same as the first consonant of the next word, the consonant is pronounced only once, with a slightly lengthened sound.  

Word combination Sounds like 
He speaks Swahili  He speak Swahili 
Black car  Black are
Big game  Big aim 
Well lit  Well it 
Can never Can ever 
Turned down  Turn down 

 

Linking Two Different Consonants

 In our section on consonants, we explained the difference between stops and continuants. Remember that “stops” are consonants that are pronounced with a stop in airflow (ex. /b/) while “continuants” are pronounced with a continuation of airflow (ex. /s/). 

Understanding these two types of consonants will help you sound more natural when linking words.  

Here are the rules of linking two different consonants: 

  1. When a stop sound is followed by another consonant, you must hold the stop sound. What does this mean?  Instead of releasing air after you create the sound with your lips or tongue, hold the pressure inside your mouth. This applies to both to linking words (ex. “Sit  down”) and consonant combinations within words (ex. “lobster”)
  2. Linking continuants is easier since you can just continue from one consonant to the next without stopping the airflow.  For example, “aims to” sounds “aim Stu,” “it’s tall,” sounds like “it stall.” 

Make sure that you hold the final consonant of the first word.

 

up top           baked buns          great day         cookbook

help now      fried beans           big dog            dark night

 

Need help? 

For more tips on how to make your English speaking sound more natural, check out these articles on connected speech:

Would you like a little more coaching on your pronunciation with a professional ESL teacher?  To learn more about English pronunciation and practice it in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional experienced English teacher.  The first week is free for you to try it out!  

Anita Collins

Anita Collins

Anita is a long-time English teacher and language enthusiast from Canada, currently living in the multilingual city of Montreal. She majored in linguistics, dabbled in translation, and has been teaching students from all over the world for over a decade. She now spends each morning trying to balance her two loves: planning the next trip and spoiling her beagle. The rest of her day she spends on curriculum design and language classes, with the beagle underfoot.
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