Your Secret Guide to English Vowels

In this article you will learn 7 secrets to help you pronounce English vowels more easily.

Most people are taught that there are 5 English vowels- a, e, i, o, and u.

I hate to break the news to you, but there are 22 vowels in English !

This means that when you want to speak English more clearly, or learn an English accent, you need to master pronunciation of English vowels.

English Vowels Secret number 1

The letter ‘y’ can act as both a consonant and a vowel. When it says it’s sound ‘y’ it acts as a consonant as in yellow or yes. When it borrows ‘I’ or ‘ee’ it acts as a vowel.

For example it borrows ‘I’ / aɪ / in words like ‘my’ and ‘bye’. It borrows ‘ee’ in ‘baby’ and ‘funny’ (in American English the ‘ee’ is said more as a shorter ‘i’ / ɪ / sound.)

English Vowels Secret number 2

Unlike many languages where each vowel only says one sound, a lot of English vowels can say more than one sound.

For example, the letter ‘a’ /ae/ can say:

/ae/ as in hat – this is the sound it makes most commonly.

A / eɪ / as in navy

ah / ɑː/ as in father

aw / ɔː/ as in all, wall ( British and Australian)

This means that even though a word is spelt a certain way, it may be pronounced differently to how it looks!

You need to treat vowels that aren’t in your native language as a totally new sound to be learnt.

For a detailed audio explanation of how to pronounce each vowel, and audio training for practise words and sentences, see our accent reduction programs Australian, British, American.

English Vowels Secret number 3

Every separate syllable in English has to contain a vowel.

In words ending in the common ending ‘le’ the /e/ is the vowel in the syllable even though it is silent.

For example: ‘table’ -ta (syllable one) ble (syllable two); ‘tickle’- ti (syllable one) ckle ( syllable two); ‘people’ peo (syllable one) ple ( syllable two).

Important pronunciation tip:

The ble, ckle, ple endings are not said tabool, tickool, peopul.

You need to go straight from the consonant to the /l/ sound with only a very quick slight schwa / ə / sound. It is a consonant blend.

 

English Vowels Secret number 4

The de-stressed vowel in a weak syllable (weak form) in English is said as a schwa sound. You have to actively de-stress the vowel.

For example, when you say the word ‘table’ the ‘a’ says ‘A’ / eɪ /. It is clearly an ‘A’ sound.

When it is in the word ‘vegetable’ the / eɪ/ in table becomes de –stressed and is said as a schwa / ə/ sound. So vegetable is said /ˈvɛʤɪtəbl /.

For more on stressed syllables see here and here.

 

English Vowels Secret number 5

When a single vowel is at the end of a syllable – not closed in by a consonant- the single vowel can say its name or sound.

For example: Australian and British pronunciation – / ˈprɒ djuːs/ (noun)

The ‘o’ says ‘o’ its first sound

American pronunciation – / ˈproʊ dus / (noun) The ‘o’ says ‘oe’

You have to consciously listen to how multisyllabic words are being said by the people around you, or in our accent training program.

 

English Vowels Secret number 6

Don’t cut your double (diphthongs), and triple (triphthongs) vowels short!

In the diphthong ‘ow’ in the word ‘how’, you need to make sure you put your lips forward for the second part of the vowel properly and don’t cut the movement short.

In the triphthong ‘aia’ as in the word ‘dialysis’ / daɪˈælɪsɪs /, the aya has to be fully said and not cut short.

 

English Vowels Secret number 7

In British and Australian English, the ‘er’, or’ and ‘ar’ vowel combinations are separate new vowels. The /r/ is not pronounced so you have to stop your tongue from making the /r/ movement in your mouth.

In American English you do have to include the /r/ sound, but it is still a different sound because you need to learn to pronounce the new American /r/ sound as well.

If you have found this helpful l would love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Best wishes,

Esther

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