English has eleven different vowels. It’s important to know the correct mouth position so you can get the vowel right: study this vowel with illustrations and up close, slow motion speech. Sample words: Earth, search, circle, thirteen, return, outburst.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to learn how to make the UR as in BIRD sound.
I sometimes say this is the vowel version of the R consonant. It’s always followed by R, and there’s no distinction between the sounds in American English. This sound will always be written with two different International Phonetic Alphabet, or IPA, symbols, but will be pronounced rrrrrr, just one sound, bird.
To make this sound, the corners of the lips come in, pushing the lips away from the face. The middle part of the tongue lifts towards the roof of the mouth in the middle. The front of the tongue hangs down, but it’s drawn back a bit. So, it’s not touching anything.
As the tongue lifts in the middle, it may be close to the roof of the mouth without touching it, or it may touch the sides of the roof of the mouth, or the insides or bottom of the top teeth, here, ur, ur.
This, along with the R consonant, is one of the hardest sounds to make in American English. It’s especially hard because the lip position hides the tongue position. Let’s take a look.
From the side, we can’t even see the tongue. The front view doesn’t help much either. This is because the tongue goes back, but the lips flare forward.
Here’s the word ‘hurt’. Watch the tongue pull back and up before coming forward for the T.
In a stressed syllable, the UR vowel curves up then down. Hurt, ur. In an unstressed syllable, it’s lower in pitch, as well as quieter and quicker, ur, ur. The vowel is unstressed in the word ‘research’, ur. Let’s take a look at this word up close and in slow motion.
The lips flare, but the jaw doesn’t drop as much.
Let’s compare the stressed UR in ‘hurt’, on the top, with the unstressed vowel in ‘research’, on the bottom. The lips flare for both, but in this case, there was much more jaw drop for the stressed version of this vowel.
This is typical. Unstressed vowels are shorter, so there isn’t as much time to make the full mouth position.
The UR vowel, stressed: hurt, UR
Unstressed: research, ur
UR, ur, UR, ur
Example words. Repeat with me:
Earth, search, circle, thirteen, return, outburst.
I hope this video helps you understand this sound. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.