I saw an ad on TV last night that really got my attention. It had nothing to do with the car insurance State Farm was trying to sell. It had everything to do with the way the ad used stress to send two very different messages. In fact, it’s crammed full of great examples that can help you learn English pronunciation techniques.
In less than 30 seconds, the ad shows two people saying the exact same thing, but in very different circumstances. One situation is a teenage girl who is very excited to receive her first car from her parents. The second is a frustrated business man who finds his car tires have been jacked (stolen).
Watch the ad and listen specifically for how each person chooses to stress a different word to send a different message.
Could you hear the difference?
The teenage girl starts off by saying, “Is this MY car?” By stressing the word “my” she is confirming that the car really belongs to her now.
In contrast, the business man says the same line but stresses a different word, “Is this my CAR?!” He’s expressing disbelief that he’s returned to his car that is now in such bad condition.
Next, the girl excitedly exclaims, “This can’t be HAPPENING!” By strongly stressing the word “happening” she is expressing joy that the event she has been waiting for (to have her own car) has finally happened.
The business man says, “This CAN’T be happening!” Stressing the word “can’t” sends the message that this is the worst thing that can happen to his car right now.
The girl’s father confirms her excitement by stressing the same word she did when he says, “Oh, it’s HAPPENING, sweetheart.”
Conversely, The shopkeeper stresses the last word, “Oh, it’s happening, SWEETHEART.” Stressing the word “Sweetheart” in this instance is a form of sarcasm to insult the man, maybe for leaving his car in that questionable location to begin with.
The girl stresses the first word in “SHUT up!” When the phrase is stressed like this it’s a slang expression for showing surprise or incredulity. It’s similar to saying, “No way!” or “I can’t believe it!”
When the man says “Shut UP!”, he stretches out the word “up” and he very clearly means he wants the shopkeeper to stay quiet.
Finally, the business man stresses all three words in the line, “What. A. Day.” He uses pauses between each word and ends in sharply falling pitch. This clearly sends the message he is overwhelmed and stressed by what happened to him that day.
The girl stresses the last word, “What a DAY!” with a rise and a fall to her pitch which indicates how happy and excited she is.
English is a stressed time language.
The actors in this ad stressed specific words to send two different messages. To use stress correctly in English you must stretch out the vowel sound in the stressed syllable, speak in a louder volume, and change your pitch for the stressed word compared to the other words around it.
In English, stress is critical when sending the correct message to your listener. Understanding the meaning behind a stressed word will make it easier for you to understand native English speakers intent and will help you communicate more effectively when speaking with them.