26.02.2003 // Live // by Tom Maholski

Spoken American English

Often when people learn English as a second language, they learn good spoken English. Tapes are clear and the speech is accurate and correct. They are then disappointed if they encounter Americans speaking to each other, because they cannot understand what is being said.

Americans do not speak clear concise English. They often run words together and speak very fast. An example is in a scene from a Woody Allen movie (I forgot which one) where Woody Allen complains that someone is anti-Semitic and always taunting him. This person allegedly shows his anti-Semitism by always referring to Woody Allen as "Jew." It was demonstrated in questions to him like "Jew eat yet?"

Of course, what was actually said was "Did you eat yet," but in our "American 'reductions'" it comes out "D' you eat yet?" and is pronounced as "Jew eat yet?" "Did you" and "do you" are often pronounced as "jew" when the speaker is in a hurry. "What do you" becomes "whadaya", like "Whaddaya wanna do?" for "What do you want to do?"

Often in spoken English the [th] sound is replaced by the [d] sound; so "this" becomes "dis" and "that" becomes "dat". It is most often done at the beginning of a word. You will almost never hear "with" sound like "wid".

We have been discussing this phenomenon in another E-group and I borrowed some of these examples from one of the other participants.

One of the members of the other E-group is a teacher of English as a second language and she uses a book in class that helps students practice understanding American "reductions." The book is titled Whaddaya Say [*] (which actually means "What Do You Say"). It is 119 pages long and available on line from Amazon.com [*].

Is this all confusing and is American English difficult? Yes! Of course it is! But if you want to learn English, you must understand written and spoken language can be two very different things. Often in literature you will see words written wrong. This is just the authors method of attempting to convey the essence of the spoken word.

One of the best ways to develop an understanding of spoken English if you do not have a native speaker to practice with is to watch American movies and listen to how things are said. Don't try to speak exactly like the actors do in the movie, if you begin speaking to Americans, the speed and slurring of words will begin to come natural.



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