Immigration Pronunciation: Stress

By Marty Green

As a newcomer, you know stress is part of immigration. But did you know stress is part of the word immigration?

When I say stress is part of the word, of course I’m talking about pronunciation stress, not mental or physical stress. If part of a word is stressed, you say that part more loudly or strongly. The word Canada, for example, has three sound parts: Ca-na-da. English speakers stress the first part: CAnada. (Not CaNAda or CanaDA).

The way we stress English words can be confusing. Look at the words apply, applicant, application. When we say apply, we stress the second sound part (apPLY). So you would guess we do the same with applicant and application. But we don’t. We stress the first part of applicant (APPlicant) and the third part of application (appliCAtion). Try to say this sentence: "Job applicants fill out application forms when they apply for jobs."

By now you might feel learning English word stress is quite a job in itself. But relax: I have good news. There are rules you can learn that will help you know how to stress many English words. And these rules will help you even if you never heard the words before and don’t know what they mean!

I want to share some of these magic rules with you. If you use them correctly, your English will sound better.

Ready? Okay, let’s go back to the start of this article for a moment. I said part of the word immigration is stressed. But which part? And wait, how many parts does the word have? It’s easy to see and hear that "Canada" has three parts, because the parts look and sound like each other. But "immigration" is longer, more confusing.

So let me help you. "Immigration" has four sound parts: im-mi-gra-tion. And we stress the third part: immiGRAtion.

By the way, the parts I’m talking about are called syllables. Remember that, because I’m going to use the word syllable for the rest of this article.

Now look at some other examples of words that end like the word immigration ends:

Education, celebration.

Vacation, creation.

Station, nation.

In this list of six words, the first two words have four syllables each. The next two have three syllables each. The last two have two syllables each. The words have different numbers of syllables, but all six words have the same stress rule:

EduCAtion, celeBRAtion.

VaCAtion, creAtion.

STAtion, NAtion.

Can you see the rule? In each word, the syllable stressed is the one just before the "tion" syllable.

And that’s our first stress rule: in words that end with TION, stress the syllable before the TION. That’s why we say immiGRAtion, appliCAtion. Easy!

(One more tip: we often say the TION like "shn". So we usually pronounce education "eduCAshn", vacation "vaCAshn", nation "NAshn", and so on). So far, all our example words have an "a" before the TION. But what about words that don’t? What about words like action, reaction? Mention, invention? Section, election?

I have more good news: our stress rule is true for these words as well. We say ACtion, reACtion. MENtion, inVENtion. SECtion, eLECtion.

In fact, the rule is even true for words that end in TIONAL, like national (NAtional) and sectional (SECtional).

And it’s also true for words that end in SION and SSION, like confusion, compassion, passion, vision. Say conFUsion, comPAssion, PAssion, VIsion. (But be careful: we don’t say teleVIsion, we say TELevision. Of course, if you forget how to stress this word you can just say TV!)

Now I have one more rule to tell you – a great rule that will make things even easier. If you look at all our example words, you will see that nearly every one ends with ION. So just remember: English words that end with ION are normally stressed on the syllable before the ION.

A few more examples: million (MILLion), opinion (oPINion), religion (reLIgion), region (REgion), onion (ONion), companion (comPANion), champion (CHAMpion).

Note that when you say those words correctly, the ION sometimes sounds like "in" ("reLIgin", "REgin") and sometimes like "yin" ("MILLyin", "oPINyin", "ONyin", "comPANyin", "CHAMPyin").

Before we continue, I should point out that ION words – like other English words – may have more than one stressed syllable. Also, people might say the same word a little differently at different times. But most times, the syllable before the ION will have the strongest stress. (Of course, not every ION has a syllable before it – watch out for LION!)

In English, words that end with ION are usually used as nouns. There are many, many ION nouns. If you learn a lot of them and know how to use them, your vocabulary will really improve.

In fact, it might be fun to play an ION game with other English learners to build your vocabulary and spelling skills. Working alone or in teams, see how many ION words you can think of. The person or team that writes and correctly spells the most ION words wins. To make things more challenging, have everyone use ION words in sentences and/or explain what the words mean.

Here are more ION words to help your vocabulary and spelling. If you know what a word means, write the meaning. (This might be harder than you think). If you don’t know, find the meaning in a dictionary.

A selection from the ION collection

Conversation, discussion, friction, situation, tension, attention, relaxation, persuasion, administration, caution, construction, operation, negotiation, animation, devotion, investigation, distribution, retaliation, commission, division, promotion, calculation, direction, preparation, organization, exaggeration, eviction, connection, competition, desperation, expression, compensation.

Even if you can’t understand or explain all those words, I hope you now feel less stress about how to stress them!