Can you hear the difference between YEAR and EAR? The Y Consonant can be hard to detect. Learn how to say these two words differently and improve your American English pronunciation.
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In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to compare the words ‘year’ and ‘ear’.
Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the difference between these two words. For non-native speakers, the Y consonant can be hard to detect. In this video we’ll study the mouth up close and in slow motion to see how to make the Y sound.
‘Year’ and ‘ear’ are exactly the same except for the Y sound. The main vowel is the IH as in SIT vowel, but I do feel like we squeeze it a little bit, so it sounds a little more like EE, IH, ih, ihr, ee, ear, ear.
Let’s take a look.
First, the word ‘ear’. For the IH or EE vowel, the jaw drops just a bit, and the corners of the lips pull out wide, just a little. The tongue tip is down here, touching the back of the bottom front teeth. The front part arches towards the roof of the mouth without touching it.
Next is the schwa-R sound. Look for the tongue pulling back as the lips flare.
The tongue pulls back and up, with the tip pointing down so it’s not touching anything.
Now, let’s look at ‘year’. The jaw dropped a little bit more here. Why? To accommodate the movement of the tongue.
While the tip is down in the same position for the next vowel, the middle part of the tongue actually touches the roof and pushes forward a bit, yy, yy. At the same time, the throat closes off down here, yyy, to add a different dimension to the sound. EE, jj, ee, jj. Let’s watch the Y several times to see that motion of the tongue pulling down from the roof of the mouth, yy.
Now the lips flare and the tongue pulls back for the R.
Now let’s compare the beginning position of these two words.
‘Ear’ is on the left and ‘year’ is on the right. Notice that the jaw has dropped more for the forward motion of the tongue on the roof of the mouth for ‘year’. Also, the corners of the lips are more relaxed than for the initial vowel in ‘ear’, where they pull slightly out. You can see this from the front as well. The jaw has dropped more for the tongue movement.
So, we have the tongue movement, which is different for the Y, as well as the Y sound in the throat, yy. This is how we want to start the word ‘year’: yy, yy, year.
Now I’ll say the minimal pair several times. Can you hear the difference?
Year, ear [3x]
What about the word ‘hear’? It’s also just like the word ‘ear’, but with a consonant sound at the beginning, the H consonant. Lip position doesn’t matter for the H sound. This sound is simply made, hh, by passing air through a very slightly constricted passage, hh. Hh, hear, ear, hear, ear. And by the way, ‘hear’ sounds just like this word ‘here’. They’re homophones, which means that though they are different words, and they’re spelled differently, they sound the same. Can you here the difference? Hear, ear.
I hope this video has made the difference between these words clearer. Are you signed up for my mailing list? If you are, you get a weekly email with English lessons and lots of fun stories about what’s going on with me. It’s absolutely free. Please sign up, it’s a great way to keep in touch.
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That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.