B is for Breakdown

B is for Breakdown

Cartoon drawing of an elephant with the caption, "How do you eat an elephant? One Bite at a time."

How Do You Eat an Elephant

I hope that you’re not in the habit of eating endangered species. However, it’s a useful analogy. Elephants being the largest of land mammals, literally jumbo sized, it would be a challenge to eat one in one sitting. Instead, it’s best to break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is true of anything which is daunting, wherever possible, break it into smaller pieces.

My degree is in computer science. There’s a great book on the subject of project management which is surprisingly readable called “The Mythical Man Month” by Fred Brooks. He was the system architect for IBMs Os/360 operating system. It’s worth a read if only from the perspective of understanding the difficulties of managing big tasks. I don’t recall if he talks about eating elephants but it has many other memorable quotes not least of which is the title itself.

This is just as true when approaching the problem of accent reduction and pronouncing difficult words and sounds. Break things down into more manageable parts. Get those right and then put them back together again.

For Example

Break words into syllables, practice the individual parts and then put them back together.

Image of the word "management" broken down into syllables and then phonics

How to pronounce management

Don’t worry too much about the phonics at this stage. We’ll go into phonics later on in the course. Words can be broken down into single syllable components as in the example above. If you’re not sure where the syllable breaks are in a word, they are usually indicated in dictionary definitions, although not on Google. There are a number of tools which you can find online which will help you find the syllables.

The individual parts are fairly easy to pronounce. Once you’ve got the hang of the sounds, slowly put them back together again until you can reliably reproduce the sound.

It is possible to break things down even further. A syllable is a coarse measurement. By definition a syllable must contain a vowel. Often they will contain additional sounds which can’t be defined as separate syllables.

Image of the word "Strength" broken down into elements with the phonic symbols beneath

How to Pronounce Strength

How about this fantastic single syllable word with Old English origins. It’s only one syllable because it’s only got one vowel, right there in the middle. How you would break this up is a little moot. I’ve chosen what I think are the separate sounds.

Q:  How would you break this up?

There are lots of ways of doing this. In the end it’s what works for you.


Articles Page on the Accent Reduction website

Syllable Finder How Many Syllables