It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning English learner or totally fluent; chances are you have a little trouble pronouncing numbers correctly.
If you’ve ever had to clarify whether a discount is fifteen percent or fifty percent, if your son is thirteen or thirty, or your date of birth, the time, or the year, it’s likely the issue wasn’t actually your pronunciation of the word, but your word stress.
Let’s talk about number stress, and how important it is to pronounce your numbers clearly and accurately, especially in business.
Real Life Number Stress Problems
I recently watched an episode of Shark Tank, a popular TV program in the United States.
Shark Tank features entrepreneurs who are trying to find investors for their businesses.
They present their unique business concepts to well-known, extremely successful (and wealthy) businesspeople, known as sharks.
Afterwards, these entrepreneurs make a proposal to the investors and try to convince them to lend tens of thousands of dollars (or even hundreds of thousands of dollars!) to help them grow and expand.
As you can imagine, this is a major opportunity for small businesses!
In this particular episode, a young man from Ukraine shared the story of why he moved to the US 10 years ago and how he started and grew his own toy business.
After living in the US for a decade, he spoke English confidently and fluently, but there was something that caught my attention: he had trouble pronouncing numbers correctly.
The sharks actually asked him to clarify whether he meant fifteen or fifty at one point.
After all, there is a big difference between owning fifteen percent of the company or fifty percent.
Asking for a seventeen thousand dollar loan is quite different than asking for seventy thousand dollars!
This is why word stress is so important, especially when we’re talking about money!
Stressing numbers correctly is essential when making business deals.
As you’ll learn from the video lesson, there is a noticeable difference in the way we pronounce the “teens” and the “tens.”
Learning to stress numbers correctly will help you whenever you say the time, years, dates, birthdays, amounts of money, and even ages.
I encourage you to check to make sure you are saying them right!
How to Pronounce the “Teen” Numbers with Correct Word Stress
Let’s start with the teens, or the numbers that end in “-teen.”
When we pronounce these numbers, we stress the second syllable, “-teen.”
This means we make the vowel sound (/iy/) longer, louder, and higher in pitch. The vowel becomes extremely clear and the shape of your mouth will be more exaggerated and obvious.
In addition, the “n” at the end of the word is what we call a “stop consonant.”
This means my mouth ends in the “n” position but I don’t release the sound from my mouth.
You shouldn’t hear a rolling “n” or an extra puff of air after that “n” sound.
Here’s how to pronounce the teens:
If you’re wondering which number your hear, listen for this stress at the end of the word.
How to Pronounce the “Ten” Numbers with Correct Word Stress
When we talk about the “tens,” we are talking about numbers that end in “-ty.”
To pronounce the tens, you need to stress the FIRST syllable.
The syllable that contains the letters identifying the number will be longer, louder, and higher in pitch.
The second syllable, “-ty,” which will be reduced, which means the “e” sound (/iy/) is less distinct, shorter, lower in pitch, and harder to hear.
In order to distinguish numbers from each other, you have to be sure to stress the right syllable.
Here’s how to pronounce the tens:
As you listen to me pronounce the numbers in the video, you might notice that the “t” sound in the “-ty” ending doesn’t really sound like “t.” Instead, it sounds like “d.”
That’s because I’m American and in American English we create what we call a “flap t” between those two syllables.
The flap t sounds like “d” sound.
To product a flap t, you need to quickly flick your tongue against the roof of your mouth.
(If you speak a language where you roll your “r”s, this sound is produced in the same mouth position.)
If you fully produce the “t” sound, you will still be easy to understand, as this is characteristic of British English.
Focus your attention on pronouncing your numbers with the right word stress to be easily understood by native speakers.
After watching the video, be sure to practice! I suggest that you focus on numbers you use frequently, like ages, dates, prices, birthdays, and the current calendar year!
If you practice diligently every day for one week (or even better, one month), you’ll start to retrain your brain and will notice a big difference in how your numbers are perceived when you speak English!