Improve your accent: Introduction to the IPA and vowel sound training

Categories English By JadePosted on Format Film
Improve your accent: Introduction to the IPA and vowel sound training

Learn the English vowels:

I will teach you four phonemes from the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). You will learn /e/ as in pet, schwa /ə/ as in to (unstressed), /ɜː/ as in bird, and /ɔː/ as in court. This lesson is for beginners who are unfamiliar with IPA (the individual sounds of English). Learn the IPA vowel symbols to greatly improve your pronunciation. This lesson is also for more advanced students who are already familiar with the sounds of English and their IPA phonetic symbols, and who wish to refresh their knowledge as a result of doing some practical pronunciation practice. Do these exercises for some time and you WILL hear a difference.

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Hi, everyone. In this lesson I’m going to teach you four English vowels. Here are the vowels: “e”, “ɜ:”, “ə”, “ɔ:”. The reason to learn these four English vowels in IPA is that these are the actual sounds in English words; and if you know IPA, when you’re learning words, you can get the right pronunciation. The thing about it is these symbols are hard to learn. I know it took me a really, really long time to learn, and that’s because I learn sounds in a practical way. So, me just trying to memorize these sounds didn’t work for me, but doing practical exercises like this was how, after a lot… not… no. It took me a long, long, long time before I did practical exercises to remember these sounds. So I wish I did something like this at the beginning. So aren’t you lucky? Because I’m going to teach you the shortcut to remembering these vowels.

What’s… What we should know about these vowels is that they are grouped together, because they are central vowels. The position that our tongue takes when we make these four vowels is central – it’s not high; it’s not low. And the difference between them is we move from a more forward position with our tongue to a more backward position.
Now, another thing is that ɜ: and ə (schwa), the position is actually the same in the mouth; nothing changes, except the ɜ: sound is stressed and we can hear it very clearly and notice it; whereas the schwa sound: “uh”, “uh”, it’s hard to say by itself because it’s an unstressed sound, but we do it in exactly the same position. We don’t have to move our tongue for that one; it’s just a difference in the power of the sound.

Let’s look at the lip position now. We start with the lips lightly spread. Okay? It’s not as much as “e” which is spread as wide as possible. “E” is not on here. It’s not as wide as “e”; it’s lightly spread: “e”, so a little bit less. “e”. And then the next two are the same position. This I would just call spread, so a little bit wider. “ɜ:”, “ə”, “ɔ:”. You can see the big difference between here, when I go to “ɔ:”. “ɜ:”, “ɔ:”. So, when I get to “ɔ:”, my lips are in the most rounded position.

All right, let’s look at some contrasting words now so that we can get more used to these vowels in words. We’ll read like this, starting with: “pet” for “e”; “bird” for “ɜ:”. The way I always remember this symbol is to imagine a bird, flying, and that’s the most perfect word for me to remember that sound. Imagine a bird: “bird”. “Red”, “wa-…” This is “word”, “word”. “Word”. “Red”, “word”; “ten”, “murder”; “head”, “burden”; “said”, “curse”; “many”, “burn”.

Now, what can be confusing about this is when we look at the spellings of these words and we think: “What’s going on here?” because if I say… If I say: “head”, and that’s the vowel, “e”, why is it spelt with an “a” in there? That’s just confusing, right? Well, that’s English spelling, unfortunately. Trying to learn too many spelling rules for the IPA isn’t that helpful. It’s helpful sometimes, but it only takes you so far. We can see a pattern in here, though. The “ɜ:” sound is often spelt with “r”. Often “ur” in a lot of words; “murder”, “burden”, “curse”, “burn”.

Now let’s look at schwa. When I write schwa, I can write: “uh”. That’s the closest I can get to pronouncing schwa as an unstressed sound. Usually it’s resting in the middle of other sounds. And the way I remember it myself is that in English, a dog goes: “Woof. Woof, woof.” But in Turkish, a dog goes, like: “Uh, uh. Uh, uh.” That’s their sound for “woof”. But, basically, it’s a schwa sound. So it helps me; I don’t know if it helps you. But we’re going to go side to side, here. Schwa: “uh”, “aw”. “Uh”, “paw”; “problem”, “more”; “freedom”, “boring”; “album”, “sword”; “again”, “sure”; “parrot”, “lord”. Okay?

What’s hard about schwa is that in these words we’ve got two syllables, so we have to… Which ones got the schwa in it? I don’t know which ones got the schwa in it. I’ve underlined where the schwa is in the word. And the annoying thing about schwa as well is that it sounds slightly different, depending on… […]