Archive for September, 2009


When Stress is Good: South Indians Don’t Talk Too Fast

I’ve heard many foreigners and North Indians lament that South Indians speak English too quickly. I don’t think that they speak too fast; I think that they don’t give proper articulation to the stressed syllable of multisyllabic words. They give each syllable equal time. But to English-speaking ears, it gives a machine gun effect of rat-ta-ta-ta-ta. For English speakers, we need to have the main syllable stressed, the vowel in that syllable must be clearly articulated, or we may not understand what’s being said.

This is really frustrating to South Indian speakers who may even have English as their mother tongue or be bi-lingual, having English as their second language with the ability to switch and think in English. They can’t understand why other English speakers can’t understand them. They don’t realize that they must make adjustments in their speech for other English speakers to comprehend what they are trying to say. Now you put all these problems on overseas conference calls where voice frequency is limited. It results on parties from both sides of the shore scratching their heads.

Not only does English need stress on words, but it needs stress on the words in the sentence that are most important. It’s where rhythm doesn’t mean you sing the blues. English is sort of musical. It has a beat. The beat is on all the stressed words or syllables in the sentence. The rest of the words and syllables are subordinated and will have a reduced vowel sound.

So when speaking English, get into the beat and let the stress be a good stress.