Vowel Sounds                           Call 781.385.0231

American English pronunciation relies heavily on vowels and vowel combinations. There are short vowels and long vowels and several varieties of each used in daily speech. Vowels are continuously shortened and lengthened depending on their location within a word.

Vowels are Continually Changing, and This is Expected in Speech

The changeability of vowel sounds in North American speech is a key feature of spoken English. The vowel letters of English are a, e, i, o, u. Each letter has a short and long version, and a condensed and elongated version. There are five vowel letters, and a total of 14 vowel sounds in speech.

Short Vowels

The pronunciation of a short vowel is limited in duration and produced using lips that are not stretched across the teeth. The mouth is slightly open, and the sound is often produced from the back regions of the mouth and tongue. For more on vowels see Marla Yoshida’s article, The Vowels of American English .

         pit, bat [mouth is open, with lips slightly open]

Mistakes Can Cause Confusion

Auditory discrimination is the ability to differentiate one sound from another. Inaccurate use of a vowel may seem minor, but the result can cause significant confusion. For example, short vowel sounds are often confused with similar sounding vowels. These are called minimal pairs. Two commonly mispronounced vowels are shot i and short a.

          seat for sit Please seat where you want, instead of ‘Please sit where you want.’
          bet for bat He hit the ball with a bet, instead of ‘He hit the ball with a bat.’

Long Vowels

A long vowel is produced using more exaggerated movement than a short vowel. Front vowels are long in duration with the lips stretched as in smiling or stretched out in the form of a circle. Front vowels involve the lips stretched out, while back vowels are created with a rounded lip formation.
      bait, peat [lips stretched across front upper teeth]
      toe, blue [lips extended and rounded]

Front vowels and back vowels are easier for students to learn than vowels formed in the middle of the mouth (y, j, r) middle vowels. Knowing which part of the mouth (tongue, teeth, lips) to use is harder to imagine with middle vowels.

Interested in learning more about vowels in speech? Call Penny at 781.385.0231 or click on the link below.


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