Listen to this post: toefl-ibt-and-word-stress-part-one
In words of two or more syllables, one of the syllables is stronger than the others. For example, note the stressed syllable in the following words: MIsion, teleVIsion, rePUblican, and uniVERsity. Having appropriate word stress patterns involves not only your ability to stress the correct syllable but also your ability to pronounce the unstressed syllables by making them softer sounds.
Additionally, having appropriate word stress means you are familiar with parts-of-speech word stress patterns. If you know, for instance, that a word is a noun or a verb, you may be able to predict where the word stress falls. Also, understanding general word stress patterns will help you to formulate rules with other types of words as well. Having appropriate word stress is critical to your success on TOEFL iBT speaking. If you have irregular word stress shifts, TOEFL iBT human raters will have to put forth more effort in understanding you. And, in some cases, your distracting word stress shifts will prevent you from being understood. Therefore, human raters will give you a lower TOEFL iBT speaking score.
To illustrate how irregular words stress shifts can interfere in your ability to speak clearly, consider the following story. An English language learner went to the supermarket to buy some groceries. The customer found all but one item: conditioner.
So, he approached a store clerk and asked, “Where is the CONditioner?”
“What? asked the clerk. “The CONditioner,” said the customer.
The clerk replied, “I’m sorry, but I cannot understand you.”
Even though the customer had pronounced the vowel and consonant sounds correctly, he had not stressed the correct syllable of the word: conDItioner. Due to that irregular word stress shift, the clerk could not understand what he was asking. Despite the importance of word stress to a leaner’s intelligibility, it proves a difficult obstacle for many. Why is word stress so difficult to learn? Word stress involves making the stressed syllable longer, clearer, louder, and high pitched. Few advanced learners of English effectively execute these four characteristics of word stress, probably due to inexperience and differences in word stress patterns from speakers’ first languages. Additionally, these learners are unfamiliar with word stress rules regarding certain words.
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