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How to Teach a Learner of English Correct Word Stress

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You may have a friend or colleague from another country, who speaks pretty well, but seems to just sound wrong sometimes. You want to help, but don't know what's wrong or how to correct him. It might be the person's incorrect word stress. Read on to find out how to help out.

  • Listen carefully to recognize the error. This kind of error will sound like this: instead of saying beHIND, he will say BEhind, or even BE-HIND.
  • Let him know that this is an error in a kind way. He may think he's ok since he says all the right sounds, but the word stress is wrong
  • Show him how this is indicated in a dictionary. Any dictionary will show the syllables of a word (be.hind) and which one is stressed (be.hind').
  • Keep a list of some of his most common errors and show it to him.
  • Help him say the word right by saying it slowly and letting him repeat after you. You may need to do this several times, and remind him often.
  • Tell him that we automatically know the correct stress as native speakers, but he must learn the stress for every word. There are no easy rules to memorize for word stress; it's just something he must learn when he learns a new word, like the spelling.
  • Show him how to ask you if he's saying a word with the correct stress. "Am I saying that word right?" would be a good phrase for him to memorize.


  • Helping a friend to correct his word stress is tiring and demanding; you must really concentrate on his speech. Try doing it for 5 minutes at a time, maybe at a designated "coffee break" time.
  • Ask your friend to keep a list of words he's not sure about and then he can ask you occasionally.
  • You may help him keep a list, but again this is very demanding work.
  • Your friend might want to record himself reading a simple paragraph from any book or article. He can listen back and check his own speech, or have you listen together with him. Point out what you hear.
  • Your friend should be encouraged to use his dictionary, once he knows how to read the word stress marker for an entry, when in doubt.
  • Your friend should look for clues in his listener for confusion when he says a word wrong. His listener may have a questioning look, or even ask him, "what was that?". When that happens, he can ask the person, "can you help me say that word right?".

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