Spoken English can be difficult to understand because native speakers not only speak quickly, but we also slur our speech. Quick, natural English links words together, making words in a sentence sound different than words spoken individually. Think of it like writing in cursive vs. writing in print. In print, letters are disconnected and always have the same shape. In cursive, letters run together and change their shape based on what’s around them. English sounds change their shape based on what’s around them, too.
Understanding word linking will help you understand spoken English, and be understood when you speak.
There are three main types of word linking:
Linking between consonants and vowels:
In spoken English, we link words when a word ending in a consonant sound is followed by a word beginning with a vowel sound. The last sound of the first word becomes the first sound of the second. For instance:
|How its written||Warm up||Moved into||Was also||Fight evil||Pick apples|
|How it sounds||War-Mup||Move-Dinto||Wa-Zalso||Figh-Tevil||Pi-CKapples|
Remember that it’s the sound of the word that is important, not whether or not it is written with a consonant or a vowel. The following examples are vowel sounds, written with consonant letters.
|How it’s written||Speak honestly||Tell Yvonne|
|How it sounds||Spea-
Longer sentences can sound like this:
Written: Jen Ellen was a civil engineer, but she also fought evil.
Sounds like: Je-Nellen wa-za civi-lengineer, but she also fough-tevil.
Linking between vowels and vowels:
When a word ending in a vowel sound comes before a word beginning with a vowel sound, English speakers insert the sound of “Y” or “W” between them. Which one depends on the first vowel sound.
After vowels that end with wider lips, like the long E (as in fee) and the diphthongs long A (as in pay), long I (as in try), and “oy” (as in boy), insert a “Y” sound.
|How it’s written||Be available||Tree animal||Pay online||Pie and||Toy airplane|
|How it sounds||Be-Yavailable||Tree-Yanimal||Pay-Yonline||Pie-Yand||Toy-Yairplane|
After vowels that end with round lips, like the long U (as in too) and the diphthong long O (as in no), insert a “W” sound.
|How it’s written||No otters||Sue Edna||Throw out||Too honest||Blue apples|
|How it sounds||No-wotters||Sue-Wedna||Throw-Wout||Too-Wonest||Blue-Wapples|
Remember, it’s the vowel sound that’s important, not the letters. In these examples, there’s a vowel sound that’s written with a consonant.
|How it’s written||Pay homage||Through Africa
|High up||Every hour|
|How it sounds||Pay-Yomage||Through-Wafrica||High-Yup||Every-Yhour|
Linking Between Consonants and Consonants
When one word ends with the same or a similar consonant sound, link them and pronounce the sound only once, slightly lengthening it. Don’t stop between words or say the consonant twice.
|How it’s written||Best trees||Tame mammals||Good day||Get dirty||Red door|
|How it sounds||BesTrees||TaMammals||GooDay||GeTDirty||ReDoor|
One thing to remember is that word linking came about naturally. You might find yourself already linking words when you speak, just because it’s easier. The more you practice speaking, the more you’ll find yourself fluidly linking words. Try to notice when you do and don’t link words, and how native speakers do it. Understanding word linking will help you speak like a native, and understand natives when they speak.