Vowels: Everything You Need to Know

Vowels are these typical letters:  a, e, i, o, u. Less commonly, it includes words like y (as in ‘my’) and w (as in ‘drew’). While vowels can be short or long, they can also make unclear sounds such as oo.

While the above letters are defined as vowels, in English, there’re many more vowel sounds than these. Consider, for example, the word pairs cook and kook, or cat and car. In each pair, the vowel sounds are different from each other, but they’re represented by the same letters. English has at least fourteen vowel sounds depending on the dialect and diphthongs. In English, the most common vowel sound schwa doesn’t even possess its letter in the alphabet. However, it does have a symbol, and it looks like ǝ. In an unstressed syllable, it’s the “uh” sound that shows up almost everywhere, from antic[ǝ]p[ǝ]tory, to p[ǝ]tato, to th[ǝ]. Apart from pure vowel sounds, there’re diphthongs, where the sound moves from one vowel to another. For example, in the American pronunciation of no, the vowel is a diphthong, where the sound starts at o and goes to u.

All vowels have two pronunciations: a short sound and a long sound. While there’re rules for vowel pronunciation, many times they don’t work. Therefore, the most effective way to learn vowel sounds is to practice and memorize them. It can be hard for students to memorize rules and pronunciations, but there’re some fun ways to do this. Choosing vowel-focused tongue twisters and saying them aloud is an effective way to master vowel sounds. Students should say them quite slowly at first and focus on the correct pronunciations of the vowels. As they get more comfortable, they need to say the tongue twister faster. Reading the dictionary is another useful method to learn vowel sounds.

When looking up new words in an online dictionary, students need to try to say a word aloud first, pronouncing as well as they can. Then they need to listen to the word’s dictionary pronunciation, say it together with the audio, and lastly say it aloud on their own. Some online dictionaries, such as the Cambridge English Dictionary, have a different audio button for British and American English, so students can hear a word in both accents. Another valuable feature of any dictionary (online or physical book) is the pronunciation guide. This guide demonstrates how to pronounce any word in that dictionary.

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