After working with many students who feel stuck, I can confidently say that most second language learners are not aware of the components of natural speech:

  • stress patterns, intonation, linking, and weak sounds

They are also not aware of how a student’s native language affects their speaking habits in English. They need to focus on natural-sounding, clear English, and good pronunciation for the delivery criteria of the exam, which is evaluated by the SpeechRater.

A high TOEFL speaking score means your accent is clear and your speech is smooth and flowing.



One of the reasons people get an advanced speaking score of 26 or higher is because they have a very neutral accent. One way to do this is with the pronunciation feature called “linking sounds.”

Learning the rules of connected speech will help you speak better and understand better when you listen to native English Speakers. When native speakers speak, they connect words in such a way that there is no space between words. Linking is connecting sounds like links in a chain. Linking creates the smooth, uninterrupted sounds that are the key to natural, fluent-sounding speech. Sometimes students think that native speakers speak too fast. But speed is not the problem. The problem is not understanding the linking between sounds. When non-native speakers speak, they say each word separately to sound clear, but then they sound unnatural and mechanical. The good news is that: You can learn the rules of how words are connected together.

Here is my video about linking sounds. ( It was my first video on YouTube, and I sound very scared, but the information is great! 15,900 people watched it!)



They can be defined as the music of the language.

The rise and fall of the voice in speaking.

The rhythm and style of a language.

When second language learners start learning English, many continue their native language intonation patterns and apply them to English. By doing so, their English sounds unnatural.


Sentence stress emphasizes a particular word or (words) within a sentence.

  • Content Words > Stressed
    • Nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and sometimes question words like “when” “why” “where”
  • Function Words > Weak sounds
      • in, on, at, from
      • a, an, the,
      • to
      • for
      • of


When a word is reduced, we use the “weak form” of the word.

The weak form is said more quickly and more softly. The vowel becomes the schwa (Ə) sound, / Ə /

  • to becomes: / t Ə / … I need to talk to you.
  • and becomes: / n / … black “n” white.
  • for becomes: / f Ə r / … Let’s go for a walk.
  • a becomes: / Ə / … I heard a noise.


The elision of the letter “H.”The letter “h” is often silent for pronouns like he, him, his, her, during fluid, native-like conversation.

  • I love her (here, the “h” becomes silent)
  • Tell him I’ll meet with the boss soon.
  • Did he go to work today?
  • That’s hers, but you can use it too.
  • You’ll find his dog across the street.

Here is the YouTube video. (It is my second video and I am getting better!)



Connect to what you are speaking.
👉 Have an emotional attachment to what you are describing!
👉 Put some passion and emphasis into your responses!
👉 Talk like you are talking to your friend, wife, or husband! Or you are explaining a topic to a student to your child. (Task 3 and 4)
👉 Be natural, sincere!
👉 Don’t talk like a robot in a flat tone!
👉 Use intonation correctly.
👉 Impress the raters with your confident, communicative style!

Here is your problem:

When you are not aware of the components of natural speech listed above while speaking, you sound very unnatural, and your speech doesn’t flow naturally and smoothly with the rhythm of English, making it hard to understand, creating problems for the listeners. The listeners struggle to understand you.  Don’t feel discouraged and hopeless if all of this information overwhelms you:

Here is how I fix this problem:

First, I ask my students to record the 4 speaking tasks.

I listen to the recordings many times and diagnose the problems that prevent them from getting high scores in speaking. I create a very systematic, personalized plan to fix the problems with consistent practice, drills, and feedback for my students. For weeks, my students work hard doing homework and assignments with TOEFL-style sentences and tasks.

This is the difference you will notice in your speaking:

First, you will be aware of what prevents you from getting your desired score in English pronunciation and accent. You need to identify your weaknesses and deliberately work on improving those specific skills every day. It might be your native tongue habits or not knowing the English language’s accent and pronunciation features.

Then, you will start noticing and hearing the patterns, stress, linking, and weak sounds in the listening audio by learning how native speakers really speak.

You will practice 4 speaking tasks with the correct intonation, pronunciation, stress patterns, linking, and weak sounds. I will frequently ask you to record audio for feedback. You will master each skill until it becomes automatic. With consistent practice and feedback from me, you will start to sound more natural and clear as the days go by. Feelings of frustration and sadness will transform into more confidence and joy in speaking the English language.


You must have clear-sounding English with fewer pronunciation mistakes to guarantee a high speaking score. In language acquisition, there is no shortcut to success. There is only focused and targeted practice consistently. It seems like a lot of work, but the good news is that in the end, you will pass the exam and have excellent English language skills with a neutral accent for the rest of your life in the US. Please be patient with yourself.

In the next blog post, I will focus on how wrong pauses, robotic talking, and wrong vowel length affect your score. I will also write about the importance of speaking with emotion.

Accent reduction success story:
Annabel H. from China,
“Six months ago people told me politely that I spoke good English as a Chinese speaker. Six months later people now ask me curiously if I speak Chinese! What happened exactly during that six months? Sherlen corrected the pronunciation mistakes that I carry from my native language to English. I started to notice the natural speech components of English language such as linking sounds, sentence and word stress and the intonation of English and mastered these concepts in producing them correctly in my speech. I can never say thank you enough to Sherlen for being such a wonderful and a knowledgeable teacher to me as she diagnosed my “pains” precisely, fixed them up effectively and fought them back furiously.”




Sherlen Tanner English Exam Coaching is your place to finally learn how to take the TOEFL test, achieve a 26+ in speaking, and learn the dynamics of accent reduction, TOEFL test-taking and TOEFL test-prep skills, reading, writing, and English language fluency and mastery all under the guidance of an exam coach and her team.