Non-native speakers need to perfect the vowels and consonants of Standard American English to sound less accented. However, another important aspect of accent reduction is using the appropriate rhythm and intonation. An important way to facilitate a smoother liason between words is to use contractions in everyday conversation.
Contractions Facilitate Smoothness
Americans do not use contractions when they are writing formally, however, when writing casually and when speaking conversationally, we always shorten our sentences with the use of contractions. The use of contractions facilitates a smoother link between words and allows us to sound more casual. When we do not use contractions, we sound more formal and the smooth flow of speech is interrupted.
What Is A Contraction?
A contraction is formed by combining two words into one and by using an apostrophe to substitute for the letter or letters that have been omitted. The following is a list of the more frequently used contractions:
I’ll I will
I’m I am
Can’t Can not
Won’t Will not
Isn’t Is not
She’ll She will
He’ll He will
He’s He is
Wasn’t Was not
Weren’t Were not
Shouldn’t Should not
Wouldn’t Would not
Now try using some of these contractions in the following sentences:
- I’ll call you if she isn’t able to do it.
- Wouldn’t it be better if you arrived at an earlier time.
- He’s very friendly now but he wasn’t always this nice.
- I won’t be able to stay late today.
- He’ll choose from this selection, but she’ll choose from those
To appreciate the difference between the more casual, friendlier tone of the contractions and that of the more formal, choppier non-contracted sound, try saying each sentence twice. The first time, say the sentence without the contractions – I will call you if she is not able to do it. The second time, listen to the contrasting sound and smoother rhythm that you are able to produce when using the contractions – I’ll call you if she isn’t able to do it. Repeat this procedure for all of the sentences. Then create some of your own sentences and practice saying them smoothly and fluently to produce a less accented pattern. You will also notice that using contractions helps to shorten the amount of time it takes you to produce a sentence.
Using Contractions Sounds Wrong to Non-Native Speakers
In my practice, most non-native speakers tell me that they feel as if they are making a grammatical error when they use contractions in ongoing conversation. It sounds wrong to their ear and they are very self-conscious about speaking with contractions. As with any speech habit, the more often you use it and the more familiar your ear becomes to the new sound, the more successful and comfortable you will be using it. For less accented sounding speech and a more easily understood intonation pattern, don’t be afraid to “contract” it!