I have to admit, numbers and I are not friends. That is, when it comes to math-related activities. Oh, the mental pain, the confusion I felt in math class! Perhaps, it's no surprise that I chose a career that encourages more talking, less calculating.
Many of my clients struggle in the opposite way. Numbers are a joy for them, but when it comes to speaking English, that's when they feel the pain and the confusion. Especially, when they have to talk about numbers to other people — like when presenting to a group or speaking to colleagues.
We all have to say numbers in every day life. Numbers provide very specific information. Either your listener hears the right number or the wrong number. The wrong number can lead to a lot of problems. Imagine a doctor that prescribed 15 milligrams to a patient but the nurse heard50 . That's bad news for the patient and for the medical staff.
In fact, simple tasks like telling the time or stating a percentage can confuse your listener if you don't pronounce the numbers with the rhythm your listener expects.
The secret to saying numbers clearly in English is using accurate syllable stress. (Let's be honest, isn't that the truth for most of English?)
The good news is, the rules for number stress are pretty easy to remember. A lot easier than solving for X or even balancing your checkbook.
Watch this quick pronunciation tip video to learn how to pronounce teen numbers in English with accurate syllable stress:
Pronunciation rules for number stress
One of the most important things to know about English pronunciation is that stress is everything. Which syllable you stress in a word, and which word you stress in a phrase, determines how well you are understood.
English primary stress defined:
1. Stressed syllables in words are spoken louder
2. Vowel sounds in stressed syllables are spoken longer
3. Stressed syllables are spoken with a different pitch than the rest of the word.
How to pronounce teen numbers
When stating teen numbers for amounts, money or time always stress the 'teen' part of the word. Make it nice and clear so it can't be confused with the 'ten' numbers (thirty, forty, fifty, etc)
Listen to how 'teen' is stressed in the examples below:
"Kathy has worked here for thir-TEEN years"
"We had four-TEEN people show up to the seminar"
"My dog is fif-TEEN years old."
When counting teen numbers in a row, shift the stress to the first part of the word:
THIR-teen, FOUR-teen, FIF-teen, SIX-teen, SEVEN-teen, EIGH-teen, NINE-teen
How to pronounce the "ten" numbers
When stating or counting the 'ten' numbers, always stress the first syllable.
"A TWEN-ty percent increase in sales"
"We have THIR-ty people in our department."
"The time is 9:40."
How to pronounce all the other numbers:
When stating or counting any other number above twenty give primary stress to the second number.
You will still hear the first part of the number spoken clearly. This is because the first part of the number receives secondary stress. That means it's spoken clearly, but with slightly less energy than the last part of the number.
"He graduated in '89."
"He retired when he was seventy-TWO years old."
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See! that wasn't so hard, was it? I don't know about you, but I've definitely had more challenging math exams than these easy number stress rules.
Now that you know the number stress rules in English, start practicing!
- Look for an excuse to tell someone the time
- Read the address you type into the GPS out loud
- Repeat back the bill total when paying the cashier at the store
Are you ready to get serious about improving your English pronunciation?
Let's talk about it. I help people everyday, just like yourself, to speak confident, easy-to-understand English. I'm ready to help you get recognized for your great ideas, and not for how you speak. You can reach me here.