Hints for learning to hear stress
Repeat only the vowels of the word, leaving out the consonants: e.g., Manitoba --> [æ ə o ə].
Start practising with material where the stress is especially clear: nursery rhymes, song lyrics, Shakespearian blank verse.
- a ROSE by ANy OTHer NAME would SMELL as SWEET
Deliberately try to get the stress wrong and listen to the results:
If it sounds wrong, that's not where the stress is.
- A rose BY aNY oTHER name WOULD smell AS sweet
Hum words rather than speaking them. The pitch you hum with will tend to correspond to the level of stress:
- highest pitch=primary stress
- medium pitch=secondary stress
- lowest pitch=unstressed
Speak the words through a kazoo, emphasizing the pitch contours and the loudness differences between the syllables. (Pretend you're the teacher in Charlie Brown TV shows.)
Exaggerate the intonation contour of a phrase. Give extra strong emphasis to a word and listen for which syllable gets most of the extra loudness and pitch. (Or use the surprised-disbelief intonation contour and listen for which syllable has the lowest pitch.)
Do listen for pitch as a useful cue for stress, but don't automatically assume that the syllable with the highest pitch is also the most strongly stressed. Remember that there are several other reasons why a syllable might have high pitch (e.g., it's the last syllable in a phrase that has rising question intonation or "list" intonation).
Exaggerate the length of one syllable at a time.
If the word still sounds (sort of) normal, that syllable probably has at least secondary stress. If the word sounds stupid, that syllable is probably unstressed.
Tap once as you say the word. If you're a native speaker of the language, when you tap will tend to coincide with the primary stress. For the less inhibited, bang on the table instead of tapping.