Linking sounds

I’ve noticed that some of my students, or perhaps most of them, have problems with connected speech. This is true to many different areas, but I realised it’s particularly difficult for them to understand the linking sounds in English. So, this is an activity I used a long time ago to show students such linking sounds. I focussed specifically on the last consonant sound of a word linking to the first vowel sound of the next word. Let me show what I mean by using one of the sentences from this paragraph:

  • So, this is an activity I used a long time ago to show students the linking sounds in English.

The sound of the consonants in red is linked to the sounds of the vowels in blue, and this is what it sounds like:

  • So, thi sisanactivity I use da long ti meago to show students the linking sound sinEnglish.

It all looks pretty messy if we don’t change things a bit to help students ‘visualise’ the sounds. If you work with the IPA and your students are acquainted with it, the best option is to go with it. However, if they’re not that acquainted with it, perhaps the best alternative is to try to show these linking sounds differently. I used a song (Bizarre Love Triangle – sung by Frente) and it worked out quite all right.

It all depends on how much you have to work on the song: if there’s plenty of time, you can explain the idea of the consonant-vowel linking before you play the song. If possible, make use of some examples in the students’ L1, as this particular feature of connected speech tends to appear in many different languages. After that, play the song and give students the handout with the actual lyrics. Ask them to try to identify the words that end in a consonant sound and that are followed by a vowel sound. Once they finish doing this, get them to practice the links. As they end up having difficulties doing so, it helps if you modify the lyrics of the song to make it sound slightly more “natural” to your learners. For instance, the first line of Bizarre Love Triangle is:

  • Every time I think of you

I rewrote it as if it were:

  • Every tie my thin co-view

When students hear the song, they can easily relate this modified version of the lyrics to the words being sung. Here’s a video of the song:

An alternative is to give students the modified version first and let them try to guess the actual lyrics. To make it even more challenging, don’t play the song and get them to work in pairs or small groups and read the sentences aloud to try to guess the actual words.

You can find both the complete modified version of the song and the actual lyrics here: Bizarre Love Triangle (this is a .doc file).

Well, I hope you liked it!

18 thoughts on “Linking sounds

  1. I’ve found that, like most things in the classroom, this is best aided by noticing. I rarely “teach” connected speech but, for those that have problems with it, I point it out. After demonstrating this, I will focus more on stopping students and making them say things together. Generally, speech begins to improve immediately.

    Most students pick it up intuitively after that. Especially for Turkish students, they will avoid connected speech because they believe it sounds less fluent. This is a bias picked up from Turkish oddly enough as everything is connected in Turkish.

    1. I also believe in the power of noticing and consciousness raising. One thing I notice is that once students are aware of certain features of connected speech, their listening also tends to improve. As a matter of fact, students seem to improve their listening skill faster than speaking. Would you agree with me on that?

      If we look at language as a tripod of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, I believe we should focus first on pronunciation. Grammar and vocabulary are still quite simple in the beginning and, in a globalised world, students are likely to have had some contact with these two things. Pronunciation, on the other hand, is not something they can work on on their own. If teachers pay attention to such area will notice that their learners will, as you said, pick up connected speech subtleties intuitively afterwards.

      Thanks for the comment, Nick! 🙂

  2. I guess sharing is what makes us educator have the best profession in the world ever! We are not competitors – we work in cooperation with each other! That’s what I love about our job! Many thanks for sharing this great activity! Can’t wait to try it in class!!!

    1. Sharing is paramount if we want to grow in today’s world! I hope the activity works all right! Let me know how it went. 🙂
      Thanks for your visit and for your comment!

  3. hi, i’m a teacher and i teach class 2 and 3 .suggest me pronunciation activity to help my students develop pronunciation.

    1. Hi Fareeha,

      I’ll try to post some more activities on the blog, but I can’t promise I’ll do it straightaway. In the meantime, there are lots of wonderful blogs and sites out there with myriad activities that you can easily use in class. My personal recommendation would be for you to work with supra-segmental features with your learners – connected speech.



  4. Thanks so much for this fun exercise! I teach English as a Second Language in Boston, Massachusetts USA and my students are mostly from Brazil, so it was fun to show them your site and let them know that I had learned this technique from someone from their country. They really enjoyed the exercise. I preceded it with a definition and some examples of linked sounds/liaisons, such as “She works in an old office.” and from the song, “Every time I think of you.” Fern

    1. Hi Fern,

      Many thanks for sharing this with me. It’s really good to hear that students found it useful, and, most importantly, that it worked! 🙂

      I do believe that we usually overlook pronunciation in our classes due to time constraints and all the other things involved in a class. However, consciousness raising is paramount when it comes to pronunciation, IMHO. On top of that, students taking an ESL course are likely to visualise all supra-segmental features much more easily than EFL students as they’re exposed to L2 24/7, right?! 🙂

  5. Thank you for such a helpful information, but I have a question that you might help me to clarify….

    I’ve been looking for the exceptions when linking the last consonant sound of a word with the first vowel sound of the next word, but I haven’t found anything.

    For example, in an English book for learning English, there is a section called “linking sounds”, and this specific rule was taught in this part. My point is that we had to mark the linking sounds in this sentence: I hate it when a cell phone goes off in class. The linking sounds were: hate and it, when and a, goes and off. Since off ends in a consonant sound and in begins with a vowel sound, I couldn’t understand why the linking sound is not possible here.

    I really hope you could help me to understand this. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Kathy,

      First of all, I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to get back to your comment. I’ve been away for a couple of weeks and this has prevented me from giving the necessary attention to the blog.

      Now, onto your question… If I can be perfectly honest with you, I also believe there should be a link between the strong OFF in the sentence with the unstressed IN. I’ve tried repeating the sentence many times and the only possibility for me not to link these two sounds is when I literally pause (i.e. stop my speech) after saying OFF. When we’re speaking, we tend to naturally choose what to chunk together, which is also a way for us to get the message across properly. For example, we use these pauses when differentiating between defining and non-defining relative clauses. In these cases, we wouldn’t link the last consonant sound to the vowel sound of the following word. In the sentence you’ve used in your example, I can’t exactly see it happening.

      Oh, well… if the two sounds aren’t linked in connected speech, then I’m also at a loss for an explanation. Even though OFF is stressed and IN is unstressed, this doesn’t mean they can’t be linked in speech.

      If I find anything else on this matter, I’ll get back to your question!

      Thanks for visiting and for the question! I hope my answer helped!


      1. That sounds like a mistake on their part. There is nothing preventing consecutive links between the words ‘goes off in’. Indeed, even if any of the words were stressed, it would make no difference to the linking pronunciation; it’s only when a word is stressed that we cannot soften the ‘schwa’ vowel sound, but that’s a separate matter.

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