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A B C of English Pronunciation

Of all the skills needed in learning, I think, pronunciation is the hardest one to achieve. Unfortunately it is also the most needed one. So why not start everything from here, lets say the a, b c of English sounds. The key to spoken English Language is the fact that there are just 26 words to represent 44 sounds (and more if you take into various other forms of certain sounds). Lets briefly go through them. Out of them 12 are vowel sounds. Now, notice that I am talking of sounds and not letters. These sounds are represented by certain symbols. I must warn you that, limitations to the character representation in our computers can causes some difficulty here. But I have tried my best to get the correct symbols. The pronunciation of these vowels are given below:

1) “ee” sound (represented as /i:/ ) as heard in the words seal, feel, meal etc

2) “e” sound, (represented by /i/ ) the shorter version of the vowel given above. Example bill, mill etc.

There are many different types of “a” sound. They are given below.

3) the first sound is represented (don’t read as “e”) as /e/. This sound is half way between “e” and “a” sounds. See examples bed, fed, led etc.

4) “aa” sound, (represented by /a:/) Example: cart, part, dart etc.

5) “æ” sound. Describing this sound is tough. say “a:” with lips slightly stretched to the cheeks. This sound is often confused by the non-native speakers for the usual “a:” sound. Example cat, bat, mat etc

6) short “a” sound as in the words cup, mug etc.

7) another version of the short “a” sound This occurs in a more pronounced way. Read the words: aside, ajar. Have you noticed any difference between these words and the examples given for.

TIP: One way to differentiate between the two is to see where these sounds occur. Usually the first one occurs in the middle of a word and the second one occurs at the beginning of a word.

8) Still another version of the “a” sound (/з:/). This one pronounced with the central portion of your tongue slightly raised. It is an easy sound as you don’t have to do acrobatics with your tongue and lips. Pronounce the words: shirt, pearl, learn, fern, burn etc.

The next set of vowel sounds are “o” and “u” category.

9) The longer form of “o” sound can be heard when we say caught.

10) The shorter form of “o” sound can be heard when we say hot, pot etc.

11) The longer “u” sound (represented as /u:/ ) as in the words, cool, wool etc.

12) The shorter “u” sound (represented at times as /u/ ) as seen in the words, took. See that even though cool has long “u” sound, cook only uses the shorter forms.

So in total there are twelve vowel sounds in English with two “e” related vowels, six “a” related sounds, two “o” like sounds and two “u” related sounds.

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Author: Jims Varkey