When you talk to native speakers, they may sometimes answers questions by using modal auxiliaries such as can, could, would, should, will and so on. Additionally, these native speakers will use helping verbs such as are, is, were, have, has, and so on. Moreover, when these speakers change from positive to negative or vice versa, it can cause you problems. For example, when a speaker says, “I can go.” or “I can’t go.”, it may be hard for you to distinguish between these positive and negative statements. Additionally, if you are a non-native speaker, you are almost guaranteed to have problems in your pronunciation in this area.
To succeed on TOEFL iBT, you will need to distinguish between positive and negative modal auxiliaries and helping verbs when speaking about or listening to campus-related conversations, academic discussions, and lectures. Therefore, being proficient in this area will help you to develop clear pronunciation and accurate listening.
Why might you have difficulty in this area? In the case of can versus can’t, you may mistakenly listen for the final “t” sound . However, when native speakers pronounce can’t, they do not pronounce the “t” sound. Additionally, as a non-native speaker, you may not be able to change your sentence stress especially as it relates to words like were and weren’t. You will have a tendency to stress both words with equal stress which will cause you to be misunderstood.
To gain more proficiency, you will need a lot of exposure to conversational English in which you interact with native speakers. Through this process, you will gain competence in this and other areas of your pronunciation. In closing, there is some advice that I would like to give you concerning the pronunciation of modal auxiliaries and helping verbs.
1. Do not think of the words you speak as individual words. Think of them as part of a larger segment of your conversation.
2. If you say can, for example, you should unstress can and stress the main verb which comes after it: I can GO to the STORE. Additionally, use the unstressed mid central unrounded lax vowel (i.e., among) with the word can. Only in cases of contrastive stress should you pause after can.
3. If you say can’t, for example, you should stress both can’t and the main verb which comes after it: I CAN’T GO to the STORE. Make a slight pause in your speech after saying the word can’t. Additionally, use the stressed low front unrounded lax vowel sound represented in the word cat.
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