Introduction to Linking
Native English speakers have ways of naturally transitioning from word to word, a concept we call linking. One of the first obstacles a language learner faces in listening comprehension is in understanding individual words when many whole sentences are said at a natural speed. It is difficult for even students with excellent vocabulary and grammar to unlink the words that native speakers naturally hook together in their regular pronunciation patterns. Even when this is overcome, and a listener can confidently understand a native speaker of English, the skill of learning to link words in his or her own speaking often does not naturally occur. The failure to fluidly link words together is not likely to cause the same miscommunication as incorrectly producing sounds; however, the payoffs for learning how to link are significant. Even if two speakers use identical vocabulary and grammar when speaking to a native listener, the speaker with more fluid linking will be perceived as more fluent as a result of that subtle secondary level of communication.
In dialog, words are continually linked together until there is a reason to pause. These pauses happen where there is the spoken equivalent of a comma or period in the sentence. We can also add a pause into a sentence to add emphasis. To begin, we'll practice linking just a couple words at a time.
Listen to the following sentence and notice how there are no breaks or pauses between words.
SQUID: I'll call you when I get home tonight.
While the general concept of linking requires blending one word into the next, this is easier said than done. Linking words together often requires saying sounds together that do not naturally occur together within words. For a student who has probably been taught to speak English by carefully studying and learning the pronunciation of individual words distinctly this is decidedly non-intuitive. The essence of linking is to provide bridge sounds between individual words, using the last and first sounds of the adjacent words as the foundations.
Vowels are not blended when linking. With vowels, an extra sound is placed between the words to keep both words clear and understandable.
It is normal to have difficulty with linking and blending. The number of possible combinations of sounds is immense and it is almost impossible to practice every possible combination. For this reason, we will practice linking and blending within groups of sounds and we will need to learn (or review) some linguistics vocabulary first to help us.
To sum up:
The techniques for transitioning from word to word are called linking.
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